For Mnangagwa, time is running out to save Zimbabwe

When Robert Mugabe’s 37-year authoritarian rule ended in November 2017 after a military takeover, there was widespread optimism that the repression of the past was over. But if there are hopes of political reform and economic revival under Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former ally of Mugabe and member of Zanu-PF party, who took over after Mugabe was ousted and won elections in July 2018, they are all gone now. Mnangagwa has unleashed the military on Zimbabweans and has cut them off from the rest of the world while he moved from Russia to Central Asia and Europe, seeking international support and investment that might save the country’s economy from a total collapse. While he’s away, Vice-president Constantino Chiwenga is in charge. The radical is blamed for the shooting of six civilians during protests that followed last year’s elections.

Fresh protests emerged a week ago after the president announced an increase in the price of Petrol (Gasoline) by almost three times its former price of $1.24, to $3.31 per litre. The government claimed the increase which has now made Zimbabwe’s petrol the most expensive in the world, will tackle a shortfall caused by increased usage and illegal trading. Having lived through decades of repression under Mugabe, Zimbabweans have had enough and they reacted in an unusual manner, raiding police stations and burning vehicles. As it happens during such disorders, shops were also looted. The protests have led to the death of at least three people, including 22-year-old Kelvin Tinashe Choto, who was reported to have been shot in the head by soldiers outside his home on Monday.

Several Zimbabweans claim soldiers attacked them in their homes at night. Doctors’ groups confirm the brutal crackdown, saying they have treated hundreds of casualties this past week. Human Rights Watch has also accused the police of shooting people in broad daylight, while Amnesty International criticised Zimbabwe for its “repressive measures”.

The United Nations Human Rights Office has called for restraint. “We are deeply troubled by the socio-economic crisis that is unfolding in Zimbabwe and the repression of large-scale protests in the country, following the Government’s decision to increase fuel prices,” said spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani.

“We call on the Government to find ways of engaging with the population about their legitimate grievances and to stop the crackdown against protesters.”

More than 600 people have been arrested, including opposition leaders and prominent activists. Access to the Internet have also been cut. Zimbabwe’s largest internet service provider Econet says it has been ordered to cut services until further notice. Some residents say access to Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter is now being allowed from 3P.M. to 10P.M. daily. Shamdasani expresses concern over this development.

“We understand that access to WhatsApp and Facebook was also blocked at some point, internet access was shut down and it apparently resumed,” she said. “There are reports that it has been shut down again. The Government has been saying that this is to deal with misinformation that is spreading on social media.”

However, as far as the protests go, use of force by the military has been proven not to be false. More so, it has happened before.

Lest we forget
An analyst in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city told The Guardian that the current situation must have been anticipated by the government and so, he suspects the president and his vice are playing the good cop, bad cop routine.

“Chiwenga can deal with [the protests] with a very heavy hand and then Mnangagwa can say: ‘Very sorry, we’ll have an investigation,’ and still seem to be Mr Nice Guy,” Derek Matyszak said.

Matyszak may be right; Mnangagwa is not called Garwe (crocodile) for no reason. He understands how to repress his opposition to push his agenda. There are records of his controversial role in the Gukurahundi massacres, in which thousands of Ndebele civilians were killed. Yet, he claimed innocence, saying in a 2017 interview: “How do I become the enforcer of the Gukurahundi?” he asked Martin Fletcher, who was interviewing him for an article published on the New Statesman in 2017.

“We had the President, the Minister of Defence, the commander of the army, and I was none of that.”

Former Army Captain Albert Matapo, who with six others were arrested in 2007 after being accused of planning a coup to replace Mugabe with Mnangagwa had said there was no difference between the two men.

Matapo and his friends ended up spending seven years in prison and upon their release they formed a new political party, which Matapo said they had been trying to form when they were arrested initially.

“There is no way normal people like us would remove Robert Mugabe and put Mnangagwa because they are one and the same,” Matapo told The Zimbabwean in 2014. “Mnangagwa can even be worse than Mugabe.”

The brutal crackdown of the past week would remind Zimbabweans of Matapo’s statement, as Mnangagwa cuts short his trip to address the ongoing crisis. More than the protests, for him, would be the fact that his position as president may be under threat.

According to ZimLive, Zanu-PF rebels have initiated a process to recall Mnangagwa from the presidency, with no fewer than 35 Zanu-PF MPs meeting at the party’s headquarters in Harare on Friday night. The move is being led by war veteran and Mnangagwa’s ally Christopher Mutsvangwa.

“The key grievance is how he has led the party and the country since the coup in November 2017. Things have become worse, not better. Many comrades are disgruntled that he has elected to surround himself with people from his village, side-lining those who secured him the presidency,” ZimLive quoted a source close to the plan to have said.

Saving Zim
Mnangagwa was trusted to turn Zimbabwe’s economy around after Mugabe’s rule left the country with huge debts, a crumbling infrastructure, soaring youth unemployment and extreme poverty. But the ill-advised fuel price hike by about 250 percent dealt a fatal blow to citizens who have been groaning under the worsening economic conditions.

Inflation is at 40 percent, the highest rate since hyperinflation forced Zimbabwe to abandon its own currency a decade ago, in favour of dollars, electronic cash and bond notes issued by the central bank. Professor of Applied Economics at John Hopkins University Steve Hanke says the official inflation rate is wrong. According to him, “Zimbabwe’s annual inflation rate, measured accurately for today(January 19), is 237.5 percent,” adding: “Dollarization will stop soaring inflation in its tracks.”

Prof. Hanke believes Zimbabwe should go back to the dollarization of its economy which it dumped in 2016.

“If Zim fails to remove (Real Time Gross Settlement) RTGSs & bond notes from the system, the economy will collapse within one year or less,” he notes.

He explains how the government can go about removing the current payment methods. “The solution is simple: have the government accept them at par to the USD for taxes and other obligations. Their value will climb towards par and they will be removed from the system- problem solved.”

But Finance Minister, Mthuli Ncube has a different plan. The former African Development Bank (AfDB) chief economist wants to introduce a new currency. He also plans to sell some state assets and reduce the country’s National Budget deficit in 2019. But Hanke said Ncube has been doing more of talking.

“…Ncube’s tenure has proven to be all talk, and no walk. It’s time for Ncube to walk the walk, or go,” Hanke said.

With Mnangagwa expected back without a Russian loan and his trip to Davos for the World Economic Forum cancelled, it’s back to the drawing board for Ncube, who now has only a few moves left. He will be in Davos, hoping to sell a good brand with a bad reputation.

While there might be no quick fixes to the economic challenges Zimbabwe faces, right policy moves obvious to bring change in the short to medium term, is highly desired by Zimbabweans, who are eager to see their economy working again.