Why Mnangagwa won’t reform

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Editor’s Memo..Dumisani Muleya

THERE is a vast amount of literature out there showing that political regimes which come into power through coups are by definition a threat to democracy and economic progress.

Literature examining the relationship between coups and democracy shows clearly the signposts for democratic and transitional options available. Policymakers have choices, but sometimes political realities and circumstances constrain them, stall transition, lead to regression or create a new dramatic crisis.

Many democratic failures in contemporary history and politics were due to coups in the first place. Even though there are exceptions where coups end dictatorships and facilitate transition to democracy, generally putsches are damaging to democracies.

There is no doubt Mnangagwa’s coup was widely seen as necessary to oust the late president Robert Mugabe’s authoritarian regime and hopefully end the economic crisis, but the principle remains the same. Those in statecraft, political operators and policymakers, including Mnangagwa’s networks and advisers, must be clear on this.

As Clayton L Thyne and Jonathan M Powell show in their study Coup d’e´tat or Coup d’Autocracy?: How Coups Impact Democratisation, 1950–2008, nuances are critical in understanding coups and their ramifications. Celebrating coups is generally thoughtless.

First, coups should be condemned if staged against democratic governments; this means putsches against democracies should be rejected for progressive liberalisation models.

That’s why coups are outlawed in constitutions, regional bodies’ treaties and international law and governance structures such as the United Nations.

Second, when coups topple authoritarian regimes like in the Mugabe case, the new administration should view that as a window of opportunity for democratic reform. This does not mean that coups against authoritarian regimes should necessarily be instigated, tolerated or celebrated — the long history of brutal repression in the aftermath of coups — like the August 1, 2018 and January 2019 massacres — would make such moves reckless.

Instead, coups should be seen as opportunities for leaders to make meaningful democratic reforms — reforms that would be quite difficult in the absence of dramatic change.

The problem with the Mnangagwa coup is that it was done for the wrong reasons in the first place: self-preservation and self-aggrandisement. It was not staged to ensure reform and change.

The other problem is that Mnangagwa was a rented face of the coup; hence the plotters and executors did not give him room for manoeuvre to shape and influence the transition. He was railroaded into military-driven arrangements by his co-deputy, retired General Constantino Chiwenga, and his cabal amid renewed deadly brinkmanship.

Besides, Mnangagwa himself was a Mugabe protégé and enforcer. He was also surrounded — and still is — by self-serving non-reformists.

Even the optics are just bad: Mnangagwa still has vestiges of the Mugabe order in state institutions and the ruling party — hence Mugabeism is truly alive and kicking — who are resistant and hostile to reform. In his office there are still relics of the ancien regime, the likes of Misheck Sibanda, Munyaradzi Kajese and George Charamba, for instance; some of whom spend more time gossiping and spinning yarns on social media, mainly Twitter, instead of working and helping their principal overhaul the moribund system.

There are also many other people around Mnangagwa new and from the old order who should not be there to begin with, thus ineptitude, reform tergiversation and embarrassing failure.

While there have been purges, mainly in the party and the security sector, and deafening noises about reform, what is happening now is more of power consolidation and political cosmetics than reform; non-reformist reforms so to speak. Without overhauling the unreconstructed Zanu PF and dirigiste state institutions, as well as embracing a paradigm shift, in other words structural, institutional and political reforms, nothing serious will change.

For reform to happen, Mnangagwa needs strong support in the party and government; which he doesn’t have. He also needs a competent team and efficient bureaucracy; which he doesn’t have. He needs progressive thinking and political will; which are not there. He badly needs resources; which are also not available. Although he can, he simply won’t reform and survive in the process.

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