17 November, 2017

Zimbabwe’s Military Coup in Perspective

by Leon Hartwell

Regardless of statements by Zimbabwe’s military leaders, a coup d'etat has taken place. Some Zimbabweans are already openly celebrating the removal or President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled the country since 1980. How did this military coup come about? What can we expect in the coming months?

The Role of Securocrats

For those who have been close observers of the situation in Zimbabwe, this military coup did not come as a complete surprise. The king maker role of the so-called “securocrats” has been fundamental to Zimbabwe’s political establishment for decades. In fact, there is an old joke in Zimbabwe: “Why do they call it ‘general elections’? Because the generals determine the outcome of elections.”

Since the beginning, Mugabe carved out an important role for the security sector to maintain order and to keep his regime intact. From 1982 to 1987, he used the notorious North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade to crack down on opposition in Matabeleland. It is said that Emmerson Mnangagwa, a crucial figure behind the current coup, was also a key player during that period when almost 20,000 Ndebele were massacred. For a period after that, the military was sent back to the barracks. However, by 2008, Mnangagwa reactivated the military to help secure Mugabe’s victory during the controversial run-off election.

The Timing of the Coup
Many of the securocrats who fought for Zimbabwe’s independence and who kept Mugabe in power, are the same people who have now turned against him. A key factor in the timing of the coup has been the ascendency of Mugabe’s wife, Grace within the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

Since Grace entered public life, Zimbabweans have viewed her as a sexually promiscuous, uneducated former typist whose only interest is luxury shopping. By 2014, Grace went into high gear to beautify her image. The state-owned, ZANU-PF-controlled media, constructed an image of a person with a good heart (through her support for young orphans), a sophisticated businesswoman, an intellectual (the University of Zimbabwe controversially awarded her a PhD within two months of enrolment), and a shrewd politician.

By the end of 2014, Grace became ZANU-PF’s head of the Women’s League and she helped to push out Vice President Joice Mujuru, who at the time stood a good chance of becoming Mugabe’s successor. It was a warning to other potential successors.

More than anything else, Grace’s rise to the top in Zimbabwe threatened the interests of Zimbabwe’s establishment, which includes the security sector. She wanted to establish a dynasty and to replace prominent securocrats with Generation 40 (G40), a relatively younger crop of Zimbabweans who showed loyalty towards her.

The removal of Grace was therefore a matter of urgency. In Zimbabwe, power is money, and the being shunned has major financial implications. The coup has nothing to do with genuinely restoring the constitutional order or anything noble, it is an attempt to protect the establishment’s political and financial interests.

Besides, this coup came at a time when Grace’s public image took yet another nose dive, which means there will not be a huge outcry if she is removed from the political scene. In August, Grace viciously assaulted a model in a luxury apartment rented by her sons in South Africa. The incident reinforced Grace’s bad reputation for public outbursts and it sparked greater scrutiny over the First Family’s opulent lifestyles.

Grace’s problem is that she was punch drunk on victory, but little did she realise that she was overplaying her hand. Her most drastic move to date was her open intentions to get rid of Vice President Mnangagwa, arguably one of the most important securocrats in Zimbabwe. Whether her preferred method was poisoning him through thallium, or by convincing her husband to sack him remains unclear. Nonetheless, after Mnangagwa was unceremoniously fired, the security sector had to act rapidly. If Mnangagwa truly believes that he was poisoned by Grace’s minions, the coup was also a matter of life and death as well as revenge. Over the years, Mugabe has thrown too many struggle ‘comrades’ under the bus and this was, “the last straw” as one Zimbabwean described it to me.

The timing of this coup was also perfect, given the state of Mugabe’s health and his extensive traveling. He is 93 years old, and he has increasingly been caught stumbling and sleeping in front of cameras. In 2017 alone, Uncle Bob spent an enormous amount of time (almost 57 percent of his time by mid-May), outside of Zimbabwe, sometimes for medical reasons. This gave the securocrats plenty of time to plot their coup, and if need be, an excuse to say that Mugabe is not medically fit to be President.

A third factor that precipitated the coup, is that the Zimbabwean economy is once again “in the intensive care unit” as some would say. At the end of October, economist Steve Hank noted that the country’s annual inflation rate stood at 348 percent. It is possible that the coup makers calculated that most Zimbabweans will not lose much sleep over the removal of Uncle Bob. In fact, some individuals from Harare to Beijing, might even welcome it.

Looking Into the Crystal Ball
The top four priorities for the coup makers will be maintaining order, controlling the message, cloaking the military takeover in civilian clothes, and rolling out measures to improve the economy. All these issues are ultimately intertwined.

