Violet Gonda: Independent commentator Brian Kagoro is my guest on the programme Hot Seat and is here to give us his perspective on the progress of the inclusive government. The last time we spoke was the week that the unity government was formed. Now it’s over 100 days since the formation of the unity government. So Brian, what is your assessment of the coalition government so far?
Brian Kagoro: I’ve not changed my principle starting point. 1; that it is inelegantly structured, it is made up of people who don’t like each other, that there are serious conflicts of purpose that therefore on certain fundamentals it will be difficult for the inclusive government to deliver. However I think that its very existence has created a sense of possibility for the private sector in Zimbabwe , for the common entrepreneur and professionals. So to that extent I think that it has brought some relief.
There are lots of goods that have reappeared in the shops, prices that had gone haywire have come back to normal, so there are signs of normalisation and one keeps wondering whether it is signs of normalisation of the abnormal – because at a fundamental level as the Prime Minister indicated in his statement, there are still serious issues to do with the rule of law, there are still serious issues to do with getting consensus within the inclusive government.
Gonda: Now some will say what you have just talked about could be viewed as steps in the right direction since these are just the first few days of this inclusive government, so don’t you think it is time that people did give the coalition government or the politicians a break and see what they have to offer? What can you say about this?
Kagoro: Well I’m not averse to giving anything an opportunity. However one must caution that you build hope on clear principled positions and not just pipe dreams or building sand castles in the air. This inclusive government we were told is meant to last for two years. Three months plus has since elapsed. We’re still quibbling and squabbling over very basic things which are not fundamental to the transformation of the country. Things as critical as restoration of normalcy of law and order are still seen as contentious. Lack of clarity in terms of decision making and the exercise of executive authority. So the inclusive government is functioning now because the MDC has been bending over backwards from day zero. One wonders what will happen if the MDC toughens its stand and for a change makes demands on fundamentals and refuses to budge. I think then we will see a real test. If MDC adopts the same attitude that Zanu has adopted on Tomana, on Gono and on many other things, like the ministry of home affairs, defence and this thing to do with ambassadors and permanent secretaries.
Gonda: Let’s talk some more in detail about some of these issues which finance minister Tendai Biti described as toxic issues. Now in a statement on the implementation of the Global Political Agreement and the outstanding issues as you mentioned earlier on, the Prime Minister said that the parties had agreed or have agreed to keep the current permanent secretaries but this is after the MDC had raised objections over Mugabe’s unilateral appointments of these same permanent secretaries. So based on the Prime Minister’s press conference it appears that nothing has really changed. Is this a case of we are not happy you didn’t consult us and now we are happy because you did? What are your views on this?
Kagoro: I think for me it speaks to a larger question of strategy. The MDC has for a long time insisted that it is a government in waiting. The curious reasons in the Prime Minister’s statement about why they considered: 1; that they went through the names of the individuals, ascertained that the individuals were appropriately qualified and had requisite experience.
With the greatest of respect to the Prime Minister and those who were part of that executive committee, no references made to attest on whether or not there was an attempt to ascertain which of these individuals are openly partisan in their politics because part of the justification in the Prime Minister’s statement is that no civil servant should be seen to be partisan or should be appointed on the basis of allegiance to a political party. Now this in my view seems a very strange thing to say if one considers that you appointed ministers, you appointed governors on the basis of political affiliation. You actually go through this criteria that says so many for MDC -T, so many for MDC -M and so many for Zanu.
And also the other thing that I find startling is that if the MDC has not been in government ever, it would not have people with the experience of running government so without making any reference at all to the qualifications or experience of the current permanent secretaries, if in 1980 you had used the criterion of appointing permanent secretaries and ambassadors merely on the basis of experience, Zanu and Zapu would not have had adequately qualified people. I think the whole spirit of a settlement of this nature makes, or takes into cognisance the difference that a party that has been fighting for inclusion and has hitherto been excluded would not have the same depth of experience.
