As the 2023 harmonized elections are fast approaching, President Emmerson Mnangagwa is racing against time to fulfil his 2018 election promises, most of which seem to be evading his administration.
In November 2017, Zimbabwe went into a short-lived frenzy when former President Robert Mugabe was toppled, celebrating the birth of what they expected to be a new era but uncertainty soon started to cloud people’s hopes.
Harmonized elections were soon to follow, and in the run up to those elections, the Mnangagwa administration saw the erection of campaign banners around the country, making several promises to better the lives of Zimbabweans.
At campaign rallies, Mnangagwa promised various things, among them a better economy, improved health services, re-engagement with the international community, among other things.
An analysis of the election promises tell a story of missed deadlines, misplaced priorities and a rush against time as both 2022 by-elections and 2023 harmonized elections beckon.
How far on the Economy?
In 2018, Mnangagwa promised that the economy was going to improve in leaps and bounces, with Zimbabwe having gone through unprecedented times during the Mugabe era, a promise that was generally welcomed by the general populace who mostly regarded Mnangagwa’s first year in office as an experimental period.
The reopening of industry seemed to be top of his priority and during his speech at a rally in Masvingo in June 2018 he promised to reopen both the Cold Storage Commission and King Mine in Mashava on July 31 the same year but to date, there is very little progress.
That goal however grew to be far-fetched as the economy seems to have taken a nosedive characterized by the fall of the local currency, which has also seen the return of hyperinflation.
A lot of confusion and mistrust on economic reforms now exist, further aggravated by policy changes that were effected without proper consultation.
Economist Caleb Gwaindepi said Mnangagwa’s challenge is when he got into power there was a lot of confidence in him but things started turning for the worse.
“The challenge that happened with E.D (Mnangagwa) is when he came in 2018 there was a lot of confidence in him, even the international community but then things started to go south.
“At the moment you find that the western countries where we expected to get a lot of investment, and even the Chinese where we also expected to get huge investments, seem not to be doing much,” Gwaindepi said.
Another economic analyst Vince Musewe said while Covid-19 has obviously had an impact on economic growth, corruption is a key problem affecting the country.
“The key problems which persist are corruption and lack of investment especially in the productive sector, coupled with foreign exchange problems. There has been a general deterioration in the quality of life of many due to increasing poverty levels, lack of jobs and high inflation which has impacted negatively on disposal incomes.
“The ease of doing business is also still an issue and power cuts continue to impact on productivity,” Musewe said.
Total elimination of load shedding like Mnangagwa promised has never materialized, with rural electrification continuing to be postponed.
Economic analyst Dr Prosper Chitambara said Zimbabwe is likely going to experience an increase in inflation, with government expenditure increasing as the country heads for 2023 elections.
“In the next two years we are likely going to see an increase in inflationary pressures. We expect government expenditures to continue to increase especially as we get into 2023 elections, so the financing of that expenditure could be inflationary given the limited options for financing expenditures in the country.
“We have very limited fiscal space so I foresee an increase in inflationary pressures leading up to the elections in 2023. The major drivers are the high money supply growth, exchange rate depreciation and thirdly, high fuel pricing within the economy, so those are the three key drivers of inflation in the economy,” Dr Chitambara said.
Shrinking democratic spaces
Former President Robert Mugabe’s legacy is marred with gross human rights violations, some of which date back to the period immediately after Zimbabwe’s independence.
During the 2018 pre-election season, Mnangagwa on several occasions made commitments to human rights reforms, but three years later, things seem to be getting worse.
Democratic spaces continue to shrink, characterized by the arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders and political activists, together with the silencing of dissenting voices even inside the ruling party.
Political activist Makomborero Haruzivishe together with journalist Hopewell Chin’ono have been incarcerated for speaking against corruption, which spells intolerance and unwillingness by the current administration to implement reforms.
Political commentator Dr Pedzisai Ruhanya said the new dispensation is a fallacy and nothing to cry home about as it is not dealing with the issues it is supposed to deal with.
“There is no new dispensation to talk about because there is no difference from the Mugabe era.
Institutional, structural and governance reforms are non-existent, and the dispensation is not dealing with corruption like it should.
“Violence characterizes this dispensation, even in their (ruling party) own activities it is dominant, so there is nothing new,” Dr Ruhanya.
The labeling of Non-Governmental Organizations as agents of regime change has been one of the biggest blights of the current administration, with commentators saying it further worsens the Zimbabwean situation.
Prominent human rights activist and Zimbabwe Peace Project National Director Jestina Mukoko said the biggest issue in the prevailing landscape is the targeting of Non-Governmental Organizations and human rights defenders, which makes them vulnerable.
“My biggest issue with the current setup is the vulnerability and alienation of NGOs and human rights defenders, which is regrettable. As we are going into election season, if NGOs, which should be complimenting government efforts are silenced, information dissemination to the electorate becomes compromised.
