Political deception has its limits

The World Bank yesterday published its 2018 Global Risks Report which confirms that in today’s topsy-turvy geopolitical landscape characterised by heightened global uncertainty and strengthening popular discontent with the existing political and economic order, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

In an increasingly dicey environment where cut-throat competition determines whether a nation can attract significant levels of foreign direct investment, it is vital to ensure that macroeconomic conditions like exchange rates, government regulation, or political stability are handled in a smart and diligent manner.

No country can afford to take anything for granted anymore. To attract investment, a government must get its ducks in a row. News travels fast in an inter-connected world and investor sentiment cannot be ignored.

This past week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has ratcheted up his economic diplomacy campaign, visiting South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique. He is expected in Zambia today. It is a bold and ambitious itinerary, meant to undo Zimbabwe’s ruinous pariah status.

Next week, the campaign will take him to Davos, Switzerland, where the World Economic Forum is convening its highly-rated annual meetings. Davos is well-known for its glitzy razzmatazz. He will rub shoulders with other leaders from all walks of life—be it politics, the private sector, research, civil society or labour. Even anarchists have gone to Davos in the past.

A word of caution. Davos is no magic bullet. Whether a country benefits from that complex web of engagements will often depend on your delegation’s deal-making skills, in other words the crafting of excellent negotiations that are anchored on deft strategic manoeuvring and value creation.

But the outside world is not a community of fools. Foreign investors will judge Zimbabwe on account of the government’s sincerity, honesty, ethical conduct, trustworthiness and reliability. Nobody wants to cut deals with a snake-oil salesman.

That is why Mnangagwa must do everything possible to guarantee a free, fair and credible election this year. Zimbabwe’s dreams of a rapid economic turnaround will directly depend on a democratic, undisputed and bullet-proof election. You do not have to be unpatriotic to see that the signs are worrying so far. In fact, it would be irresponsible of us as journalists to ignore what looks like a slow-motion train crash.

If Mnangagwa and his allies—particularly the securocrats who have sabotaged credible democratic outcomes in past elections—assume, for one moment, that they can get away with a sham poll, they are in for a surprise. The world does not work that way. The days of jackboot democracy are long gone.

On his visit to Mozambique this week, the president dropped a bombshell: the nation must brace for an earlier-than-expected election. By my estimation, this means the polls will be held possibly in June or July. As first reported in these pages last week, an early election is viewed by Zanu-PF as a masterstroke, coming at a time the opposition is in utter disarray while civil society seems to be snoozing at the wheel.

There are countless reasons why a credible election seems near-impossible under current conditions. We can outline just three factors: i) the Electoral Act remains unaligned with the Constitution; ii) the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s administrative framework lacks transparency, accountability and inclusivity; and iii) the environment of electoral processes is flawed.

Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi is adamant that electoral reforms are unnecessary. He comes across as flippant — some would say arrogantly dismissive — on such a very important matter of national survival. Zimbabwe does not need another 20 years of international isolation.

I challenge Mnangagwa to free the airwaves, scrap Zanu-PF’s primitive laws currently impeding Press freedom, liberate the public media, disband the marauding militia which are already terrorising villagers, stop bribing and forcing traditional chiefs to campaign for his party, and ensure that the military is barred from dabbling in partisan politics. He does not need a cent to achieve these quick-win outcomes—and we all know that the tired bogeyman of “Western sanctions” has nothing to do with the price of tea in China.

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