Hopewell Chin’ono: The crooked relationship between the politician and the briefcase businessman

By Hopewell Chin’ono

It is going towards 4AM as my plane flies above the Congolese basin headed for South Africa.

Hopewell Chin'ono
Hopewell Chin’ono

I have been playing Bob Marley all night and his words that if you take anything from a politician, you will be paying for it all your life are as true today as they were then when the reggae superstar made that observation.

I am wondering where Zimbabwe will be after July with a citizenry that seems powerless to negotiate for a better deal.

The citizen has lost agency to the crooked relationship between the politician and the briefcase businessman.

The demands being made by politicians in this election cycle on people that rely on their political benevolence reads like a list sent to Father Christmas by a greedy child.

This is happening in restaurants and bars across Harare and in Johannesburg, as the business class hedge their bets on what they call their “political horses” or “bhiza rangu.”

With so much at stake for both the MDC-T Alliance and what one was once tempted to call the New ZANUPF in November, the “hyenas” in the business community that belong to the two political parties have also come out in full force.

They also have a huge stake in this up-coming election, so they are as anxious as their political masters about where the fruit will fall.

They too have a lot to lose if their horse doesn’t win in July, this is because their livelihoods depend on the feeding trough provided for by the state and its agencies. One would have to write a book as big as an the encyclopedia or one as big as The King James Bible to narrate about these opaque networks.

This will require explaining chapter and verse about who benefits where, how, through who and for how long they have been at it.

Some of these “hyenas” have stepped into the electoral ring themselves, to run for parliament especially in ZANUPF.

More are coming out on the MDCT Alliance, they wear different party regalia by day but they eat on the same table at night, they drink at the same pubs in five and four star hotels. 

Some said to me recently that they were tired of relying on politicians for deals and the right to access cheap loans.

They said that politicians always took their money endlessly and sometimes without good reason, so they have decided to be politicians themselves.

Some double deal with both political parties, ZANUPF and the MDCT, hoping that their double bets will guarantee them a front row seat where deals will be cut out.

Let us face it, being called a businessman or woman in Zimbabwe has become a euphemism for being a buccaneer or hustler.

Zimbabwe has very few legitimate high profile businessmen or women, it has the proverbial dealer whose survival hinges on his or her political linkages.

We have a 95 percent unemployment rate anyway, so where are the businesses that these business people are running?

When there is a change of leader as what happened in November, many fall off their cushy deals and a new group of dealers muscles in to replace those who were linked to the likes of Grace Mugabe and company.

Some lose their government contracts and the new ones win the lucrative deals.

It will be their time to eat as the saying goes which coincidentally is also the title of the book written by Michela Wrong. A must read for every African.

We have more Philip Chiyangwas and Ginimbis as opposed to Strive Masiyiwas and Shingai Mutasas.

Can you imagine Strive Masiyiwa or Shingai Mutasa doing a video about a car he bought?
They would never do that because they are busy running proper businesses and would never do such petty stuff.

What we now have has been caused by a system of patronage which was originated and perfected under Robert Mugabe.

The former President used it with devastating effect, rewarding sycophants and discarding those who ceased to be loyalists.

Mutumwa Mawere comes to mind, his case proved that in the world of patronage, to whom much is given, much is also expected.

Patronage destroyed the economy and created incompetent business people whose success relied on political connections.

Almost most of them will disappear if the government focuses on its role of being a regulator and creator of a conducive environment for business to thrive.

At the moment government is a player, referee and also part of the audience, it plays those three roles with legendary and breathtaking incompetence.

Up to this very day, many of these buccaneer business people are waiting for President Emmerson Mnangagwa or Nelson Chamisa to win the general election so that they too can either continue eating or start to eat, respectively.

Many pretend to be MDC-T cadres by day whilst by night they are enjoying the legendary spoils of ZANU PF corruption, which comes through boardroom appointments and opening up of state controlled business opportunities.

That is how the game is played in Harare, we have too many fake “professionals” who wouldn’t survive outside the criminal environment that has been in place for the past 18 years.

I often joke that those who didn’t leave Zimbabwe did so because they couldn’t leave or had no competencies to thrive in a normal business environment, where the content of your expertise counts for more than who you know.

Many people who have spent time with the President since he took over in November have told me that he is ready to smash these corrupt networks, if and when he wins the election.

I always respond with a smirk on my face because smashing the corrupt networks will mean disrupting how things have been done in Zimbabwe for decades, under the ruinous leadership of Gushungo.

The alternative is for President Mnangagwa to look the other way, and hope that he can recede the predatory nature of these networks slowly.

Many of the key political actors are at the very center of these networks so it will mean tempering with the political architecture and disturbing how it has made money for decades.

Will he do it or not? If he doesn’t do it, there is a huge price to be paid for both country and it’s people.

This will have the effect of slowing down the recovery process and economic growth and cutting down the amount of inward investment into Zimbabwe.