We should ask what type of experience is it anyway. Are we suggesting that the ministries are so efficiently and well run that there was no problem at the level of administration of the ministries? Are we suggesting that all individuals who are currently permanent secretaries are not guilty or tainted by political bias and therefore would not act as an obstacle to attempts by the new ministers to roll out a strategy for recovery based on the new politics of inclusive governments?
Gonda: Brian, still on that issue, some critics actually say that manpower development was never a strategy for the MDC during the last eight years. Now do you think this has been their downfall in the negotiations because I spoke to retired Judge Smith on this programme and he pointed out that appointments in the public service are done on merit, seniority and service – so should the MDC as an opposition party have seen this coming and made sure it also had people who are trained for these positions or rise within the ministries?
Kagoro: Violet, I think people sympathetic to the opposition across the globe, there are many with sufficient experience. I can think of several who would be able to take over those dockets. They may not be party card waving members but they are people who have consistently would have voted for the opposition, people who would have been pro-democracy, people who would have been opposed to a certain type of exclusive politics that we saw emerge in our country. I think that the opposition needs to be careful not to limit its conception of government only to those of us and others who were seen to be either close to certain actors within that opposition or seen to be openly allied to it. I think that the pool of Zimbabwean talent where the opposition need to have looked at and needs to look at when it does its appointments is much wider than they have so far done.
I do not blame the lack of manpower capacity; I blame the short sightedness in terms of how far they’ve been willing to look. Many of the Zimbabweans in the Diaspora, in England, Australia, the Americas and even in South Africa, very senior people of great competence to run ministries, great managerial and other skills that are required, some even with great experience in government departments. I do think that there has been a deliberate effort to wean out, to look out for, to search for, I think we have confined it to party structures which perhaps tragic and one hopes that the opposition and others prepare for the election in two years time that they have a much broader and wider vision of society and political appointment than we have adopted so far.
Gonda: And you mentioned that the Prime Minister said that civil servants should not be appointed on a partisan basis and so they will not be civil servants from the MDC or Zanu PF. But what safeguards are there within the system now that will prevent an appointee from playing politics?
Kagoro: None. I think that the attempt to fire any senior civil servant on the basis of political bias would itself be a fairly contested and contentious issue. By the time you are through with the hearing and some form of investigation, the tenure of this interim inclusive government would have run out. So I think from a strategic level the MDC has been put into a corner. I think it has allowed itself to accept criterion, criterion that would make it difficult for it to contest the appointments that Zanu has made and will make.
A good example, if you use the criterion the Prime Minister set out – ‘the appointment must be of somebody who has experience or competence’, you will have problems around the Gono and Tomana issue because you will have to prove if you apply those criterion that Gono has no experience. To the best of my recollection, there are only three people who have run the central bank in the country at the level of governor. Kombo Moyana, Leonard Tsumba and Gideon Gono. So I think that you need a much wider perspective when thinking through this. We have a question not just of experience and expertise, there’s a question of appropriateness to the moment including the political atmosphere and the trajectory of development that you are attempting to foster under the inclusive government and I think that criteria would disqualify some and qualify others and I think we need to be a little more robust when thinking about this.
Gonda: So do you think that the MDC has capitulated on this issue of permanent secretaries?
Kagoro: Well one must not be unduly critical of them but one must also not be unduly sympathetic. The question on the table was, and I did raise this in our last interview with the two honourables Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga and Nelson Chamisa. When I asked have the other questions of fundamental appointments – directors of ministries, permanent secretaries and others been resolved? When you say the government is inclusive in the sense of power sharing where does power in your conception of government lie? What exactly are you sharing?
Ministers may represent the executive authority but they are merely in most instances just figureheads. The persons who actually run ministries are permanent secretaries. So in this particular instance, what you effectively saying, is that with respect to the administration of ministries, we are not sharing power. Power lies with the incumbent. So you can say in that regard perhaps they have capitulated but on another level you have to ask the fundamental question – have the MDC thought through this particular question, put in place a strategic framework of identifying talent that would fill those positions beyond party loyalists? If they hadn’t I do not think that they had any choice because they would have unduly delayed the question after it had been opened for dialogue. I think they went to the table with a generic demand and when it came to specifics I don’t think that they had sufficiently strong specific alternative proposals, which is a shame.
