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Hopewell Chin’ono: The painful undoing of a glorious November 2017: A dream deferred

By Hopewell Chin’ono

Robert Mugabe was really bad because he didn’t listen to anyone unless under personal duress, and because of that terrible trait in him, it led to his spectacular and embarrassing undoing with the culmination of a military coup that was supported by the citizens and the rest of the world sealing his ungraceful demise.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa
President Emmerson Mnangagwa

Everybody was just tired of the old man, and regardless of the unorthodox means used to remove him, it was a popular and celebrated end of a disastrous rule.

However this was a thirty-seven year tumultuous relationship and journey between Robert Mugabe, the people of Zimbabwe and the rest of the world.

His inconvenient and unintended successor and apprentice, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has only been in power for fourteen months, but he has perfected his former boss’s art of not listening and being oblivious to what the rest of the world thinks of his rule, good or bad.

Mnangagwa inherited Mugabe’s Presidency at a time when everyone including those that never liked him were reluctantly willing to welcome Mugabe’s departure in exchange to the new political arrangement that involved the military generals, who later removed their uniforms and became part of the civilian political establishment.

I was one of those Zimbabweans who pleaded with compatriots to allow the new order space and time to try and fix the economic and political mess that Mugabe had left behind him, a mess that had affected every citizen in one way or another.

A mess that also unfortunately had been underpinned by Mugabe’s successors through, a very brutal and violent machinery that included the military and other state security services like the police and the Central Intelligence Organization.

Many of us realized that there was no other alternative to the new arrangement until the people had an opportunity to choose who they really wanted to lead the country post Robert Mugabe’s misrule.

I have never seen such unprecedented goodwill extended to a new regime that interestingly had been part of a past terrible, disastrous and incompetent political old order.

Western ambassadors and their ministers like Catriona Laing and Rory Stewart of Britain and international business people piled their support behind Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government hoping that they would become the solution to Zimbabwe’s decades old misrule.

When the American senators sponsoring ZIDERA 2 came to town in April, I was one of many Zimbabweans who were invited by the American embassy to speak to the senators about the need to loosen the political pressure through removing unhelpful elements that were in the original ZIDERA 2 bill.

The senators agreed to remove what many of us identified as re-engagement obstacles in the original bill, they told us that they were willing to wait and see whether President Mnangagwa’s government was genuine or not in its mantras and promises.

What has followed is a historical fall from grace by our government, the very same men and women whom we had marched shoulder to shoulder with promising us that we were headed for greater times.

The same people who had said that the past will never again be replicated in our soon to be glorious future, they have become the impediment to our progress, they have proved that Robert Mugabe alone was not the main problem at all.

They have since done everything possible in the book and beyond to not be taken seriously by both the citizens that they rule, and the rest of the world that they wanted to reengage with.

Today they have gone full circle in effortlessly achieving that unfortunate pariah status and nobody sane is now taking them seriously on their promises, because they have failed to even do the very things that do not require money or effort, like merely asking the state media to report in a non-divisive manner.

They have allowed the state media to create a THEM and US narrative that is further dividing the country, the very thing that Mugabe did so excellently well has now been renewed, only that this time it is being done with embarrassing crudeness, scaffolded by a litany of lies, misinformation, misrepresentations, fear, threats and intimidation.

Those that we thought had the President’s ear and were willing to see their man succeed from being part of a rogue Robert Mugabe government and past, to being the man that turned the corner and gave the country a fighting chance, are either not listened to or they exaggerated their influence, or the President actually does not have full control of the decision making processes.

How else would you explain such spectacular political and economic disasters that have ensued post August 1 of 2018 up to this very today?

How do you explain the harshness in shutting down the Internet and stopping citizens from talking to each other and blocking the world from interacting with the country and yet the President is abroad saying that Zimbabwe is open for business at the World Economic Forum in Davos in a couple of days?

Robert Mugabe had dropped the bar so low that it takes monumental incompetence to fail to do just the bare minimum to appease a nation that had lost all hope resulting in those who could leave, actually flying away to other countries to seek greener pastures.

As I write this article, compatriots in townships are being beaten up by the military and security services and about eight people have been confirmed dead, killed by their own government, the same government that is peddling democratic credentials abroad.

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This Word Economic Forum visit by the President comes at a time when we have civil service strikes, national shutdowns, general price hikes, a biting fuel crisis, gross incompetence in government, accentuated corruption and a lot of promises that we have been fed since November 2017 without even a distant hope of any fulfillment.

