A new era beckons

By Innocent Gore and Ranga Mataire

Harare – The resignation of Robert Mugabe as president of Zimbabwe after 37 years in power sparked wild celebrations not only in Zimbabwe, but also across the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region and elsewhere around the world where millions of Zimbabweans had settled after fleeing economic decline in the country.

Mugabe resigned on 21 November, ending close to four decades of a grip on Zimbabwe’s politics after pressure from the country’s military, war veterans, mass protests and parliamentarians who were set to pass a motion to impeach him.

He was replaced by long-time-ally-turned-foe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who he had fired two weeks earlier, prompting the military to intervene through what they termed “Operation Restore Legacy”.

Mnangagwa was sworn into office on Friday, 23 November, at a colourful ceremony in Harare, becoming the country’s second executive president since independence in 1980.

This change in political leadership saw Zimbabweans across SADC and the world celebrating Mugabe’s departure with high hopes that a new dispensation would usher in positive change in the country’s political and economic fortunes.

Mnangagwa himself told a crowd that welcomed him in Harare on Wednesday night that his coming to power showed that the people had spoken and that he was going to work to improve the fortunes of the country.

“I appeal to all genuine patriotic Zimbabweans to work together to grow the economy,” he said amid wild applause.

“We want jobs, we need co-operation from our neighbours in SADC, we need co-operation from fellow African countries and from around the world,” he said.

Conscious of people’s high expectations, Mnangagwa said he was ready to lead Zimbabwe to a future of prosperity where all citizens were equal.

He said he had already received an outpouring of goodwill from different countries and friends of Zimbabwe ready to economically cooperate with the country.

Mnangagwa paid tribute to the people of Zimbabwe for their resilience, peaceful conduct during the military’s operation and their unity of purpose.

Analysts say the return to normalcy in Zimbabwe and the revival of its economic fortunes could, however, have dire consequences for countries in the SADC region that had taken on board professionals from the country such as doctors and health professionals, engineers, architects, and lawyers.

While it was too early to say whether these professionals would return, there was hope that many would return home once the economy began to improve.

Zimbabwe enjoys high literacy levels, thanks to sound investment in the education sector by Mugabe, but its economic fortunes dovetailed over the past two decades, prompting a number of professionals to leave for greener pastures in the region and abroad.

Tendai Gandidzanwa, who lives in Zimbabwe, said he and his countrymen were hoping for a better Zimbabwe.

“We are hoping for better job opportunities, because poverty levels were so alarming. We just hope and pray that things get better as they did with government of national unity,” Gandidzanwa was quoted by News24, referring to a period between 2009 and 2013 when the country was ruled through a power-sharing agreement between the ruling party and the opposition.

Gandidzanwa said with Mugabe gone, the country would be run better.

In a statement prior to Mugabe’s resignation, Mnangagwa appeared ready to tackle the country’s economic problems and embrace the opposition in rebuilding the country.

He spoke of joining “the struggle for the economic revival of our country, which is endowed with agricultural, industrial, commercial and mining opportunities and with a rich human resource bedrock to support our endeavours”.

Mnangagwa said: “My desire is to join all Zimbabweans in a new era where corruption, incompetency, dereliction of duty and laziness, social and cultural decadency is not tolerated. In that new Zimbabwe, it is important for everyone to join hands so that we rebuild this nation to its full glory.  This is not a job for ZANU-PF alone but for all the people of Zimbabwe.”

But analysts argue that revival of the country’s economic fortunes will not be a walk in the park. Analysts say the new President must first deal with the US and Western economic sanctions that have over the years hamstrung government’s various economic blueprints.

A political analyst from the University of the Free State, Sethulego Matebesi, said Robert Mugabe’s resignation was wonderful news for the African continent and hopes were high for a peaceful transition in the country.

Economist Dawie Roodt said the financial markets had responded positively to the resignation and that although there might be investments expected into Zimbabwe, this was not an end to the country’s problems.

He said the next head of state had a huge task ahead to make sure that trust was re-established in the economy.

He believed that it would take many years for Zimbabwe to be what it once was.

“So far their economic situation is still the same, because we have not seen the whole change in the political elite,” he was quoted as saying by OFM website.

Roodt said the new political leadership would have to work tirelessly to gain the trust of both the local and international investors.