Gonda: And also on the issue of the governors, the principals agreed to share the positions of governors using the original agreement where the MDC – Tsvangirai was going to get five governors, Zanu PF four and the Mutambara MDC one, and they also decided that the six governors whose tenure is to be terminated now as a result of this agreement will be paid an agreed compensation. What are your views on that and also at whose expense?
Kagoro: Well I’m curious to know Violet as all Zimbabweans are, because governors are appointed at the pleasure of the presidency or the executive and the president does not always wait for the expiration of the term of office before reshuffling, dis-appointing or re-appointing of governors. So I’m curious to know whether in instances where he has had to change a governor mid-stream or replace whether those who have been replaced, because they were political appointees under the constitution, have had to be compensated.
It seems to me an extraordinary step to take because governorship is not a job like permanent secretaryship. It would be bizarre if you were to suggest that because you had appointed a person a minister – which is the prerogative of the executive authority of the country and you decide to replace the minister before the end of his term of office that you now have to compensate them? For a country that is failing to pay civil servants salaries, to have enough resources to pay political appointees seems to me an extraordinary step to go for political appeasement.
Gonda: Right, and also on the issue of the Reserve Bank governor and the Attorney General, we mentioned a bit about them, now the MDC has said that there is a deadlock and they are now appealing to SADC and the African Union for help over the appointment of Gideon Gono and Johannes Tomana. Now it was the same regional bodies who forced the parties into this deal before all the outstanding issues had been resolved, so what can we expect from the AU and SADC?
Kagoro: Well I do not think that SADC or the AU are going to say well, remove Gono and Tomana. At the very most they may call for a process, an independent process of ascertaining the appropriateness of the appointees of the appointments – and that process will take long and in the time that the processes are being undertaken, the two will remain in office. If the MDC ’s claim is that these were illegal appointments then it’s not really a matter for negotiation, the law takes its course but if the MDC says these were appointments made in bad faith and therefore they should be voided. Well then what they are asking SADC to say is well is it possible to void both of them, is it possible to void, to nullify one appointment, is it possible to have an independent process of appointing the two. So you set aside the current appointment and then you put in place an independent process by which you look at candidates and applicants the parties submit and on the basis of agreed criteria the appointment is made. I think that the resort to SADC is taking the matter the long way, it is also detaining resolution of the matter but it seems that if you have not reached agreement, you have no other choice because clearly you are being treated as a junior partner in the arrangement.
Gonda: And of course, the finance minister Tendai Biti indicated that he’s implementing reforms to the RBZ Act, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Act, that will clip Gideon Gono’s wings, so why then is there this battle of having to remove him, shouldn’t the reforms be able to control him?
Kagoro: I think that goes back to what I’ve said earlier about the curious contents of the Prime Minister’s statement. If you accept that appointments are to be non-partisan, the objection as I understand it of the MDC is not only based on what are perceived or alleged to be excesses on the part of Gono, that he acted in excess of his authority, there are not only objections to the execution of his duties. There are insinuations that he may have aligned himself improperly to a particular political project, a particular political position and that therefore the basis upon which they wish to have him removed is both their perception that he is not the most appropriate person for the office and secondly the notion that he is tainted with bias.
I understand that the erstwhile attorney general openly declared his allegiance to the ruling party and his activism there. And of course the others who have said what is wrong with a person in that office saying that they are aligned to a particular party unless if you can demonstrate that in their decision-making they have shown this tendency to be biased in favour of their party. But that’s neither here nor there, I think that the long and short of it Violet, Gono’s boss is the minister of finance, Gono was used to bypassing normal channels of reporting within a government and that was perhaps what the moment permitted but the moment has since shifted, we’ve gone back towards normalisation and it is the minister who should be able to determine in consultation with the executive authority in the country, the Prime Minister and the president whether or not the person he is working with is the most appropriate for the sort of task ahead.
