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Mnangagwa’s disappointing Cabinet

President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced a 22-member cabinet on Friday. Largely, it looks like he is that bird that just hopped from one branch to another but remained in the same tree. Pretty the same as old Robert Mugabe.

By Tawanda Majoni

Mnangagwa has a humongous task to produce positive perceptions around himself, government and, overall, Zimbabwe. For a long time, he will be viewed as a product of the very man who brought Zimbabwe down — Mugabe. He, therefore, needs to show that he is different in a big way. He must introduce a new culture of governance. He must show that he and his lieutenants are clean. Above all, he must produce a working system and palpable results.

Even before he was sworn in, he was saying the right things. He talked of fighting corruption, making the economy work once again, getting people to work for their lunch and stepping into the global village once again. He promised to hit the ground spinning too and to let action speak ahead of words. That was all good for a good perception.

But, when you consider his cabinet, it seems he stumbled upon touching the ground. And it looks possible that he could have sprained an ankle in the process. Granted, it is a positive thing that he reduced cabinet by some 10 ministries. While the new president indicated that staff affected by the downsizing of cabinet would be absorbed elsewhere if they are still within the stipulated age limit, a leaner cabinet is obviously going to save money.

The decision to cut the size of cabinet is, therefore, good for the Mnangagwa government’s image. Other things equal, it will be viewed as a positive attitude to enhance efficiency and productivity. Multi-lateral and bi-lateral partners have been calling for that for a long time. Just that Mugabe didn’t want to listen. Unfortunately, that is where the good news ends for Mnangagwa.

Perceptions around a Cabinet are shaped by its constituents and constitution. The constituents are the Cabinet and other ministers. The constitution is the structure of the Cabinet. As already stated, the one positive thing about this Cabinet is a significant drop in the number of ministries. But, even then, a lot of people out there feel that the president could have done better.

To start with, it doesn’t make any sense for him to have retained the Scholarships ministry. This ministry was set up in Mugabe’s last Cabinet reshuffle a couple of months ago and, prior to that, stood as a directorate in the president’s office. Christopher Mushohwe, who was gifted the ministry by Mugabe and then retained by Mnangagwa, has a long history with that department.

It’s very easy for a relatively good effort to be tainted by one speck which, in this case, is the retention of that ministry. It raises a lot of questions. Does Zimbabwe need a scholarships ministry when the business can be handled by the Higher Education ministry? What is that has been happening with the scholarships that requires the attention and involvement of a full ministry.

When Mugabe introduced the ministry, everyone except him and his bootlickers thought it was a weird idea. But when Mnangagwa who is under pressure to prove a good governance point, having taken over from his former boss, goes ahead and runs with the same absurdity, it becomes confusing and worrying.

I am beginning to suspect that a lot of shady things are happening in that ministry that we are not yet aware of. It’s possible that the ministry is being used as a foreign counter-intelligence unit without having to look like one. But who needs that considering that we have counter-intelligence units in both the military and national security agency? That would be wastage of resources.

A more real possibility is that the ministry is a cash cow for some people. Yes, we all know that beneficiaries of the presidential scholarship scheme studying outside Zimbabwe have been suffering because they were not getting money from the department. That, though, doesn’t mean that no money has been going towards the scholarship programme. In this case, it is likely that the money was being diverted towards other uses.

But even if there was no money going to the department, I still smell a rat. What if the scholarships programme is being used for money-laundering purposes by the chefs? The programme involves remitting money to bank accounts domiciled outside the country and this presents a good opportunity for the chefs to transfer huge amounts of money to proxy offshore accounts. Well, this could still be done even if the scholarships programme was resident in a directorate instead of a ministry. That makes the whole issue of weirder, doesn’t it?

Insistence on this ministry also betrays a likely tendency by the powers that be to accommodate their cronies. It is a well-known fact that Mushohwe fought from the same corner with Mnangagwa in the Zanu PF factional battles pitting Lacoste against G40. So, when ED took over from Mugabe and found out there were too many cronies to please after the war, he was at sixes and sevens to find a place for a helpful buddy, hence the retention of Mushohwe and the ministry.

Of course, politics of accommodation is bad for governance. It’s cronyism and nepotism by a fancy and longer name. Right now, Zimbabweans don’t want to see how clever Mnangagwa is by giving tenancy to his cronies. They want honest, well-meaning decisions and actions.

The issue of the ministry, which is a matter of constitution of the cabinet, is perhaps secondary to his choice of certain constituents. Obert Mpofu who is now the new Home Affairs minister, is a highlight case in this regard. He is a bad case if you want to bring about a good image. We all remember the amount of controversy that Mpofu attracted, particularly during the time he was Mines and Mining Development minister. He meddled with the licensing of mines. He threw his weight around everything concerning mining.

And a lot of people still strongly believe he was busy stealing diamonds from Marange. This is where the whole problem starts for Mnangagwa. Whether Mpofu is clean or not is not the matter. The perception that is out there is that he is not. And perceptions are reality. So, as a constituent, Mpofu has dealt the Mnangagwa establishment a deadly legitimacy blow. ED will sound like a broken bell all the time he talks about fighting corruption. A lot of people won’t believe him.

A big question hovers over this. What is so special about Mpofu that the president risked condemnation by having him to head such a sensitive ministry like Home Affairs? Surely, the two must be keeping a secret that we don’t know. And dark secrets are not good for governance. Of course, Mpofu is not the only constituent likely to tarnish Mnangagwa. There are several others that I thought ED could have done better by leaving out.

As all this happens, people are already wondering if Mnangagwa hasn’t learnt too much from his predecessor and forgotten too little in the process.

l Tawanda Majoni is the Information for Development Trust (IDT) national coordinator

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