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Zimbabwe nearing a fully-fledged family dynasty under Mnangagwa!

Last week, a reporter with a national daily newspaper phoned for my opinion on how I believed the country’s new Cabinet should be constituted.

This was after the recently-held hotly disputed harmonized elections in Zimbabwe – where incumbent President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa (ZANU PF) supposedly ‘won’ against CCC leader Nelson Chamisa by a measly 52.6 percent.

My response to the journalist was that – as per norm globally, especially in countries with similar two-term presidential term limits – the president was usually a bit more daring in his last stint in office.

This was due to the fact that, as someone no longer seeking re-election, his choices of Cabinet Ministers (as well as his broader policies) would not be shaped by a desire to please and reward close associates, in order to garner their continued support for his ambitions.

The final term in office was normally characterized, rather, by a desire to leave a lasting legacy.

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As such, I expected Mnangagwa to appoint a Cabinet comprised mostly of technocrats – who could take the country to his envisioned ‘upper middle-income economy by the year 2030’.

Little did I know that, as much as the president would indeed be daring – but this was to be in a completely different direction!

Who would have ever guessed that this was to be in the form of Mnangagwa appointing two of his family members into ministerial positions?

As I listened to Mnangagwa’s press conference yesterday – whilst speedily jotting down his new ministerial appointments – my mind was already in analytical mode, in order to evaluate each name against the particular portfolio to which he or she had been assigned.

Indeed, today I was expecting to be penning my views on the new government, and assessing whether it was fit for purpose.

Nonetheless, the bomb shell hit!

At first I thought my ears were playing tricks on me – possibly due to the fast pace at which Mnangagwa was reading out the names.

Besides, as much as I am a trained and qualified journalist – with three decades of experience under my belt – my shorthand writing skills were never any good!

Anyway, when I heard the same surname repeated for the second time, there was no denying that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my ears.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa (right) seen here with his wife, First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa and their son Emmerson Junior
President Emmerson Mnangagwa (right) seen here with his wife, First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa and their son Emmerson Junior

Mnangagwa had just announced two of his close family members as deputy ministers – David Kudakwashe Mnangagwa (reportedly his son) in finance, and Tongai Mafidi Mnangagwa (supposedly his nephew) in tourism.

In total, including the president himself, there are now three Mnangagwas in Zimbabwe’s Cabinet!

I will not even bother digging deeper into these men’s backgrounds and whether they are qualified for these positions.

Already, the fact that Mnangagwa, as head of state, saw nothing untoward and suspicious in choosing – from thousands of highly qualified and experienced competent Zimbabweans – his own family members, is problematic enough.

In politics, optics is essential!

A leader needs to be seen to be beyond nepotism and any form of corruption.

Even when you sincerely believes that your spouse or offspring or close relative is the best candidate for a particular very senior government post – public perception should prevent you from making such an appointment.

That is why even in the US, having George H.W. Bush (1989-1993), and not long after, his son George W. Bush (2001-2009) as presidents, was met with significant resistance from Americans – who perceived this as encouraging some form of dynasty, in a country that prides itself as a global leader in democracy.

This, notwithstanding the fact that Bush senior was never known to have openly pulled up his son to take over the presidency.

The jury is still out, though, on his (Bush junior’s) overall performance as the president of the US – having endured below average approval ratings for most of his tenure, especially during the 2007-2008 financial crisis – although there was a peak in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

Be that as it may, the point here is that, in a democracy, it is ordinarily not advisable for the president to be seen as favoring his own kith and kin.

Why this is frowned upon is primarily due to the history of most democracies – which were founded out of uprisings and revolutions against monarchs – where power had been determined along family linkages and bloodlines.

As such, it becomes questionable and indeed objectionable when our own president appoints his own son and nephew into ministerial posts.

In fact, this does not end here!

It has been reported that his other sons have been a part of government delegations to other nations – although they do not occupy any position in their father’s regime.

This was the case with a state visit to Equatorial Guinea, in February 2023, by Mnangagwa, where Emmerson junior accompanied his father.

Even more curious was the trip to Belarus by the First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa in April 2023 – who, in spite of not holding any official position in her husband’s government – still traveled with her twin sons, Collins and Sean, to meet the east European country’s leader Alexander Lukashenko.

In June 2022, there were reports that Mnangagwa, as Commander-in-Chief of the country’s defense forces, had allegedly promoted Sean to the rank of Major.

Not to be outdone was his wife – who, in August 2021, was bestowed by Mnangagwa the Order of the Star Zimbabwe Gold, ostensibly for her ‘philanthropic work’ – which is one of the awards created by the president under Statutory Instrument 213 of 2021.

In August 2023, Mnangagwa also gave his wife’s Angel of Hope Foundation the Jairos Jiri Humanitarian Award in Gold, for the same reason.

Not to be outdone, several state-run higher learning institutions – interestingly, all with Mnangagwa as Chancellor – have scrambled to confer the First Lady with honorary Doctorate (PhD) degrees.

Just a few days ago, the UZ (University of Zimbabwe) honored her with a PhD in Law – whilst in December 2022, the ZOU (Zimbabwe Open University) granted her a PhD in Development Studies.

All these, again, supposedly for her ‘charitable work’.

From all these awards, an outsider would be excused for assuming Auxillia Mnangagwa was the only person doing any philanthropic work in Zimbabwe!

Where, then, are we headed as a country?

Even in the 1960s US – when the famous Kennedy brothers (John, Robert, Ted, and Joseph) were swiftly climbing up the political and corporate ladder – this was not as a result of being pulled up by a relative.

As a matter of fact, despite John (JFK) later becoming head of state – they all achieved their accomplishments more or less at the same time – and so, none really benefited much from JFK’s occupancy of the White House.

What we are witnessing in Zimbabwe is rather troubling and unsettling.

Is this an attempt at establishing a dynasty – whereby political power is centralized in only one family?

Or, is this just a way of ensuring that the family has its claws entrenched deep in all facets of the economy – whilst at the same time, keeping the wife happy?

What legacy does Mnangagwa want to establish in his final term?

Does he want to be remembered for promoting his sons into occupying powerful government positions, with his wife possessing a plethora of honorary PhDs from state-run universities?

We witnessed a bit of this madness with the Robert Gabriel Mugabe regime – when then first lady, Grace, was given a dubious university PhD, as well as powerful positions within the ruling ZANU PF party.

Of course, as power is addictive and corrupting, Grace was to soon lose her head – bullying and insulting everyone around her, whom she perceived as hindering her aspirations for the highest office in the land.

This, inevitably, was the main catalyst for fomenting fierce factional fighting within ZANU PF – subsequently culminating in the November 2017 military coup d’état toppling her husband – thereby, ushering in Mnangagwa.

The thing about history is that, if we do not learn from it, then it tends to repeat itself.

Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate and writer. Please feel free to WhatsApp or Call: +263715667700 | +263782283975, or email: [email protected], or visit website: http://mbofanatendairuben.news.blog/