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Zimbabwe: Broke Again

“Zimbabwe is open for business” was President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s slogan in the July election that was supposed to show that the long and destructive reign of dictator Robert Mugabe, overthrown late last year, is really now a thing of the past. The country has been getting steadily poorer for decades now, but this election would be the turning point.

“You can rig an election – as they did on 30th July 2018 – but you can’t rig an economy, you can’t rig a supermarket or a gas station,” replied Tendai Biti, a leading member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and it turns out that he was right. Less than three months after the election, Zimbabwe is in a huge economic crisis.

People are getting desperate, because shops are running out of essential items like bread. Even beer is being rationed (two bottles per person), and the cost of everything is soaring as people once again lose confidence in the currency. KFC and other fast-food chains have closed their doors because inflation is moving too fast to calculate.

Zimbabweans are comparing it to the great inflation of 2008, when the Zimbabwean dollar became less valuable than the paper it was printed on – bags full of 100-trillion-dollar notes were not enough to buy bread – and peoples’ pitifully small savings were wiped out.

After that the Zimbabwean currency was entirely abandoned and the country began using American dollars and South African rands instead. Gradually, however, the government began reintroducing a kind of local currency as well, pegged one-for-one to the US dollar, officially called ‘bond notes’ but popularly called Zim dollars or Zollars.

It’s these Zim dollars whose value is now collapsing, while real US dollars have become as scarce as hens’ teeth. Today 361 Zim dollars buys you one US dollar. Tomorrow, who knows?

The government is quite right to say that this is a panic driven by hoarding and speculation – but people are behaving like that because they do not trust the government. Nor should they.

Robert Mugabe was not overthrown last year by a popular revolution. He was overthrown by his own corrupt and overbearing ZANU-PF Party, because he was planning to make his own wife Grace his successor. (Mugabe is 94 years old.)

It was Mugabe’s long-serving deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa who organised his cronies in the army (also controlled by ZANU-PF) to remove Mugabe from the presidency. Mnangagwa’s record of corruption and violence is impressive even by the ruling party’s standards, but he needed to create what looked like a new, cleaner government if the country was ever to escape from its dire poverty.

Zimbabwe was once a prosperous country. It still has ample resources and a relatively well-educated population, and if it could just inspire enough confidence in foreign investors and get control over its huge foreign debts it could start to climb out of the deep hole Mugabe left it in. But for that, it needs an honest, democratically credible government.

This is tricky, because a really free election would almost certainly have removed Mnangagwa and his ZANU-PF cronies from power. They were never going to accept that outcome, because it’s political power that makes them rich (by Zimbabwean standards). So the election had to look clean, but come out the right way.

Compared to all ZANU-PF’s other election victories, it was relatively clean: little intimidation or bribery of voters except in rural areas and little overt violence. But it was imperative that Mnangagwa win the presidency in the first round, when he faced a half-dozen rivals who split the opposition vote. For that, he needed to get over 50 percent of the votes in the first round.

He clearly didn’t get it, because the vote-counting (largely controlled by ZANU-PF appointees) took three days longer than expected. After the numbers had been thoroughly massaged, it was finally announced that Mnangagwa got 50.8 percent of the votes. Congratulations, Mr President!

Nobody believed it, and when opposition protests began in Harare, the police shot six of the protesters dead. That was all it took. The foreign institutions and companies that might have rescheduled Zimbabwe’s debt and invested in the country’s economy decided that it’s still the same old gang in power (as indeed it is), and turned their attention and their money elsewhere.

Three months later the Zimbabwean economy, which had been momentarily buoyed up by the hope of better times, is collapsing. In theory, this should usher in the second phase of democratisation in the country, with massive demonstrations driving ‘the crocodile’ (Mnangagwa) out of power.

