Mnangagwa's government: The mask has slipped

Mnangagwa's government: The mask has slipped
Published: 22 August 2019 (111 Views)
In April last year, on these pages, I expressed concern at President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his government's obvious fascination with Rwanda and China.

On the face of it, it seemed as if Mnangagwa wanted to learn from Rwanda how a country can be moved from the brink of the abyss to a point where it was seen as an example that other African countries can follow.

My concern, however, was that the Zimbabwean government was not being drawn to Rwanda by the romanticised notion of development and economic growth, but rather by a more sinister agenda, where one party is entrenched in power and all forms of opposition to the government are crushed.

When I wrote the article, Mnangagwa had been in power for about five months and there was still euphoria surrounding his presidency and the fall of his predecessor Robert Mugabe.

Telltale signs were emerging that the new administration, in spite of all its posturing, was averse to criticism and did not take kindly to opposition.

I worried that at the first whiff of a threat to the Zanu PF government's hold on power, the ruling party would revert to default settings, throw away all pretence of being reformers and crush anyone who threatened it.

Well, it is now evident that Mnangagwa and his government managed to pull the wool over our eyes and those of the international community with claims that they were reforming when all they were doing was buying time in the hope they would gain acceptance by even the biggest skeptics.

The events of last Friday in Harare are a clear sign that this government will go to any lengths to stop anyone from demonstrating against it, regardless of what the Constitution says.

The government unleashed police officers on people that were sitting on the ground and evidently not posing any threat to anyone.

If this was an illegal gathering, then the police could have simply shepherded the protesters away, without anyone being savaged with truncheons or being kicked indiscriminately all over the body.

Using violence to disperse the demonstrators is, as one person said in a totally different context, the equivalent of punching yourself in the mouth as you try to pick your nose.

Moving the protesters out of the central business district peacefully would have somewhat helped cement Mnangagwa's credentials as a reformist who deserves another chance and is better than his predecessor.

But now, in spite of all the goodwill he had barely two years ago, comparisons are now being drawn between Mnangagawa and his predecessor, with the less charitable saying the current President is worse than Mugabe.

As The Economist succinctly put it: "When Zimbabweans are expressing nostalgia for Robert Mugabe you know things must be bad."

It is unimaginable that anyone can be worse at governing than Mugabe, but when the economy is tanking, civil liberties are curtailed and democratic space is closed, parallels will be drawn and they will be very unkind to the incumbent.

Every pretence that this government was opening up political space, allowing free expression and association went up in smoke last week, and the mask has truly slipped. In August 2018, when the army was unleashed on civilians, some people generally considered as reasonable were willing to make excuses for the government's excesses and the setting up of a commission of enquiry helped assuage the few that were beginning to ask questions.

Instead of blaming the army and the government for the excesses, blame was shifted to an opposition that was being accused of being over eager and impatient to get into power.

Then the January shootings happened and the number of apologists shrunk quite considerably, but there were some that felt that some force was needed to quell the rampaging protesters.

Never mind that the use of force was disproportionate in both circumstances, excuses were made for Mnangagwa and his administration.

But the administration is a one trick pony, and soon enough blaming the opposition for the violence unleashed on civilians became a tired excuse, and the world began to see beyond the facade.

The international community was quick to condemn the latest crackdown and the alleged abductions that preceded the aborted August 16 protests.

Mnangagwa can rest assured he has squandered all the goodwill he so craved and the world is now watching him with the eyes of a hawk.

The government may continue pawning claims that it is reforming and that it is replacing bad laws with new ones, but the reality is that it will find no buyers.

What Mnangagwa and his government can be doing, in the meantime, is to cancel the two contracts Zimbabwe has with two American lobby firms, as I doubt they will make much headway in having the sanctions removed.

And besides, Zimbabwe needs that money desperately for more important things rather than pointless propaganda.

Zimbabwe is squarely back in the realms of pariah status; no amount of propaganda or sugar coating will extricate us from this mess.

Instead, Mnangagwa should be prioritising the reforms that he promised, entrenching rights such as freedoms of assembly, speech and association.

No matter how unpalatable it is, Mnangagwa has to accept that the opposition is a reality and from time to time they are going to demonstrate against him for one reason or another. Whether he is a success or a failure, there will always be some form of discontent.

Blocking demonstrations will only heighten comparisons with Mugabe and make a mockery of his government's two favourite cliches; new dispensation and second republic.

The idea of going the Rwanda way may be seductive; winning elections with 97% of the vote and barely having any opposition to contend with is quite a tempting prospect, but it is not achievable in Zimbabwe.

- newsday


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