There is currently talk about the Zanu PF government reforming, prompting some sections of the media, and indeed, some Western nations, to conclude that, at last, the regime seems to have heeded the advice that it needed to embark on a path of “sustainable reform”.
By Simukai Tinhu Political analyst
The October 2015 Lima agreement, in Peru, in which the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development reached an agreement on a debt clearence strategy with the Bretton Woods institutions, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, and also Africa Development Bank (AfDB), has excited many reform-minded elites in and outside the country.
The man regarded as behind the reforms, Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, seem to have started the ball rolling on this thinking when he early last year, during the commissioning of an AfDB project in Mutare, told delegates that “we (Zimbabwe) cannot do without the West”. Very much conscious that the ears in the West, to whom the messages are exclusively meant for, were likely to be listening, he also spoke of reforming state bureaucracy by bringing in technocrats who understand how to do business and deal with the rest of the world.
The vice-president has an admirable relentlessness when it comes to projecting an image of a smooth operator. For example, late last year Mnangagwa admitted that the state was struggling to feed its own people. To an untrained eye, particularly one from outside that might struggle to understand Zanu PF’s pysche, this is statesmanship of the first order. How many African statesman are so open and transparent to the point of being quick to admit a disaster on their nation’s doorstep? Indeed, during the course of the year he also made other statements such as the extent to which he went to protect white farmers in the Midlands during the 2000 land invasions.
But there is more to these pronouncements, than meets the eye. The “sustainable reforms”, are neither sustainable nor are they reforms at all. Indeed, to illustrate the two-faced nature of the reform adventure one needs to understand what is in it for the ruling party
What’s behind attempts to reform?
Indeed, for things that are murky such as Zanu PF purpoting to reform, understanding motives helps make them clear.
Political regimes, particularly authoritarian regimes, do not just reform for the benefit of the public unless there is either an incentive or pressure from inside or outside the party to do so. The defenestration of Joice Mujuru as vice-president and the continuation of President Robert Mugabe as the leader of Zanu PF and the nation has indicated that there is no incentive or pressure from within the party to reform.
Equally, the pressure that was put by the Western countries in the form of sanctions from the year 2000 failed to compell the liberation movement to reform itself, Zimbabwe’s political environment and the economy. On the contrary, during that period the ruling party became more violent, adopted a series of destructive economic policies, and widespread corruption became a permanent feature of the Zimbabwean society.
But today, the regime is facing a different kind of pressure which has forced it to pretend at reforming. The state is stone broke. However, one wouldn’t know it from listening to the radio or reading the newspapers. As so often, you have to look beyond the headlines to find out whats really going on. For example, interbank lending (where banks land to each other) has been steadily declining.
Indeed, by the end of last year the nation almost approached the crucial time of the wrecking credit crunch, forcing the regime to issue a statement that banks had not run out of cash as was rumoured on the nation’s streets. Had that happened, the government would have collapsed at the speed of light.
But with international credit lines virtually closed to the nation by the West, the Chinese keeping their empty promises and the revenue base in the country having dwindled due to company closures, such a scenario remains a possibility. This is what has scared Zanu PF into reform. Desperate for cash, the regime has embarked on a window dressing reform process to please Western government in the hope to access cash that it so desperately needs.
However, more importantly another election year is just around the corner. With the ruling party weakened by internecine wars, the dire economic and food situations across the country threatening to act as votes recruitment drivers for the opposition, Zanu PF government is facing a tough election in 2018, especially if there is a coalition of the opposition that has in it Mujuru of People First and Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC-T materialises. Faced with such a tough scenario, Zanu PF usually default into its usual electoral strategy that involves violence, intimidation and rigging of the electoral outcome. But experience has taught Zanu PF that such an approach is likely to deligitimate it in the eyes of the West whose cash it desperately needs, if the relations with Brussels and Washington are bad.
As a result, reforms can be seen as pre-emptive measure meant to contain an inevitable international fallout in 2018. Having learnt that the baseness of the international legitimacy of autocratic nations such as Yoweri Museveni’s Uganda, and Paul Kagame’s Rwanda lies in these nations’ love of neoliberal economic policies than democracy, Zanu PF seems eager to take the same approach; decorative IMF and World Bank reforms and the lovengeity of our regime is secured.
The reforms have nothing to do with public welfare.
Is reform process sustainable?
Zanu PF’s regular historical paradox is that it says one thing, but does the other. At independence, the party talked about ushering democracy, but after a couple of decades had completely destroyed it. Today, the party talks about empowering people through indigenisation, but the impoverishment of the masses has done the opposite.
