IN-DEPTH | ED’s infrastructure rollout is his biggest election trump card, and also his biggest enemy

At Chaka, a rural business centre on the Harare-Masvingo highway, you can see why President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s infrastructure rollout is his biggest election trump card, but also the biggest risk he faces in his re-election bid.

Racing past this turnoff, which leads into Chirumhanzu, is the impressive newly laid highway, smooth, well-marked and with wide verges. A large poster flaps from a gum tree in the August wind. It carries that image of a smiling Mnangagwa, sleeves rolled up to send that unmistakable “man at work” message, with images of roadworks behind him.

Yet, the Chaka shopping centre also shows the depth of the economic crisis; vendors hustle to sell tomatoes and trinkets to passing drivers, and they demand payment only in foreign currencies.

It is the best and worst of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s last five years in office. Mnangagwa has led the fastest infrastructure spending in years, hoping to plug at least part of Zimbabwe’s massive US$37 billion infrastructure gap.

It was at Chaka that, years ago, former President Robert Mugabe held a groundbreaking ceremony meant to kickstart the project to rebuild the 585km highway. Nothing happened. A US$1 billion deal with Austria’s Geiger International fell through.

In 2019, Mnangagwa ‘rolled up those sleeves’ and chose a different path to get it done. Instead of one foreign company doing the job, five local contractors would do it. The money would be paid from the budget, and not from offshore loans, as is the norm for such projects on the continent.

“In the past years, we used to call for international tenders whenever we wanted to build our roads; we are now working with local contractors,” Mnangagwa told his supporters at a recent rally.

A newly repaired stretch of the Masvingo highway.


In the six months to June this year, the government had spent Z$478 billion on infrastructure projects. Some Z$180 billion had been spent on roads, most of it in a race to complete the Harare-Beitbridge road, the centrepiece of his road projects. In 2022, almost 20% of the budget went into capital projects.

The roadworks are only the most photographed of the infrastructure projects. But there has been more. Mnangagwa has laid out a plan to put 350 000 hectares under irrigation, from around 240 000ha. This included spending on everything from small irrigation schemes to the US$42 million Gwayi-Shangani dam, whose dam wall construction began in August 2018.

Twelve major dams have either been completed or started construction under Mnangagwa, according to a report by the Sivio Institute, an independent research group that has been tracking government projects since 2018.

(via Sivio Institute)


Not only have these projects helped increase some farm output, but they have also helped Mnangagwa to energise his political base. Since the start of the year, the Government has spent Z$48.5 billion on dam projects.

“All these dams we are building come with irrigation schemes. Nobody should go hungry when we have poor rain,” Mnangagwa said as he commissioned Chivhu Dam in June. Next to the dam is a new 120ha irrigation scheme, where a group of locals started growing wheat in 2022.

“I am one of the beneficiaries. This is progress that we can see,” says one of the farmers, Norea Rubhacha. “We are forever grateful to the President.”

An outcome of the expanded irrigation has been record wheat production, and a recovery in horticulture farming. All this is great fodder for the Mnangagwa campaign. The party’s election manifesto is a series of ten documents listing projects in each province, both public and private.

A new irrigation scheme at Chivhu Dam


Tools for the opposition

For Mnangagwa’s supporters, his infrastructure projects are good enough to vote him back in.

“One good term deserves another,” shouts one of Mnangagwa’s banners, the words printed over images of roads and centre pivots irrigating a wheat field.

But while his infrastructure spending is at the centre of his campaign, some of its effects are the core of his opponent’s own campaign.

“We don’t want good roads and starving children,” says Agency Gumbo, the opposition CCC’s candidate for Hatcliffe.

With no access to foreign loans, Mnangagwa has had to use the budget to fund the projects. Payments to local contractors flooded the market with Zimdollars, crashing the currency and stoking a fresh round of hyperinflation, which has emerged as the biggest issue in the election.

Central bank governor John Mangudya admitted last year: “When you provide this money from the budget, the cost is inflation. So, that’s the downside risk of a good policy.”

The Zimbabwe dollar’s collapse triggered price hikes which have decimated earnings, isolating Mnangagwa even further from voters, both rural and urban. The damage has been especially deep among the civil service and the security forces, who are key to State power.

A report by Parliament’s committee on Defence and Home Affairs last year spoke of dire poverty and despair among the security forces.

It said: “These are signs and symptoms of an ailing policing system. The morale of officers across the entire police service is at its lowest ebb despite their demonstration of resilience and patriotism.”

At a pre-budget seminar last October, Defence Minister Oppah Muchinguri said soldiers were going without food and were poorly equipped. She said: “They are given all sorts of names, they use public transport, they are insulted on a daily basis and whilst on duty, they sometimes go without food.”

A survey by Afrobarometer this June showed Mnangagwa’s failure to “keep prices stable” was the biggest economic issue among voters. The infrastructure spending has advanced sections of the economy, boosting construction firms and inspiring growth in agriculture, but has it trickled down fast enough to most food tables and pockets?

On Wednesday, election day, Mnangagwa finds out whether voters will reward him for his infrastructure rollout, or punish him for the side effects that have come with it.



Mangudya: We’ve had to fund infrastructure on our own, the downside is inflation