President Emmerson Mnangagwa staked his political fate on a promise to revive the economy, and his failure to turn around the country’s finances so far is beginning to attract scorn from long-suffering Zimbabweans.
In a glum radio interview, Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba has for the first time acknowledged the promise to turnaround the economy in 100 days was pie in the sky.
Charamba said government has plucked from the omnipotent office of the United States President a management concept called 100 days to plant it onto an economy that is coming from a minus.
“If Zimbabweans are counting days hoping for real measurable, concrete material changes in their lives within 100 calendar days, then we are likely to meet a crisis of expectation which may not in fact be validated through scientific reckoning,” he said.
As his short time in power draw to a close, the 75-year-old Mnangagwa has the arduous task of convincing those who bought into his inauguration promises to revitalise Zimbabwe’s ravaged economy and rule on behalf of all the country’s citizens.
Sworn in days after the overthrow of Robert Mugabe, the former security chief promised to guarantee the rights of foreign investors and to re-engage with the West.
“The liquidity challenges, which have bedevilled the economy, must be tacked head-on, with real solutions being generated as a matter of urgency. People must be able to access their earnings and savings as and when they need them,” Mnangagwa said in his inauguration speech.
“As we focus on recovering our economy, we must shed misbehaviours and acts of indiscipline which have characterised the past. Acts of corruption must stop. Where these occur, swift, swift, swift justice must be served,” he said of an anti-corruption drive that so far has been labelled “selective” and targeting only members of the vanquished Generation 40 cabal.
But his critics are saying the economy is not only dying, but is stuck in near-stagnation.
They argue that the short message from Charamba is that the government is failing and is not going to meet its promises.
“As a government spin-doctor, he has to pre-empt the public backlash that will come from government’s failure to deliver,” MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s former advisor and academic Alex Magaisa told the Daily News.
“He is already shifting the goalposts, saying the 100-day concept doesn’t work. The problem is the new administration made outlandish promises and raised public expectations when they should have been more cautious. But then they were trying to justify the ouster of Mugabe and their takeover of government.
“The truth, if they knew or should have known, is that the economic fundamentals were so wrong that they ought to have managed expectations. They now fear that failure to meet expectations will do severe damage to their electoral chances.”
MDC spokesman Obert Gutu also said Charamba was basically admitting failure.
“He is virtually conceding that the Mnangagwa administration is not going to successfully breathe new life into Zimbabwe’s comatose economy any time soon,” he told the Daily News.
“He has already thrown in the towel. Shame! Shame! Shame! This so-called new era is actually a new error.
“It is extremely deficient in socio-economic scenario planning and implementation. It is an utterly clueless administration that is hopelessly failing to navigate the national economic out of the current abyss. This administration is doomed. It is like a stillbirth. The people of Zimbabwe will soon be speaking at the elections. They will give this administration a straight red card.”
But some say the economy was in freefall when he took over, close to an outright depression and he must be given time.
Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London in the United Kingdom, said no one on earth could have turned around the Zimbabwean economy in a few days.
“It will take a few months before even tentative evidence is available that a long-term shift is in progress.
“Even then, there will be ups and downs. I do not think Zimbabweans appreciate how comprehensively the economy was ruined in the last few years,” said Chan.
Piers Pigou, senior consultant at the International Crisis Group said it confirms the need to have a clear framework of assessing progress.
“This is not in place. Instead we are forced to rely on selective anecdotes from George Charamba; hardly encouraging. He is not wrong though in terms of putting in place a sustainable recovery plan will require much time. He is arguing that the benefits will come later but that the correct actions are being taken,” said Pigou.
He said he was not at all convinced this will have major electoral implications for Mnangagwa.
“It certainly never did for Mugabe. Much depends on the level of participation though. And it does appear some are genuinely concerned about whether Mnangagwa can deliver an election victory. We have repeatedly heard he is not popular and struggles to win elections. And now we see the beginning of a choreographed effort to justify delaying elections,” Pigou said, referring to reports that ailing opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai reportedly asked Mnangagwa during their meeting at his Highlands home to postpone general elections by three years ostensibly because lack of electoral reforms was likely to undermine the credibility of the 2018 general poll result.
Tsvangirai’s spokesperson Luke Tamborinyoka denied that his boss had tabled such a proposal during the meeting.
“If conditions were genuinely free and fair, and if there were clear and credible political alternatives on the table, economic conditions would play a major role in voters’ political calculations. We are yet to see what factors will influence,” Pigou said. “Well that’s why I think limitations of economic recovery is not a major factor. Folk vote or don’t vote for other reasons.”
A peace and security analyst and doctoral researcher, Josphat Munetsi, told the Daily News that to assume that after 37 years of plunder and gross mismanagement, the new administration was going to turn around the economy in 100 days is to be unfair not only to those expecting such a miracle but to Mnangagwa and his government as well.
“I would be shocked if he manages to achieve such an onerous task in such a short space of time,” he said.
Munetsi said what Zimbabweans must understand is that the state of our economy was so dire that it requires no less than 6 months for positive indicators to begin to emerge.
“Even then such positive indicators must never be the sole effort of the current government alone but must be a sum total of efforts of all Zimbabweans who aspire a better future,” said Munetsi.
“What is tragic is that many Zimbabweans believe that it is ED’s role to change the country while they sit on the terraces and nit-pick his failures. Unfortunately, that will only but delay the positive change that we so desire. I am of the conviction that now is the time for everyone to take part in the rebuilding of the country.”