In practice, that may not happen. Zimbabweans may be too cowed, or just too exhausted – and ZANU-PF would not go without a fight.
To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 5 and 6. (“After…knows”)

Zimbabwe Election

“I am as soft as wool. I am a very soft person in life,” Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa told the BBC in a recent interview, but his nickname is ‘The Crocodile’. There is probably no more ruthless person active in Zimbabwe’s politics, and three months ago he looked like a shoo-in to win the presidential election due to be held on 30 July.

It was ‘ED’ (as he is understandably known for short) whose dismissal as Vice-President last year triggered the military coup that finally forced the resignation of Robert Mugabe, the elderly and authoritarian president whose 37-year rule had ruined the country economically. Mnangagwa emerged from that as the interim president of Zimbabwe, and this election was supposed to put the seal of legitimacy on his rule.

It seemed an easy win because the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, is an alliance of seven smaller parties, and the MDC’s founder and leader for almost two decades died in February. But it isn’t turning out like that at all. Three months ago Mnangagwa led the new MDC leader, Nelson Chamisa, by 11 points in the opinion polls, but by last week his lead had shrunk to only 3 percent.

Many people are still afraid to reveal their true voting intentions due to their ingrained fear of the ruling Zanu-PF Party’s frequent use of deadly violence against opposition supporters in the past, so Chamisa could even come in ahead of Mnangagwa in next Monday’s vote. But there are 23 presidential candidates in this round, and unless Chamisa gets more than half the votes that would mean a second, run-off election between the two.

The ruling Zanu-PF party has largely abstained from violence this time, but if it knew it was likely to lose the presidency in the second round the gloves might come off. The army’s senior officers, all Zanu-PF members, count on Mnangagwa to maintain their privileged status in a relatively poor country, and his past record contains a great deal of violence.

A veteran of Zimbabwe’s independence war, he gained a fearsome reputation as national security minister during Zanu-PF’s war against a rival independence movement in the 1980s, during which thousands were killed and tens of thousands tortured.

He also orchestrated the violence in the early 2000s when Zimbabwe’s white farmers were driven from their land (much of which was taken by senior Zanu-PF people). He did it again after the first round of the 2008 presidential election, when the MDC leader got more votes than Mugabe. Mnangagwa directed the violence that killed hundreds of opposition supporters and forced the MDC to drop out of the second round.

So he’s probably not afraid to use force again, and neither are his generals. But the army’s junior officers might not follow them, since they are not getting rich out of the current arrangement. It could get very messy, and many Zimbabweans hope for a coalition government after the first round in which Mnangagwa narrowly wins the presidency but gives experienced MDC leaders most of the powerful ministries.

That might work well, since Mnangagwa could be a good president so long as his power and wealth were safe. His campaign focuses firmly on fixing the economy, which is in desperate need of repair, and he argues, quite plausibly, that if only the country could show that it was stable then foreign investment would flood in.

Mugabe ruined the economy – at one point the GDP was down by half – and even now Zimbabweans are 15% poorer than they were in 1980. Millions have left the country seeking work elsewhere (mostly in South Africa). But it is rich in resources, and it has one of Africa’s best-educated populations: more than two-thirds of Zimbabweans aged 15-49 have attended secondary school.

So it really could attract the investment if it emerged from all this as a stable, democratic country – but the paradox is that it might be less stable under a genuinely democratic government led by Nelson Chamisa. The threat of military intervention would be ever-present. Yet it is actually possible that Chamisa could win over 50 percent of the votes and become president in the first round.

The unknown factor is the youth vote. Zimbabwe is a young country, with almost half the registered voters under 35, and they have never voted in a free and fair election before. Almost all of them, even the poorest, have mobile phones. They also have a reasonably good education, and they face a staggeringly high unemployment rate.

