Thursday, 21 November 2013

Permanent election mode hurts economy: Mzembi

THE Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry, Walter Mzembi (WM), was recently in London for the 2013 edition of the World Travel Market, a leading global tourism expo. Journalist Chofamba Sithole (CS) got a few moments with Mzembi just before his address to members of the Zimbabwean community at Zimbabwe House. He addressed the political processes inside the ruling party, Zanu PF, vis-à-vis the challenge of delivering on its election manifesto pledges, as well as on international re-engagement.
Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister, Walter Mzembi
CS: In terms of governmental focus on delivering on your manifesto pledges, your party has gone into election mode after the general elections, and there has been criticism that this has taken your eye off the ball. Do you feel that this was a priority to engage with at this moment, and assure the people that the government really does mean business?

WM: We are a very constitutionally compliant nation; elections are held when they are due and we have done that consistently, inspired by the party’s own intra-party democracy where we are also very constitutionally compliant. However, having said that, obviously intra-party contestations take a lot of energy away from the government thrust on resuscitating the economy. And one hopes that we quickly realise that and just readjust our timings to reflect our priorities at this juncture and also begin to induce a culture in the country which does not take all the energy in one direction but distributes that energy equitably through all the national priority areas.

CS: Your elective congress is due next year and that is possibly another major electoral period that your party, and indeed the country, will be going into. Does this permanent election mode not thwart the momentum of efforts to revive and strengthen the national economy?

WM: But that happens in any democracy. When you have Democratic conventions and Republican conventions in the United States, or Conservative, Labour and Lib Dems conferences here in the UK, those are precursors to any governmental or national general election and must be held when they are due. But if you look at ours, what I can concede to you is that perhaps we could have looked at collapsing the intra-party provincial elections with the elective congress to next year so that we focus our attention now on government business and to alleviating the suffering of our people. That I concede to you and in terms of planning I think it should have been done.

CS: Is there not a concern in Zanu PF that the question of a perpetual election mode, especially with the undercurrents of succession politics, may overshadow the government’s main agenda, which is the economy, as we enter into 2014?

WM: Of course, the question of a perpetual election mode is making our people very weary and tired. Whilst they may not have avenues of complaining directly to the powers that be, they do tell us their representatives, that why don’t you give us a break so that we focus on the bread and butter issues at least for one full year before we move on to another election. So clearly for the provincial elections, the timing was not people friendly. They have just come out of an election, they didn’t really need one; that saps their energy and takes their focus away from preparing for an agricultural season and reasserting themselves in business and other economic priorities. So I would hope that it’s something that we take into consideration even as we prepare for the elective congress next year.

CS: On international re-engagement, Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi is reported to have said that since government efforts to engage the West have been unrequited as sanctions remain in place, we will not expend further energy engaging them. Was this a statement merely to goad the other party to be more responsive, or is this the government’s substantive position that you will not attempt rapprochement any further? And would that not be at variance with the reality of your presence here in London as minister of tourism, engaging as you’re doing?

WM: No, what I’m doing here is commercial diplomacy. What he refers to is his brief, which is political diplomacy, the knocking at each other’s doors at the political level that he has to do himself. I’m dealing with a bridge that has always been open since the time of the inclusive government. And that is the people to people diplomatic bridge; nobody can stop that. In this global village, no one has the capacity to stop the people of Zimbabwe from travelling wherever they may want, or the people of the world from visiting Zimbabwe if and when they want to.

This whole issue has a philosophical and spiritual foundation, found in [the book of the prophet] Isaiah chapter 60:11, which says “Therefore your gates shall be open continually; They shall not be shut day or night, That men may bring to you the wealth of the Gentiles, And their kings in procession…” So it’s a Biblical foundation that if you want to enjoy the wealth of the world, you keep your gates open, obviously with your eyes open for intrusion which may not necessarily be bringing wealth and goodwill.

One wants to say that once we have dealt with this commercial side of diplomacy it should certainly be a precursor to facilitate political reconnection. So I’m very clear about what I’m doing here, and I’m sure Minister Mumbengegwi is also very clear about what he’s talking about and hopefully we’ll take him there though commercial diplomacy.

CS: So you’ve not met with any political figures from the British establishment?

WM: I haven’t, except for just handshakes.

CS: Lastly, media perceptions are critical in your sector especially in promoting brand Zimbabwe; from the favourable coverage you’ve had in the British media, can you say that you’re seeing a shift in perceptions of Zimbabwe and also in the reception which you’re receiving as officials of that government?

WM: I think the media is assisting the British government to climb down, because the media is out there and are able to pick political sentiment in other establishments about how this relationship between Zimbabwe and the UK should go. They’re simply trying to assist their own government to climb down from its high horse and understand that we’re both equals in the world of sovereign nations. And by receiving us in the manner that they’ve done – I’ve been the most sought after product here, going by the media reviews - I think they seek to get me to assist them to communicate that message to their own government, that we are not bad for business, that we are a credible partner to deal with going forward. I think they’ve done that job very well in the space that they’ve created for us to communicate our message.

CS: In your own backyard as well, your government as felt itself to be under siege from these powerful international forces and the state media likewise adopted a defensive mode where they are quick to suss out where hostility against the government is coming from. Now, in this new phase of media diplomacy where we notice this climbing down by the British media, do you feel that this is also happening with the state media in Zimbabwe?