With regards to maintaining order, already, police officers have been rounded up throughout Zimbabwe and Mugabe has reportedly been placed under house arrest. It is unlikely that there will be heavy infighting within the security sector given the broad support for General Constantino Chiwenga (commander of Zimbabwe’s Defence Forces), Air Marshal Perence Shiri, Lieutenant-General Valerio Sibanda (Commander of the National Army) and Mnangagwa.

War veterans have also been brought in to provide legitimacy to the coup. Their role should not be underestimated. For years, Zimbabwean propaganda has praised them as the liberators of the country. The War Veterans, then under the leadership of the late Chenjerai "Hitler" Hunzvi, were also the ones who were instrumental in the country’s land grab.

Current chairman of the War Veterans Association, Chris Mutsvangwa, has thus far praised the military coup leaders for setting Zimbabwe on a path to restore “genuine democracy” after it was captured by rogue elements. It is probable that Mutsvangwa will also play an important role in terms of presenting a friendly face on behalf of the ‘new’ regime. He is a prominent businessman, politician, and diplomat. He was instrumental in developing Mugabe’s Look East Policy where Zimbabwe began to focus increasingly on China to replace Western businesses after the country was hit by sanctions. At the same time, Mutsvangwa has served as a diplomat in the Western world, and he has a positive reputation among Western diplomats.

As for messaging, the coup makers moved rapidly to take over the state-owned media in order to control the message. Their main focus has been, and will continue to be, to legitimise the military coup. This will involve justification of the coup by for example saying that this has been done in the name of national interest and ultimately for the greater good.

At the same time, the coup makers will satanize Grace Mugabe and other G40 members like Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukwuere and Ignatius Chombo. They will parade their wealth and all their dirty laundry in front of the television cameras so as to demonstrate that these individuals were looting Zimbabwe at the expense of the average Zimbabwean. The lines between “us” and “them” and “good” and “evil” will become more pronounced in the coming days.

Another big part of the gaining popular support for the coup will be to make economic development a key priority. For a start, coup makers will have to dampen the country’s hyperinflation. They will also do their best to court Zimbabwean, South African and Western businesses. One can expect them to stress the importance of private property rights in order to bring some form of predictability back into the economy.

The coup makers will also have to call on some favours from China. Despite his Look East Policy, Chinese companies have reportedly had a difficult relationship with Mugabe after they were recently accused by him of siphoning off $15 billion in diamond revenue. Less than a week ago, G40 attempted to finger Mnangagwa for looting the revenues, but in truth, they were all in it together. Chinese companies will therefore have to cough up some diamond revenues in exchange for guarantees that their interests in Zimbabwe will not be harmed. It is likely that this was a central issue that Chiwenga ironed out with the Chinese during his recent visit to the country shortly before the coup. China could also provide Zimbabwe with some protection within the United Nations Security Council if need be, especially if issues such as sanctions of military intervention are raised.

Legitimising the Military Coup and Scenarios
Despite the evidence, the military has claimed that what has transpired in Zimbabwe is not a coup. This is a crucial issue, given that both the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) generally react negatively towards coups d'état. Their reactions to past coups in the region have ranged from membership suspension to military intervention. The latter move is unlikely at present, but there will definitely be a lot of pressure by SADC and the AU to return the levers of power to civilian hands.

Military coups can be flued, but broadly speaking, there are three scenarios to remove Mugabe and to install a civilian government (even if the latter will merely be window dressing). One, coup leaders could force Uncle Bob to resign in exchange for security guarantees for him and his family. They could strategically demand that Mnangagwa be reinstated as Vice President before his resignation. Legally speaking, that would make it easier for the Crocodile, as Mnangagwa is nicknamed, to become President.

In a second scenario, should Mugabe fail to cooperate, coup makers, with the help of their friends in ZANU-PF, could also argue that Mugabe has become “incapacitated” over the past few weeks, which is when Grace became the de facto President. This means that Mnangagwa’s dismissal as Vice President was unconstitutional, and instead of being fired, he should have legally become President of the country. As a result, he will simply be ‘reinstated’ in his ‘rightful’ position.

A third scenario would be to call for an extraordinary ZANU-PF conference. Mugabe can then be officially removed as president of the party (and subsequently also the country) and ‘democratically’ replaced by Mnangagwa or a compromise candidate. This by no means entails that succession will be easy, as succession rules are very murky. But, with G40 out of the way and the military in control, there is a greater chance that ZANU-PF will unite behind one candidate.

