Zimbabwe is free but political rivaly, economic turmoil reign

Wednesday April 17 2019

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

KITSEPILE NYATHI
By KITSEPILE NYATHI
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Zimbabwe will celebrate its 39th independence anniversary on Thursday amid escalating political squabbles and economic turmoil.

Just over a year after thousands of Zimbabweans thronged the streets, waving banners and chanting slogans to celebrate the fall of long time ruler Robert Mugabe, despondency has set in again.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who toppled Mr Mugabe in November 2017 with the help of the military, has struggled to turn around the economy and reunite a deeply divided country.

Prices of basic goods and medicines have been rising rapidly since January when President Mnangagwa announced a steep increase in the price of fuel.

Crippling protests greeted the fuel price increase, forcing the president to deploy the army, which human rights groups say led to the death of close to 20 people.

Soldiers also allegedly raped scores of women in a development that destroyed goodwill for the new regime in Harare.

In February the country introduced a new local currency, the fast depreciating real time gross settlement (RTGS) dollar, and dumped the United States dollars it adopted a decade ago.

The country’s statistical agency Zimstats on Tuesday said year-on-year inflation went up to 66.8 percent in March, up from 59.39 percent the previous month, triggering fears of an economic collapse similar to that of 2008 where hyperinflation peaked at 500 billion percent.

Independence celebrations are often synonymous with displays of grandeur at the national sports stadium in Harare and an address by the president.

The event was often boycotted by the opposition during Mr Mugabe’s era.

This year might not be different because of political polarisation and disillusionment with Mr Mnagagwa’s economic policies.

Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, who rejected President Mnangagwa’s July 2018 election victory alleging vote rigging, says Zimbabwe is now divided than ever before.

“Under normal circumstances you would have Independence Day being a non-partisan day, being an inclusive day, being a day you don’t think about political parties,” he said.

“We have a fundamental disagreement on his legitimacy, around how elections were held (and) we must close that chapter, but we don’t close that chapter by running away from it.”

Mr Chamisa has refused to participate in the talks between Mr Mnangagwa and other 2018 presidential election candidates, demanding a neutral mediator.

“For us to go forward, we must go back to genuine political dialogue to resolve the fundamental issues, which is the issue of a disputed mandate,” he said.

One of Mnangagwa’s election promises was to accelerate economic revival by making the business environment conducive for foreign investment.

He appointed former African Development Bank vice president and respected economist Mthuli Ncube as Finance minister.

Former opposition legislator Eddie Cross believes that Professor Ncube’s reforms are bearing fruit despite sentiments that the economy is on a tailspin.

“Ours is a regime that has struggled with its own contradictions and conflicts since it came to power after the overthrow of Mr Mugabe in 2017,” Mr Cross, an economist, said.

“In this context the reformers in the government, including the president and the minister of Finance have struggled to secure agreement to the changes needed to secure the future and have faced opposition on many issues.

“However, they are slowly gaining the ascendancy and we must not, under any circumstances, allow the programme of reform and change to be derailed.”

Mr Cross believes it would take long for the new government’s policies to bear fruit because Zimbabwe’s economy had reached rock bottom during Mr Mugabe’s reign.

He said President Mnangagwa’s reforms were focused on stopping the haemorrhage.

“First priority was to balance the budget and in the last quarter of 2018 revenues rose 43 percent and a substantial budget surplus was recorded,” Mr Cross added.

“We have now been able to retire some domestic debt, raise civil servants’ salaries by 18 percent to 30 percent and pay December bonuses without borrowing," he said. The reforms have seen the International Monetary Fund accept Harare back on the Staff Monitored Programme.

Much of Zimbabwe does not share Mr Cross' optimism and is 'angry' with instability in markets that bled jobs and feeding a black market for most commodities.

The exchange rate between the RTGS dollar and the US dollar is now close to 5:1). Mr John Kadengu, a 28 year unemployed university graduate, let out his frustrations.

“I have been searching for a job for the past four years. Everyone thought things would change for the better after we rallied to force (Mr) Mugabe out of office.

What we see is the continued dominance of people linked to the ruling party in the economic affairs of this country,” he said.
In an interview televised on Wednesday to mark Independence Day, President Mnangagwa appealed for unity.

"My view is that let us differ on how to run government, how to build a bridge, how to build a school, how to craft policy and how to run agriculture, let us differ,” he said.

“But we should remain united. Zimbabwe is a unitary state and we must remain united," President Mnangawa said. "Dialogue between people who do not agree is a good thing, it’s a therapy between contestants.

Let us talk about our differences and move forward.”

President Mnangagwa said the opposition was welcome at the national celebrations describing them as 'part of the machinery of government'.
Zimbabwe gained its independence from Britain in 1980 and Mr Mugabe became its inaugural leader.

Described by Tanzania’s founding leader Julius Nyerere as the “jewel of Africa” the southern African country has, however, lurched from one crisis to another.

At least 90 percent of the country’s adult population is not employed and millions of economic refugees from Zimbabwe are scattered all over the world.

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