Former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe
Opinion & Analysis

Is the second republic going to be any different from the first?

LAST week I detailed what I regard as the major failures in the 37 years that the late Robert Mugabe was in control as one of Africa’s big men. 

In many ways a dismal record of which few people could really be proud. If I was to be asked what the major achievements of the First Republic, I would assign to Mugabe the fact that he gave dignity to the majority of our population and in the process established Zimbabwe as an Independent Republic.

I was 17 years in the Movement for Democratic Change under the leadership of Morgan Tsvangirai and I think it is important also to record what I regard as being his major achievement in the time that he led the political opposition. 

In my view his major achievement was to restore a semblance of democracy, freedom of expression and assembly in what was a One Party State dictatorship in 2000. 

The sacrifices made to achieve that were enormous and it is important that he is remembered for those developments.

When Mugabe finally resigned in November 2017, the new leadership of the country wasted no time in laying out their vision for the future. This statement was received with some excitement by the international community who were looking for signs that the transfer of power would bring major change to the way in which the country was being governed.

In the ensuing eight months up to the 2018 elections the new government failed to deliver on the promises of that first speech and this led to questions as to whether the President was really in charge. 

The election in 2018: the results for 10 000 individual polling stations awarded Zanu PF with a 2/3 majority in the House of Assembly. 

Even so, it was clear from these results that very substantial opposition to Mnangagwa had emerged during the voting process, and he was able to defeat his immediate rival from the MDC by the narrowest of majorities. 

Despite the challenge from the MDC, the international community and the courts in Zimbabwe eventually recorded a clear victory for Mnangagwa and he was sworn into power in August. Once again, he made an important statement at his inauguration repeating the promise of reform and change. This speech was overshadowed by the violence which erupted after the election and incidents where a number of people were killed by live gunfire on the streets of Harare.

At the time I paid little attention to the declaration that the President made that Zimbabwe was now entering a period which could be described as the Second Republic. It is now clear that the President was confronted at that time by several groups who opposed his premiership.

Because of this, once again he was unable to implement many of the promises he made at his inauguration and when violence broke out in January 2019 and there was a further series of incidents involving arson and live gunfire, the international community slipped back into their pre 2017 mode, and the Americans renewed the sanctions regime which they had imposed in 2001 in response to the farm invasions and associated human rights abuse.

We are now three years down the road from that moment and it is perhaps time to review just what has happened since the military assisted transition in 2017. 

On the economic front, very substantial progress has been made. We were all surprised when at the first cabinet meeting after the elections, the President tabled a 300-page document which they called the Transitional Stabilisation Plan, or TSP. In the next 2 1/2 years this plan was implemented in a very determined way.

The overvalued domestic currency was depreciated, the budget deficit was eliminated and the budget itself restructured to represent the new priorities of the state. 

Despite these advances in macroeconomic policy, the IMF withdrew its staff monitored programme in early 2019 and resumed a watch and wait stance which remains in place today. 

Because of the sanctions programme under the Zidera Act and similar programmes mounted by the United Kingdom and Europe, Zimbabwe was isolated economically and unable to secure funding for the reconstruction of its infrastructure or the rescheduling of its debt. 

In the past few weeks, the IMF has conducted a review under Article 4 and the conclusion of this review was basically to give Zimbabwe a clean bill of health in respect to the management of our fiscus. 

See full report on website

This conclusion is light years away from the situation that existed in 2017 and must constitute a major achievement for the Second Republic.

In respect to the issues classified under the rule of law, constitutional government, human and political rights, I think we can say today that very substantial progress has been made. Under Mr Mugabe, all such basic rights were violated on an extensive basis and international norms and rules simply ignored. 

Today 80 percent of the Acts of Parliament that require amendment to implement the 2013 constitution have been dealt with. These include the repressive pieces of legislation which limited the freedom of association and movement and the freedom of the press.

Since 2017 there have been five incidents of abductions associated with abuse and these have generated widespread condemnation. The harsh reality is that at least three of these incidents were stage managed and the record shows that the objective was mainly to damage the reputation of the new leadership. In the 17 years of the existence of the MDC under Morgan Tsvangirai there were 4800 abductions or almost one a day. The track record of the Second Republic by comparison cannot be described as similar by any measure.

Much remains to be done. It is clear to everyone that the way in which we manage our foreign exchange is far from adequate. The auction introduced in June 2019 has made a substantial contribution to the stability of the economy and in stimulating domestic growth. 

However, we remain bedevilled by the fact that we have three markets for foreign exchange — the auction, a nascent interbank market, and the parallel market on the streets. Until we are willing to allow the market to set our exchange rates on a supply and demand basis, it is unlikely that we can bring sanity to this sector, and it is going to threaten much of the advance which we have made.

The international community for itself remains deeply sceptical of the motivation and the will to restore Zimbabwe as a democracy, which respects constitutional law, protects property rights and all human and political rights. The concentration is on the 2023 elections. 

The 2018 election is recognised as being probably the most reasonable since independence, but the international community argues that the playing field was not level and therefore there were reservations about the victory of Zanu PF.

As a citizen and observer, I do not think that the world is giving the Second Republic a fair hearing. This country bears no resemblance to the country which existed in the year 2000. Prior to that we were one party state, there was no respect for human rights, violation of legal rights and the rule of law were almost absolute. In addition, there was total state control of the media and social media was relatively undeveloped.

Today we have a vibrant economy which is growing strongly, we are creating jobs instead of destroying them and we have a relatively Free Press with a powerful social media that can reach every corner of the country. In my view the Second Republic must be given recognition for these advances. 

It has not been easy and the opposition to change remain strong. We as a nation have made substantial sacrifices to achieve the situation which exists today, and we do not need the continued isolation and condemnation that continues to prevail in our international relations.

What would help us today would be recognition of the advances made and a commitment from the world community to stand with us as we try to reach the goal of the Second Republic which is to help us achieve middle income status by 2030. We cannot do it alone.