Indeed, the West has repeatedly criticised the government for flip flopping when it comes to policies. The so-called reforms that the government has embarked on have not been spared.
For example, last year, after having failed to pay the civil servants their salaries, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, indicated that the practice of paying government workers the 13th cheque (bonus) at the end of each year would only be resumed in 2017 since the government was struggling financially. But in the typical fashion that has come to characterise the government’s inconsistency, the finance minister has since made a U-turn and promised to pay all civil servants last year’s bonus by the end of May.
It is impossible to believe that a government which is permeated with such inconsistency will follow through the so-called reforms. In any case, the “leftists” in the party are unhappy, and are likely to derail these reforms. These reforms also interfere with a patronage system that has been in place since the 1980s. Those who have benefitted from this patronage system will scuttle them.
Indeed, those elites in the party who are linked to a group of young politicians called the Generation 40 (G40) have already criticised the reforms. In a telling article in last weekend’s Sunday Mail, Chinamasa was warned that he should not pursue his relations with the IMF and the World Bank.
Unsuprisingly, there are no attempts by the government to explain to the public, the purpose or scope of the reforms that are meant to help them. But that is exactly the point about the contemporary Zanu PF regime’s so-called reforms; there is no need for explanation for they can be reversed anytime, again, without any explanation.
Economic without political reforms?
The government has no intentions of attempting at even “cosmetic” or “symbolic” political reforms. Indeed, they have already indicated that at the 2018 elections critical reforms such as in the security sector and media landscape that the opposition and the international community have been asking for will not be entertained.
On the other hand, the man regarded as the doyen of these reforms, Mnangagwa, has stated that under no circumstances will Western election observers, including the United Nations ones, be allowed at the 2018 elections.
Indeed, one area will that will test the government’s seriouness when it comes to reform will be its conduct in the run-up to the 2018 elections. The rumour in town is that one of the campaign strategies that has been discussed by the leaders of the opposition as part of the grand coalition strategy, has been door-to-door campaigning. The opposition has vowed to reach every household during the campaign. How the regime will handle this will be test of the genuiness each time that they talk about reforming.
Slow to reform
A glance at the menu of reforms indicates disdain for the process; they are moving at a snail pace and are piecemeal. For example, the financial and economic reforms that Chinamasa has embarked on have been on the cards for close to a decade.
Having been started by the then finance minister in the Government of National Unity Tendai Biti, the reforms hit a snag when the Zanu PF government took over following the 2013 electoral outcome. They only took off again recently obviously motivated by the credit crisis that has hit the nation. More worrying is the regime’s reluctance to realign the existing national laws to the new constitution, making the 2012 constitution nothing more than a set of paragraphs with little relevance.
The reforms also do not go deep enough, making it easy to reverse them if the government chooses to do so. And to belabour the obvious, the Zanu PF government retains complete monopoly control over all aspects of the so called reforms. And it is this party’s political elite that has destroyed the economy and society, not the civil society or the advisory development technocrats that the vice-president has so much talked about who are determining the reform’s nature, scope, priorities and pace. This picture worries Zimbabwe’s public that has borne the brunt of the failure of Zanu PF’s policies, leadership and systems. Here, the cynical Zimbabwean knows best.
The two men who are considered the doyens of the reforms have been Chinamasa and Mnangagwa. One needs to be reminded that these two men have been at the centre of Mugabe’s electoral “victories” since 2000; victories which have been widely condemned as characterised by violence and rigging.
Also, until recently, Chinamasa and Mnangagwa were considered hardliners who were fighting Mujuru’s camp which was considered to be liberal and Western oriented. It is interesting that today they are considered, within a space of a few months since the defenestration of Mujuru from the party, as leading reformers. Also, Chinamasa allegedly forced the last white justice in the Zimbabwean courts to resign.
On the other hand, Mnangagwa’s history shows that he is a man who has spent all his career destroying those who don’t agree with him. So when he talks of reform one cannot help but discern the outlines of Gukurahundi, or the 2008 second round presidential elections where blood was spilt in opposition strongholds.
One can call these men anything else, but reformers.
Zanu PF won’t reform
With Zanu PF at the helm, reform will not be part of Zimbabwe’s story. Indeed, it is reckless optimism to think they are contemplating reform. The party’s “genetic code” makes it incompatible with political reform. Ultimately, Zanu PF cannot reform because its elite is aware that any attempts at genuine reforms will result in the regime’s collapse.
Tinhu is a Zimbabwean political analyst based in London. This article was originally published by the Zimbabwe Independent