Despite the overseas charm offensive and friendlier approach to opposition politics at home – Mnangagwa paid a glowing tribute to Morgan Tsvangirai, the godfather of the modern opposition movement, when the latter lost a bruising battle to colon cancer on February 14 – nothing much has changed on the ground.
Mnangagwa has absolute control over the police and secret service and the authority to appoint the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the head of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, all ambassadors and diplomatic officers, the registrar-general, attorney general, prosecutor-general, security chiefs, cabinet ministers and permanent secretaries.
This affords him sufficient resources to utilise politics of patronage – much to the detriment of the national economy and democracy reform. Also, he can draw political mileage from the electoral architecture that accommodated Mugabe extremely well for 37 years.
The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and Zimpapers, two large state-run media organisations that serve practically as trustworthy and effectual publicity machines for ZANU-PF electoral campaigns, are currently churning out pro-government and pro-ruling party reports, totally bereft of the slightest criticism, to a nationwide audience, on radio, TV and a broad range of provincial and national newspapers, such as the Herald, Chronicle and Manica Post, as well as through online platforms, such as Facebook and YouTube, while shunning any substantial news on the opposition MDC-T, save for unsavoury content about opposition splits, alleged dictatorial tendencies and sheer incompetence.
Worryingly, the distinction between government and party business is often deliberately obfuscated for political profit, with government events functioning as party gatherings and campaign rallies. This highlights a profound sense of entitlement and coldness towards the separation of state and party that is reminiscent of the old order.
And, worse still, even though the fact that Agriculture minister Shiri called for a halt to illegal land invasions, in a long-awaited sign the government intends to maximise agricultural production and minimise unwelcome, unproductive disturbances in the most crucial economic sector, Chiwenga's wife, Mary, reportedly "grabbed" a 300-hectare government-run farm in Domboshava, a farming area located about 27km north of Harare.
Additionally, according to Nehanda Radio, a UK-based news outlet, the flamboyant second lady was awarded a multimillion-dollar travel services contract by the government that never went to tender.
This questionable, but unsurprising, acquisition and dubious award, plus reports from international NGO Global Witness alleging that the military, under Chiwenga, was involved in the plunder of diamonds in the Chiadzwa mining area in Manicaland, together with the obviously profound reluctance to enact media, electoral and security sector reforms before the elections in July, suggests that the military complex only seeks to create an internationally acceptable impression of change for investment reasons, while concurrently creating a tightly controlled, watered-down version of democracy.
No doubt international investors, who wish to move beyond the Mugabe years quickly, would like to see strong and stable leadership and sound economic policies in place before they invest in the southern African nation; and the Mnangagwa-Chiwenga combo, laden with substantial experience in governance affairs, a deliberately capitalist outlook and brute military clout, amply provides that quintessential political illusion.
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