Capital is a coward, it hardly wants to be associated with uncertainty or contested election outcomes, that is why the 2009 Government of National Unity stabilized the economy.

So Nelson Chamisa is right when he says that the currency and money supply problems we are currently facing will only be resolved once confidence retains to the local business and economic arena.

These problems are a direct result and product of a world that doesn’t trust Zimbabwe yet.
They can only be fixed by confidence building measures first and then everything else will fall into place.

There are plenty of greenbacks in Zimbabwe, there are just not in the banking system.

The US dollar is kept at home under the pillow and it is being traded daily on the black market by “business” using its runners.

So how will President Mnangagwa smash the corrupt networks when his party allowed more crooked business people to contest and win ZANUPF primary elections?

The very people who are part of the problem are now intending to be at the center of political decision making in Zimbabwe. This is a question for ZANUPF and the President to answer.

Some of the people who prevailed in the ZANUPF primaries have NO clue about what their job as a Member of Parliament will entail if they win their seats in July.

Many thieves and convicted criminals attempted to run on ZANUPF tickets, the public outcry helped to get some of them off the primary election list.

These people are a reflection of citizens who vote against their own interests.
YES, Zimbabwean citizens have voted against their own interests for a very long time in various electoral contests.

How do you explain gardeners winning elections to go to town house and run the city?

Why then are citizens complaining about the lack of council service delivery when they sent men and women who according to the current Harare Mayor, Ben Manyenyeni, can’t even read a balance sheet.

Why do we complain when in some instances we vote for people who can’t even write their own names and yet we sent them to town house to run our cities and in some cases transact with foreign town houses on our behalf?

Imagine sending such misplaced and yet elected Councillors to Nottingham in England to negotiate a twinning arrangement with the City of Nottingham and also requesting for assistance from its Engineering division.

Those are the consequences of democracy, it creates unintended outcomes.
Our current situation is more complex than the citizen cares to admit.

I often joke that we currently have a Government of National Unity.

If Robert Mugabe had prevailed, there is no way people like The Foreign Minister Sibusiso Moyo and Minister of Agriculture Perence Shiri would have been in government as cabinet ministers.

There is no way too General Constantino Chiwenga would have been Vice President.

They are in their current positions because they gambled big time and won.
Refreshingly, SB Moyo and Perence Shiri have been rated as some of the best ministers in the current government.

These retired soldiers have become that mix with our very own career politicians who have nothing but a long serving career in shady deals.

These powerful ex-military men also have their surrogates that have been doing different types of political and business work for them, people who also expect to be rewarded for their “hustle” if and when they win the elections.

That is why certain cabinet ministers and senior civil servants were retained in the post-Mugabe dispensation against national expectation.

They had been loyal to the new rulers when they were battling G40, Grace Mugabe and Bob himself.

These social relationships have proved to be a problem in the current government, because various subordinates have different interests to their principals which are not necessarily progressive or meant to enhance the national project.

But because we have a President who came in through the back door, his resolve was weakened by the political deals that had to be cut in order for his take over to look and be smooth.

Will he turf out these career politicians, the shady men and women of great compromise to his Presidency after the general election if he wins it?

Some of these rotten apples maybe thrown out of cabinet and the civil service, but not all of them will go.

There are also some ethnic considerations which are meant to placate some restive groups.

So he will be forced to chose from what he has in parliament plus the five seats the constitution gives him.

So instead of using these five seats to appoint technocrats, he might end up giving them to appoint fallen comrades after the elections.

That is also the price we pay for electing useless ignoramuses to parliament.

They are of NO use to the president except rubber stamping his agenda in parliament and scouting for deals using the power and prestige bestowed to their office.

Imagine how we ended up with Honorable Keith Guzah sitting in the parliament of Zimbabwe.

So the President has to battle through all these human gridlocks thrown at him by outcomes sometime created by voters in primary elections, or by his party’s inability to set a higher standard when vetting members of parliament!

All this will be done before the economy is even looked at because for the economy to work, the President must have a team which is solidly behind him and sharing the same vision with his.

A team that infuses confidence both home and abroad because of its technical track record and international standing.

So common sense might require him to get rid of his cousin, Misheck Sibanda, who is Chief Cabinet Secretary.

Common sense might also require him to get rid of the Chief of Protocol, Ambassador Munyaradzi Kajese, whose daughter is married to Misheck Sibanda’s son.

You see how complex these relationships are?
There is NO corruption insinuated by their personal relationships(Hukama).

I am merely trying to map out the added social headaches that the President will have to grapple with and ultimately forced to resolve.

President Mnangagwa inherited these appointments from his former boss Robert Mugabe.

Those close to the President have told me that he couldn’t get rid of them, a couple of months before a major election because of the institutional memory that they carry.

He needed them for civil service direction.

The President will have to chose whether to be burdened by these relationships or do what is good for the country and his Presidency.

