Post-election Zimbabwe: Yes, it’s complicated

President Emmerson Mnangagwa faces a stern challenge to unite, not just a polarised nation, but his own fractured party as well

By Perry Munzwembiri

If there ever was any doubt about the exact nature of the state Robert Mugabe – deposed in what has become known as a military assisted transition back in November 2017 – bequeathed us, then the events in the immediate aftermath of the July 30 election, put paid to those lingering doubts.

ZANU-PF as a political formation is firmly in the unyielding grip of the military, and by implication, so is the state.

Events such as live bullets being fired on unarmed protesters, with the eyes of the world fixated on the country, “lapses in command” resulting in the harassment of the very journalists the government is trying to persuade to push a favorable narrative of Zimbabwe to the outside world, and reports of the army terrorizing citizens have played out for all to see.

Hopes that the July 30 election would usher in stability have been dashed by recent violence.

These unfortunate events, occurring especially at a time when Mr Mnangagwa is trying to decouple himself from the repressive legacy of his predecessor, Robert Mugabe, only reinforce the perception that, while Mugabe has left the stage, Mugabeism has not.

Zimbabwe faces a worryingly uncertain future. What the elections could have provided, certainty, stability, credibility, a clear mandate, have all been somewhat negated, with the recent events.

Instead , there are more questions than there are answers. Who exactly is calling the shots in the country? Is there a third force at play behind the throne? What will become of Zimbabwe’s economic reform agenda? Has ZANU-PF shed off its old skin and kicked its old habits? All these are questions that need to be answered comprehensively, not with slick political rhetoric and the all too familiar, patronizing platitudes that politicians often employ. Actions, not words.

It remains to be seen what will become of opposition leader, Mr Nelson Chamisa’s challenge of the poll results. This however, appears to be the least of Mr Mnangagwa’s problems. Having hinted prior to the July 30 election of an apparent plot to impeach him, Mr Mnangagwa only managed to secure the presidency by 50.8%, while his party garnered a more than two thirds majority in the House of Assembly. Could an impeachment be brewing?

The deployment of soldiers to quell opposition protests seem to have caught Mnangagwa by surprise

A more scary proposition, being talked about albeit in hushed tones, is that of a greater force behind the throne. Soldiers are deployed onto the streets armed with live ammunition, and the president-elect reacts with surprise, and offers to launch a commission of enquiry to examine the chain of events on that day.

Many fear that, while Mugabe has left the stage, Mugabeism has not.

An ordinary opposition press conference with the international press is disrupted by the police, only for the presidential spokesperson to later apologize, citing a “lapse in command” – whatever that means – for the disturbance. Not only that, information minister Simon Khaya Moyo, clearly acting under orders, has to physically confront the riot police, paving way for the press conference to go on.

Wicknell Chivayo, with a high profile corruption case involving alleged fraud against a state owned enterprise, is arrested, and the president-elect appears to be the last person to be in the know. These events give some credence to the notion that a third force is actively acting in a manner that is manifestly counterproductive to the image Mr Mnangagwa is trying to project.

Inevitably, this has contributed to a dystopian post-election environment, regarding the future prospects of the country under Mr Mnangagwa’s leadership.

That is just the political side of things. Even more important, however, are the economic realities that the incoming administration has to contend with.

A civil service wage bill spiraling out of control, what with salary increases for government workers in the run up to elections, which are unclear as to how they will be sustained, and the foreign currency crisis that has plagued the local business environment are both existential challenges in Mr Mnangagwa’s in-tray.

And  then, of course, the usual economic problems that have become closely tethered to the Zimbabwe narrative; unemployment, cash shortages, corruption and low FDI. Just how much energies will be expended toward concretely addressing these problems is anybody’s guess.

Having preached the gospel of “economy before politics” on the  campaign trail, Mr Mnangagwa faces a stern test on whether he will live up to this proposition. The messy reality he immediately faces is not only uniting his fractured party, splintered by differing allegiances, with the army seemingly having grabbed all the proverbial “levers of power” both in government and in ZANU-PF, but also working to ensure the whole nation coalesces around his broader vision of ensuring Zimbabwe becomes a middle income country by 2030.

For now, that road looks ominously littered with obstacles. He may have managed to beat the threat presented by the opposition MDC-Alliance, but the threat from within his own camp, ZANU-PF looks like it has been hardly contained. If anything, it might just have been unshackled.

 

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