Lawson Mabhena News and Politics Editor
By this time two years ago, the stage was set for the most significant march in the history of independent Zimbabwe.
After 37 years, power was slipping from the hands of Robert Gabriel Mugabe for the first time and the march on November 17 would bring together Zimbabweans across racial, political and ideological lines.
In a scene captured by world media, armoured military trucks would become props on a set featuring thousands of overjoyed protesters calling for the resignation of the president while celebrating the rebirth of Zimbabwe.
The Zimbabwe they all wanted was within grasp.
At any moment, Cde Mugabe would step down and a new path would be forged, a new social contract would be signed.
The hopes of the protesters, some of whom came from as far as the Diaspora, were the hopes of millions locally and abroad who longed to see Zimbabwe regain its lost glory after decades of economic decline.
The ushering of a new leadership led by Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa was well received and many Zimbabweans took to their posts, ready to play their part in the restoration of their country, their home. Finally, it felt good to say “home”.
With the weight of the world on his shoulders, President Mnangagwa, who was sworn in on November 24, immediately started making all the right pronouncements, promising to deliver free and fair elections, tackle corruption, compensate white former farmers and above all, that he would be a “listening President”.
On the international front, President Mnangagwa outlined a new foreign policy thrust of economic diplomacy, re-engagement and rapprochement.
“Zimbabwe does not live in isolation”, was the new message captured through the “Open for Business” policy after almost two decades of anchoring on a “Look East” policy.
During his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) in December 2017, President Mnangagwa promised zero tolerance to corruption as he moved to restore public confidence in his Government.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) would be among the first targets for transformation, and to date, both institutions continue to make strides in regaining public trust.
A regional charm offensive in early 2018 was capped by visits to South Africa where President Mnangagwa met then South African President Jacob Zuma before engaging with ANC leader Cyril Ramaphosa.
He briefed Angolan President Joao Lourenco on the situation in Zimbabwe following Operation Restore Legacy. President Lourenco would later hand over the reins as chair of the SADC Organ on Politics‚ Defence and Security Cooperation to President Mnangagwa.
Major international trips to open the country for business — including the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos‚ Switzerland — soon followed.
And true to his word, President Mnangagwa levelled the political playing field leading to the most “free and fair” elections in the history of the country.
Fear and intimidation that had become synonymous with elections since 1980 were now a thing of the past.
Baptism of fire
The post-election violence on August 1 threatened to undo mammoth gains already achieved by the Mnangagwa Government in about five months.
The killing of civilians gave fodder to detractors who were quick to allege that the reforms were not genuine, while calling for the extension of Western sanctions against the country.
While the regrettable events were the worst possible start for the Second Republic, they were also a litmus test in areas of transparency and constitutionalism.
President Mnangagwa was swift.
He set up a commission of inquiry chaired by former South African president Mr Kgalema Motlanthe. The commission did not hold back any punches; it was frank.
Government was, however, equal to the task of implementing the commission’s recommendations, beginning by modernising 30 laws to enhance media freedoms and other democratic rights.
Retraining of police in professional and non-partisan behaviour is underway, while members of the security forces responsible for the killing of civilians during the protests face trial early next year.
Perhaps the most significant response to the Montlanthe Commission recommendations came in May through the launch of the Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD), which seeks to bring unity among political players and chart the way forward for the country.
In a show of comity, POLAD recently resolved to engage the United Nations, International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (WB) and the international community over the need to urgently remove sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe.
“In its entirety, the August 1 project wanted to probe the Government to respond with a heavy hand and unleash force on the public which was misinformed. Surprisingly, President ED Mnangagwa’s unwavering commitment to national unity overtook these events. Instead of dividing Zimbabwe, the August 1 event prompted Government to invest in the cause of national unity,” argues political scientist and public policy analyst, Mr Teddy Ncube.
The gods must be crazy
The economy was hard-hit by drought and Cyclone Idai, one of the worst ever tropical cyclones to hit the Southern Hemisphere. The ravaging storm mainly affected Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, leaving over 1 300 people dead and many more missing.
Having to respond to the Cyclone Idai disaster and the drought through reconstruction, importation of grain and other interventions meant the country would miss all key macro-economic targets this year.
The climate shocks could not have come at a worst time, austerity was being implemented to correct the ills of the past. Zimbabweans had just tightened their belts when the two natural disasters struck.
As if the hand of Mother Nature was not enough, inflation began to spiral out of control.
Inflation, which was projected to average 22,5 percent is now estimated at more than 350 percent. Prices of basic commodities have shot through the roof, with the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) putting the consumer basket for an ordinary family at over $4 000.
The ordinary man who was excited in November 2017 is now deflated.
Others, like doctors and nurses, have translated their frustrations into job action. Government has had to fire scores of doctors for taking part in an illegal strike.
Challenged on whether Government ministers were affected by austerity, Finance and Economic Development Minister Mthuli Ncube yesterday said: “If you think there is no austerity in Government, just ask the Minister of Information (Monica Mutsvangwa). She still hasn’t received her ministerial car.
“You can also ask Members of Parliament. We are meeting the people of Zimbabwe halfway. This is why you see these results. Government finances are in order; they are actually in good hands. I declare: Government finances are in good hands.”
Economic sanctions imposed on the country by the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK) and the European Union (EU) are a direct result of altercations during the implementation of the Land Reform Programme.
