For the first time in 30 years, millions of Zimbabweans witnessed what many others around the world have witnessed i.e. a change of power in government. The change surprised many if not all and to think it came from an unlikely source just makes it much more puzzling but don’t get me wrong, we, I included have longed for a change. Just to show its significance, the change had to come in the month of Mbudzi (November), a sacred month in Zimbabwean culture.
I am a fan of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a renowned Nigerian author. In one of her works, Half of a Yellow Sun, there is a line, which reads, Nigerians woke up to the news that “the army had taken over the country”. While I read her along, I subconsciously kept this line but never did it cross my mind that someday during my precious life, I would say the same. However, on Wednesday, November 15, I woke up to the news of a military intervention.
As I was to learn, later on, an army general had announced the military intervention at around 3 A.M after taking the national broadcaster Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and they, the military had used their role as the ‘stockholders’ of the revolutionary party to launch Operation Restore Order targeting ‘criminals’ around the leader of the country, Robert Mugabe.
The announcement by the army signified one thing at that moment and that is, change. We didn’t know what would happen but clear as crystal, a new dispensation had crawled in our beloved Zimbabwe.
Some arrests of government officials (others later released), negotiations between the army and the then President, huge marches countrywide, recalling of the President by his own ZANU (PF) Party, tabling of the impeachment motion in Parliament and the subsequent resignation of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe entered into an unchartered territory. For the first time, what seemed as a dream just a week before had come to reality, Zimbabwe was going to swear in a President and this time the name was not going to be Robert Gabriel Mugabe.
The name called and the man sworn in was Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa.
“Let bygones be bygones” the famous adage was one of the very first words uttered by the new President during his inauguration speech. In relation to the other parts of the speech, it’s very clear that the President used the adage in reference to both local and international players.
During the inauguration speech, the President touched on various issues including reviving the economy, sanctions, land reform and corruption. The President acknowledged that the country was indeed in an economic conundrum encouragingly and setting himself apart from his predecessor, he did not attribute the country poor economic performance to the so-called ‘illegal’ sanctions. He admitted that reviving the economy was the first port of call for his government. The President singled out the successful command agriculture as one of the ways to revive the economy. He said the government is to continue with the command agriculture program and it’s looking at spreading the ‘command’ element to other facets of the economy.
Not only did the President refuse to attribute the country’s poor economic fortunes to sanctions, he also did not refer to them as ‘illegal’ but rather as ‘political and economic punishments’. This can be seen as a first gesture towards the process of correcting the toxic relationship that existed between Zimbabwe and the west for over a number years.
Another cause of disagreement between Zimbabwe and the West has been the controversial land reform program. Though the President said the program was irreversible, he said that his government would compensate all white farmers who lost their land.
Addressing the challenge that bedevilled the government of Mugabe for so long, corruption, President Mnangagwa said that his government is taking a zero tolerance to corruption. In giving his address, Mnangagwa clearly came out as a man who is not an orator more so in comparison with his predecessor.
However, considering that Mugabe’s words had become empty especially among Zimbabweans, many would not be disappointed. Rather, his declaration that “I must hit the ground running”, makes him more of a man of action than words. A kind of man needed if the problem of corruption is to be combated quickly.
Already, the country has seen the arrest under corruption and abuse of office charges levied upon the former Finance Minister, Ignatius Chombo, while former government ministers, Professor Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Kasukuwere, had their accounts frozen due to corruption allegations. A moratorium was given by the President allowing all those who benefited from state resources or who looted state resources to return the resources to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) before the 1st of March 2018.
In all, the inauguration speech was calm and reassuring covered by a conciliatory tone.
After the President’s speech, the question on everyone’s lips local or foreign is, does the new government bring much-needed change to the ordinary folk or not.
It is just not the personalities that ruined the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans nor Zimbabwe’s relationship with the west but it’s a combination of personalities and the system. Now that personalities have gone (well, at least some), has the system gone as well.
One of the chief indicators that can tell us if the system has changed or not is the budget that was presented on December 7. The budget presented by the new Minister of Finance can at best be described as reformist thus a step in the right direction.
Major highlights of the budget include moves aimed at prioritising education and health, trimming the government wage bill by abolishing over 3000 youth posts and forcibly retiring all government employees over 65, clarification of the controversial 51/49 indigenisation law and re-engaging with western powers and international monetary institutions.
Basing on these, there is much to celebrate among Zimbabweans and the international community. Zimbabwe in over 20 years is making the first approach to western powers. The strategic importance of Zimbabwe to the west especially Britain cannot be underestimated.
Before the two’s relationship soured at the turn of the century, Zimbabwe was one of Britain’s main trading partners. Zimbabwe received a flurry of tourists from Britain while Zimbabwean farmers most of whom with British family ties exported agricultural produce to Britain. Re-establishment of this relationship between the two if it does happen now come at a time when the two countries really need each other. Zimbabwe is obviously struggling economically while Britain’s future is uncertain owing to the ongoing Brexit negotiations, which may affect its economy.
Locally, trimming the government wage bill ensures more revenue is directed to needy sectors that may contribute to the development of the country. In addition, the clarification or rather re-interpretation of the Indigenisation Law paves the way for foreign investment that is much needed in Zimbabwe for economic and social development.
The overtures taken by the government in the budget instils much-needed confidence in the government’s operations.
While appraising how the new system is taking shape, some aspects of this new leadership have caused mixed reactions among the populace. The first pertains to the President’s choice of cabinet. Amid calls for an inclusive or a young and technical cabinet, the President chose to retain the same faces that have been part of the previous systems apart from one or two new faces. Will the old dogs learn new tricks? Only time will tell.
Another reason that has caused debate among the public pertains to the Presidential motorcade. In as much as the President needs security, it seems that a 20-vehicle motorcade is just too much. What we can commend though is that even with this motorcade, the President still finds time to mingle with people as seen on most occasions he has been out.
Overall, what we know now about Zimbabwe’s new leadership is that it is focused, attentive and forgiving. We have already seen how the President was quick to notice a spelling error during the renaming ceremony at the new Josiah Tongogara barracks, precise attention to detail and how he managed to give a golden handshake to his predecessor with a whopping $10 million. Generous.