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Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s win: A New Dawn or Continuation of a Legacy?

As the dust settles on the confirmation of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s win in last month’s polls by Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court, one begins to wonder what exactly the future is for the country.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance and its candidate, Nelson Chamisa had brought a legal challenge saying the vote was impaired by “mammoth theft and fraud”. The rejection of this claim by the court has left Mr. Chamisa, with no alternative than to concede defeat.

It is alleged that despite accepting defeat, Nelson Chamisa has maintained that he will

Zimbabwe's President-Elect: Emmerson Mnangagwa

Zimbabwe’s President-Elect: Emmerson Mnangagwa

not refer to Emmerson Mnangagwa as president, but simply as ‘Mr’. Whatever the case, this confirmation of the election results means that 75-year-old Emmerson Mnangagwa remains as the 3rd President of Zimbabwe.

This election is Zimbabwe’s first since long-time President Robert Mugabe was ousted from power last year, in what can best be described as a ‘bloodless coup d’etat’. The question now remains as to whether this win marks a new dawn for Zimbabwean politics or it is simply a continuation of the last dispensation.

Sometime in 2011, I wrote a piece analysing the case of Zimbabwe. One of my conclusions then was that  “‘the central and dominant variable determining…developmental success or failure’ is politics. If there is any reason there is widespread poverty in Zimbabwe today, it is the poverty of its politics. This means that the solution cannot come from the same failed politics but from a “…more explicit…  integrated theory of political and economic development” which will take into account the different nuances that make up the complex and unique political entity called Zimbabwe”.

I think that my view today is not much different. People have been under the misguided impression that merely ousting Mugabe from power will usher in a new dawn for the development of the country. I felt and still feel that Mugabe’s exit, was a well-orchestrated plan to ensure that his successor is someone who will continue his legacy, without actually appearing to do so. I may be wrong, but if the current president has, throughout his political life, supported the same ideals as Mugabe, what is the guarantee that a mere change in his title will create a different vision. But, perhaps, by being voted in, he may well start bringing about policies that are aimed at improving the overall wellbeing of the masses, rather than just the political class. There is, however, no guarantee that this will happen, as has often been the case in most young African democracies.

Paul Collier has argued that the lack of checks and balances can lead democracies to make even more of a mess of a political situation than autocracies, for “…  it turns out that democracy is a little bit more complicated… Because there are two distinct aspects of democracy. There’s electoral competition, which determines how you acquire power, and there are checks and balances, which determine how you use power. It turns out that electoral competition is the thing that’s doing the damage with democracy… And so, what the countries of the bottom billion need is very strong checks and balances. They haven’t got them. They got instant democracy in the 1990s: elections without checks and balances.’

If Collier’s view is anything to go by, the current election of Emmerson Mnangagwa through electoral competition is just the first stage, and in fact, the less important one. The determining factor will be whether Zimbabwe has got the right checks and balances to ensure that the current president does not end up living a similar legacy of sitting tight when everything else around them is crumbling.

Julius Sello Malema, the leader of the South African far-left, Economic Freedom Fighters, has in one of his videos been heard to proclaim that Zimbabweans, will be the only African country in the next 10 years which will be truly independent. If this turns out to be the case, then one might agree that Mugabe might not have had a bad outcome after all. But this outcome is largely dependent on what Mugabe’s successor does. If there is true economic independence for Zimbabwe, then its current president has no excuse not to take the country into a new phase of its history.

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