According to a recent paper by Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister Sibusiso Moyo, Zimbabwe lost close to US$98 billion in revenue, bilateral donor support and GDP reduction because of sanctions.
However, recent efforts by the Government to compensate white former farmers who lost their land and other properties could result in a change of heart.
Nearly half of the 900 farmers who registered for compensation have received at least $55 000 each under the Interim Relief Payment Scheme being coordinated by Government and the Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU).
Presenting the 2020 National Budget on Thursday, Minister Ncube said this year, a total of $68 million was paid to former farm owners before setting aside $380 million for interim land compensation.
CFU director Mr Ben Gilpin described efforts being made by Government as “gratifying”.
“We saw the allocation in the National Budget and have noted the progress on the international level. It is positive, gratifying. We hope they succeed. The value is now half of what was needed a year ago, but the progress is great indeed,” he said.
‘No one is perfect’
Reforms undertaken by the Second Republic have received the thumbs-up, with the IMF warning they might take time to bear fruit since they sought to correct mistakes that happened over two decades.
Progress made by Zimbabwe was also acknowledged by Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, who met President Mnangagwa during the UN General Assembly in September.
“I think there are a number of areas where Zimbabwe has made real reforms. No one is perfect and it is a journey,” Baroness Scotland said.
In September, the World Bank named Zimbabwe as one of the “top 20 improvers” in Doing Business 2020. Tweeted World Bank Group president Mr David Malpass on the sidelines of the 74th Ordinary Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York: “Very nice to see Zimbabwean Minister of Finance @MthuliNcube at #UNGA (United Nations). We discussed the importance of currency + economic liberalisation, & I am encouraged by the legislative reforms under consideration.”
Milestones have been recorded in re-engagement, with the country poised for improved relations with formerly hostile nations.
In June, Zimbabwe and the EU launched a formal dialogue process, while the UK has since urged Zimbabwe to expedite the ratification of a trade agreement to ensure the continuation of trade relations when Britain leaves the EU.
The African Union (AU) and Sadc have committed their unwavering support to Zimbabwe on the issue of sanctions. Last month, SADC walked the talk on the anti-sanctions campaign in solidarity with Zimbabwe, with member states conducting different activities to pressure the US and its Western allies to lift the almost two-decades-old embargo.
As a bonus to rapprochement, the IMF has pledged to continue working with the Government to foster economic stability.
Without November 17, what would have happened?
“The November 2017 smooth transition of power is a defining moment to Zimbabwe’s history. Without it Zimbabwe was fast descending into anarchy. The rampant corruption which was left unchecked had the potential to collapse Zimbabwe’s economy. Even more, the strategic military intervention really restored civil power by allowing citizens to freely express themselves, a culture which has continued to date.
“Had the military not restored civil voices, the public would have resorted to asserting their views through violent means, a case that many would refer to as a civil war. It is not a coincidence that the public now relies on sustainable methods of political communication; it all began in November 2017,” Mr Teddy Ncube explains.
November 17, 2017, Mr Ncube says, becomes important in that it “restored” Zimbabwe’s prospects of national stability.
We can learn from Rwanda
If Rwanda could write a book, it would be titled: “From genocide to Africa’s Singapore.”
In the year 2000, the Rwandan government established Vision 2020, a long-term development strategy with its main objective to transform Rwanda into a middle-income country by 2020, based on a thriving private sector.
Economic transformation took place at a fast pace after the establishment of Rwanda Development Board, a government department that integrates all investment-related agencies. This is part of a greater “Open for Business” thrust.
Rwanda has had one of the fastest rates of economic growth in the world. The country notched up GDP growth of around 8 percent per year between 2001 and 2014.
According to the 2019 World Bank Doing Business index, Rwanda is the 29th easiest place to do business in the world and is the only low-income country in the top 30.
Rwanda Development Board chief executive Ms Clare Akamanzi’s visit to Zimbabwe last year was a direct result of President Mnangagwa intervention.
So, can our economy be fixed?
Legacy issues include high domestic and international debt, an under-performing manufacturing industry, an import-dependent economy and lack of confidence in the local currency.
The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development has already laid a road map to Vision 2030 through implementing the Transitional Stabilisation Programme (September 2018 – December 2020); first five-year National Development Plan (2021-2025) and second five-year National Development Plan (2026-2030).
Parastatal reforms are in full swing, with commendable milestones achieved so far in a number of companies including the National Railways of Zimbabwe, Grain Marketing Board and Cold Storage Commission.
Political commitment has resulted in reduced spending, budget surplus, investor interest and improved corruption controls.
Minister Mutsvangwa told a business meeting yesterday: “When I look at our economy, I see it as a U-shape. We were going down, now we are going up; productivity growth and job creation. Continue to work hard (Minister Ncube) so that Zimbabwe can come out of this ditch.”
Economist and Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce chief executive Mr Chris Mugaga told The Herald that for the economy to work, Min Ncube has to be brave.
“He has to be brave, but at the same time the Minister of Finance has to push away the political jacket and be a technocrat,” he said.
Said economist Mr Persistence Gwanyanya: “Now, it’s time to work on fundamentals needed to sustain our currency, which is still in its infancy; production, productivity, employment and formalisation.”
Research by Zimpapers Knowledge Centre