Mnangagwa’s Chinese dream invites scorn, sparks ‘dictatorship’ fears

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s pledge to introduce socialism in Zimbabwe, copying the Chinese leadership model has been ridiculed by analysts, who say the remarks show the Zanu PF leader is clueless on how to take the country forward.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s pledge to introduce socialism in Zimbabwe, copying the Chinese leadership model has been ridiculed by analysts, who say the remarks show the Zanu PF leader is clueless on how to take the country forward.

Additional reporting by CNBC

During a five-day state visit to China last week, Mnangagwa praised the “Xi Jinping Thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics” and vowed to “take this mantra to Zimbabwe and hope to develop some socialism in Zimbabwe with Zimbabwean characteristics.”

The Xi Jinping Thought refers to the Chinese leader’s contributions to that country’s communist philosophy, which is written into the ruling Communist Party’s documents and is taught at schools.

Former Finance minister Tendai Biti said Mnangagwa had inadvertently revealed his intentions to close the political space in Zimbabwe by copying Xi’s leadership style. China’s ruling party recently voted to scrape presidential term limits to allow Xi to run for a third term.

“Mnangagwa clearly does not know a lot of things. He probably wants to take the Beijing model, which has liberalisation of business while there is absolute closure of political space,” Biti said.

“He envies Xi’s position where he has effectively made himself life president.

“China is not a socialist state, but practices state capitalism where everything is run by central government, but still projects the characteristics of a capitalist society.”

Biti said Mnangagwa wants to emasculate political opponents and prolong his rule, but warned such a move would face serious resistance.

“There is a state capitalism in China. When Mnangagwa says he wants to copy the Chinese model he wants to be president for life chosen not by the people, but by the politburo while the country trades with everyone,” the opposition People’s Democratic Party leader added.

“That is why he is parroting the mantra that Zimbabwe is open for business while there has been nothing on the human rights front.

“We in Zimbabwe will not accept that. If we could remove the baobab that [former president Robert] Mugabe was, the thorn tree that Mnangagwa is presents no problems to us.”

Ibbo Mandaza, an academic and publisher, described Mnangagwa’s remarks as a “big joke”, adding the Zanu PF leader was confused.

“It’s a big joke, it’s amusing because even the Chinese system is no longer socialism,” he said.

“It’s State capitalism with the state at the centre of the economy,”

Mandaza said Zimbabwe does not have the capacity to follow the Chinese model.

“In our case, we do not have that capacity at government level. We have failed. If you look at state enterprises they have failed. We will not even go into the reasons for the failure,” he said. “Our state institutions are weak and clueless. The people who are in charge only know politics and nothing about the economy.

“We have been caretakers for a capital economy and those who govern the globe are still in control of the economy represented by the mining houses, the banks and industry. “We are just a bunch of comprador bourgeoisie, people not grounded, corrupt and basically thieves,” Mandaza said.

Mnangagwa has been described as a student of Chinese reformist Deng Xiaoping because of his support for business-friendly policies.

After he was re-elected by the Community Party and the term limits scrapped, Xi will now decide when he wants to leave office.

Mnangagwa was installed president in November last year after the army forced Mugabe to resign.

One of the reasons for Mugabe’s ouster was that he had remained in power for too long.

Mnangagwa pledged to return Zimbabwe to democracy and has promised free and fair elections later this year.

Zimbabwe and China’s relationship dates back to the 1960s, when China provided former president Mugabe’s guerilla fighters with weapons and training during Zimbabwe’s liberation war against the Rhodesian colonial government.

Both Mugabe and his successor Mnangagwa have been described as friends by the Chinese government.

Mnangagwa visited China in the 1960s for military training.

Areas for economic collaboration between Zimbabwe and China include infrastructure, mining and transport.

Zimbabwe is known for gold and diamond exports, as well as tobacco, for which China was its top export market in 2016.

Question marks remain over Chinese’s involvement in Mugabe’s ouster.

Then army commander retired general Constantino Chiwenga visited China days before the tables were turned on Mugabe.

China also sent an envoy to Harare soon after Mnangagwa took power. China says that it did not play any role in Mugabe’s downfall.

Mnangagwa has been touting a “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra in an effort to reboot the country’s economy, which has famously struggled with corruption and hyperinflation.

This could mean also rapprochement with the West as it has been reported that Zimbabwe is in talks to rejoin the Commonwealth, a 53-nation bloc of former British colonies, which could bring political and economic benefits.

Mugabe withdrew membership in 2003 following a dispute over human rights.