He will need to make decisions that will define whether his Presidency will go down in history as just an ordinary and non eventful Presidency, or whether he wants to be remembered as the man who took over from his dictatorial boss, and pulled the country from the economic and political abyss.

Common sense will also require him to get rid of the Central Bank Governor and bring in a new face that will instill confidence to the cowardly world of capital and foreign investment.

Common sense will also require him not to bring back the likes of Obert Mpofu, Prisca Mupfumira, Supa Mandiwanzira, David Parirenyatwa, Patricia Kagonye et al.

Will he have that courage to clean Robert Mugabe’s mess? Time will tell.

I am sharing these thoughts because this is what I was preaching to all my Zimbabwean brothers and sisters in England for the past seven days I was there.

Many of them were asking me whether government will avail opportunities which can help the diaspora come back home.

I have been telling them that they will have to grab opportunities and not wait for government to hand them on a platter.

This is not South Africa where President Cyril Ramaphosa has put together a team led by former Finance Minister, Trevor Manuel, to look for local and foreign investment.

We are 18 years behind and as such, we are still in the Bongo-Bongo Land of economics, where the central bank governor has a fake PhD degree from a non existing American University.

All these things affect confidence. The investors will want to know who will manage their investment, they will look at their credentials.

Ndopaino fira yaka rodha!

We have a serious problem when it comes to executing our written plans. I remember when I was young kid hearing about the Health for All campaign by year 2000.

It played all day everyday on radio and as kids we wondered whether it meant we won’t get sick at all by 2000. Hilarious thoughts and yet the opposite happened!

In reality that slogan was reversed to become Death for All.

Many of our people who were not supposed to die met their maker due to an incompetent policy making problem exacerbated by monumental corruption on government Hospitals.

Mugabe and the political elites didn’t care because they all get treated outside the country.
That is why Grace Mugabe would buy a diamond ring for $1,4Million, meanwhile the Hospital pharmacies were empty.

The current City of Harare Health Director was earning $35000 per month for a long time until a public outcry, his salary was higher than that of the British Prime Minister.

That is the unintended consequence of sending incompetent Councillors to Town House, they have NO clue whatsoever of what it means to run a municipality.

Today, businesses are being set up in affluent Neighborhoods without licenses and permits, simply because the department responsible for these issue is packed with corrupt people from top to bottom!

The current Nigerian Transport Minister and President Buhari’s elections director, Rotimi Amaechi, told me that our biggest problem is believing that we are the best on the continent.

He laughed so hard at the idea that we were going to field a 94 year old man to run for the Presidency, he drew the painful contradiction of being educated and yet lacking in wisdom.

“We have serious problems in our country but any man or woman over 80 years old will never rule Nigeria,” said Amaechi to me as we sat outside his mansion in Rivers State, discussing the state of politics in Africa.

We must accept our reality if we are to get out of the hole we are in. Our problem has been the very idea of falling into a hole and making the hole comfortable and not trying to get out of it.

Zimbabweans always have a plan for everything, when the road is potholed, they drive on the side of the road instead of demanding that it is fixed.

When there is no electric power and criminals like Wicknell Chivhayo loot ZESA, we buy generators.

When the City of Harare fails to deliver water to our taps, we drill boreholes.

That is our biggest problem that we need to overcome, we must demand for what we have paid for.

Mugabe was taking money from ZINARA meant for roads and buying 20 year old aeroplanes from Malaysia.

We still have Joram Gumbo in cabinet, one of the most incompetent and corrupt ministers.

There are too many unsuitable and unacceptable people that will come through the two main political parties asking for our vote.

In a real sane world, that is when we should have fielded a strong decent independent candidate if both parties have fielded soiled candidates.

But unfortunately, our politics is tainted by vote buying, so whilst people like Supa Mandiwanzira and Ozias Bvute are unacceptable to many of us because of their shady characteristics.

Those that will determine their political future have a different standard and considerations.

There are also those daunting social relationships that they have with people at the top.
ZANUPF has a chance to break with the past and invest in new opportunities to give itself a brighter future.

It should not have allowed tainted people who have nothing to offer except fraudulent engagements.

Th same applies to the MDCT Alliance, it can renew itself through fielding strong and ethical candidates.

But will they do it or they will chose expediency?

As we prepare to go to the polls in July, we should remember that when we make a choice, it is a choice that we will be stuck with for the next five years.

Anyway, my plane has landed in South Africa, so I have to go.

Happy Sunday folks, to those who pray, your load is huge, pray for common sense to prevail in the house of stone!

Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning international Zimbabwean Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker. He is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and a CNN African Journalist of the year.

He has a new documentary film looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe called State of Mind that is coming out in June. It will be launched in Harare and Johannesburg by Graca Machel. Hopewell can be contacted at [email protected] or on twitter @daddyhope

State of Mind Trailer