WM: I think the new Minister [of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, Jonathan Moyo] has certainly taken a very mature and reconciliatory approach with not just what was referred to as independent media, but also with our own state media. He has exercised a lot of restraint and patience with some of the idiosyncrasies that have been taking place there. I get the impression that he wants to take a very mature and collected role to fully assess what it’s beset with and direct our media to play its role of assisting in the packaging of brand Zimbabwe.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Is Zanu PF equal to the challenge of reform?

Zanu PF has decided to stick with its long serving leader, 89 year-old President Robert Mugabe, as its candidate in the forthcoming general elections.
 This post arose from a Facebook thread that asked what would happen if Zanu PF lost the forthcoming general elections. A contributor on the thread argued that a spell in opposition could do Zanu PF a world of good in terms of shedding dead skin and rediscovering its ideological compass, and I agree with him. Any serious Zanu PF supporter who does not acknowledge that the party has since ceased to be a hegemonic force can't be of true service to its future. Hegemony means more than state power; it relates also to the prevailing ideas, vision and the embodiment of popular aspirations.

Zanu PF has become stripped down to a political machine for gaining and keeping state power. It is afraid of losing control of the ideological state apparatus (the media, especially broadcast media, and the state bureaucracy) and the coercive state apparatus (soldiers, police, intelligence, youth militia) because those are the two pillars of central resort without which it becomes an ordinary party, exposed for its governmental failures and excesses. The main challenge to reforming Zanu PF is that it has been overrun by lifelong careerists and treasure hunters.

President Mugabe's desire to rule for life opened the door to all his comrades who go back to the liberation struggle to also see their role in government as lifelong. In that sense, Zanu PF has failed to emulate the leadership renewal that its fellow National Liberation Movements in SADC have done, such as Chama Chama Pinduzi in Tanzania, Frelimo in Mozambique, ANC in South Africa, and SWAPO in Namibia. Only MPLA in Angola shares Zanu PF's experience, but again Angola spent more than 20 years of post-independence locked in a brutal civil war.

Secondly, the system of patronage that evolved to secure this long incumbency also sustained a culture of patronage spreading its tentacles deep into the national economy. So, when Phillip Chiyangwa said recently on national radio that he told aspiring businessmen that they couldn't be rich unless they joined Zanu PF, he was right! Every treasure hunter in town now knows that, and the entry requirements are simply that one should be able to chant a party slogan and throw empty epithets against the imperialists (even though the treasure hunter really wants to be able to fly to imperialist America and Europe and enjoy his Zanu-enabled money, purchasing BMWs, Benzes and Range Rovers!). Even the party President Mugabe himself has come out on numerous occasions attacking moneyed people who think they can buy their way into positions in party structures. Sadly, many a times they have, and such distortions of participatory frameworks have caused much rancour during candidate selection primaries.

Is it possible for Zanu PF to reform while in power? Certainly, the possibility for some form of reform does exist because the MDC (taken together) has failed to develop into an AUTOMATIC alternative (I didn't say that it’s not an alternative at all; it is, but it has to work hard to totally eclipse its rival). The MDC has failed to evolve from its coalition roots to achieve ideological clarity. It remains a ‘spaghetti mix’, as described by its leader, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. A Bolognese, more likely! The MDC has been forthright in its critique of Zanu PF’s failures and in its clamour for further democratisation of state and society. But it has failed to connect with the original agenda of national liberation because it has deliberately ignored doing so.

Testament to this is its failure to engage proactively with land reform, at worst appearing totally antithetical to the agenda for wholesale land redistribution (senior officials such as Fidelis Mhashu went on British television to announce that the MDC would return land to white farmers). And while the current economic indigenisation programme is deeply flawed, it nonetheless holds an unassailable principle at its core and instead of being totally thrown out it needs more fine tuning. But again, there is also a glaring absence of policy debate on that score within the MDC; instead there is umbrage and vows to roll back the programme once in government – alone. By contrast, the debate in Zanu PF is heated and it is centred on alternative approaches to indigenisation. RBZ Governor Gideon Gono has proposed a supply side approach to indigenisation while advocating restraint on the financial sector (which, truth be told, is already indigenised).

When Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara joined the MDC proclaiming that he stands on the shoulders of Tongogara and Nikita Mangena, he was trying to infuse something that was damagingly missing in the MDC movement's ideological lenses. He correctly read that national liberation is the bedrock that makes everything else possible and that while attacking the failures of the party of liberation, the MDC equally had to clearly and unambiguously voice their support and defence of the values and aspirations of national liberation. 

But unfortunately, the MDC parties have largely failed to do this even after more than 13 years in existence. This explains their failure to attract significant following among war veterans. For such a widely popular movement, it is amiss that the MDC's prominent ex-military men are all former Rhodesian Front, including the MDC-T’s long-serving defence secretary, Giles Mutsekwa. It is no wonder, therefore, that there has not been any real engagement between the MDC and the Zimbabwe Defence Forces on the much talked about security sector reforms.

So in a word, because the MDC is an incomplete post-nationalist alternative that has ignored the necessity of deliberately connecting with the bedrock of national liberation and being as vocal about it as they have with the democratisation agenda, there is a possibility that Zanu PF can repair their car while they're driving it. But do they have the courage to make a pit stop and take a look at the engine while the tyres are changed? By sticking with the 89 year old President Mugabe, it doesn't appear so. They're determined to cross the finish line on the old tyres first before they can really look at major repairs in the safety of a fresh term. What worries most people is how Zanu PF will ensure their gamble of sticking with President Mugabe and the entire old guard intact will secure that much needed fresh term without resorting to violence and electoral chicanery. One hopes that conditions akin to that of the June 27 presidential runoff in 2008 aren’t revisited.