Finally, coup leaders could form some sort of a Government of National Unity (GNU) akin to the one birthed by the Global Political Agreement after the violent 2008 elections. This would make the military coup more attractive to Zimbabwe as a whole at it would give the illusion of inclusivity and hope. In this effort, they will attempt to construct another GNU by bringing in representatives, not only from ZANU-PF, but also from opposition parties. One can expect that the military will engage a wide-ranging group of players, including Joice Mujuru, Morgan Tsvangirai, Tendai Biti, and Welshman Ncube. They will also likely promise free and fair elections within a reasonable time period.

Some opposition figures might respond favourably to the coup makers for two reasons: Firstly, after a long absence from government, they will be tempted to be part of it given that it would provide them with access to some form of power and resources. Secondly, they might hope that the military coup represents the possibility to effect change. However, they should not be blinded as to how this military coup came into being. This is the same security sector that helped to keep Mugabe in power for nearly four decades, the very man who is about to be vilified. In the absence of serious institutional changes, the risk is that they will again be disposed as soon as the next general election is announced, and we know why they call it general elections.

What If the Crocodile Comes Out on Top?
As seen, in several of the scenarios, Mnangagwa stands a good chance to replace Mugabe as President. I remember meeting him at a function at the end of 2012 or beginning of 2013 at the Rainbow Towers in Harare. It was during the country’s Constitution making process and I was keen to gage his perspective on the matter. After exchanging a few pleasantries, I asked him about his background in law. I said to him, “They say you are well versed in legalese”, to which he icily responded, “I am a military man.”

Mnangagwa has been a key player within the security establishment from the very beginning. He also has strong links with the political and security establishment in SADC as well as China. But it is his political unpopularity that should raise the most serious red flags. As a candidate, he has proven to be unpopular in past elections. It means that should he be fielded as ZANU-PF’s presidential candidate at some point in the future, he will most likely resort to familiar methods that have served him well in the past - threats, violence and extreme electoral manipulation - in order to stay on top.

In the coming weeks though, the military coup leaders will attempt to soften Mnangagwa’s image. They will present him, not as a “military man” as he put it to me, but as a victim and a humble politician ready to serve the nation. His background and experience in law will certainly come in handy to perform legal gymnastics to legitimise this coup.

Those who already rejoice over the removal of Mugabe in the hope that something better is on the horizon will most likely be disappointed. What has happened represents merely a readjustment of the old older rather than a new beginning.

Leon Hartwell was the Senior Policy Adviser for Political and Development Cooperation at the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Harare from 2012-2013.  He is currently a PhD candidate at Stellenbosch University focusing on conflict resolution and mediation.

13 November, 2017

Can South Africa Escape its Economic Stagnation?

by Philippe Burger
(Professor of Economics, University of the Free State, South Africa)

South Africa has a triple challenge of high unemployment, high poverty and high inequality. The latest official unemployment rate falls just shy of 28%, while the so-called broad unemployment rate exceeds 36%. In addition to people actively searching for a job, the broad unemployment rate also includes those who want a job but because of job scarcity stopped looking for one (they are also called discouraged work-seekers). Whereas in other countries typically six out of ten working-age individuals work, in South Africa it is just a bit more than four out ten. That increases the dependency ratio in South Africa of non-working individuals (of all ages) to working individuals significantly.

In 2009, during the global financial crisis, 796 000 workers lost their jobs. Broad unemployment increased by 918 000 people during this period. After the crisis subsided employment started to increase, but at a very slow pace. From the end of 2008 to the end of 2016 the number of employed workers increased by 1.3 million. But unemployed people seeking jobs increased by 1.7 million, while discouraged work-seekers increased by 1.1 million. Thus, using the broad definition of unemployment, the number of unemployed people increased by 2.8 million. This is more than double the increase in employed workers. Clearly South Africa does not create enough jobs. Furthermore, unemployment and non-participation in the labour market are the largest contributors to poverty and inequality in the South Africa. Thus, reducing unemployment will go far to deal with reducing poverty and inequality.

Empirical evidence shows us that higher economic growth translates into higher employment growth. However, historically the growth in employment resulting from economic growth in South Africa has not been very strong (economists call this a low employment intensity of economic growth). Over the period 1982 to 2017 for every 1% that the economy grew employment grew on average by only between 0.23% and 0.3%. In many countries this is closer to 0.5%.

