by Alexander O. Onukwue
On the 22nd of November 2017, the 16 million people of Zimbabwe woke up and, for the first time in the last 37 years, did not have to worry when they will finally be free from the dictator, Robert Mugabe.
More than half the population of the southern African nation has only known one man as their president. Those much older, who may have lived through the post-Independence struggles between 1965 and 1980, have had the memories of their colonial agitations almost effaced by life under Mugabe. Indeed, the attempt to totally efface the struggles of that older generation, revealed in Mr Mugabe’s move to promote his wife, Grace, as his successor, in place of Emmerson Mnangagwa, may have led to the soft-ouster initiated and executed within the last 10 days.
With Mugabe dethroned, Mr Mnangagwa has returned to the country and is expected to be sworn in as the country’s president on Friday. He has struck the expected tone, identifying himself as a citizen who anticipates a “new and unfolding democracy”. Street parties and the pulling down of Mugabe’s portraits reported to be going on around the country, give the impression that this “second independence” will be taken seriously, setting the country on a new path to prosperity.
How different will things be in this new Zimbabwe?
“No one is more important than the other; we are all Zimbabweans”
Mr Mnangagwa sounded the tone that would have given hope to the long-suppressed opposition groups in the country. Under the rule of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, dissenters and members of the opposition have been shut out of the possibility of rising to the highest offices in the land. 65-year old Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change, presently in ill health, repeatedly failed to unseat Mugabe; the 2008 polls was diabolically manoeuvred against Mr Tsvangirai after he had defeated Mugabe in the first round of voting. It is the hope of commentators that Mnangagwa will provide the opportunity for a true democracy in the form of a multi-party system to start off and take root in the country, with elections expected to hold in 2018.
“We want to grow our economy, we want to visit our country, we want jobs, jobs, jobs!” Mnangagwa also said, to the cheer of the exuberant audience in Harare. Zimbabwe’s economy under Mugabe literally collapsed with hyperinflation and scarcity of commodities. It will, hence, be incumbent on the new leader to radically reconstitute the economic structures of the country. The restoration of political freedoms in any country will necessarily be supported by the provision of economic facilities and social opportunities, following the framework of the Indian Economist and Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen, in his 1998 work ‘Development as Freedom’. Ironically, Mr Sen, in trying to make the argument that functional democracies did not suffer famines, had listed Zimbabwe with Botswana and India (identified as relatively poor) as examples. But twenty years on, Botswana’s economy is in so good a condition that it could now be the perfect regional model for Mr Mnangagwa to emulate.
The lifting of a trade embargo by the United States and the pledge by UK Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson, to “support them” will certainly help kick off the rebuilding process in Zimbabwe. A country which has slumped from its exulted days of being among Africa’s top 10 economies in the 1980s could do with all the cash injection and foreign development assistance it gets, provided they are judiciously applied.
There are about three million Zimbabweans who are believed to be living outside the country, after fleeing the suppressive Mugabe regime. It can be assumed that they are living in freer and more prosperous societies across Africa, Europe and America. If the new temporary regime is to attract these back to boost human capital development, it would be necessary to provide some guarantee that it is committed to a totally new country. Those who have become doctors and engineers and public policy experts in other countries or even owners of big and small businesses will be reluctant to return to Zimbabwe if the dark and opaque system of Governance under Mugabe were to remain the same. A new Zimbabwe is expected to become an open one, where the searchlight can be beamed on every Government plan of expenditure and the citizens invited to offer critique, make their inputs and expect results. At the risk of relying solely on Mr Sen, his fourth instrumental freedom, ‘transparency guarantees’, should be a critical foundation on which the new Zimbabwe should take off.
This will not be automatic and may not even be in the immediate thoughts of Mr Mnangagwa. He was, for a long time, complicit in the rot under Mugabe and it may be a bit naïve to expect him to become a totally different person with the exit of the old patriarch. He has the army’s backing and could yet cease the Zanu-PF after the manner of Mugabe. It will ultimately lie with the Zimbabwean citizens to make the strong case to move the country in a different direction. There should be no reason why a country with a population about 10 million less than that of Lagos, Nigeria, but with a land mass of more than a third of the entire Nigeria, should not be doing much better with its 90% adult literacy rate (the best in Africa), its natural resources and the aesthetic advantages of its landmarks, including the Victoria Falls.
A new Zimbabwe is the hope and there is significant evidence for its possibility. How badly do the people want it and how far will Mr Mnangagwa, ‘the Crocodile’, separate himself from the Mugabe legacy in order to achieve it?