Gonda: And what did you make of the letter that Gideon Gono allegedly wrote to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai complaining about the finance minister and alleging that he has been victimised and that Tendai Biti is corrupt. What did you make of that?
Kagoro: I think that Gideon Gono may not be looking at the clock and what time of the day it is. I read the letter; it is devoid of any meaningful substance. I think it is somewhat childish. I think that if he is aggrieved by innuendos and allegations made against him the appropriate redress would be for him to demonstrate that he has the competence in the moment that we are in to execute the duties of a competent governor of the Central Bank, act as a regularity authority. There are also reasons why Gono is a sore issue that I did not mention earlier. Because of his curious policies and some of vindictive manner in which he pursued fellow bankers, he destroyed life savings of ordinary pensioners and workers, so the demand for Gono to retire is not a demand merely from I think minister Biti. The demand of ordinary Zimbabweans who feel they were short-changed, who feel that in the pursuit of whatever policies of Gono was pursuing, their lives and livelihoods were destroyed.
If I were Gideon Gono – and when you have reached that level of unpopularity because I’m not hearing a resounding, if it were just Gono and Biti, one could accept that perhaps there is a personal vendetta, I’m not hearing the parliament of Zimbabwe even after receiving free cars of sorts from him, I’m not hearing a legislative voice standing up in his defence. I’m not even hearing the higher echelons of Zanu in a united manner, rising up to defend him. I’m not hearing the private sector or the banking sector or anyone of significance in the neutral so-called civic and other sectors standing up to defend him. He is the only one who is defending himself except for one or two political collaborators.
In my view, just out of honour whether or not one accepts the allegations, Gideon should gracefully step down and allow for whatever investigation need to be made and if his name is cleared then he can contend that he is entitled to resume his duties as governor of the Central Bank. This time to die, or wanting to die on the throne and insisting on fighting his employer seems not only futile but somewhat childish and also it is regrettable that he is using access he has to intelligence, files, what should be official secrets to wage wars around his public and personal credibility.
Gonda: You know in the letter that was somehow leaked to the press, Gono accuses the minister of corruption and claims that the law firm where the minister was a senior partner externalised foreign currency. What do you make of these allegations?
Kagoro: You know Violet, if minister Biti had done that, if there is any substance then it’s a matter for police investigation. I am a lawyer inasmuch as I’ve not accepted without any evidence personal or otherwise any allegation made against anyone. I think Gono is not the Commissioner of Police and besides these allegations are not that the minister diverted State funds. He is suggesting that a law firm in which the minister is only one of I think ten or 15 partners externalised. To try and turn the sins of a body corporate – even assuming these allegations were true – the crimes of a whole body corporate onto one person, and Biti is not the most senior partner in the law firm in question sounds somewhat either an expression of a lack of understanding of basic partnership or company law or just mere malice and an exercise in foolishness.
Gonda: And based on your assessment of the inclusive government and on Zanu PF, what do you think of the Zanu PF strategy? Does it look like Zanu PF actually wants this inclusive government to work or not?
Kagoro: I think we must distinguish, I don’t accept that everyone in Zanu PF holds the same script. I mean they may attempt to sing from the same song sheet but there is a lot of discord. There are those who see the opportunities for recovery for the country and therefore also their businesses and their fortunes as individuals. There are those who see a future in which they still wish to continue as political actors. I think those are some of the individuals who are working to ensure that there are no political actions taken that will continue to tarnish the image of the country either as an investment destination or tourist destination and so those I think are working within the spirit of the inclusive government to ensure that there is a modicum of decency that returns.
