No amount of champagne, cakes or booze-fuelled parties can mask the reality of the what the ANC has become.
Partly cloudy. Mild.
Zimbabwean voters at an election rally yesterday. This week's poll is the first without Robert Mugabe as head of Zanu-PF and has given citizens a sense of optimism that the country’s fortunes are about to change. (AP)
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At long last, the big day has finally arrived. Since
Zimbabwe’s November 2017 political transition, the entire country has been
preparing for elections – which are being held today – that will mark a clean
break from the past.
For two decades, Zimbabweans have suffered from disastrous
economic policy-making and bouts of political repression that have impoverished
the nation, forced millions into economic exile, and brought on targeted
Western sanctions that have deprived the country of external investment.
Whoever wins power today (or possibly in a September run-off) – Zanu-PF
incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa or MDC Alliance candidate Nelson Chamisa – will
inherit billions of dollars of debt, critical shortages of foreign exchange,
rickety infrastructure, and the need to make politically painful cuts to a
bloated civil service and state-owned enterprises.
This might sound like a poisoned chalice for the victor.
Indeed, this situation will require skilled leadership and difficult choices to
right the listing economy. However, even taking into account these
difficulties, Zimbabwe is on the cusp of a bright future. The trick will be
creating a policy environment that can take advantage of the country’s
bountiful natural and human resources. If the new government can do so,
Zimbabwe should emerge as the continent’s most exciting investment destination
for the next decade or more.
Encouragingly, both the MDC and Zanu-PF are running on
broadly pro-market platforms that emphasise the need to draw in outside
investment to grow the economy. In fact, there are relatively few substantive
differences between the two, with the MDC’s call to join the Rand Zone the only
notable point of departure between them. For the MDC, this is no surprise; the
party has taken pro-market positions since its inception in 1999, opposing
government policies around land expropriation and indigenisation that have contributed
to the economy’s ruin.
For Zanu-PF, however, this represents a far more drastic
shift. Under Robert Mugabe’s leadership from independence in 1980 until last
November, the Zanu-PF government was characterised by broadly socialist
policies, ostensibly introduced to improve the lives of Zimbabweans but often
implemented to reward cronies and punish enemies. The past decade was marked by
high degrees of inconsistency, opacity, and uncertainty around policy
formulation – spooking what few investors remained – as well as mounting
The November transition, however, brought a drastic shift.
Almost overnight, once die-hard Marxist-Leninists changed their tunes, echoing
President Mnangagwa’s rhetoric around the need to draw in outside investment
and create a business-friendly environment that could transform Zimbabwe into
the “Singapore of Africa”. More tellingly, words have been matched by deeds.
The past eight months have brought some sweeping changes: the scrapping of 51%
local ownership in all but a handful of sectors; the introduction of bankable
99-year leases to reinvigorate the agricultural sector; the announcement of
plans to privatise parastatals; and even cuts to the civil service.
Several businesspeople, Zimbabwean and expatriate, have told
me in recent months how open and responsive senior government officials have
been in discussions, a distinct shift in how the ruling party operated in the
past. Again, the structural headwinds left over from decades of misgovernance
by the Mugabe regime are enormous, with the country depleted of foreign
exchange, strapped with a massive debt burden, and served by crumbling
infrastructure. No matter who wins the election, necessity will force them to
fully embrace sweeping economic reforms.
Of course, the real question with Zanu-PF is a simple one: Can
it be trusted to continue these efforts if Mnangagwa wins the election and the
party a majority of seats in parliament? There are several reasons that I
believe it can. First, my conversations with senior party members suggest to me
that they genuinely do understand the need to put in place sensible policies,
both for the country broadly and (in many cases) for their own business
Secondly, they seem to truly understand that while Zanu-PF
may win a narrow victory this time, continued economic stagnation will doom the
party to obsolescence the next time around. And lastly, I am aware of
additional reforms that a Zanu-PF government is likely to roll out immediately
after the election, notably around privatisation and streamlining government
economic decision-making. Ultimately, the ruling party has painted itself into
a corner, and its leaders realise that only drastic action will allow it to
Still, all of these positive actions and rhetoric are moot
without a clean election that is acceptable to international donors and
investors. So far, with the exception of some questions around the voter roll
and the grenade attack on the Mnangagwa rally last month, the election process
has gone smoothly. The violence and intimidation of past polls is gone. The
government must now ensure that vote counting is done in an open and
transparent manner, and that the military accepts the election results no
matter what they may be. This is absolutely necessary for Western governments
to endorse the result and, ultimately, lift targeted sanctions and allow
Zimbabwe to fully rejoin the international community. Without this, Western
businesses will remain hesitant to invest.
It comes down to today. The door is open for Zimbabwe to
properly rejoin the international community and see its economy take off, not
matter who wins power. The government must now ensure that in the coming days,
it takes all the right steps.
- Dr John Siko is an associate director with the Risk
Advisory Group in London. He previously spent 15 years in the US Government,
mostly focused on southern African political affairs.
Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.
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