Cabinet appointments are the crystal balls of the politics world. Gazing into the movement of ministers and the assignment of portfolios is how we journalists and analysts piece together the balance of power in governments. The more opaque the government, the more important this can be.
Robert Mugabe’s new cabinet, announced on Tuesday and sworn in on Wednesday, is no exception to the rule – it is an insight into Zimbabwe’s murky future, and tells us a little bit about how Mugabe plans to tackle his seventh term in office, and who he plans to do it with.
There were few surprises in the announcement made at State House in Harare. Many of the faces in the new cabinet have been around for a long time; some have served in government since 1980. It is also a typically gender-biased cabinet, with just three of 26 cabinet positions going to women. Don’t expect the government to put its weight behind gender equality initiatives any time soon.
Despite this, Comrade Bob made a few intriguing decisions which have given us plenty of things to ponder.
The miraculous return of Jonathan Moyo
Say what you like about Jonathan Moyo, and there are plenty of people who do, but the man has an unparalleled ability to bounce back from professional adversity. He’s the new information minister, a job that he’s held once before, between 2000 and 2005, a period that just happened to coincide with perhaps the most restrictive crackdown on Zimbabwean media in its history. But Moyo was bundled out of government in disgrace when he got himself on the wrong side of one of Zanu-PF’s interminable faction fights, and proceeded to make a name for himself as a vocal critic of the president he once served as a columnist in the very newspapers he once restricted.
After successfully running for Parliament as an independent – an experience he described recently as “horrible and miserable” – he was eventually welcomed back to the party, only to unexpectedly lose his seat this year to a challenger from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). No matter, for Mugabe had a much more important position in mind for him, recognising that Moyo had proved his loyalty.
“Despite his defeat in the elections, Mr Moyo’s inclusion is seen by political observers as a reward for his hard-line stance adopted against Mr Mugabe’s political opponents and his dressing-down of South African President Jacob Zuma’s mediator Lindiwe Zulu during negotiations in the run-up to the election at the end of July,” commented Zimbabwean journalist Ray Ndlovu in Business Day.
As information minister, he’ll be the government’s spokesperson-in-chief and will set the tone for all official communications (expect that tone to be vitriolic and combative). He’ll also be in charge of state media, as well as the implementing and enforcing regulations for private media. Given his record, independent newspapers will be very nervous indeed.
Emmerson Mnangagwa and the mysterious disappearance of the state security ministry
Emmerson Mnangagwa, known as the crocodile, is one of the main contenders to succeed Mugabe (the other being Joyce Mujuru, who retained her vice-presidency). He’s headed the defence ministry for the last few years, an immensely influential position: he who controls the guns can control all sorts of other things. No longer. Mnangagwa has been moved to Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, which on the face of it seems like a sideways move at best. Sure, the courts are important, but it’s not like they weren’t under Zanu-PF control already. And it removes Mnangagwa from a key power base.
This is Zimbabwe, however, which means the plot is always thicker. Mugabe has downsized his cabinet from the previous 33 ministries to just 24 (with a couple of ministers without portfolio). Some ministries have been merged, some split, some lost. One of the losers is the Ministry of State Security, previously led by Sydney Sekeramayi (Sekeramayi has moved back to defence, which he was in charge of for eight years before being replaced by Mnangagwa in 2008). State security oversaw the activities of Zimbabwe’s nefarious intelligence community, and it’s unclear which ministry will now take over this responsibility. It’s not inconceivable that it will fall under Mnangagwa’s Justice – the crocodile made his name as a spy chief, after all. This would make his new role potentially very powerful in the succession battle that is sure to come.
Indigenisation was a central plank of the Zanu-PF election campaign, and even on winning the election the party did not soften its stance. “We will do everything in our power to ensure our objective of total indigenisation, empowerment, development and employment is realised,” said Mugabe in one of his first speeches after his win was confirmed.
Yet for all the bluster, his appointments in the two ministries most involved in this project – mining and indigenisation – have given foreign companies a glimmer of hope. Walter Chidakwa is the new mining minister, while Francis Nhema takes over indigenisation. Both are inexperienced at the highest levels of government, and both viewed as relatively moderate. They are certainly a far cry from Saviour Kasukuwere, Nhema’s predecessor as indigenisation minister, who made a name for himself as Mugabe’s attack dog on the subject. He would almost certainly have pushed the indigenisation and nationalisation agenda harder and faster than Nhema and Chidakwa will, but he’s been stuck over in the environment, water and climate ministry, where he shouldn’t be able to do quite as much damage to the economy.
No room for the MDC
This is not a unity government. Five years of awkward power-sharing wasn’t enough to convince Mugabe of the merits of conciliation, and he hasn’t felt the need to extend any kind of olive branch to the vanquished MDC, who have been cut out of executive government altogether. But even if he had gone soft in his old age, there’s no guarantee that the opposition would have accepted any kind of role. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had already refused to contemplate serving in this Mugabe government, arguing that his presence would only serve to give it a veneer of credibility.
“The fact is I am not talking to anyone about the possibility of joining a government which the majority of Zimbabweans consider as illegitimate,” he said. Tsvangirai is still bitter over July’s elections, which were tainted by widespread problems with the electoral role and several accounts of ballot manipulation (though this was not enough to damage the credibility of the result, according to African Union and SADC observers).
More interesting than the MDC’s non-participation, which is hardly a revelation, is the fate of the two ministries that the MDC really made their own during the unity government years: finance under Tendai Biti (of Tsvangirai’s MDC faction) and education under David Coltart (of Welshman Ncube’s MDC faction).
Education is being taken over by Lazarus Dokora, who was Coltart’s deputy, so it might be in safe hands. At the very least we can expect some continuity.
Finance, on the other hand, went to someone ominously underqualified: Patrick Chinamasa, a loyal apparatchik described by Reuters as “a combative political lieutenant with little experience in running a treasury”. Oh dear. Zimbabwe’s tentative development over the last five years has been underpinned by the emergency reforms made by Biti, particularly his replacement of the Zimbabwean dollar with the US dollar. Will Chinamasa have the vision or commitment to see these through? Somehow, it doesn’t seem likely.
Out with the old… and in the with old guard
Despite all the shuffling of seats, this is essentially the same cabinet Zimbabwe’s had for the last five years – minus any opposition figures. In fact, some of the faces are the same that graced Zimbabwe’s first post-independence cabinet in 1980. For Zanu-PF, this is a remarkable achievement. Maintaining the status quo like this takes considerable application and skill. For Zimbabwe, however, it’s a bad sign. The men who haven’t been able to fix the country before are in charge of fixing it now, and none of them have given any reason to suggest that this time might be different. DM
President Mugabe appoints new cabinet, on The Herald
Mixed reaction to Mugabe’s cabinet picks, on New Zimbabwe
Robert Mugabe’s cabinet choices dash hope of reform, on the Telegraph
Photo: Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe gestures as he addresses a news conference, after the swearing-in of ministers at the State House in Harare September 11, 2013. Mugabe, Africa’s oldest leader at 89 who won a fresh five-year term in a July 31 vote his opponents say was rigged, on Wednesday swore in his cabinet, including Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa who was named on Tuesday. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
The fur of a Chinchilla is so thick it will suffocate fleas.