South Africa also suffers from stagnating, low growth. Whereas the economy grew in excess of 5% in the mid-2000s, by 2016 growth fell to 0.5%. This is less than the population growth rate of 1.61% in 2017, indicating that per capita income is actually falling. Unlike earlier recessions, such as the recession in the late 1990s that followed the Asian crisis, and the so-called Great Recession of 2008/9 that followed the global financial crisis, the recessionary conditions characterising South Africa currently seems mostly of its own making.

Policy uncertainty and a seeming longstanding unwillingness of the government to address a number of deep structural problems characterising the South African economy has contributed to a loss of confidence among both investors and consumers, and hence to the fall in economic growth. To reduce unemployment, poverty and inequality requires that economic growth be inclusive. However, it is often forgotten that for growth to be inclusive, there first needs to be growth.

At the conclusion of its most recent visit to South Africa in November 2017, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) highlights the need for the South African government to address issues causing the loss of confidence. The IMF also opines that to restore confidence, an announcement on much-needed reforms that increase competition and reduce input costs to businesses and households should be made sooner rather than later.

Confidence is further weakened by fears that rampant corruption and so-called state capture is undermining the democratic structures of the country. Indeed, the need to roll back corruption and state capture is increasingly seen as a prerequisite to restoring investor confidence. Only then will economic growth stand a chance of returning to levels last seen in the mid-2000s; only then can the triple challenge of high unemployment, high poverty and high inequality be addressed.

Standard growth theory tells us that economic growth depends in the first instance on a country’s levels of physical and human capital. South Africa lacks fixed (physical) capital investment. And its poor school performance means that it fails dismally in the creation of human capital.

The lack of fixed investment is not a new phenomenon. From 1992 to 2007 the total public and private capital stock of the country, expressed as a ratio of total income earned in the country, fell from almost 353% to just more than 256% in 2007. It then rebounded to reach 275% in 2015 (mostly as a result of the construction of the Medupi and Kusile power stations). To restore these capital stock levels requires much higher levels of fixed investment than is currently characterising the economy. In addition, given that the drop in the country’s capital-to-income ratio resulted from a drop in both public and private capital, investment is needed in both the public and the private sectors.

To restore private investment requires the roll back of corruption and the implementation of policy reforms that address the economy’s deep structural problems. Public investment in the form of infrastructure development is also necessary. However, the state of finances of South Africa’s state-owned enterprises and the growing public debt-to-GDP ratio of the national government put a limit on government’s ability to expand infrastructure investment. To cut debt and increase public sector investment will require a cutback in government’s current expenditure, of which government’s salary bill constitutes a large proportion (larger than is usual in South Africa’s emerging market peer-group countries). Given the limit on government’s borrowing capacity, policy should also consider supporting private investment in what traditionally was considered the realm of public investment. Examples include renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.

The structural reform policies that the government needs to implement, must also include policies that ensure inclusivity – otherwise economic growth will not be inclusive. Key inclusive policies that also support growth include tenure rights reform on communal land, policy to significantly improve South Africa’s dismal education system, and policy to support investment.

More than 30% of South Africans still live on communal land, mostly located in the former apartheid homelands. Most of this land is still controlled by traditional leaders, with individuals living on the land lacking proper tenure rights to the land. Tenure reform must ensure that communities gain control of communal land and that individuals farming plots of land have tenure security that they can leverage to access commercial and development finance. To reduce input costs and improve market access, the government must also facilitate the development of proper supply chains within which small-scale farmers can be embedded.

Farmers in South Africa (by Solidarity Center)

In the longer run inclusion in both urban and rural areas will depend on education. According to StatsSA almost half of the unemployed did not complete high school, with a further 11% having completed only primary school or less. This contrasts with just more than a third of the employed not having completed high school and a further 13% completing only primary or less. Only 7.8% of the unemployed hold a tertiary qualification. This contrasts with 20.3% of employed workers holding a tertiary degree. The mismatch between the qualifications of the employed and the unemployed shows that lower levels of education coincides with a higher probability to be unemployed. In addition, research by Hanushek and Woessmann clearly shows that countries whose children score better in mathematics and science are also countries that grow much faster. And note that it is not only rich countries that grow fast. To the contrary, many emerging market countries appear on the list of fast growers.

Even though education will contribute to faster economic growth, given the time it takes to educate people, education remains a long-term policy (though with a short-term urgency to implement it). To spur growth in the short- to medium term requires higher levels of fixed investment. Ensuring policy certainty, business-friendly economic policy and a willingness to see the business sector as a true partner in developing the economy, will spur the business sector to invest. The government should then encourage a recursive investment policy, i.e. a policy that not only encourages investment, but also the reinvestment of the returns made on investment. Irrespective of whether such investment takes place in labour- or capital-intensive industries, employment will increase. We know this from the all too brief growth spurt of the mid-2000s when, even though South Africa has a low employment intensity, economic growth of between 3% and 5.5% reduced the unemployment rate from about 29% to 21% between 2003 and 2008.

