Is Mnangagwa Zimbabwe’s version of Deng Xiaoping? By Lulu Brenda Harris

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WHEN Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in as president of Zimbabwe last week, he promised to revive the national economy and turn the country into an attractive investment location once again.

President Mnangagwa has laid out an ambitious plan to boost the economy, implement budget cuts and re-engage with the international community in order to restore Zimbabwe’s economic glory back.

In his swearing in speech, President Mnangagwa promised to protect foreign direct investment and compensate white farmers whose land was taken during the ‘controversial’ land reform programme. His dominant theme was reviving the economy, revamping the country’s business environment and he continuously referred to the need to make investors feel safe with their investments,

On the same breath, Mnangagwa said his government would be more efficient, corruption will be un-tolerated and also promised that elections set for next year would go as planned.

Ideally, this is what Zimbabweans expect from new leadership seeing that they have suffered economic hardships for over two decades and can only hope this government will usher in positive change.

Having served as former president Robert Mugabe’s henchman for years, Mnangagwa’s story reads like the late Chinese revolutionary and politician, Deng Xiaoping, who after Chairman Mao Zedong’s death of the Communist Party of China introduced far-reaching market-economy reforms.

While Deng never held office as the head of state, he was responsible for China’s economic reforms and opening the Asian country to the global economy.

Like Deng, Mnangawa inherits a country weighed down with social unease, disenchantment with Zanu PF and institutional disorder that resulted from the ruling party’s unfavourable policies.

After Mao, Deng became the paramount figure of the “second leadership” of the Communist Party of China’s leadership. He was called “the architect” of a new brand of thinking that combined socialist ideology with pragmatic market economy. Deng opened China to foreign investment and the global market, policies that are credited with developing China into one of the fastest-growing economies in the world for several generations and improving the standard of living of hundreds of millions.

Looking at his rhetoric, Mnangagwa wants to portray himself as the Zimbabwean version of Deng, and build a sound economy hoping his past will be forgotten.

Analysts have said Mnangagwa’s presidential speech was conciliatory in order to entice and show the world he was stepping out of his former master’s shadow.

In his words, President Mnangagwa said, “I humbly appeal to all of us that we let bygones be bygones…”

However some sticking points remained from his swearing in speech and these were a commitment to democracy. President Mnangagwa spoke about citizens “feeling secure” in the country but not much on having all their rights respected. This raised fears that some constitutional freedoms may not be respected.

Some allege the new president is petty and vindictive seen by the hounding of families belonging to exiled former ministers (Professor Jonathan Moyo and Savior Kasukuwere) the arrest of former finance minister Ignatius Chombo who has been charged for corruption dating back to 2003 and Zanu PF youth leader Kudzanai Chipanga who faced charges of publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the state as defined in Section 31 (a) (iii) of the Criminal (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 9.23 or alternatively causing disaffection among the police force or defence forces.

Interestingly, the state denied Chombo and Chipanga bail insisting it was for their protection against the public and that they might skip their bail conditions.

It can be argued that these reasons for denying them bail are weak and as such their lawyer, Professor Lovemore Madhuku, has approached the High Court to apply for their bail. However, such actions illustrate this is a Zanu PF script of doing things, the party is “violent and dictatorial in nature,” only those branded enemies are prosecuted to the satisfaction of those in power.

For instance, Chombo’s alleged crimes date back to a decade and yet has been only arrested now. Zimbabweans await to see more Zanu PF bigwigs behind bars, if the government is serious about fighting corruption.

Analysts have said Zimbabweans need to keep a watchful eye on Mnangagwa’s administration especially how it treats political opponents because no one should be subjected to arrest or state-sponsored violence on the basis that they hold a different political opinion.

Zimbabweans can only pray that President Mnangagwa keeps his word and builds a legacy of a leader who unified Zimbabweans and improved their economic fortunes.

Meanwhile President Mnangagwa is in the process of appointing a cabinet following its dissolution and is ‘digging deeper’ for an administration that supports his objective.

In the interim, he has appointed Patrick Chinamasa, as Acting Finance Minister and Simbarashe Mumbengegwi as Acting Foreign Affairs Minister to temporarily take care of these critical portfolios. These appointments were made on a caretaker basis to enable government to take care of bilateral relations and cater for civil servants’ issues.

The president has also met with the civil service commission and permanent secretaries of government ministries to spell out his reforms.

He informed them he is putting together a new government structure that will entail the merging of some line ministries in order to remove functional duplications as well as contain unnecessary expenditures in order to enhance productivity and efficient delivery of service.

Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Dr Misheck Sibanda confirmed the cabinet which would be announced “in the next two or three days,” will be leaner and shall focus on performance.

The cabinet’s prime focus would be implementation of practical solutions to grow the economy, create jobs and boost incomes of people.

Dr Sibanda said the president’s mantra is “peak performance, peak performance and peak performance.”

In the same vein, President Mnangagwa has issued a three month moratorium to individuals and corporates that externalised funds and assets to give them back to the country on a no questions asked or charges laid against them.

In a statement, the president said this three months amnesty was a first step towards the recovery of illegally externalised funds and assets.

The government has gazetted this three month moratorium to give those who had been involved in externalisation to bring back into the Zimbabwe what they had illegally acquired.

This move has been linked to the military’s operation restore legacy that is said to have helped to uncover cases where huge sums of money and other assets were illegally externalised by certain individuals and corporates.

“Needless to say, such malpractices constitute a very serious economic crime against the people of Zimbabwe, which the government of Zimbabwe will never condone,” said President Mnangagwa.

The period of this amnesty will stretch from December 1, 2017 to the end of February 2018.

Affected persons who wish to comply with this directive should communicate with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe for necessary facilitation and accounting.

Upon the expiry of the three month window, President Mnangagwa warned that his government will arrest those who fail to comply with this amnesty and would be prosecuted in accordance with Zimbabwe’s laws.

“Those affected are thus encouraged to take advantage of the three month moratorium to return the illegally externalised funds and assets in order to avoid the pain and ignomity of being visited by the long arm of the law,” he said.

To some, this is an act to show international investors that their investments would be safe and that President Mnangagwa has the political will to tackle corruption.

The questions to ask now are will the president himself comply with this amnesty or will he rely on his presidential immunity? Will his colleagues also bring back what they allegedly externalised? Only time will tell!

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