Mnangagwa’s contemporary leadership style


There are not that many narratives about Zimbabwean president Emerson Mnangagwa’s leadership style or character, although there are many stories about his alleged roles in Zimbabwe’s political history as told by either his praise singers or his naysayers.  In this blog I focus mainly on the contemporary style of his political leadership based on more recent political events. 

Observing his leadership style from his current tenure as president is however a little bit more difficult mainly because during his predecessor Robert Mugabe’s tenure he may have appeared to be reclusive about his ambitions while at the same time steadily rising through his party’s ranks to the level of vice president. 

At least not until Mugabe made it politically clear that he did not want Mnangagwa as his successor in 2017 by not only firing him from the vice presidency office but also forcing him into temporary exile.  And this is perhaps where we begin to see part of the contemporary leadership characteristics of Mnangagwa. 

Based on the events that unfolded in November 2017, it is fairly clear that he does not act alone in his approach to his party and/or national politics.  And he probably looks at issues from a stakeholder interests’ perspective with the option of playing one against the other in order to advance his own team’s interests.  

Hence for example before the November 2017 coup it was reported in the media that he had already deployed emissaries not only to SADC but also the African Union among others. But also that he is also a political actor who has a tendency to either play the high risk hand or wait until the last hour to make a political move.  

Ditto 2017 and the 2018 harmonised elections that point to this where against generally received wisdom he was neither primed to succeed Mugabe or win what turned out to be a disputed general election.  But all the same he took the risk(s). 

More important however is where to place Mnangagwa ideologically.  Based on his policy pronouncements since assuming power such as the ‘ease of doing business’ or ‘international re-engagement’ with global private capital, he is clearly a right leaning, pro-free market/capital and therefore neo-liberal nationalist. 

That means while he attempts to find a home in a generic Pan-Africanism (where he generally has no choice in the matter) he is still keen on trying to get Zimbabwe out of its pariah status with global private capital, an issue that the mainstream opposition political leaders know only too well.  

Where we turn to assessing his leadership character in greater detail on the domestic front, it appears that he has a zero-sum game approach. In this because he clearly had challenges to overcome around not only the 2017 takeover of power but the subsequent election and the opposition’s challenges to his legitimacy; he has sought to make it clear he is very much in charge.  

And that is if you are not with him, then you are definitely on the losing side, not only in relation to electoral processes, but to all other facets of the Zimbabwean political economy.  

While he generally gives the impression that his leadership approach is inclusive, he however retains a stronger control element around what this ‘inclusiveness’ means.  And it revolves around recognition and acceptance of his leadership while at the same time fitting into his neo-liberal ideological framework.   Hence his engagement of opposition political parties has been clearly predicated on doing away with any questions around his legitimacy.

Or where one represents private capital’s interests, he has ensured that the state engages with those that focus on opportunities that emerge from his national economic strategy plans, especially where they involve public-private partnerships in infrastructure development, mining, energy and even monetary policy.  

In this, the default end result that he probably desires is a public perception that there is no real or better alternative either to his own leadership or at worst to the retention of power by the ruling party.   

Hence, for example, the rather dramatised ‘defections’ of some leading opposition figures to Zanu PF at Zimbabwe House while at the same time retaining an anti-sanctions narrative that can still conveniently be used against stubborn opposition leaders.      

Or his continued engagement of religious leaders at the highest possible level (that is, with himself) to ensure that there is no emerging stronger counter narrative to his leadership from their multitudes of followers. 

One could argue that all of this is rather Machiavellian in the sense of ‘The Prince’ keeping his potential enemies closer.  What is however more prescient to observe is the fact of the attitude of global private capital to Zimbabwe and his leadership approach.  

Ever since he has moved from the more radical black nationalism of his predecessor and given a green light to private capital that wants to risk it in Zimbabwe there is an assumption of a return to some sort of political economy normalcy. 

All of which works in his favour, for now.  Not least, because his political opponents have become weaker either by way of internal divisions or rumoured interference by the state.

But also more because the structural profit motivated expectations of global private capital, be it from the east or west do not seem, in the immediate, to be under threat from him.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogpost.com)

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