So are these ambitious, frustrated young men and women more likely vote for dour, 75-year-old Emmerson Mnangagwa, who bears the stains of almost every crime committed in Mugabe’s long rule, or for a quick-witted, humorous, 40-year-old newcomer called Nelson Chamisa? Stay tuned.
To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 6 and 7. (“A veteran…round”)

South Africa

A passer-by in the upscale Johannesburg suburb of Saxonwold observed, the South African Police would never have raided the enormous, high-walled compound of the Gupta family if President Jacob Zuma were not on the brink of being removed. But early Wednesday morning, the police did exactly that.

The Guptas, three Indian immigrant brothers who became extremely rich due to their close partnership with Zuma, used to be untouchable. They were accused of ‘state capture’ in the media, but they were safe because of their alliance with Zuma. He did very nicely out of the deal too.

All that’s over now. One of the Gupta brothers was arrested in the raid, and the other two cannot be far behind. It was a signal to Zuma that the gloves were coming off, and fifteen hours later he was gone. He had clung desperately to the presidency since the African National Congress (ANC) voted him out as its leader in December, but on Wednesday evening he resigned “with immediate effect”.

Jacob Zuma joined the ANC, the country’s main liberation movement, in 1959, and had an illustrious career. He served ten years’ imprisonment on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela, fled abroad in 1975, and became chief of the ANC’s Intelligence Department during the 1980s.

A man who served as his chief of staff in those years, a white South African now living abroad who has no reason to seek Zuma’s approval, told me recently that he was a brilliant strategist. He had admired Zuma greatly, he said, and like many others he was as much puzzled as dismayed by what Zuma became during his later years. After the decades of
sacrifice and dedication, it has been a tragic fall from grace.

Technically, Zuma still had a year left in his second term as president, but the ANC wanted him out now because he was blighting the party’s chances of winning next year’s election. Friendly hints and subtle pressures were not shifting him, so on Tuesday the ANC’s newly elected National Executive Committee ordered him to resign from the state presidency.

Zuma was still telling various media that he would refuse to quit until late afternoon on Wednesday, although it was clear that there was no way he could win. The state president is elected by parliament, not by a popular vote, and parliament can also remove him by a non-confidence vote. The ANC has a majority in parliament, and such a vote was already scheduled for the 22nd.

Why did he hang on so long if he was bound to lose in the end? Probably because he was hoping to negotiate some sort of amnesty deal in return for going quietly. But that’s a hard thing to do in South Africa, as the government does not control the courts.

Until recently Zuma’s exit plan involved getting his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chosen to succeed him as ANC president. She would then protect him from the many corruption charges that awaited him after he left the state presidency, at least in theory. But the ANC elected Cyril Ramaphosa as its president instead.

After that, Zuma’s only hope, if he wants to stay in South Africa after leaving office – which he clearly does – was an amnesty deal. But if the ANC is to rebuild its credibility with the voters there must be no amnesty, and Ramaphosa has said publicly that it is not on the cards. That is probably true.

In any case, it’s over now. Ramaphosa, a former trade union leader who became a very rich businessman, will probably take over the state presidency only briefly now, choosing some other ANC worthy to serve out the last year of Zuma’s term. He would prefer to be elected state president next year in his right. But in fact he will already be running the show behind the scenes, and much will be expected of him.

South Africa’s economy has stagnated during Zuma’s nine-year reign, in large part because both foreigners and local people were reluctant to invest in a country whose government had become so corrupt. There needs to be a massive cleansing exercise within the ANC, and it needs to start now if the results are to be visible before the election.

Zuma may stay to face the music – or, more likely, he will move abroad and live in the $25 million palace that the Guptas reportedly bought for him in Dubai. (He has categorically denied owning any property abroad himself, but the denial was carefully phrased.)

The ANC has fallen a long way from its glory days, but it is a legitimate and democratic political party that still commands the loyalty of many, perhaps most South Africans. Now that Zuma has finally quit, Ramaphosa, a competent and by all accounts an honest man, can get started on rebuilding the party’s reputation.

If he succeeds, the ANC could still win next year’s election and another five years in power. Whether that is the best thing for South Africa, given that the ANC has already been in power for a quarter-century, is another question.