11 November, 2017

Zimbabwe’s Watershed Moment After the Axing of Vice-President Mnangagwa

by Mlandvo Ndwandwe

A country once called the breadbasket of Southern Africa has constantly failed under the autocratic leadership of President Robert Mugabe. His disdain for his own people was demonstrated when President Mugabe sacked his popular long-serving Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mnangagwa was seen as a leading contender to succeed President Mugabe and his removal appeared to clear the way for the First Lady, Grace Mugabe, to take over. Mnangagwa’s dismissal follows a familiar pattern. The former Vice President Dr. Joyce Mujuru was dismissed as a result of false accusations of not being loyal to Robert Mugabe and wanting to overthrow him. Similar charges were levelled at Mnangagwa.

Hailed as the military mastermind of the 1970 war against settler-colonialist forces of the Ian Smith regime, Mnangwana, gained tremendous popularity within the ranks of ZANLA, the former military wing of the Zimbabwe African National Union, ZANU. We’re not talking about a peace-time hero here but a war veteran who spent more than 10 years in prison for fighting against colonialism and a freedom fighter that proved his endurance during difficult times by passing important examinations for his junior law degree whilst incarcerated. As a result, Mnangagwa’s popularity and subsequent dismissal raises questions as to Zimbabwe’s future stability.

Why was Mnangwana fired just now?
Mnangwana is one of the few public servants who has served as a minister since the first administration in 1980, as a Minister of State Security, to the Ministry of Defence, Rural Housing and Social Amenities, Speaker of Parliament and again Minister of Justice before being appointed Vice President three years back by President Mugabe. Being loyal, committed and performing from 1980 surely we cannot accept the lame excuse given by the Information Minister Simon Khaya Moyo, “It had become evident that his conduct in the discharge of his duties had become inconsistent with his official responsibilities,” who announced the dismissal. Mnangwana is an extremely experienced bureaucrat who cannot be recalled from office without concrete evidence or at least a formal investigation. The question is, why is the Vice President displaying undesirable conduct 37 years in the same government he helped to build?

The context is important in dispelling the official narrative that the loyal Vice-President was incompetent and therefore needs to be dismissed. On 12th August 2017, Emmerson Mnangwna was reportedly poisoned during the Zanu-PF rally in Gwanda which is in the southern part of Zimbabwe. On his return to his office on the 19th August, rumors were spread that he was planning to take power ‘unconstitutionally’. These rumours were allegedy spread by top ranking members of the ruling party including Mrs Grace Mugabe. The level of infighting within ZANU-PF is intimately related to post-Mugabe succession politics. As the spokesperson of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) asserted, Zanu-PF is, "simply a group of cannibals who feast on each other's political blood."

What does this mean to the political future of Zimbabwe?
Democratic structures are grossly undermined and political insurrection is inevitable. We see an institutionalization of the Mugabe dynasty in the same pattern as we have witnessed dynastic succession in same as we saw it entrenched in North Korea and Gabon. Speculation is rife that Mnangagwa’s removal is part of the elaborate plan to get the First Lady to succeed her ailing husband. Zimbabwe is at the brink of total political collapse and the destruction to come will reduce the country to a kleptocratic dictatorship maintained only by state repression. The future of the country looks increasingly abysmal and socio-economic recovery is unlikely to be achieved.

What should Zimbabweans do?
The masses of the people should start participating in the country’s politics, especially during local and national elections. The people of Zimbabwe are their own saviors and should take their voting powers seriously. To avoid what happened in the 2008 rigged national elections they should fully participate in the electoral processes – and not boycott them. This includes campaigning for a democratic dispensation, fixing their accountability structures and casting and counting of votes. Sacrifices are unavoidable, the regime will victimize some citizens but they cannot stop the collective will of the people as we witnessed during the Arab Spring. Zimbabweans should take control of their destiny or suffer the consequences of complacence in a kleptocratic dictatorship.

The international community were wrong-footed with Mnangagwa’s ouster. Western countries, in particular, supported Mnangagwa on account of his proposed business-friendly policies. The international community should speak with one collective voice and exert pressure on Harare to ensure that any future poll is free and fair – so that the voice of ordinary Zimbabweans are heard.