“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is now” — African proverb.
It has just been six months since Zimbabwe held its general elections and, for the better part of it, the new dispensation appears to be struggling in governing. Things seem to be falling apart, from fuel and cooking oil shortages to a crippling business shutdown this week.
For a newly elected government to be fire-fighting so early into a fresh mandate is not only senseless, but raises more questions than answers.
In this piece I offer my opinion on what has gone wrong and what needs to be done in order to salvage the “new dispensation dream” and the goodwill it wielded post-November 2017.
Disclaimer: This piece is inspired by The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene.
The new dispensation is a victim of its own piecemeal approach in the review and reform of key institutions in terms of policy and human resources. Whatever the strategy that underpinned the approach, it seems to have backfired spectacularly.
The historical context
The problem that bedevilled Zimbabwe as a country in 1980 was not the economy, but the land issue. When we took back our land that is when it dawned on us that one-man one-vote was merely political independence. Economically we were still under the direction and control of our former colonial masters.
Why is the cartel that is controlling our fuel procurement headed by white men? Simple, they have never relinquished economic control since 1980 — the state and political party capture. Capture of key economic players is not a consequence of managing or mismanaging the economy. It is a colonial hangover. South Africa is on the brink of seeking to shake off the shackles of economic slavery. We merely tried to do that in 2000. Clearly, we failed.
The United States is run by big business interests behind the scenes: tobacco, guns, the military-industrial complex; the list is endless. We are no different. An incumbent president is irrelevant to these big business interests. He either plays ball or is removed by hook or crook. The question we must ask ourselves is, how did former president Robert Mugabe manage to secure the confidence and support of the real power behind his throne while appearing to be a champion of Pan-Africanism.
Mugabe was a master at the laws of power — principally divide-and-rule. It is not about firing people. It is about influencing and controlling them — including the all-powerful cartel.
Breaking the monopoly
Perhaps President Emmerson Mnangagwa needs to create a rival cartel that has more money and influence and which owes its allegiance to him. The proposal put forward by Christopher Mutsvangwa at some point was brilliant. Break monopolies in the economy, not by bumping heads, but by using the markets.
The bigger picture
According to whispers in the corridors, the man at the helm has loyalty issues. He needs to be less trusting of the people who surround him in the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC). He needs to conduct background checks to ensure that he can rely on those he closely works with. The current crop, inherited from the Mugabe administration, is largely responsible for the contradictions in governance we see today.
The overhaul has to extend to the protocol department and remove the stranglehold that the current senior OPC officials have on his diary. He must tackle the scourge of influence-peddling and the perception that it is almost impossible to access senior officials without using the brown envelope. He can potentially create three protocol secretaries: one diary at OPC, one at State House, one with the intelligence, a Kwekwe diary and a personal issue diary.
There is a need for the President to consult people at permanent secretary level, they do all the work anyway.
Mugabe was a master at keeping an eye on all detractors in all departments. Equally, Mnangagwa needs to create a synchronised system for closely monitoring the performance of his underlings.
After Mugabe, there was always going to be a need for a clear change of management strategy as some people who were habituated to firm control were bound to seek to influence Mnangagwa’s direction.
Divide-and-rule is a principle used to turn key personal to report directly to the top and, in the process, bypass compromised supervisors. At party level, the same must be done. The President should listen not just to high-level functionaries but the rank-and-file. This entails paying attention to the youth and women. Tainted allies must be cut loose.
The process of re-configuring the bureaucracy is not as easy as people would want it to appear. As a lawyer, Mnangagwa knows that some people, like the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya and key staffers are protected by labour laws from arbitrary firing. The bureaucracy has retained a lot of people in sensitive positions like directors and permanent secretaries who are still loyal to the old administration and do not necessarily support the new dispensation. The President needs a strong performance monitoring and management team in the OPC that should constantly review contracts.
In the same breath, it is important for him to be cognisant of the fact that governmental authority is delegated, as the top officials cannot undertake all the work on their own.
Finance minister needs help
Finance minister Professor Mthuli Ncube is under heavy bombardment and is being blamed for everything that is wrong with Zimbabwe’s economy today. It is a truism that no matter how fantastic the policies Ncube can come up with, it is the political environment that will ultimately determine the effectiveness of those policies.
A toxic political environment will render the brilliant ideas he may have ineffective. He needs help. Among other tactics, he needs a newspaper or media outlet dedicated to articulating his vision which is not part of the state media. He can also use social media more effectively without being fettered.
Are the courts captured?
The suspension of Chief Magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe for granting internship to known G40 loyalists is significant. Perhaps this is an opportunity for the President to restructure—within the remit of the law—the secretariat of the Judicial Service Commission. There is a need to bring in a technocrat with a PhD in administration to do administration work and not get involved in political and quasi-legal issues. The Chief Justice is there to guide the secretariat. An outsider with solid professional credentials would be the ideal candidate for the job.
Ministry of mines
This is the goose that lays the golden eggs, quite literally. If the Ministry of Mines ensures the production of more gold and the country boosts its bullion reserves at the central bank, that would be a good way of re-introducing the Zimbabwean dollar. It then begs the question: why has the ministry been allocated a meagre US$16 million in the 2019 National Budget?
It is common knowledge that those who seek to invest in mining, especially foreigners, generally want full documentation that includes geological maps and exploration information quantifying the resource at that particular claim.
It is no secret that the bulk of Zimbabwean mining claims, upward of 80%, are unexplored. No amount of conferencing with investors will dilute this reality. The government has to play an active role in raising venture capital funds to make exploration possible. Armed with real geological information, investors will find it worthwhile to venture into Zimbabwe. Capital does not like risk.
Speak to the people
The current administration has in excess of four years to sort itself out. The dialogue going forward should be focussed on how to correct matters. I know that Mnangagwa has counter intelligence training. He knows what is wrong and how it went wrong. He needs help in coming up with strategies. In what needs to be done, he knows what needs to be done. It is the how which may elude. The devil is in the detail. Is he ready to cauterise the wound and help his country move forward?
His message should be, “Mistakes were made in the past. I was part of it and I am collectively responsible. I accept that. I am now saying it’s time to rectify the mistakes, to right those wrongs that are stopping our country from moving forward. Stand with me Zimbabwe. Give me a chance. We can make our country great again.” In trying to create propagate his idea of a new dispensation, Mnangagwa has inadvertently found himself portrayed as a weak and indecisive leader.
There is no room for mercy in this fight if he intends to come out on top. It is well to sell yourself as being soft as wool as long as you do not hypnotise yourself into believing that this acting for the cameras will do the job.
There is need to protect the cash cows: Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Mines, and the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority. He should also ensure that there is no scramble for power and there are no internal contradictions in Zanu PF.