Zim dragged under as the ‘Crocodile’ devours his opponents
After vowing to restore his country's fortunes, Emmerson Mnangagwa is only adding to its suffering
For a man who came to power promising to reform Zimbabwe’s broken economy, the fact that President Emmerson Mnangagwa abandoned his planned visit to the Davos economic forum on Tuesday is deeply humiliating.
Since replacing Zimbabwe’s long-serving dictator Robert Mugabe in 2017, Mnangagwa has sought to portray himself as someone who could restore the country’s fortunes after decades of misrule at the hands of Mugabe’s Marxist-Leninist clique. It was to this end that Mnangagwa embarked on a world tour aimed at persuading reluctant investors to look favourably on a country renowned for its abundance of mineral riches.
Before Davos, Mnangagwa visited the Kremlin, where he hoped to exploit Vladimir Putin’s desperate need to make some new friends on the world stage. Ever since Russia’s invasion and illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Kremlin has been keen to make up for its deteriorating relations with Western Europe by seeking new allies in regions like Africa. Thus, at a time when most Western leaders still need convincing that Mnangagwa is serious about rebuilding Zimbabwe’s basket-case economy, the Zimbabwean leader left Moscow bearing agreements for Russian investment in his country’s diamond industry, a fertiliser supply contract and two financing deals worth $267m.
These deals are modest compared with the scale of the economic challenge Harare faces.
Before leaving for Moscow, the president had sought a $1.2bn loan from SA, which was denied owing to the fact that Johannesburg has enough financial troubles of its own. Mnangagwa no doubt hoped his appearance at Davos would enable him to raise additional funds. Instead, he was obliged to cancel the trip and return home to deal with the violent anti-government protests that have erupted in his absence.
The cause of Zimbabwe’s latest crisis lies in the government’s decision to raise fuel prices by a staggering 110% as part of Mnangagwa’s attempt to restructure the country’s finances. This has meant that people living in one of the world’s poorest countries (average earnings are about $5 a day, or about R70) are paying more than twice the prices available at British petrol stations.
There is, though, a great deal more to the protests than public anger at the country’s exorbitant fuel costs.
Antipathy to Mnangagwa’s presidency has grown steadily in recent months, especially after his Zanu-PF party was accused of fixing 2018’s election, in which Mnangagwa returned to power despite facing strong competition from opposition parties such as the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Since then, his pledge to revitalise the Zimbabwean economy by attracting inward investment has proved an empty promise, with citizens finding it increasingly difficult to buy even basic commodities such as food and medicine.
Much of the blame for this state of affairs is directed towards Zanu-PF, which is accused of causing the endemic corruption that has brought the country to its knees. As a former long-serving vice-president and security chief of Mugabe, Mnangagwa is seen as being too closely linked with the Zanu-PF establishment to be able to effect any meaningful change. Indeed, given his close association with some of the darker episodes in the country’s post-independence history, the president is viewed in some quarters as being even more ruthless than his despotic predecessor.
As the former head of the country’s Central Intelligence Organisation, he has been implicated in the deaths of thousands of civilians during the civil war in the 1980s. Known as the “Crocodile” by his supporters because of his political cunning, his opponents think it is a more apt description of his ability to destroy his opponents. The latter trait has certainly been in evidence in the recent crackdown by government forces, which has so far resulted in 12 deaths, the mass detention of protesters and an internet blackout aimed at preventing organisers from arranging further protests.
The real tragedy of this latest crisis is that it is likely to condemn the country to further hardship at a time when other African nations, such as Kenya, are enjoying the benefits of economic growth. The latest World Bank report on the Kenyan economy shows the country has seen gross domestic product rise to 5.8% in 2019, up from 4.9% in 2017. The improvement is attributed to recovery in the agriculture sector, a pick-up in industrial activity and a continued robust performance of the services sector, in particular tourism.
The moral of Kenya’s success is that economic growth is achievable in Africa, so long as there is political stability. Unfortunately for Zimbabwe, this is unlikely to happen so long as it has a leader who is more interested in devouring his opponents than addressing the economic wellbeing of his people.
– © The Daily Telegraph