By Nobleman Runyanga
Last week the opposition and other anti-Government detractors were excited by the United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of States for Africa, Matthew Harrington’s submission on Zimbabwe to the US Senate Committee that, among other things, “so far the pace and scale of reforms has been too gradual and not…ambitious.”
Some private media players were equally excited and ran with the matter using headlines which betrayed their partiality on the matter. They sought to create the false impression that President Emmerson Mnangagwa had received a rapping on the knuckles from the American government over the alleged slow progress in implementing some changes to earn the lifting of the illegal sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the Western country in 2001.
The opposition revelled in the matter as if it would bring it the poll victory which it failed to attain on 30 July due to its lack of sound policies. The way the Americans, the opposition and the private media went to town over the matter was as if the President had done virtually nothing since assuming power on 24 November last year. On the contrary, progressive and honest Zimbabweans and other global citizens have already noted significant changes on the ground since last year.
Apart from the land reform programme, the Western countries’ other major bone of contention with Zimbabwe is the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act which compelled foreign investors to cede 51 percent of the ownership of their business ventures to indigenous people. On assuming power, this was one of the first changes the President rung in the economy in line with his opening Zimbabwe to global capital thrust and re-engaging with the world to enable the country to claim its stake on the global stage like any other member of the international community. In December last year President Mnangagwa did away with the contentious 51/49 provision for all other sectors of the economy except for diamond and platinum mining, which roused so much unprecedented investor interest in Zimbabwe, that by the end of July the country had registered US$15 billion in investment commitments. Most of the investments are, understandably, yet to be rolled out given the time it takes to consummate deals of that magnitude.
Former white farmer compensation
Since the British government of Tony Blair reneged on its pledge to fund Zimbabwe’s land reform programme in 1998 as part of the 1979 Lancaster House Agreement, the two countries have haggled over the matter with the latter rolling out the programme without compensation in 2000. This led to the souring of relations between the nations. Britain has regarded the move as a violation of the former farmers’ right to ownership of property while Zimbabwe felt that Britain was to blame for refusing to compensate the farmers.
Enter President Mnangagwa and the narrative changed as he pledged to offer compensation for the land lost during the programme. To demonstrate his seriousness about mending relations with Britain and other countries and bring closure to the land issue, the President directed the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Professor Mthuli Ncube to provide for the compensation of the former farmers in the 2019 National Budget, which he did to the tune of $53 million.
Realising that Zimbabwe had been ostracised for two decades and that he could not achieve the economic turnaround, which is necessary to improve Zimbabweans’ livelihoods, by maintaining the isolation of the country, President Mnangagwa embarked on a vigorous re-engagement drive – a departure from the Mugabe era’s go-to-hell brand of diplomacy. This has been underpinned by his Zimbabwe is open for Business thrust to attract investment into the country and drive the revival of the economy. This is an ongoing process whose results cannot be seen overnight. Despite the American sanctions, American giants such as General Electric have already knocked on Zimbabwe’s door offering to construct the Batoka Hydro Power Project on the Zambezi River among other investment deals.
During the previous administration sanctions were used as a scapegoat to explain away mismanagement, bad political decisions and outright corruption. President Mnangagwa has ditched that and insists on service to the people by leaders who, he insists, should be servants of the people. This approach is already yielding tangible results. For example the national road authority, the Zimbabwe National Road Administration (ZINARA) was plagued by blatant corruption which saw it not doing much to fund road construction and maintenance despite realising hundreds of millions in revenue. Since the advent of the new dispensation, a lot of road works funded by ZINARA are visible all over the country which is indicative of increased transparency and a refreshingly different work ethic.
Since President Mnangagwa took over, cases of open fraud and corruption involving high profile politicians, which saw people like the fugitive former Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, Professor Jonathan Moyo allegedly salting away over US$400 000 from the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund (ZIMDEF) with his boss looking the other way, have reduced.
Opened democratic space
Upon assuming power President Mnangagwa, unlike his predecessor, opened the democratic space resulting in opposition parties and politicians freely campaigning throughout Zimbabwe ahead of the 30 July elections. The President also invited foreign observers from blocs such as the Commonwealth and the European Union, which had last observed local elections in 2002, in addition to regular invitees such as the African Union and regional observers.
On the domestic front, instead of following the previous script in terms of appointing cabinet ministers, the president played the people’s servant by appointing young and non-Zanu PF ministers in line with the people’s wishes. In the past cabinet positions were the preserve of senior Zanu PF members despite the people’s protestations over their lack of competency. The new dispensation has seen women such as Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri handling the powerful defence portfolio, the young Mangaliso Ndlovu superintending over the crucial Ministry of Industry and Commerce while an equally youthful but white and non-Zanu PF member, Kirsty Coventry is now the Minister of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation.
Lots of work ahead
While more still needs to be done in areas such as fighting corruption and increasing industrial production, President Mnangagwa has acquitted himself very well so far given that he has been in charge for just a year. It should be understood that Zimbabwe’s challenges developed over a two-decade period and it would be grossly unfair for the opposition, especially the MDC, and America to judge the President harshly when he is only four months into his elected term.
Yes, he has his work cut out for him to turn Zimbabwe around, but he should be allowed the chance to carry out his mandate, which he was given by Zimbabweans in July, without some people unfairly and unnecessarily breathing down his neck. If anyone should be pressing him for progress, it is Zimbabweans and not Americans and some conflicted opposition parties.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.