‘Mnangagwa delivers impassioned 90-minute address to visiting US senators’
By Hopewell Chin’ono
I had a chat with an amiable insider who was in the delegations that met with President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week on Saturday.
In what has been described as a spirited but calm performance to help his administration come out of the cold, President Mnangagwa delivered an impassioned ninety-minute address to the visiting US senators on Saturday.
Fresh from his five day Chinese state visit, President Mnangagwa surprised the US senators and their staffers when he turned on the charm offensive, only stopping once to give way for remarks in his 90 minute address punctuated by calmness which has always been an essential part of his persona and style.
The visiting American legislators had expected the Zimbabwean president to mount a dogged defense against their Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA) Amendment bill.
To understand the seriousness of this meeting to the Zimbabwean government, it is important to know who was there.
Flanked to his left by his Vice President, General Constantino Chiwenga and Foreign Minister SB Moyo and to his right by the American senators accompanied by the US embassy senior diplomats, President Mnangagwa held court in his conference board room sitting at the center of the oval presidential table.
The room also had senior staffers from both teams.
The president explained to the American senators what was at stake and what he needed to deliver to fulfill his part of the bargain.
He proactively addressed the issues in the ZIDERA Amendment bill without referencing to it by name not even once.
He explained that the allegations that he had deployed 5000 troops in rural Zimbabwe were mythical and rooted in the fact that he had appointed Generals Chiwenga (and SB Moyo and the Agriculture minister Perence Shiri) into his government.
All of them former soldiers who were instrumental in removing Robert Mugabe and making way for President Mnangagwa to rise to the top in a dramatic culmination of a life long ambition to succeed his former boss and veteran dictator, Robert Mugabe.
The president argued that there was no evidence of such a military deployment as alleged.
The opposition and former ZANUPF luminaries have accused the Mnangagwa administration of deploying thousands of troops in rural Zimbabwe to mobilize villagers to vote for ZANUPF in the upcoming watershed election in July.
The President reaffirmed the principle of protection for individual rights of citizens to choose a political party and presidential candidate of their own choice.
The Americans are said to have decided that the issue of the alleged military deployment in rural Zimbabwe was a cul-de-sac sideshow because there was no evidence to back up that accusation at that moment.
The delegation insider told me that the Americans realized it wouldn’t be productive to enter into a tit for tat and back and forth with President Mnangagwa on the basis of gossip and dinner table talk which they were told without verification.
The other issue brought up by the American senators was that of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission staff members and its acting Chief Elections Officer, Utoile Silaigwana who once served in the military.
The president said that all these people working at ZEC had retired from the army and as such, they were now deemed civilian and had a right to employment in government like any other Zimbabwean.
This was one important opportunity the president of Zimbabwe had gotten to deliver his message to the nerve center of the American legislative political system, the senate, through its visiting members.
He wasn’t going to allow anything to get in the way, even the President’s waiters who wanted to serve food on the onset of the meeting were told to wait until the main discussion was out of the way.
The president’s delivery to the American senators turned out to be an impassioned plea for Zimbabwe to be given a chance after two decades of international isolation.
As the agenda issues were unraveling one by one, President Mnangagwa took on the issue of peace and reconciliation. He said that the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, which will present its findings on completing its investigations, would research the dark past.
This was in response to the ZIDERA Amendment bill’s demand for the Zimbabwean government to pay compensation to the victims of Gukurahundi.
The Americans realized that their demand was running ahead of the ongoing process underpinned by the National Healing and Reconciliation Act that was signed into law in January this year.
President Mnangagwa said that the commission would find out what happened during these dark periods of Zimbabwe’s history and then release a report.
He emphasized that the political players will have to stare these findings in their face and proceed from there. The Americans said that there was nothing to argue about as the Zimbabwean law underpinned President Mnangagwa’s expression to resolve the dark past.
However in an intervention, senator Chris Coons said that all these things were not a one-day affair.
He said that political reforms should go beyond free and fair elections and address economic reformation and not only focus on election specific issues.
The senators had prepared for a tough engagement with the Zimbabwean delegation but instead, they got a very warm reception from a president who had read the ZIDERA Amendment bill and understood it, although he made a tactical move of not referring to it.
He didn’t want to seem reactive, he was proactive as he kept emphasizing to the visiting American senatorial delegation about the need to look ahead.
The President touched on the issues that have now started to become the political bogeyman to his free and fair election pledges and to his administration. He mentioned that all political parties would get equal access to the state media after the day of election proclamation.
He also said that before the election proclamation, access would have to be availed through paid advertisements. He jokingly said that in the past when the opposition was given that access, they had nothing much to say anyway.
He also rhetorically wondered how the equal access doctrine was going to be implemented when there were over one hundred political parties taking party in the 2018 election.