Zimbabwe: Good Luck, Grace

“Someone, anyone, with close links, please make sure Uncle Bob reads the correct speech … Old man reads the 2013 inauguration speech and we’re in kak for another 5 years,” tweeted Mubaiwa Bandambira just before Zimbabwe’s beleaguered president, Robert Mugabe, went on television with what was supposed to be his resignation speech. After all, Mugabe is 93 years old, and he has read the wrong speech before.

He did it again, but it was not a mistake. With the generals who intervened last week to remove him from power ranged in chairs behind him, Mugabe stumbled and bumbled through a 20-minute speech in which he made no mention of resignation. No doubt his resignation was a key part of the speech they had agreed he would make, but he skipped those pages.

The Old Man is clearly delusional. He vowed to preside over next month’s congress of the ruling Zanu-PF party, although it has just fired him after 42 years as its leader. He ignored its threat to begin impeachment proceedings if he does not resign the presidency within 24 hours. And his wife Grace, who was being positioned to succeed him as president but has now been expelled from Zanu-PF, is just as out of touch with reality.

It was Grace who persuaded Robert Mugabe to sack two vice-presidents in a row in order to take the job herself. This is what triggered the army’s intervention, because her second victim, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is an extremely powerful politician with close connections to the military. He had expected to succeed Mugabe when the old man finally died, and he took his dismissal personally.

Mnangagwa went into exile in Mozambique for a week, but then the army intervened on his behalf and the current crisis erupted. The generals hoped that they could get Mugabe to resign voluntarily, because they could then pretend that their action was not a military coup.

That was important, because the African Union no longer tolerates military coups in its member states and might even intervene against the generals. But Mugabe has tricked them, using his live television speech to declare that he plans to stay in power – and the soldiers are bound to conclude that it was Grace who put him up to it. She probably did.

Ten days ago, not knowing what was to come, I wrote a piece about Grace Mugabe and her ambition to take the presidency when Robert Mugabe finally dies. But she is hated in the party and deeply unpopular with Zimbabweans in general because of her greed and arrogance, and I ended the article by saying: “Once he dies, she will be lucky to get out alive.”

For a moment there, when the army intervened last week, I thought she might escape that fate. Uncle Bob would be offered a dignified exit from power, she would be excluded from the succession, and they would both go off to a comfortable retirement in Singapore or some other city where they already own very comfortable homes.

Well, that’s not going to happen. She has encouraged the old man to deceive the generals and cling to power, which wrecks their plans for a semi-constitutional transfer of power that doesn’t look like a coup. He will still be ejected from power, but no longer with dignity. They won’t kill him, because he is a hero from the time of the liberation struggle, but she is in mortal danger.

Emmerson Mnangagwa is now back in Zimbabwe, and will shortly be the president. He is known as “the crocodile”, and he has no reason to protect Grace Mugabe. Her best hope is exile, but she had better take the exit soon. And what Zimbabwe will get is not an end of the dictatorship, but just a new dictator.

What is happening in Zimbabwe is not a popular revolution but a power struggle inside the ruling Zanu-PF party, and Mnangagwa is no democrat. He is a brutal political operator who directed the massacre of at least 20,000 people in the early 1980s, when the Ndebele people of southwestern Zimbabwe resisted the takeover of the whole country by Mugabe’s party.

Mnangagwa was also in charge of the military intervention in the 2008 election, in which so many civilians were assaulted, imprisoned or killed that the opposition leader withdrew his candidacy to save lives even though he had beaten Mugabe in the first round. Zimbabwe has always held elections, but there has never been any doubt about the result.

The Zimbabweans are celebrating Mugabe’s impending departure in the streets now, but there is no cause to believe that things will now get better for them. The same elite that has looted the country and run its economy into the ground will still be in power, led by a man more ruthless and violent than Mugabe.

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6 and 12. (“That..did”; and “Mnangagwa…result”)