Fantasy, reality and the making of a state

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration will this week observe its second anniversary since being elected into office. For many of his critics, there are few success stories to brag about. Zimbabwe’s leader took power from his mentor-cum-tormentor Robert Mugabe in 2017 following a military-assisted intervention. 

The term Second Republic became the synonym for Mnangagwa’s government which promised several reforms guided by the mantra Zimbabwe is open for business. 

There was so much goodwill to build a modern state which enjoys international recognition following Mugabe’s ouster.  Zimbabwe also hired a US-based reputation management firm to shake off the monkey on Zimbabwe’s back. That latent potential appears to have waned.  The aftermath of the July 31, 2018 elections became the turning point. Official figures show that seven people were shot by security services after the opposition party led by Nelson Chamisa took the streets claiming electoral fraud.

Mnangagwa then appointed former South President Kgalema Motlanthe to chair an Inquest into the August 1, 2018 skirmishes. A report done by the Motlanthe-led commission revealed that the state had erred by using excessive force on protesters. It recommended among other things the compensation of victims that were maimed. That is yet to be done.

Last year, the government also faced international condemnation for alleged state-sponsored violence on protesters who were demonstrating against a sharp spike in the price of fuel and the rising cost of living.

This week two events occurred in Zimbabwe and these will have ramifications on the country’s international affairs. Firstly, Former Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa this week made Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo’s work difficult when he called United States to Zimbabwe ambassador Brian Nichols “a thug”. Chinamasa accused the diplomat of sponsoring planned demonstrations set for Friday.

Rewind a bit, just a few months back Moyo was short of going on bended knee trying to convince the world’s largest economy that Zimbabwe was not her adversary. US national security advisor Robert O’Brien referred to Zimbabwe, China, Russia and Iran as foreign adversaries to the US at the height of widespread protests over the death of African American George Floyd who was killed by a white policeman earlier this year. 

That tag would have put Zimbabwe in an invidious position and may continue to in future. Washington has already summoned Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to the US to explain the deleterious characterization of its envoy in Harare.  But for China that may be a different case as the international system reconfigures into a bipolar system. An African proverb which goes when two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers may help authorities in Harare in playing their cards right.

While all this was happening, neighbouring South Africa which enjoys strong diplomatic relations with the US, received a $4.3bn bailout from the International Monetary Fund. Sadly for Zimbabwe such funding will not reach Harare.The only silver lining in a country where despair now appears to be an anthem for many downtrodden was seen on Wednesday when  the government  agreed to pay US$3.5bn in compensation to white farmers whose land was expropriated by the government to resettle locals. While this may be seen as a step closer to resolving one of the most emotive issues in the country, Harare still needs to borrow from international financial institutions to compensate the farmers. Big brother will be waiting. After all is said and done things do not always look as they appear in the international system.

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