The last time the opposition got equal access to the state media was during the 2008 elections when former president Robert Mugabe lost the election to Morgan Tsvangirai.
That dismal election defeat was followed by a one-month delay in releasing the election result and a brutal violent campaign against opposition supporters.
The then Chief Executive of the state broadcaster, Henry Muradzikwa, unceremoniously lost his job after the March 20 elections in 2008.
Muradzikwa said that he was dismissed from the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation on 14 May of 2008 for defying a ministerial order to deny the opposition favorable coverage in the run-up to the 29 March elections in 2008.
This was now a thing of the past the president told the Americans, a past he said Zimbabweans should move away from.
The president’s people need to make sure that this contentious pledge is seen to be true indeed according to the Americans, otherwise the process of delegitimizing the election would be made easier by pointing out to unfulfilled electoral promises.
One of the American senators, Cory Anthony Booker spoke passionately about the excitement of having a front row seat witnessing the historic changes taking place in Zimbabwe. Senator Booker from New Jersey spoke about the history of slavery and the courage of Frederick Douglass.
Frederick Douglass was a 19th century African-American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman who escaped from slavery and became an eminent American.
In quintessential black American style, Senator Booker told President Mnangagwa that if there was No Struggle, There was no Progress. He was quoting from the “West India Emancipation” speech by Frederick Douglass, which he delivered at the Canandaigua in New York in 1857.
The Yale and Oxford graduate, Senator Booker, spoke after senators Chris Coons and Jeff Flake had put in a conciliatory word after the president had given way to them to make remarks. President Mnangagwa continued ploughing through with his charm offensive, explaining that there was corruption and rot in the diamond industry.
He said that he was already working to turn around the country and put an end to all these corruption evils. This again the senators later said would only be taken seriously if the implementation process of slowing down corruption was genuinely started and that the removal of known corrupt government ministers had taken place.
The senators were happy with the president’s commitment to change but they have said that they now wanted to see the delivery taking place that would help in the opening of a new chapter with Zimbabwe.
An insider in the delegations said that if the Zimbabwean government delivers their part of the bargain, the Americans would also reciprocate by removing the politically “toxic” elements in the ZIDERA Amendment bill and instead, turn it around as a point of departure from the many years of an acrimonious relationship.
The senators said that they would not take the promises at face value but will have to wait for the signs that the Zimbabwean government was serious in implementing all the good intentions that underpinned the president’s address to the American senators.
The President and his team must now start working on plucking the low hanging fruits, this election is the determinant factor whether Zimbabwe will emerge from the 18 year old discomfort of banishment or remains a broken pariah State.
The communication strategies must hinge not only on the foreign policy but also on domestic policies. After all, it is locals that will vote. So far there is a dearth of Information on what is happening in government and their intentions for the future.
Barack Obama spoke about the audacity of hope, citizens must be given something to help them see into the future and envision a better life for themselves and their families.
The vision must not be a closely held secret, it must be shared for it to make sense and more importantly to be effective by bringing citizens together and having a point of reference to where they could be in a better Zimbabwe.
ZBC shouldn’t be allowed to be the Waterloo for the president’s vision and urgent and primary task of turning around the economy and bringing back Zimbabwe into the family of nations.
There must be creative ways to allowing many voices to be heard even before the election proclamation.
That will recede the legitimate noises demanding space on the national broadcaster’s news platform, and questioning the president’s sincerity to delivering a level playing field for all political players.
The Americans have argued that elections are not only rigged on Election Day, they consider refusal by the national broadcaster to cover the opposition rallies, a form of election rigging.
Zimbabwe is groaning under the weight of a moribund and unresponsive economy that has been battered and bruised for two decades by corruption, incompetence, economic and political sanctions, misdirected policies and a president who had overstayed.
The turning around of this country will require all hands on deck, so the last thing we need is a delegitimized election over something that can be amicably resolved. The political elites know what needs to be done, they also know the political and economic implications of not doing it.
They must now act as leaders and distinguish themselves from Robert Mugabe who was a ruler! This talk of changing the political direction must be accompanied by a resurgence of positive actions on the ground.
In the past before the November military intervention, government ministers and their bureaucrats ran roughshod over important elements of good governance. They just didn’t care, some still do to this day and such incorrigible political behavior is what will slow down the president’s movement towards achieving his political and economic objectives for the country.
President Mnangagwa and his advisors must make sure that those they have entrusted with pushing their agenda must realize that the Mugabe ways of doing business must be thrown into the ocean, otherwise the coming in from the cold will be painfully slow and unachievable in the desired time frames.
Time will tell.
Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is a CNN African Journalist of the year and Harvard University Nieman Fellow. His next film, State of Mind looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe is coming out soon. He can be contacted on [email protected] or on twitter @daddyhope