IN the euphoria of Robert Mugabe’s fall, Zimbabweans would have done anything Emmerson Mnangagwa would have asked.
At his inauguration, over 60 000 people in the National Sports Stadium lapped up his speech.
He delivered it well, even acknowledging that he wasn’t much of a speaker, but a doer. The crowd loved it.
And, in the days after his ascent to power, the hope was visible. On the streets, people waved placards calling “ED” a hero. Abroad, investors were, for the first time in decades, looking at Zimbabwe seriously.
“Within 24 hours of the military seizing control in Harare, investment firms say their phones have been ringing with client inquiries about the chances of a turnaround in Zimbabwe from decades of decline and bouts of financial chaos under Mugabe,” a Reuters report said in November.
Mnangagwa had the goodwill. Why not; he had just replaced a man reviled at home and abroad, whose very name had become synonymous with Zimbabwe’s failure.
Mnangagwa had one job; ride on that goodwill and do the right thing.
For a while, it seemed like he was doing just that. He met investors, reached out to opponents, mended fences with once hostile governments and announced economic measures that looked to be setting a course away from Mugabe’s path.
But things started turning and, somehow, he began chipping away at all the goodwill.
Here is how.
Poor Cabinet choices
Within a week of his inauguration, Mnangagwa announced a new Cabinet. He retained the likes of Obert Mpofu, tainted by allegations of corruption, to head the police. He also retained known underachievers such as Mike Bimha, Sithembiso Nyoni, Jorum Gumbo, Christopher Mushohwe, Chris Mutsvangwa and others.
There were a few bright spots, such as the new Mines Minister Winston Chitando, but the Cabinet reeked of tried and tested failure.
Some said a wholesale clear-out of old allies would have rocked the boat too much, going into an election year. But all Zimbabweans saw, justifiably, was a leader promising to do things radically differently, but using the same team.
Many of these Ministers are stuck in their ways and can never change course, however much he cracks the whip.
Being soft on corruption
There is nothing Zimbabweans would love more than to see a few corrupt kingpins in prison khakis. Mugabe’s protection of corrupt officials was a major source of our beef with him. He simply refused to jail them, as long as they paid homage to him.
And so, when SB Moyo appeared on TV that November 15 morning, threatening to target “criminals” around Mugabe, there was hope that the corrupt were about to get their just rewards.
Ignatius Chombo, a poster-boy of corruption named in deals from land to bus contracts, was arrested. He awaits trial, months later. There were no other major arrests.
In March, Mnangagwa set up anti-corruption courts, but these are yet to take off. The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission is not just toothless, but its investigations committee is led by a man who repeatedly shows he doesn’t have the mental stability for the job.
An externalisation list released in March matched neither Government’s own hype nor the public’s expectations, and this hurt ED’s credibility further.
Had ED thrown the public a bone or two, in the form of quick prosecution of a couple of top level crooks, he would have kept some goodwill.
Failure to deal with cash crunch
Few rational people believed the cash shortages would be solved overnight. The crisis is part of a deep crisis; billions in deficits, poor exports and years of Government overspending.
The solution is only long term, and, unlike what rally crowds are fed, cannot be solved within days. But the public expected some sort of resolution, or at least an improvement. It never came. Instead, repeatedly, the Government admitted to the public that it has no short-term solution, a harsh reality too hard to take for a population that has suffered for far too long.
The miracle they expected from ED never came.
Breaking promises on economy
The first budget statement of Mnangagwa’s leadership gave hope that he was indeed committed to changing things.
Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa, in his budget presentation early December, announced he had turned down $169 million worth of requests for new cars.
Chinamasa also announced a range of new measures; no more business travel for officials, fewer embassies, and even cuts on new furniture and mobile phone airtime.
So we all thought the time for austerity was here. Mugabe’s overspending era was at last gone.
But it didn’t take long. Within months of Chinamasa’s announcement that he had declined a $14 million bill for chiefs’ cars, Mnangagwa was handing over new 4X4s to chiefs in Gweru.
Government tried to justify the about-turn: “The issue of cars for traditional chiefs is also in line with the new government’s initiative to ensure it can have a concerted stakeholder input on the implementation of key socio- economic developmental policies.”
Chinamasa had also announced he was turning down a $21 million request for MPs’ cars, but he soon announced that the scheme would continue, to cheers from both sides of the aisle.
Treasury’s first quarter 2018 numbers paint the picture best. Government managed to keep payroll costs in check in the first quarter of 2018, with employment costs accounted for 60.4 percent of total expenditure and 75.9 percent of recurrent expenditure, improving from 66.5 percent and 79.6 percent, respectively, in the same period of 2017.
But the Q1 budget deficit widened to $225 million this year, from $183 million in the corresponding period last year.
The government wage bill is definitely going to exceed the budgeted $3.27 billion after Government bowed down to industrial action by doctors and nurses as well as threats of similar action from teachers.
Mishandling nurses’ strike
In April, nurses went on strike for higher pay and allowances outstanding from 2010. After weeks of negotiation, in which the nurses’ union took a hard stance and held public protests, VP Constantino Chiwenga sacked all striking nurses.
They were all rehired eventually, but it showed the public a ruthlessness that many may have imagined had gone with Mugabe.
The rise of Chamisa
One of the factors that drained ED’s goodwill was not of his making. One of the reasons that many had looked to Mnangagwa for hope was the decline of the opposition MDC under Morgan Tsvangirai.
The MDC had always been an outlet for many Zimbabweans, until Tsvangirai was slowed down by illness. His party’s divisions had widened and it had gone stale on strategy and low on energy.
Mnangagwa’s opposition to Mugabe became that outlet. He wasn’t the change they wanted, but they were willing to compromise, as long as the MDC was this bad.
But, tragically, Tsvangirai passed away. But in that mourning, the MDC renewed itself. The emergence of Nelson Chamisa as party leader galvanised the opposition. Once again, ZanuPF opponents had their outlet back.
The MDC was once again recapturing the support of those outside its core and radical base.
Government’s media complex failed Mnangagwa.
From The Herald’s poor handling of foreign investment interest, to the ZBC’s often comic partisan coverage, those in charge of Mnangagwa’s communication believed they were doing him a favour. In reality, they were hurting him, and badly.
On foreign policy, and in engagement with foreign media, Mnangagwa’s PR strategists were on point. They did what needed to be done; casting Mnangagwa as the pro-business, calm and steady hand that Zimbabwe needed to steer the country from crisis.
But state media, in contrast, were not as nuanced. They were overexcited. In their rush to please, and showing little appreciation for how investments work, the state press again tried to sell “mega deals” to an already sceptical public.
There were many headlines screaming “billions”, as if cash was being deposited into bank accounts.
As a result, when real progress was indeed being made on the investment front, especially in mining, it was waved away by the public as mere propaganda.
Added to this was poor communication by Mnangagwa’s PR on his “100 day cycles”. The message sent, wrong and unchallenged, was that Mnangagwa had promised to solve all the nation’s problems in 100 days.
Meanwhile, on ZBC, old tired voices repeated the same praise-singing tropes of the Mugabe era, while shutting out even token opposition opinion. Where state media could have been used cleverly to portray a “New Dispensation”, it was instead used to show loyalty to the new leader, hurting him in the process.