By Jealousy Mawarire
Apart from the sycophantic excitement generated through the state media over President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s maiden European trip which took him to Davos, Switzerland, the trip was much ado about nothing.
The fundamental reason for the spectacular failure of the trip is the legitimacy crisis facing the coup government which fronted the attempted sale of our country’s resources in the vain attempt at buying the elusive international approval for the junta running state affairs in Harare.
President Mnangagwa was so desperate to shade off the coup leader tag to the point of lying about events which led to his ‘inauguration’ especially in the interview with Russian news agency, Sputnik, in which he bizarrely claimed former President, Robert Mugabe, never made a mistake during his 37-year reign yet President Mnangagwa and his military backers set in motion impeachment proceedings premised on a litany of allegations against Mugabe.
The fact that President Mnangagwa went to Davos with the tag of a rogue coup leader is inescapable despite the massive public relations efforts by the British government using British journalists and media organizations like the Financial Times. Despite the desperate efforts by the British to dress their coup baby in royal apparel, the uncovered faces of the Zimbabwe officials at Davos were just the bizarre marketing effigies that would spoil even a billion dollar backed propaganda campaign.
The coup tag on the president was bad on its own, but the fact he was accompanied by a Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister, Sibusiso Moyo, who announced the coup, was the sort of bizarre marketing only normal to the junta in Zimbabwe and its British benefactors.
Matters were not helped either, by the fact that a simple fact check on the Zimbabwe team, especially on both the President and his foreign affairs minister, immediately gives out data capable of sending away even the most speculative of investors.
As soon as one types Emmerson Mnangagwa and Sibusiso Moyo on any information search engine, the UN report on the plunder of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) diamonds through a company called Osleg sticks out like a sore thumb. Such detail mattered to the majority membership of the World Economic Forum who are executives of top transnational corporations that control more than 50 percent of world products and services.
While some argue that the majority of the people the Zimbabwean delegation was courting are market capitalists driven by profit, the same executives at Davos also believe in private ownership of personal and enterprise assets and in state systems that guarantee the rule of law, respect and enforce contracts and offer unquestionable legal and physical security for life and property.
The same capitalists also believe in investment destinations with proper banking systems that allow for easy transacting with both local and international business partners. They also believe in free-market economics devoid of communist command tendencies that we see in command agriculture and recent directives by Energy and Power Development Minister Simon Khaya Moyo after government scrapped off some of the ridiculous levies charged on fuel importation.
In short, the capitalists that President Mnangagwa courted, believe in the doctrine of free market economics under stable democracies in which constitutionalism and the rule of law are hallmarks.
It is, therefore, pertinent that one critiques the above investor expectations vis-à-vis what our President and his team sold, verbally, paralinguistically and by way of those things they never spoke about but still stuck out like a sore thumb through their mere presence in Davos.
Let me start with the issue of private property rights, which is very fundamental to every investor. We saw a president taking to Davos, a delegation littered with officials who expropriated white owned farms and companies through the land reform and the indigenization and economic empowerment programmes.
It is quite cynical that such characters were trying to persuade the world that “Zimbabwe was open for business” when issues to do with resolution of past violations of private property rights have not been resolved. Yes, one would have bought into the mantra that President Mnangagwa’s government is new, albeit without a single new face in its midst, but his performance in interviews, especially on the issue of political violence and Gukurahundi left no doubt that the president and his government are not serious about the things they say they are prepared to do to move the country forward.
Forget the patronizing, “my dear”, and the offensive, “I don’t understand your problem” boobs, the President’s caveat on political violence encapsulated in the claim that “those that embark on political violence never apply” to him before they execute their sordid acts betrayed a man not prepared to take responsibility, a president not prepared to be president.
If President Mnangagwa thought his audience would buy into his disclaimer that those that engage in political violence never apply for authority from his office, therefore he is not responsible, what stops the same investors, to believe that those that will invade and appropriate their businesses, should they invest in Zimbabwe, would do so because they, like the political merchants of violence, need not apply for permission from the president’s office?
