Zimbabwe: Change is the Word

When Robert Mugabe sacked Vice-President Mnangagwa on the 16th November 2017, he probably did not expect that doing so would lead to his downfall. Designed to pave the way forward for his wife Grace to become president, its outcome was instead to prompt the army to intervene. Mugabe was placed under house arrest, the ruling Zanu-PF expelled Grace from the party while also removing him as party leader, with the situation culminating in his resignation on the 21st November. So how will the situation unfold?

Zimbabwe has a new president; ‘the Crocodile’ Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose nickname is owed to his reputation for ruthlessness, cunning and being politically astute; as-well as his major role as a guerrilla commander in Zimbabwe’s war for independence. Having filled a number of core government positions, from security minister to party treasurer and eventually vice-president, Mnangagwa is very much a major establishment politician. His long-term association with Mugabe, and the alleged implication of his involvement in the Matabeleland massacres of the 1980s while head of the intelligence services, confirms him as a man to be reckoned with. Zimbabweans will not forget his past and there is an understandable degree of scepticism as to how different things can and will now be.

There are several important questions that are yet to be answered. In what political direction will the new president take the country? The aspirations, and ultimately expectations, are for free and fair elections. Zimbabwe must put its dictatorial past behind it and move towards more open and genuine democracy. A national vote in 2018 will be a true test of Mr Mnangagwa’s vision for reform. Monitoring of the polls by neutral parties, such as the United Nations, would play a useful role both for providing (additional) legitimacy to a free and fair vote, and potentially discouraging any attempts at underhanded electoral manipulation. Anticipation of a more inclusive government appears to have been dashed, however, with the president’s 22-person cabinet formed entirely of Zanu-PF politicians, replacing allies of Grace Mugabe and her G40 faction and failing to include members of Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change. You would be hard-pressed to argue that this represents a break from the past. Is history merely repeating itself?

The challenge facing Zimbabwe remains significant. A major, widespread and thorough anti-corruption drive across all sectors is desperately needed. A Transparency International report published in 2016 estimated that over $1 billion was lost to corruption annually. If indeed this is correct, this is money that could otherwise be invested in areas such as job creation, infrastructure, education and health. Of course, corruption is not an issue that uniquely affects Zimbabwe but given its state of economic malaise and the animosity such corruption creates, it is an issue of fundamental importance. Tackling it head-on should be a serious priority.

Can President Mnangagwa also save the economy? Zimbabwe has suffered for years as a result of mismanagement and stymied growth. 2016 saw economic growth of a meagre 0.5% and queues for cash outside banks are commonplace. Mr Mugabe’s 2009 indigenisation law requiring foreign-owned companies to be majority-owned by local Zimbabweans – under a 51%:49% share stake – has scared off investment and made business unprofitable for international firms. There are reports that a review of the law will take place, if so this is both sensible and encouraging. Land reform in 2000, which led to the often intimidating and violent confiscation of farmland from predominantly white farmers, triggered a collapse in the agriculture sector and with it the economy. Settling property rights and providing compensation for confiscated land could produce rapid agricultural recovery.

Another approach is for Zimbabwe to receive a substantial injection of hard currency. Due to massive hyperinflation of the Zimbabwean dollar, to a rate of 231,000,000% in 2008, the U.S. dollar was adopted in an attempt to stabilise the situation. Nevertheless, a flawed trade policy emphasising imports over exports has contributed to major shortages of dollars, which for an economy based around them, is not conducive to growth. Financial assistance, particularly from the International Monetary Fund, should be conditional upon evidence of positive and genuine political change. This may indeed appear as a strong incentive for economic reform, but it places the onus further on President Mnangagwa to adopt an effective approach which can deliver both short and long-term solutions. Failure to deliver politically risks driving the economy into a deeper hole.

And what future role will the armed forces have to play? Zimbabweans may laud the army for their action in removing Mugabe from power several weeks ago, and for arresting other former ministers allied to the ex-President. Yet their intervention in politics should now end. If not it risks continuing a dangerous precedent of military meddling in state affairs. Evidence of their disentanglement from politics and a less partisan approach would be very reassuring. Glancing at President Mnangagwa’s new cabinet proves this is wishful thinking. The appointment of Major General Sibusiso Moyo as minister of foreign affairs gives a key government department to a military man. Air Marshal Perence Shiri’s appointment as minister of lands, agriculture and rural resettlement (the man who led the infamous Fifth Brigade which committed the Gukurahundi massacres, in which more than 20,000 people were killed) is also particularly concerning. It is perhaps not surprising that those who helped Mr Mnangagwa into power have subsequently been rewarded for their support. Their appointments ultimately reflect a continuing affirmation of a strong military-state relationship.

One final question remains. What becomes of the Mugabes? Amid reports of a resignation deal totalling $10 million and immunity from prosecution, the atmosphere of excitement has been somewhat tempered. The secretary general of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change has outwardly criticised the deal as blatant bribery. The threat of a Grace Mugabe presidency has been removed at least. Her husband, however, while devoid of actual power, remains an influential figure and may still have an advisory role to play. Zimbabweans may rightly disagree with this, keen on keeping Robert Mugabe out of a post-Mugabe era. The extent of his influence will become clear in time.

There is much left unknown about the future of Zimbabwe. On one hand, there is great anticipation of a new beginning. On the other, there is immense doubt over whether Mnangagwa will produce the change he has promised. With his ascension to the presidency on the 24th November, the hopes and dreams of a nation were placed firmly on the shoulders of President Mnangagwa. Early signs show that those hopes and dreams, at least politically, may go largely unfulfilled.


The Balfour Declaration: 100 Years On

It is exactly 100 years to the day since the signing of the Balfour Declaration, an event that has had profound consequences and which continues to shape the Middle East and the rest of the world today. The Declaration, a product of British design, made two promises. First, it promised a homeland for the Jews, a people facing widespread persecution  and who would go on to face persecution on an abhorrent scale. Second, it promised that the civil and religious rights of those non-Jewish communities already occupying the land would not be prejudiced. Decades of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians underpins this failure to fulfill that second promise.

Britain must accept responsibility for its role in this, but not shy away from the important role it can play in the future. The U.K. should begin by recognising the state of Palestine as an important first step, and on that basis, lead new efforts at peace and reconciliation which acknowledge the fundamental rights of Palestinians and also the right of Israel to its security. It is no good making further promises. It is time for a new approach.