Things are a little different in Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe was at the helm for 37 years, 10 more than Mao. He is still alive but was forced to resign last year. Emmerson Mnangagwa has taken over and sees himself as Deng. He has opened the country up for business, has opened up the democratic space but unlike Deng who received a lot of support from the United States because Washington thought prosperity could fuel greater demand for democracy, Mnangagwa is under sanctions from the United States. He is also facing an opposition that does not recognise him and wants him to fail because it believes it has the solution to Zimbabwe’s economic woes.
Perhaps the United States has realised that prosperity does not necessarily bring democracy because China seems to be going the other way and has lifted presidential term limits which means Xi can rule for as long as he is popular.
The odds are against Mnangagwa but he can do a Deng. He is leading a nation where people are so sceptical that no one believes anything can change. Those that do are keeping their mouths shut for fear of a backlash.
As his Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube rightly said recently, people are only seeing the negative- the rocketing prices, the shortage of fuel, the pending shortage of bread, the shortage of cash, and so on. No one sees the new freedom they are enjoying, the roads that are being resurfaced, hospitals being spruced up or the factories that are re-opening.
As Eddie Cross rightly said, Mnangagwa’s biggest problem is his administration’s lousy public relations. When corrupt people are arrested, people are quick to say they are his political opponents. When his administration decides to dualise the Beitbridge-Harare Road bit by bit using its own funds, the story that goes round is that the government has failed to get international investors or financiers. When Mnangagwa cuts his salary, it is because his allowance is more than his salary. And of course, he can afford to do that. After all his salary is 45 times that of a civil servant. Never mind that in the US the average salary of a CEO is 312 times that of an average worker.
Sanctions are bad and are costing the country dearly. But there are a lot of things that Zimbabwe can do without foreign assistance if the leaders just put their heads together and convince a few people to work with them. Mnangagwa does not need foreign currency to end corruption, for example. He just needs an effective anti-corruption force, a clean judicial system, and a few citizens who believe that Zimbabwe can be a jewel of Africa as former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere once said.
Zimbabwe does not need foreign currency to grow enough food. Of course some people will tell you that we need fertiliser, hybrid seed and the like. But the reality is that with all those inputs supplied under command agriculture, the yields are atrocious, less than one tonne per hectare of maize. This is less than what peasant farmers in Rhodesia were producing. A survey done some years ago in Chinamhora showed that farmers who had decided to go against the advice of extension officers and fertiliser companies by substituting cattle manure for fertiliser had higher yields than those using recommended fertiliser quantities.
Zimbabwe can do rebuild itself while at the same time continuing to re-engage but on its own terms. Prophets of doom will always be there. But what Mnangagwa needs is less talk and more action. Action, as they say, speaks louder than words.
Mnangagwa should also stick to his word. More economics, less politics. This talk about this group or that endorsing him for President in 2023 when he has served only four months of his five-year term is lousy public relations as Cross said. Why should we worry about 2023 instead of dealing with problems people are facing in 2018. If Mnangagwa does things right, sorts out the mess, 2023 will sort itself out.
Just like China, if Zimbabwe does not like the West’s playbook, it has to write its own.