Mnangagwa's first 100 days leave Zimbabwe still yearning for change

Civil servant paid on time, but civil liberties still in short supply

04 March 2018 - 00:00 By RAY NDLOVU

Having seen off longtime ruler Robert Mugabe 100 days ago in spectacular fashion - marked by street marches in Harare and placards demanding "Mugabe must go" - ordinary Zimbabweans have taken to saying in jest that "Mugabe must return", given that so little has changed in his absence.
There is no desire to return to the old order, but underpinning the joke is frustration at the slow pace of reform under President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mugabe's fall in November after 37 years in power fuelled a yearning for change among Zimbabweans matched only by that of 1980 when the country gained independence from white minority rule.Until his fall, Mugabe had been a leader firmly rooted in old ways. Under him there was no room for change.
His hardline position cost Zimbabwe's economy dearly, with GDP halving and hyperinflation breaking world records in July 2008.
The ultimate price paid was Zimbabwe's isolation from the international community for almost two decades.
This all seemed to bother Mugabe little. He used public gatherings to lecture citizens on the bush war waged in the 1970s, rather than to cast a vision for the future.
He did battle with the shadows of former colonial master Britain rather than forge new partnerships, all the while refusing to step down.Any would-be successor to Mugabe stood to inherit a poisoned chalice: the economy was in intensive care and the country had become a pariah state.
Zimbabwe had been left so far behind that it had little to show in the way of achievements save to replay the conquests of yesteryear.
How Mnangagwa would navigate this path set for him was always going to be under scrutiny.
Tomorrow, as he marks 100 days in office, the jury is still out.
Mnangagwa promised swift changes at the start of his term in November, but what he has delivered falls short of the huge expectations from citizens.
Perhaps he underestimated the depth of the country's ruin under Mugabe.
The "listening president", as Mnangagwa calls himself, has, however, shown that he is alive to citizens' expectations of change - even if he has been cautious about meeting all those expectations at once.
Piecemeal concessions are what he favours, rather than a deep-rooted overhaul of the system.
Under his watch, public servants had until the end of last month to declare the source of their wealth - an attempt towards transparency and accountability, given the usually opaque nature of public officials' dealings.
Yet there are no indications of whether the executive branch will lead from the front and also declare its wealth.The rumour mill, which is in overdrive, maintains that Harare's rulers are among the wealthiest people in the country.
High-profile officials linked to corruption have been arrested over the past few months and face charges of corruption and abusing their office.
The latest official arrested was the vice-chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe, Levi Nyagura, picked up last month for fraudulently awarding former first lady Grace Mugabe a degree at the university.
These arrests and the "zero tolerance for corruption" drive have, however, lost their bite, given that some of those closest to the president in his cabinet are dogged by corruption scandals.
A shrewd politician, Mnangagwa also has his eye on elections scheduled to be held in July - his first attempt at securing the presidency by way of popular vote.
The reluctance to embark on sweeping changes could be informed by the looming polls and a subtle attempt to ensure that the status quo remains.
Repressive media laws remain in place and electoral reforms demanded by the opposition remain elusive.Instead, over the past three months Mnangagwa has worked his charm and posed for the cameras, mostly for outsiders.
He has committed to have observers from the EU and UN monitor the elections - a first, given the years of frosty relations with the West.
The 51% indigenisation law is set to be overhauled and the last few white farmers in the country will have 99-year leases on their farms, an effort by the government to revive agricultural production.
Donning his trademark scarf in the colours of Zimbabwe's flag, Mnangagwa is at the forefront of a "Zimbabwe is open for business" crusade.
He has been to seven countries in the Southern African Development Community and attended the AU summit in Ethiopia and the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.
He has claimed that $3-billion (R35-billion) in foreign direct investment commitments have been secured for the country since his inauguration.
To his administration's credit, it has been able to pay salaries in the month that they fall due - a departure from the staggered payment system that had developed.
But his crusade in the region and abroad does little to convince those back at home who are still having to deal with a biting liquidity crunch that is now in its third year. Long lines at banks are still a common sight as depositors queue for the few available US dollars.
The opposition is one less concern for Mnangagwa, trapped as it is in its own power struggle ahead of the elections.His biggest threat, Morgan Tsvangirai, died last month at the age of 65, leavinga Movement for Democratic Change on the brink of chaos.
The power struggle in the MDC, Zimbabwe's largest opposition party, centres on its three vice-presidents - Thokozani Khupe, Nelson Chamisa and Elias Mudzuri - who all claim to have a legitimate right to lead the party.
Given the continued bleeding of the economy, the unfulfilled promises and high hopes raised, an opposition in disarray and a leadership plagued by doublespeak, the slow pace of change in the post-Mugabe era has brought home the reality that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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