After all, the precedence is there. Those that invaded white owned farms never applied for permission from the president of the republic then, did they?
Any serious investor who listened to President Mnangagwa refusing to give guarantees for non-violent elections would certainly have been worried, not necessarily about the prospects of a bloody election in Zimbabwe, but lack of guarantees on security of investment as well. A president who fails to guarantee peace in his country’s elections is hard to believe when he says investor capital will be secure under his tenure.
A president who got emotional and refused to apologise for atrocities committed while he was in government and responsible for state security is a very difficult customer to lend one’s trust. It is even worse when one looks at the kind of statements he used to utter at the height of the genocide wherein he described political opponents as “cockroaches” that needed fumigation using “DDT.”
It is hard to believe that a president that flatly refuses to apologise for such atrocities committed by a government that he was part of, can actually repent on other issues especially when one takes into account that only in 2015, he was wishing he was God so he could “deprive all those who do not support the revolutionary party of oxygen so that they all die.”
The other issue that President Mnangagwa and his coup government did not clarify at Davos was the issue of bond notes and how they have wrecked havoc in the economy through a three-tier pricing system. He should have assured investors that bond notes are going to be de-monetized even though Reserve Bank Governor John Mnagundya and Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa are adamant of their usefulness.
It was important for him to have listened to local business concerns about the need to demonetise bond notes, before the Davos jaunt, since their continued use affects the investment value chain and destroys investor confidence. The investing public and market players know that a bond note is not the same as a USD and it is common knowledge that only the connected are buying US dollars at 1:1 to the Bond Notes. So as long as business believes Bond Notes should be demonetised while government insists on their use, investors will not find Zimbabwe a conducive investment destination and Davos becomes a useless holiday for the junta.
It is also pertinent to note that President Mnangagwa left for Davos on the back of serious demands by business and local investors to reform the governance structure at RBZ and to dismantle the one-centre of power system at the central bank. Local investors and business people are calling for the establishment of an Independent Central Bank with clear separation of powers between the chairman, governor and the board of directors.
Local business is arguing that the current structure where the Governor is the Chairman of the Board and also Chief Executive is old fashioned and does not provide adequate corporate governance checks and balances required in an institution that requires strong leadership, ideas and innovation. These are issues that President Mnangagwa needed to attend to first. Going to Davos without effecting these changes was putting the cart before the horse.
The trip to Davos also provided a good platform for Zimbabweans to test the Junta’s willingness to work with professionals from outside the cabal that planned and executed the Novermber 15 2017 coup and the experiment failed spectacularly as conservatibve elements withing the Junta, who believe in the “Chinhu Chedu” (our thing) doctrine clashed with diapora returnees who had fallen for the Junta propaganda claims that everyone had a role to play in the “new dispensation”.
Clashes started even before the team left for Davos when two professionals, hired by different factions of the Junta, to prepare the president’s team, Petina Gappah and General Manager and Executive Head of Ecocash, Natalie Jabangwe, rubbed each other uncomfortably, with one trying to out do the other inorder to impress Mnangagwa. Matters, however, came to a head in Davos when Gappah clashed with Presidential Spokesperson, George Charamba, since she had taken over the press secretary duties from the long serving permanent secretary.
So intense was the friction that former security elements in the junta began to accuse Gappah of being “a weevil” that was breaking “security protocol” due to her ‘unorthodox’ way of doing things and her perceived unfettered access to the President.
This little drama exposed the challenges of trying to force new ideas on an old system even when it cynically calls itself a “new dispensation”.
What is instructive, from the Gappah-Charamba clash in Davos, is that the Junta is a closed system incapable of reforming itself, let alone the country, therefore what is needed is not riding on the back of the tiger in order for us to get to the promised land, but to bully the tiger from the way for it is the biggest impediment to our progression towards economic prosperity.