How will our president explain his open for business mantra when the very same men that were part of Robert Mugabe’s administration from Chief Cabinet Secretary, Chief of Protocol, central Bank Governor to Spokesman surround him on his trip to Davos at the World Economic Forum and indeed in government?

How can any citizen who thought of giving him the benefit of a doubt live with that self-evident act of arrogance of extending John Mangudya’s tenure as the central bank governor at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, when his name is synonymous with the comical currency policy that pegs the Bond Note at par with the greenback and that has resulted in the current upheavals in the country?

How can the rest of the world and businessmen like Aliko Dangote want to come and invest in Zimbabwe when the very same men who were asking him for bribes two years ago are still part and parcel of today’s Mnangagwa administration at both government and political party level, still oozing the same amount of power they had under Robert Mugabe or even more?

How can any international finance institution take us seriously when no single person has been send to jail through what has now become a comical prosecution process nicknamed “Catch and Release” by the citizens?

How can we take those people around the President and his Deputy seriously when at weekends and at night they harass his cabinet ministers with requests to have their wives, husbands, children, friends and relatives appointed to state enterprise parastatal boards?

Is this not the same patronage system that underpinned Robert Mugabe’s disastrous rule that the current government used as an excuse to grab power on the back of citizen frustrations?

How does the citizen become content and hopeful with a government that practices the same “blind eye” and “see no evil” behavior to bureaucrats that instruct investors to use certain service providers if they want their investment deals to go through without hassles?

Today I had a chat with a Western ambassador of a very key country who told me that they have put out an investment note telling their citizens of this practice of being instructed to use certain banks, accounting firms, law firms, Architectural firms and employment agencies if investors want their deals to be smooth.

This has made many of us realize that what we thought were patriotic individuals, were actual buccaneer political and business elites pushing personal enrichment agendas on the back of people’s anger against Robert Mugabe, and that Mugabe was not entirely responsible for the collapse of the state and the country, he was just the face of it.

Our government must understand the relatedness of global capital and that banks in Russia, Rwanda, Egypt and indeed states like Belarus all do business with New York, the very same place that we are trying to avoid because we do not want to reform our economic, political and constitutional distortions that the very same President committed himself to undoing.

There are many states like Rwanda that are not exactly the poster boys of democracy, however the difference between us and them is that they do not allow monumental levels of state embezzlement, corruption, gross incompetence and civil service inertia that our government still tolerates fourteen months since Mugabe’s departure.

Zimbabwe’s brightest intellectuals, academics, professionals and global thinkers are today working for or with the Rwandese government.

That is how committed President Paul Kagame is to meritocracy and advancing the economics of his country in his endeavours to transforming the lives of his people.

Last week the Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube asked for more time, to do what when you are failing to do the very small things that will enable the people with deep pockets to come and rescue us through investment capital?

If you want Zimbabwe to be a Rwanda, a country with little democracy underpinned by meritocracy, then hire competent people like what Kagame has been doing and continues to do, professionalize state institutions including parastatals and root out the self evident corruption.

The government could have done all this without losing their grip on power, the fact that they have failed to do this exposes how incompetent and clueless they are to a world of ideas and many bright options.

They are sticking to what they have done best in the past 38 years, corruption, patronage underpinned by crude intimidation, fear and violence.

The only difference is that there is NO bogeyman called Robert Mugabe to hide behind, it is them that were his wind beneath his wings, it is them again who have gotten us into this political mess that is manifesting through economics.

No Mr president, this time it will not work, the world has changed and with that change must come the realization that behaving as you did in 2000 means that you have lost nineteen years of our time.

I would personally never say this, but it is a cruel indictment on the President and his government that people in Matabeleland of all places and indeed around the country are now saying “…Robert Mugabe was a better devil after all.”

It can’t get any worse than this Mr President, if your real friends, surrogates, associates and subordinates are not telling you this Sir, they indeed hate you, they are only around you for the money that they are making through their association with yourself!

Like the former President Robert Mugabe, you will realize how your phone will suddenly stop ringing Sir the day you lose power and the trappings of the Presidency.

You still have a chance to turn things around by making the right and yet tough choices Sir, that option is entirely yours to take or not. But like the former President Mugabe, there will come a time when such a choice is no longer an option!

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

He is also a Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Africa Leadership Institute.
Hopewell has a new documentary film looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe called State of Mind, which was launched to critical acclaim.

It was nominated last week for a big award at the Festival International du Film Pan-Africain de Cannes in France. You can watch the documentary trailer below.