Big Saturday Read - ED’s first 100 Days: Preach change but be slow to change
At the beginning of the year, presidential spokesperson George Charamba gave an interview to ZiFM radio station. The content and purpose of that interview might have escaped the attention of most citizens. He was very dismissive of the 100 Days concept. “… 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,” Charamba said. The new administration led by President Mnangagwa had enthusiastically promoted the concept in their political rhetoric after the dramatic power-grab from the Robert Mugabe regime in November last year.
Charamba was not enthused by the concept. During the interview, he dismissed it as “an American concept which we have imported into our own politics but one which doesn’t take into account the realities that are obtaining in our own situation.” His argument was that unlike an American president who usually inherited a functioning economy from a predecessor, Mnangagwa could not afford to be judged after just 100 days given the parlous state of the economy that he had inherited from Mugabe.
Unlike his political colleagues in the new administration, Charamba had cast his eye into the future and was conscious of the folly of creating high expectations which could not possibly be met within 100 days. He knew the administration was creating a burden which he, as chief spin-doctor, could not possibly spin. He was, therefore, trying to lower expectations by pre-empting the harsh judgment that was sure to follow. Nevertheless, the new administration did not listen to Charamba’s guarded approach and since it invited scrutiny after 100 days, there is no escaping the assessments that Zimbabweans and other observers are making. They cannot say it’s too soon to be judged when they were happy to promote the concept.
It is not surprising that the performance of the new administration in the first 100 days has been met with serious criticism and in some cases ridicule. It is because there is little in the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans that has changed in material terms since the new administration took over. The many challenges they faced under Mugabe have hardly disappeared. If anything, citizens complain that some things have got worse since the dramatic events of last November. It did not take long before the euphoria that accompanied the fall of the Mugabe regime began to ebb.
The new administration was built on a faulty foundation. Despite assurances to the contrary, authors of the events in November knew that they had set out to remove their boss, Robert Mugabe using force. Mugabe may have tendered a resignation letter on 21 November, but he would not have done so had the military not intervened and sparked the series of events that placed him under severe pressure to throw in the towel. It was a coup in all but name. There were illegalities including the unconstitutional deployment of the armed forces on 14 November, which happened outside the authority of the Commander in Chief of the Defence Forces. No rational observer can possibly conclude that this deployment was legal. The authors of the coup were fully aware of this which explains the bizarre judgment issued by a High Court judge three days after Mugabe’s resignation declaring that the actions of the military were lawful and constitutional.
The faulty foundation means that the new administration has always operated from a position of weakness. It is unsure of its own legitimacy. It has had to tread carefully, giving an appearance that it is ready for reform. Yet its words have not been confirmed by real changes. It has been quick to preach but very slow to change. The entire infrastructure of repression which was established under Mugabe remains intact and in some ways has been strengthened since key actors in the international community which have previously acted as a check on excesses have themselves become chief massagers of the new administration’s ego in the name of constructive re-engagement. They risk repeating the gross errors of the early 1980s when they played a blind eye to the atrocities that were taking place in the name of defeating dissidents.
Mnangagwa’s team has been preoccupied with an image makeover of their main man. Before his rise to power, Mnangagwa carried a notorious reputation as Mugabe’s chief enforcer. He was blamed for the excesses of the Mugabe regime, not least because he was in charge of the national security portfolio during the Gukurahundi period. He was portrayed as the dark face of the Mugabe regime. His name was associated with cruelty and fear. This had to change. From day one, Mnangagwa went on a charm offensive, trying to demonstrate first that he is not Mugabe, and second that he is far from the hard, cruel and uncaring character that people were accustomed to in their minds. His visit to see an ailing Morgan Tsvangirai in January drew mixed reactions, with some accusing him of trying to score political points. However, most people thought he had shown compassion and they gave him credit for that gesture. His government’s response to Tsvangirai’s situation in his last days allowed the icon of the democratic struggle to depart with dignity.
To the rest of the world, Mnangagwa has been keen to show that he is a progressive internationalist who understands that Zimbabwe cannot survive in isolation. He has been playing to the desires of the international community who see him as a pragmatist with whom they can do business. He seems to have made far more headway in his international relations than on the domestic scene, where doubts still abound. Western Europe, led by Britain has warmed up to him, sometimes with what seems to be excessive enthusiasm. The US has been more cautious but his reception in Britain is almost reminiscent of the manner in which Mugabe was embraced in the early 1980s. The African Union and SADC have been warm to Mnangagwa, conveniently underplaying the illegalities that accompanied his dramatic rise to power. This is likely because they too were tired of Mugabe and manner in which the coup was executed. The coup was, without doubt, popular, but it did set a precedent which might haunt both bodies in future.