There are others though who are still stuck in a time warp, who still imagine that things are as they were when they were the only ones fully in control and in power who I think will do everything in their power to undermine and derail this attempt at forming an inclusive process. I think ultimately, the forces that will prevail in the country are those forces who will have had enough politics of unpleasantness, who have done enough self-destruction and ruin, it’s about time we began to rebuild a legacy for ourselves, for our children and rebuild the country, its reputation amongst a community of progressive world nations. So I think that the militia, militants, the die-hards from both sides will continue like ghosts which refuse to die and haunt our politics but it’s daytime now so the ghosts are not going to be as scary during a moment where the country has this level of great hope, whether that hope is misplaced or not.
Gonda: Briefly Brian, what weaknesses and strengths have you seen in the MDC in terms of strategies?
Kagoro: I think that their greatest strength has been their ability to ignore great insults and there have been many. If they were to be childish they would have thrown out their toys a long time ago because things have not gone well for them in the last 100 days. Apart from being taken on a merry-go-round with regards to appointments, whether they be governors, permanent secretaries or ambassadors, there are also fundamentals like these fresh farm invasions, arrest of their allies and friends and all sorts of things but they’ve gone all out to try and collectively plead with international community to support recovery.
I think that one must commend them and some of their colleagues in Zanu who I think are trying to make what is a totally unworkable framework to yield some good in the short while that it subsists. So that’s one strength. The second one is we are increasingly seeing an attempt on their part to re-orientate themselves towards the larger African community and understand the dynamics and try and engage those dynamics, so the reference to SADC as opposed to the broader international community, be it assistance, even an engagement with the west and the north that they must, even in this moment of difficulty be an African solution. It’s something that must be commended.
I have not seen as much progressive stance on the part of their Zanu colleagues. As I have said, there are flickers of hope but on the whole Zanu PF really thinks that it has employed the MDC to play its international public relations game, sanitise Zanu in the international community so that Zanu can say to the rest of the world we’ve absolutely no crisis in Zimbabwe but for the sanctions.
Gonda: And weaknesses?
Kagoro: I think they are being kept as errand boys and girls. I’m not sure that questions raised in the past about party coherence, about structural coherence, about policy coherence have been attended to or about manpower development that you raised earlier on or person power developments. I’m not sure they still have their eyes on the ball which is the forthcoming election which is meant to be in two years. I think they are so fixated on trying to get this thing to work so that their detractors and critics don’t say to them we told you so, that they’ve lost the plot of the larger political game which is ultimately this must lead to an election of a democratic government by the popular vote of the people as opposed to the political settlement.
Gonda: And finally, the last time we spoke you were highly pessimistic or rather you were apprehensive of this inclusive government. Now do you think you have been vindicated?
Kagoro: I promised myself that I would not say I told you so partly because it would be immature to say so but I think that what I can say is some of the things that I predicted have happened. I indicated that there would be contentions around the appointment of permanent secretaries and ambassadors and other critical posts – we haven’t even gone to ministry directorates. I also indicated that Zanu would give in very little. I also was apprehensive that the current arrangement would not deliver on human rights questions and today as we speak it has hardly done so. There’s still the issue of Jestina Mukoko and other activists, the consistent harassment and arrest of journalists.
I was apprehensive whether these people were committed to working together. The to-ing and fro-ing that we have seen over very minor issues suggest to me that the readiness to work together is at a rhetorical level and I think they still have challenges at a practical level. But I’m more hopeful, not because of the inclusive government as I said to you but the general spirit of hope and I also think the positive spirit with which the broader African community, and even sections of the international community have welcomed even the slightest glimmer of hope in Zimbabwe and I think this will help to create a larger framework for hope and reconstruction.
And so whilst I am sceptical about the inclusive government as a creature and I’m skeptical about the commitment to it as a principle and working together I’m very hopeful that the sort of positive energy that has been ushered in will be harnessed appropriately and take us out of this dark hour. But if we don’t harness that energy, if we continue to play this childish politics of trying to prove who has more muscle and power I think the country will slip back into the abyss that it has been in and we will only have ourselves to blame. We will become a laughing stock to the rest of the continent.
Gonda: That was Brian Kagoro with his views on the programme Hot Seat. Brian thank you very much.
Kagoro: You’re welcome Violet.
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