Just under 14 months after assuming power from former president Robert Mugabe’s rule, the new administration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa seems to have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing from the past.
When Mnangagwa came to power in November 2019, his government immediately set out to win the hearts and minds of the international community which had isolated Mugabe’s regime.
It started projecting itself as a reformed creature and pledged to do away with obnoxious laws, level the political playing field and respecting people’s freedoms and rights.
To revive the country’s battered economy, foreign investors were invited to do business with no strings attached under the “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra.
But with the country going through one of its worst economic crises, and public disenchantment with Mnangagwa’s administration rising, Zanu PF has returned to its old ways of doing things.
The first sign of government’s heavy handedness emerged on August 1, 2017 when police and the army used live ammunition to disperse protesters on the streets of Harare — killing six people in cold blood.
The trend continued, with last month’s national shutdown co-ordinated by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions causing further bloodshed after police and the military reportedly killing 12 protesters.
At least 78 people were treated for serious gunshot wounds, according to rights groups and medical doctors.
Security forces are still unleashing a brutal crackdown countrywide against the protesters, the opposition and civil society leaders.
What is also evoking bad memories of the ruinous politics under Mugabe’s 37 years of misrule is that top officials in Mnangagwa’s administration are blaming the opposition and Western countries for instigating the protests and causing the economic meltdown.
Piers Pigou, senior consultant at the International Crisis Group, said what Zimbabweans have seen in the last couple of weeks is a full-blown return to a set of caustic half-baked allegations that on the one hand appear designed to provide a deflection from and a veneer of justification for the State’s heavy-handed response to the mid-January protests, and on the other a decision by government or particular elements within it, to torpedo its re-engagement strategy.
“Since November 2017, the Mnangagwa administration worked hard to dial back these narratives relating to regime change, sanctions etc as part of its re-engagement approach, a way of demonstrating to Western countries that this was indeed a new administration.
“The resuscitation of these allegations and belligerence of the allegations certainly has the appearance of a return to type; in the Mugabe era this was an expected default response, invariably deployed to deflect attention from some domestic challenge,” said Pigou.
He said attempts by government to present itself as a victim of internal and external conspiracies are unlikely to help build the much-needed credibility and confidence that this is indeed a country that is “open for business” and committed to upholding the rule of law without fear or favour.
Pigou said unlike in the Mugabe era when such posturing was expected, these recent allegations will be weighed much more seriously.
He said the State’s ability to move beyond cobbling allegations together and providing a coherent evidence base will be watched carefully, adding that so far government has had a long record of wild allegations, but an extremely poor record of proving them.
“These allegations, if true or if not, reflect the depth of polarisation in Zimbabwe and compound the already daunting domestic reconciliation challenges.
“Whilst they almost certainly undermine prospects for the State’s re-engagement strategy, those driving this may well believe this is only temporary, that the possible negative implications will blow over and the constructive engagement dance will pick up momentum. Whatever the case may be, the fundamental economic, political and social challenges remain very much in play,” said Pigou.
Political analyst Dewa Mavhinga said conspiracy theories about the so-called regime change agenda meant that government is chasing shadows and not focusing on real issues which include restoration of the rule of law, respect for human rights, and holding accountable members of the security forces committing horrific abuses including rape – a crime against humanity.
“It means the new dispensation regime is now taking several steps backwards instead of moving forward to improve people’s lives and re-engage the international community. The Zimbabwe government must stop the blame game and for once take responsible for mayhem, chaos, and terror engulfing the nation,” said Mavhinga. Daily News