One of the big promises at the start of the administration’s tenure was to mount a big anti-corruption drive. There were high expectations that there would be some movement in this area, where Mugabe had similarly made promises in the past but delivered nothing. Mnangagwa’s promise on this front was severely undermined by the composition of his cabinet, which included characters who had already carved out a reputation for corruption. If he was prepared to work with such characters, what hope was there that he could effectively fight corruption, people wondered. These appointments were a bad start. In the days following the coup, there was a flurry of high-profile arrests but people quickly saw through them. The bulk of arrests involved figures who were associated with the G40 faction which had been defeated in the race to succeed Mugabe. People understood that these characters may have been corrupt but they also saw that the anti-corruption drive was selectively applied and was therefore motivated by vengeance more than a desire to actually defeat corruption. The anti-corruption drive has so far promised much but delivered nothing of substance.
Another related undertaking was the announcement of an assets declaration policy. Under this policy, ministers and senior public officers are required to declare their assets. However, as analysed in these pages, while it is a noble idea, the assets declaration policy is weak for many reasons. It has no legal force, there is no transparency, there is wide scope for hiding assets and there are no legal sanctions for false or under-declaration. In any event, ever since the policy was announced, nothing has been heard of its implementation and whether ministers and public officers have complied to the president’s satisfaction. In the absence of discernible and measurable results, citizens are bound to dismiss it as just another publicity stunt designed to give an impression that something major is being done.
The experience of the first 100 days shows that the transition from a repressive and authoritarian system is slow and painful. Old habits die hard. After independence, the Mugabe administration failed to transform the state and instead strengthened the instruments of repression that had been established under the colonial regime. He inherited the legislation, structures and personnel from the old regime and made it worse. The new administration which took over in November has continued with the same instruments of repression that Mugabe used. None of the repressive legislation used by Mugabe has been changed and there is no promise that it will ever be amended. State media which has traditionally been biased towards ZANU PF remains in the same mode. Chiefs who have previously been accused of dabbling in politics at the expense of opposition parties continue to brazenly favour ZANU PF just as they were during Mugabe’s days. In short, there is no appetite shown in the first 100 days to change the system that has traditionally given ZANU PF a comparative and unfair advantage over its competitors. While Mnangagwa has promised free and fair elections, there is nothing of substance that has been done in the first 100 days to guarantee the realisation of such elections apart from an undertaking to invite international election observers.
A strange occurrence during the first 100 days are the numerous instances of legal missteps committed by the administration. One of Mnangagwa’s first acts was to appoint a cabinet. It turned out that he had appointed an excessive number of persons who were not members of parliament whereas the constitution only allows him to appoint just 5 non-MPs into the cabinet. Later, when he appointed Retired General Chiwenga as a Vice President, he also assigned him to oversee the Ministry of Defence. This is contrary to the Constitution which requires him to appoint a substantive Minister of Defence. His government has repeatedly made constitutionally inaccurate announcements of the timing of the next elections. There is no excuse for these legal missteps and one wonders whether they are deliberate and the new administration simply doesn’t care about legalities if they stand in the way of their political intentions. If so, it does not bode well for constitutionalism and the rule of law. A good government must obey the limitations set by law, not ignore them for political expediency.
People are also wary of big promises that are not fulfilled and policy inconsistencies. They remind them of the Mugabe era where there was much grandstanding and little delivery. When Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa presented the national budget soon after the coup, he made many undertakings. One of them was that government would retire civil servants above the age of 65. Most people thought they would see high profile retirements of long-serving senior public officers. These included men like Tobaiwa Mudede, who has served as Registrar General for nearly as long as Mugabe was president and who, as Registrar of Elections, has been notoriously associated with election manipulation over the years. More than three months after that announcement people like Mudede and others are still in office. Zimbabweans are familiar with the problem of policy reversals and inconsistencies during the Mugabe regime.
Mnangagwa set a deadline for offenders who had allegedly externalised funds outside the country. His deadline of 3 moths ended on 28 February. At the time of writing, he announced a two week moratorium for offenders, promising that those who failed to comply would be named and shamed on 19th March 2018. It remains to be seen how this will be implemented. It is not clear whether this applies to those within is government. Whatever happens, Zimbabweans will probably never be convinced until the net of corruption catches those within his government who are notorious for corrupt behaviour. The first 100 days have not been covered in glory. There have been many promises but people are not convinced with the delivery. Some in the West have been enthusiastic, but it remains to be seen whether this enthusiasm is justified. The election remains the big litmus test. Mnangagwa himself may be willing to reform, but are his lieutenants with him? That is the big question.