“I am not sure where that puts us as a country but it is not a good space,” Mukoko said.
Mukoko however said she is optimistic that elections that are free from political violence and fair to all are achievable if political parties manage to control their supporters.
“I am a very optimistic person and I believe that we can have elections that are free and fair. We have done it before and we can do it again. My call to all political parties however is that they should restrain their supporters from being overzealous and perpetrating violence,” Mukoko added.
In this area, the Mnangagwa administration has demonstrated that the election promises of 2018 are getting further from being achieved and instead of going for the better, prospects are actually on a downward spiral.
The big elephant in the room: How far on reforms and re-engagement?
The human rights issue has remained a bone of contention as far as the reengagement process and removal of sanctions are concerned.
In October 2019, then American Ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols said the problem Zimbabwe had was not sanctions but corruption, after which he mentioned an array of cases where the government was found wanting.
Recent months have also seen calls for the removal of sanctions getting louder, topped by the visit of a United Nations Special Rapporteur on sanctions Alena Douhan who interviewed a number of entities on the effects of sanctions.
Mnangagwa then went to Glasgow, Scotland for the COP26 conference, where he made attempts at engaging first world leaders.
All these efforts were however met with the constant appeal for reforms that have always been a requirement that will see things changing for Zimbabwe.
The reluctance on implementing reforms even after promising to do so in 2018 leaves a lot to be desired, as citizens continue to wonder if ever economic relief will come.
Whilst more work is still required however, the opening of airwaves perpetuated by media reforms that have seen the repulsion of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), replacing it with the Freedom of Information and Zimbabwe Media Commission Acts, together with the Cybersecurity Bill that will soon be passed into law gives a ray of hope.
Apart from media reforms however, nothing much has changed and it looks like the promises on reforms were just another empty promise.
How far on youth unemployment and the plight of civil servants?
The youth, who constitute a bigger chunk of the electorate continue to wallow in poverty, with many of them becoming increasingly vulnerable to drug abuse and crime which also has seen the proliferation of illegal mining activities everywhere.
There is nothing much happening in that area except the continuous use of the youth to perpetrate political violence because of their vulnerability to poverty.
Youth Decide Zimbabwe Executive Director Learnmore Munhangu said young people are disappointed because of government’s failure to fulfill its promises, as they keep waiting for the two million jobs promised in 2018.
“They promised more than two million jobs, but until now nothing has been done. They made utterances in front of multitudes of people and celebrating mega deals and our question is, what happened to the deals?
“The youth are torch bearers of every nation. Considering the demographic propensity, the youth now constitute about 70 percent of the total population.
“Young people are tired of propaganda and utterances which are coming as promises, but let’s face reality and deal with issues of substance—employment, food, health, education and polarization of our nation. As for now there is no hope,”Munhangu said.
In the same breath, civil servants who were promised better working and living conditions continue to take job actions at the detriment of school pupils thereby decreasing the quality of education.
Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Obert Masaraure said the current job action by teachers is clear testimony that standard teacher remuneration still remains a pipe dream.
“How far are we in making education accessible for all because that is an election promise made in 2018? The teacher pupil ratio in some schools is about 1: 120 and with that, how far are we in employing trained teachers who are currently out of work?
“We dropped from a salary of US$540 to about US$82, and in our context as teachers, being well remunerated means going back to the US$540,” Masaraure said.
The health sector question remains unanswered
The state of the healthcare system in Zimbabwe has continued to deteriorate, with most referral hospitals lacking vital equipment.
In Auditor General Mildred Chiri’s 2019 report Masvingo Provincial Hospital was red flaged for keeping expired and other dangerous drugs since 1994 because they did not have incineration facilities until now and it has also been difficult for the institution to complete important projects.
Again, there is reportedly no x-ray machine at the hospital, and it was once reported that even a machine that checked blood pressure took months to be repaired when it broke down, which is one of the very basic equipment to have at any health institution.
Most citizens cannot afford healthcare, despite promises to revive the system since 2017, and the coming of Covid-19 into an ill prepared Zimbabwean health system even made things worse especially for the poor and vulnerable.
Heartbreaking images of infant and maternal mortality have been circulating, painting a gloomy picture of the state of the healthcare system in the country.
Job actions by health personnel further threatened people’s lives, as lots of lives were lost during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic due to lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).
For the first time in many years, government has made strides towards the development of road infrastructure as Mnangagwa declared a state of emergency on all roads, which also saw work commencing on most roads.
The Emergency Roads Rehabilitation Programme (ERRP) has seen funds being disbursed to both road contractors and local authorities to rehabilitate roads and progress has been evident.
Recently, he has been commissioning a number of road network projects, which has been commendable, but apart from that, the country may be facing yet another chorus of empty promises come 2023 and on a scale of one to ten, with one being the lowest and ten the highest, it may be safe to give him a two out of ten.