Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party launched its 2018 election manifesto in glitzy fashion at a Harare hotel on Friday May 4, but its presidential candidate, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is not assured of a smooth ride into the election.
A date for the crucial national elections has not yet been announced but Zimbabwe’s five-year election calendar stipulates that the ritual should be held sometime in July or August.
The voters’ roll, prepared under the new biometric registration system, is still being finalised.
Friday’s manifesto launch adds heat to an increasingly feverish mood that has gripped the country ahead of the elections, which, for the first time, won’t feature former president Robert Mugabe and former leader of the Movement for Democratic Change Morgan Tsvangirai, long-time duellists in this fixture.
Mugabe was toppled in a soft coup in November and was replaced by Mnangagwa. Tsvangirai died on Valentine’s Day after losing his battle with cancer.
The election will be historic in more ways than one.
But before Mnangagwa begins to worry about facing his main opponents in the opposition parties, he must get his own house in order.
Zanu-PF’s primary elections, held last week, a few days before the manifesto launch, showed that the factionalism that haunted the party during Mugabe’s tenure is still alive and well — even if the factions themselves have changed.
There used to be G40 and Lacoste, the factions aligned with former first lady Grace Mugabe and Mnangagwa respectively. Now we have a struggle for power between the military elements that led the coup and the civilian wing sympathetic to Mnangagwa — mainly the vocal but largely powerless war veterans.
So far, the military wing is coming out on top.
Military and security service chiefs command huge interests in political and business affairs in the country, which they are keen to protect and consolidate.
When Mnangagwa, seen to some extent as a product of the army’s benevolence, nestled into Mugabe’s place, he quickly rewarded the military with key positions in government. He gave former army commander Constantino Chiwenga the position of vice-president, and retired major general Sibusiso Busi Moyo, the man who announced the military takeover on Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation on the morning of November 15, got the key position of minister of foreign affairs.
Former air marshal Perence Shiri was rewarded with a portfolio as land minister, and retired major general Engelbert Rugeje was handed the position of national political commissar in the party.
Mnangagwa threw more gifts at the army by way of promotions of personnel and rewards in civilian roles.
It is an open secret that military head honchos are now firmly in line for succession in Zanu-PF, with Chiwenga angling to succeed Mnangagwa as early as 2023. Chiwenga has been shoring up his own support, creating what is seen as another centre of power.
This has, in turn, buoyed lesser soldiers, who have tried to muscle out their civilian counterparts at various levels in political affairs. They believe they are the real power in the party, not unjustifiably, which brings into question the extent of Mnangagwa’s control.
Those who are less generous think he is somewhere between a hostage and a stooge of the military.
The uneasy relations between Zanu-PF’s military and civilian wings were highlighted at the recent party primaries. There were widespread reports of military leaders at various levels interfering in the selection of candidates, often manipulating processes to favour former servicemen or their lackeys.
This led to a number of civilian leaders, including Chris Mutsvangwa — a key Mnangagwa adviser — losing in Norton, a constituency just outside Harare.
Paul Mangwana, largely acclaimed to be the legal brains behind the coup and another top Mnangagwa ally, also fell by the wayside. So did Oppah Muchinguri Kashiri, the party’s chairwoman.
Mutsvangwa, a former ambassador to China, was so livid about his loss that he raised the red flag that Mnangagwa could lose the next election.
He had no kind words for Rugeje for using policemen as election officials in the election, amid other irregularities.
Apart from possible manipulation, the organisation of the primaries was so chaotic that the exercise could not be done in a day, as planned, and had to be rolled over into the next.
Sources attribute this to Rugeje and his army cohorts’ inability to conduct civilian processes.
Much worse, said sources, is that the military elements have sought to displace other security arms such as the Central Intelligence Organisation, which has experience in handling security-related civilian processes.
But Mnangagwa appears unfazed — something not unexpected of a man who withstood a barrage of personal and political attacks from Robert and Grace Mugabe at the height of last year’s factionalism.
Remarking on the chaotic primaries, he simply said these were “teething problems”. He has also downplayed the emerging factionalism.
The coming election is in many ways a legitimacy show for Mnangagwa, at home and abroad.
He is seeking to complete the transition from Mugabe’s rule by winning a popular mandate that banishes questions about the source of his power. Only then he can flex his muscles, which could possibly include dealing with overambitious army elements.
The manifesto he launched on Friday has some lofty ambitions on economic growth and social service provision, and highlights the importance of mending relations with the international community.
The manifesto promises to “transform Zimbabwe into a middle-income economy by 2030. The party will focus aggressively on reopening the country for business with the global economy community so as to rebuild our industries, create more jobs, eradicate the scourge of poverty and uplift people’s livelihoods.”
It promises to attain an economic growth rate of at least 6% a year over the period from 2018 to 2023.
Mnangagwa says the party will accelerate the harmonisation of investment laws to improve the ease of doing business in the country, increase the provision of rural electricity, build rail and road networks and enhance the science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics programmes.
The manifesto contains some familiar themes about the liberation struggle, black empowerment and indigenisation and upholding land reform.
As ambitious as it sounds, Zanu-PF’s manifesto is more muted than that of the opposition parties, which are promising heaven, complete with bullet trains, airports in rural areas and United States dollars in people’s pockets.