Zimbabwe: President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Challenge

What we have just witnessed in Zimbabwe was not a revolution to overthrow a corrupt system. It was a power struggle within that corrupt system. Former President Mugabe wanted to install his much younger wife as his successor. The old guard, who understandably felt threatened, moved to stop him. The correct question from this point has become, “what happens next?”

The new President has heard the ordinary people of Zimbabwe cheering in the streets at the news of Mugabe’s resignation. Consequently, Mnangagwa is telling them what they want to hear.

•    All Zimbabweans are equal. There are no “superior” Zimbabweans.
•    What Zimbabwe needs now is economic revival. We need jobs.
•    Zimbabwe needs to return to democracy.

All that sounds great. But what about the elephant in the room? Mugabe’s ruling party, ZANU-PF, continues to be in power. There are many members of the party who have a vested interest in the status quo.

ZANU-PF is not just a political party. It is a state within a state. In downtown Harare, the ZANU-PF headquarters is more prominent than any government building. In terms of Marxist-Leninist ideology, ZANU-PF is the “vanguard party” that will bring about the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” That ideology does not include the possibility of the party ever leaving power. 

Transforming ZANU-PF into a normal political party that is competitive, and willing to take the risk of losing an election, will be Mnangagwa’s most difficult challenge. Too many citizens depend on the party for their livelihoods.

The Zimbabwean economy is in ruin. Corruption and mismanagement have taken their toll. Here is what President Mnangagwa should consider seriously:

•    Call in the International Monetary Fund to do a rapid survey and make recommendations for economic recovery and reform with support from international financial institutions.

•    As a gesture to justice and fairness, as well as a friendly signal to the investor community, promise to pay compensation at some point in the future to all of the commercial farmers who lost their properties during the farm seizures between 1999 and 2010. What is often not understood is that approximately 80% of commercial farmers purchased their properties after Mugabe became Zimbabwe’s first President. They had confidence in him before he kicked white farmers off their land as part of a demagogic campaign to tighten his grip on power.

•    Identify younger, educated Zimbabweans, in both ZANU-PF and the opposition, who have the economic skills to manage the nation’s wealth. Place them in key positions in the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank.

•    Ask the World Bank to advise on what is necessary to make Zimbabwe attractive to private investors, both domestic and foreign.

Mnangagwa must also start a dialogue with the military hierarchy, who prevented Mugabe from installing his wife as his successor, on returning the armed forces to their professional origins. Currently the military acts as a business enterprise. This reform will be difficult as their business is lucrative.

None of these proposals will be easy, but the people are demanding the reforms they have been dreaming about for two decades. If all goes well, it is sensible to imagine the eventual return of the two million Zimbabweans who left the country because Mugabe’s “Leninist” actions made life unbearable.

In a regional context, Zimbabwe’s experience of peaceful “regime change” should send a signal to other heads of state who are unable, or unwilling, to listen to their citizens and make an elegant departure from power. It is a bit ironic that when President Laurent Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was assassinated in January 2001, it was President Robert Mugabe who selected his son Joseph to replace him. It is time now for Joseph to listen to the Congolese people in the streets advising him that he has overstayed his time.