OPINION: President Mnangagwa in spectacular PR disaster

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BY HOPEWELL CHIN’ONO ||

The President of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa and his delegation are headed to Davos next week for the second time since he became leader of the former breadbasket of Southern Africa in November of 2017.

I am not a prophet and neither am I a doom monger, but this will be a spectacular public relations disaster for President Mnangagwa and for Zimbabwe.

This time he will be exposed as a man not yet ready to deliver on his previous promises of reform that he declared with fanfare when he went to the Swiss resort town of Davos in January of 2018.

Davos is the place where countries come to sell their economic dreams and plans that are underpinned by a living reality that the world media can easily and openly audit in real time.

It is also a place where world leaders meet big business, global capital and real economists ready to interrogate claims made by political elites to entice investment.

Added to that list will be big global media power houses like CNN, BBC, The Economist, Financial Times and many other major media outlets that will be camped there ready to dissect all the economic issues, real and imagined that are brought up by the world’s political elites as they try to entice investment capital to their countries.

I predict without hesitation that the African rock star of Davos 2019 will be the 42 year old Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, who became leader of his country five months after President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over from Robert Mugabe through a military intervention.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has delivered on almost everything that Emmerson Mnangagwa has failed to do, and he has gone over and beyond his promises including that of bringing to an end a 20-year state of cold war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The Ethiopian Prime Minister has even appointed an opposition politician, Birtukan Mideksa, to lead that country’s electoral management body, and he has also appointed Sahle-Work Zewde as Ethiopia’s first female President.

Now if you are looking for evidence of what a new Republic and new dispensation looks like, Ethiopia is your answer.

Whilst at Davos last year, President Mnangagwa promised to repeal draconian laws such as AIPPA and POSA and align the current laws to the 6-year-old Zimbabwean constitution, that has not been done yet one year on.

He promised to reform the media landscape and allow broadcasting plurality and space for more media voices, he also promised to implement economic reforms that would attract local and foreign investors to part with their money and help kick start Zimbabwe’s moribund economy.

Nothing of that sort has been done since his Davos trip last year, I say so because as you shall see when he gets there, these are the questions that he will be asked by the world media which he can’t avoid, otherwise what will be the purpose of traveling to Switzerland if he doesn’t speak to the media to convey a message?

The President will be going to Davos at a time when there are civil service pay disputes resulting in strikes, fuel queues at every corner due to distorted economic policies, no money in the banks and zero foreign exchange for industry, no economic and media reforms done as promised at the last Davos meeting, no alignment of laws to the “new” constitution that is now 6 years old, a pegged exchange rate and a trade and industry framework controlled by threats and intimidation.

Davos is a platform to sell your economic viability, what will the President be selling to the rest of the world this time around other than more promises and a dream deferred? 

Zimbabwe was invited to Davos in 2018 not because we had done anything out of the ordinary economically, it was only because Robert Mugabe was gone and the world wanted to check out “the new guy.”

How will governments and investors take him seriously when the very senior civil servants that surrounded Robert Mugabe are still the same people running his civil service bureaucracy and administration?

Well, the international investor community and foreign governments like China and the EU and US want to hear about the concrete plans that were promised, implemented and achieved.

They want to hear about the President’s accomplishments especially those that he promised the world at Davos in 2018.

They will be asking him what his accomplishments were since the last Davos summit, if he doesn’t have any or if they are still being worked out, they will be asking him why he is there if there is nothing to offer yet?

They will want to hear about the economic and political reforms that were implemented if any, because the two are part of the same ecosystem, they reinforce each other.

They want to know why they should come to Zimbabwe when the Mnangagwa government has failed to implement even one of any of their promised reforms, and how they can get their dividends and profits out of a country with a pegged exchange rate system with only a two-week foreign exchange cover left.

They want to know why they should believe the President’s promises this time around, when the many speeches that he delivered home and abroad between his first trip to Davos last year in January and today have not been fulfilled.

They want to know why a government that understands that its own survival without the use of brutal force hinges on these economic and political reforms, and yet it has failed to move quickly to fulfill its agenda by removing the long-standing hurdles to Zimbabwe’s prosperity should be believed.

Why the lack of speed at doing something that will underpin your economic growth and legitimately enhance your political grip on power, allowing your reelection without resorting to violence and intimidation?

Perhaps going to Davos will allow President Emmerson Mnangagwa to hear what we have been saying all along on a daily basis without anyone in a position of authority bothering to take note.

It is an opportunity for him to realize that people who do not have their pulse on global thinking, events and consequences regarding Zimbabwe continue to surround him and he will hear this from world leaders, investors, big business and the world’s international media that will be camped at the Davos meeting.

Life is indeed a massive daily drag and challenge for the average Zimbabwean who is battling to literally stay alive due to the economic hardships and the doctor’s strike, which lasted for 41 days.

The cost of living has astronomically gone up due to the failure by Zimbabwe to produce significant products for the export market in order to earn foreign exchange.

This production will not happen until the government implements the reforms that the President has been promising the world for the past 14 months since getting into office.

The economic distortions will only be mitigated after the country has a decent credit rating allowing it to borrow from international financial institutions, and attracting foreign and local direct investment.

Capital is a coward, locals are hiding their money outside the country and foreigners are taking their money to better investment destinations that offer a decent return for that money and a straightforward repatriation framework for their profits and dividends.

How does the President convince global companies to come and invest in Zimbabwe without reforms when the companies already operating here like Olivine and Delta are shutting down their operations?

We need to fix our foundation first by implementing the political and economic reforms that we have signed up to, only then can we start thinking of going to Davos, and not when a country is in the crisis we are faced with before us. It can’t Mr President!

The only people who have something to gain from this trip are the bloated delegation that will draw huge allowances from an already battered taxpayer.

On a different but still Davos note, I would like to congratulate the central character in my documentary film State of Mind, Professor Dixon Chibanda for being invited in his own capacity to the Davos Economic Forum to address world leaders on Mental Health and mental health disorders and providing solutions to the world economic, political and social leaders.

A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country and among his own people, which we shall substitute for government.

Hopewell Chin’ono is an internationally-acclaimed Zimbabwean journalist. He can be reached on via Twitter: @daddyhope


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