President Emmerson Mnangagwa has repeatedly told us that his post-Robert Mugabe administration won’t bother about politics, but the economy. That’s a measured lie that was never going to make sense anyway.
CORRUPTION WATCH BY TAWANDA MAJONI
Politics, by definition, is the business of deploying the power and influence that you have to run a country or other institutions like the party. You will never escape doing that if you are in power. Even the economy is a sub-sector of politics. In other ways, there is no way in which you can run an economy outside politics. That would be like saying, “There is no sky, but I fly”.
But the reason why Mnangagwa thinks he can fly without a sky is he, like most people, has a skewed way of looking at politics. Zimbabweans have this weird and negative understanding of politics. They think it must be about pecking at each other, calling each other names, bashing journalists, persecuting the opposition, shredding the statutes and ruling forever. That’s why they dutifully call politics a dirty game.
Whatever the case, ED is just as preoccupied with negative power politics as his predecessor, Robert Mugabe. Granted, he is anxious to get the economy working once again so as to produce a good legacy for himself.
Things are not working the way he wants, of course, but he is trying. Like he said at the recently ended Zanu PF annual conference, he has been busy breaking the ground for various projects and making mega deals. Pity that the projects and mega deals don’t seem to be any deal.
As he is doing that, he is playing a frantic power game that he seems to hope we won’t know about. ED is a loyal student of Mugabe. He is using exactly the same tactics that his former boss used to enhance his grip on power. One such method is party endorsements.
Ahead of and during the 2018 Zanu PF conference, ruling party organs, provinces and individuals fell over each other to endorse Mnangagwa as their 2023 presidential candidate. You may be tempted to think that it’s the “people” who are endorsing him. But the ultimate truth is that it’s him who has crafted that strategy. He wants to rule after his current term, so he has set in motion a project to ensure that things happen that way.
We saw quite a load of that during Mugabe’s time. For instance, Mugabe won the 2013 presidential election, albeit controversially. Between that year and late October 2017 just before the coup, Zanu PF was busy endorsing him at its annual conferences. The party also organised several “million men” marches that were meant to convince us of Mugabe’s perennial suitability to lead the party and, in turn, the country. And they also did some 10 wasteful star rallies that, in reality, were not youth-organised gatherings but platforms to undermine Mugabe’s deputy then, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
That strategy lived lots of lies. Contrary to the propaganda by the organisers of the marches and the rallies, Mugabe was no longer suitable to keep leading Zanu PF and the country. He was almost wheelchair bound, had difficulties with his step and memory and was fast losing control of the party and government.
It’s just that there were people who were benefiting from his patronage who wanted to keep him in the seat. They were burdened by a pervasive sense of insecurity and, like all people who suffer an inferiority complex, they made up for their fears with lots of noise. They call it compensatory behaviour in psychology.
So, when you see ED walking the same path, you know where he is heading you. Clearly, what happens in Zanu PF is not exactly a private matter. It has national implications, especially in a party that routinely conflates internal and national politics.
Zanu PF is the ruling party. Its decisions and actions have a bearing on how the country will be run. It has just won a two-thirds majority in parliament and it would take a miracle to upset that in the next elections. So, there is a big possibility that it will still be in power after 2023.
It was always going to be an absurdity to start endorsing ED as the Zanu PF presidential candidate for 2023 now. For Christ’s sake, this is happening barely four months after the last elections and less than three months after the Constitutional Court upheld his controversial victory.
The assumption here is that ED has already proved that he is suitable to run the country for an extra five years, if not beyond. That thinking stinks far and wide.
ED has hardly done anything to show that he will always be capable of effectively leading the party and, by implication, the country.
Five years is a long time in politics. He can make so many blunders you would want to retrieve Mugabe from his wheelchair or grave to get him ruling once again.
Mnangagwa might have so far managed to hold his party together, but there is nothing to show that he is being effective as a national leader. The economy is in turmoil and there is no good reason to believe that he will turn the tide any time soon.
Besides, why bother endorsing a leader who has just been endorsed? Mnangagwa was made party leader at last year’s special congress? Things would have to stay like that for the next five years because that was the resolution of the congress.
Why not wait till December 2022 to renew the resolution or make a fresh one?
The answer is simple. Mnangagwa’s backers are seeking to create a political cult around him, just as they did for Mugabe. That is abusing their positions of influence.
All the time, political cultism begets dictators. It produces a destructive one centre of power. The president is going to develop a poisonous sense of comfort, entitlement and invincibility. That’s also how Mugabe turned into a monster. Once a leader gets into this mode, he or she relegates the interests of the people to the backyard and spends most of his or her time basking in self-glory.
ED’s endorsement gets Zimbabwe into perpetual election mode. That is what inevitably happens when you start talking of the next elections just after an election.
This proves that, contrary to his repeated claim, ED will be doing politics, politics and more politics. If he will still find time for the economy, then fine. But he can easily get tired and bored because the economy is proving to be a stubborn Achilles Heel, so he would relapse into the political mode.
That is highly likely if the legitimacy he is seeking from the western community takes too long to come and he slips into a defensive frame.
We know all too well that the recent endorsements are pre-emptive. That’s politics, not the economy. The man who enabled his rise to power, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, looks like one guy who wanted a bite at the cherry, come 2023. In order to stop that, Mnangagwa had to get people singing “2023: ED Pfee!” That seems to be working because ED has managed to place his elbow in Chiwenga’s face.
The endorsements have another far-reaching implication. They will perpetuate the succession crisis in Zanu PF. As it stands, the ruling party has no visible and viable successor to ED. That is likely to stay the same till 2028, assuming Mnangagwa wins in 2023. When that time comes, the party will discover that it has a leadership void. That has the potential of creating internal party instability that will spill over into national politics.
Quite worrying too is the opportunity that the Zanu PF endorsements create for corruption. Such endorsements spawn a vicious cycle of patronage.
Those that surround the president and those that also wish to surround him will do anything to endear themselves with the president. They will look for all sorts of routes to make money so that they can buy closeness to the president. And some of them will be abusing State resources in order to achieve that.
Remember what happened with the Zimdef funds? Mugabe’s backers looted the fund knowing too well that nothing would happen to them. They got themselves hoarse singing Mugabe’s praises, for a good purpose. They used the endorsements to loot fuel and money and the ex-president protected them from the police.
Tawanda Majoni is the national co-ordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT), a member of the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN), and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org