He said the lessons that needed to be learnt from this was that people’s concerns do matter, and an individual leader was not more important than citizens.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said Mugabe’s demise provided Zimbabwe with an opportunity to forge a new path.

“In recent days, we have seen the desire of the Zimbabwean people for free and fair elections and the opportunity to rebuild the country’s economy under a legitimate government,” May was quoted as saying by Reuters.

May added in a statement that Britain, as “Zimbabwe’s oldest friend”, would do all it could to support the country.   Zimbabwe is a former British colony.

An analyst at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, Derek Matyszak, said, with Mugabe gone, the opposition should use this moment “to try and mobilise and lobby for the introduction of a more democratic dispensation”.

“Mnangagwa’s statement did mention that he is prepared to reach out to the opposition.

“The new leader needs to present a friendly face to the international community. The country is on the brink of an economic meltdown. If that meltdown occurs, the military won’t get paid and you will have a possibility of another coup,” said Matyszak.

“A lot needs to be done and done very quickly,” he added.

South African opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), said Zimbabwe must never reverse the land reform programme despite the demise of Mugabe.

In a statement, the EFF said: “We call on Zimbabweans never to undo the land programme or return the land to the white settler communities. This is one legacy of President Mugabe that must be advanced and protected at all costs.”

The EFF said it was proud of Zimbabwe because as a people, in their own way, they managed to redefine a new chapter for themselves.

A spokesperson for the US State Department, Heather Nauert, said the people of Zimbabwe wanted a “new era” and an end to international isolation.

Another analyst Knox Chitiyo, an associate fellow of the Africa programme at Chatham House, said Mnangagwa has a full in-tray.

“He needs to form a government quickly and has to balance the need for inclusivity and consultation, with the undoubted pressure to reward his followers.

“With Zimbabwe’s economy nearing paralysis, Zimbabwe’s new president will be under pressure to deliver.

Although many are nervous about his history as Mugabe’s ally and his reputation for toughness, Mnangagwa is also an astute political survivor, and has been pro-business and supportive of Zimbabwe’s ongoing re-engagement with the global community.”

Chitiyo said with Zimbabwe having become a cashless society and with formal unemployment at 80 percent and with a largely informalised economy in which much of its citizenry have been reduced to penury and classic short-termism, there was plenty for Zimbabwe’s next president to think about.

“And yet there are also positives; Zimbabwe’s institutions have proven to be resilient, and there is still a reservoir of dedicated and competent professionals in both public and private sectors. Although still laggardly, Zimbabwe had begun to progress in ‘ease of doing business’ indexes. “There is a large diaspora who have continued to engage with Zimbabwe; and Zimbabwe’s recent Look East and de facto Look West re-engagement policies can be built upon. As Robert Mugabe departs, millions of Zimbabweans will tune in to Mnangagawa’s first speech as president,” he said.

Once known as the “breadbasket of Africa”, Zimbabwe has an opportunity at genuine economic growth after decades of decline.

“If we see it put on a better trajectory, there’s huge potential in Zimbabwe,” Stuart Culverhouse, director at investment bank Exotix Limited, told CNBC on Thursday.

“There has been decay, obviously, through the policies of the last 20 years, but it could be on a much stronger growth path, and that could transform the country and the southern region,” Culverhouse said.

Zimbabwe has the world’s third largest reserves of platinum reserves, a precious metal used in electronic and medical equipment and is the fifth largest producer of lithium, essential for rechargeable batteries.

With the mounting global demand for smartphones and electric cars, Zimbabwe is attracting increasing interest from mining companies, analyst Ryan Turner at Protection Group International said.

Turner was, however, cautious saying: “Investors are likely to remain cautious on Zimbabwe. The country has huge potential but equally large challenges. Corruption, an uncompetitive workforce, poor infrastructure and onerous regulations are likely to persist for the foreseeable future.”

“Early indications that the military hopes to improve the economic situation and Mnangagwa’s apparent support for pro-business reforms are cause for cautious optimism after decades of mismanagement under Mugabe,” Turner said.

Indeed, the military on Wednesday issues a warning and said it was targeting those “committing crimes… that are causing social and economic suffering in the country”.

The odds for the new President are huge given the fact that the majority of the population is living below the poverty datum level.

Uncertainty remains on what form of government President Mnangagwa will constitute and a time frame for elections.

He seems amenable to a full re-engagement with the international monetary organisations so that Zimbabwe can be re-admitted as a full member of the community of nations.

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