This morning I, along with everyone else who is not a member of Team #NoSleep, woke up to the news that President Mnangagwa had announced his 22 member cabinet late last night. It seems some were ready with analysis and opinion pieces literally the moment the press statement was released, something I find quite odd seeing as most of these ministers have not even had a chance to put bums to seats let alone outline policy. Some have even complained that this has taken “agonisingly long”, as if the President was sworn in barely a week ago and has had a lot on his plate. Many have complained about the retention of many familiar faces that have been implicated in corruption in the past and at best have shown lack-lustre performance in their decades in cabinet. I too look at their retention with trepidation but I believe, as I will try to outline below with a focus on economics, that context is key. I will leave the implications of installing military men in cabinet to others more qualified.
The ghosts of still-born mega-deals.
When Chris Mutsvangwa was still ambassador to China he led the effort to secure deals with that country which, whilst great for the Chinese, did not yield the desired results for Zimbabwe due to various reasons, chief amongst them ZANU PF infighting for a slice of the action going back to at least as early as 2005. Following the 2013 elections much was made of mega-deals with China that would ensure Zimbabwe’s recovery and the success of ZANU PF’s economic blueprint ZimAsset, to date it is unclear what exactly these mega-deals were or are. None of this came to pass as four years later the country is in a far worse economic condition to the point the army even noted this as one of the reasons for their coup that wasn’t a coup. Again, it is still a mystery as to why the mega-deals never materialised however I have it on good authority that ZANU PF and in effect, presidential, succession was a nagging issue for the Chinese who wanted assurance of continuity after Mugabe. As we all know now, Mugabe’s idea of succession was not that popular outside of Blue Roof.
Another mega-deal that seemed to mysteriously go up in smoke was the 2015 multi-billion dollar Dangote investment in power generation and cement manufacturing. After a flurry of activity reportedly under the personal watch of then VP Mnangagwa himself, Zimbabwe’s government went to all lengths to facilitate the consummation of the deal only to be tripped up by political risk concerns. This deal, like those with the Chinese have been on ice for years now, could the change in government be what breaks the impasse? Granted much has happened around the world as China and Dangote have turned their attention to other markets but a repackaging of these deals by Chinamasa, Bimha, Mutsvangwa and a willing President Mnangagwa could see them back on track and finally spur into life Zimbabwe’s recovery.
The Lima Plan.
In 2015 Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa was on an outreach mission to reengage international lenders who had long abandoned Zimbabwe for failure to repay debts. This culminated in a trip to Lima Peru where he presented an ambitious plan to repay all debts to the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and African Development bank simultaneously by end April 2016. As has become the norm, Zimbabwe missed this deadline and was therefore unable to access further lending despite government’s claim of a billion dollar lifeline from global commodities firm Trafigura to pay the World Bank that never materialised. With Zimbabwe enjoying a now enjoying renewed attention from global lenders and development partners, could there be a resuscitation of the Lima Plan in the short term and a restoration of credit lines within the next six to eight months? The first test will be the visit by the IMF to Harare next week.
Out with the Populists in with the Reformers.
Former President Mugabe never really enjoyed a good relationship with his finance ministers particularly from the start of the current economic crisis in the late 1990s namely, Herbert Murerwa, Simba Makoni, Christopher Kuruneri and Patrick Chinamasa. The more they advised caution, the worse the relationship, Mugabe famously said to Herbert Murerwa in 2006:
“We are under sanctions and there is no room for the type of bookish economics we have at the Ministry of Finance,”
Patrick Chinamasa, despite his many mistakes in an effort to please a demanding and diametrically opposed boss, is nothing if not a reformer. He has consistently called for fiscal restraint but only to be rebuffed on occasions too numerous to mention culminating in his recent short-lived move to the now defunct Ministry of Cyber Security. President Mnangagwa too shows all the signs of being a reformer and in the short term this combination could yield spectacular results for Zimbabwe if Chinamasa is given the independence to carry out the much needed reforms he is all too aware of. It will be interesting to see how his reformist agenda is received by the rest of government. Another man who was brought in as a reformer but had no choice but to tow the Mugabe line is Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya. He is now the man tasked with facilitating the return of stolen money under the ninety day exemption and overseeing the recovery of the financial sector and with Chinamasa, dealing with international financial institutions.
Policies, policies everywhere but not a sign of implementation.
It is no secret Zimbabwe is “blessed” with policy crafters but what has been sorely lacking is implementation. If President Mnangagwa is to be believed, his administration will focus on correcting this. It would not be surprising at all if the new administration, rather than start from scratch, simply dust off the some old policies, update them and get to work implementing. It would save a lot of time, labour and money, especially on critical economic and legal reforms that have been pending for years. So whilst many have criticised this cabinet for being full of the same old faces, I am inclined to believe there is a valid reason for this. These same old faces will not need to start from scratch, they are already aware of what needs to be done, who needs to do it and how. What has lacked in the past is a reason for implementation and this is no longer the case, government has no choice but to fix the economy and to do so urgently. If one wants to take a more macabre view, even those who have been eating know they can only eat from a functioning economy. There is much work to be done and whilst a rising tide lifts all ships, cautious optimism remains the default position at this stage.
Based in Johannesburg South Africa, Ricky Marima is a recovering economist and twenty year veteran of building businesses across a variety of industries. He currently works at knowledge startup RemNes where he guides clients across the continent to ask the right questions about the 4th Industrial Revolution. You can reach him on firstname.lastname@example.org