HomeOpinion & AnalysisKazungula: Tied in own knickers

Kazungula: Tied in own knickers

By Paidamoyo Muzulu

THE post-November 2017 administration is desperate for good news, so desperate that it has gone a notch higher in the art of spinning news. It is in love with grandiose projects and for that it needs no inconvenient facts in its way like what transpired in the Kazungula Bridge project.

Its appetite to be quickly distinguished from the long durée late former President Robert Mugabe was clear from the start. President Emmerson Mnangagwa was excited to be the new sheriff in town.

Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba and State-owned media went into overdrive to paint a rose-tainted picture of economic development.

The citizens were bamboozled with new words like “mega deals”, a term that was used to promote any memorandum of understanding signed between Zimbabwe and any third party. At last count, the mega deals were valued at US$17 billion.

Mnangagwa was portrayed as having secured investment bigger than Mugabe had done in 37 years.

Journalists ceased to be inquisitive, they published as given without any attempt to explain what the memorandum of understanding entailed.

They were also fixated with the figures. Zimbabwe’s two-decade moribund economy was projected as having an overnight rise from the ashes.

Mnangagwa’s advisers had another smart idea of rebranding their man, they ordered him to wear the woolen scarf with national colours at every photo opportunity irrespective of the weather.

They argued he had to stand out from the crowd and yes, he did stand out in the pictures.

The administration’s spin doctors had forgotten one golden truth — time reveals the truth. As time inched forward, the many memoranda of understanding and purported mega deals were proved to be empty.

Zimbabwe had to do a lot before foreign direct investments could start flowing in.

It had so much to do, currency issues, taxation laws, respect of the rule of law and generally have investment drivers like energy, roads and water available twenty-four-seven.

Last week, the administration found a way to bring itself back into the limelight.

The spin doctors again went into  overdrive in reporting Zimbabwe as a partner in the majestic Kazungula Bridge that spans across the Zambezi River from Botswana to Zambia.

Zimbabwe, the State-media claimed, had joined the project soon after the coming in of the “new dispensation.”

Mnangagwa could not afford to miss the opportunity of such a mega project to be at least part of his signature projects after the Mbuya Nehanda statue and the reopening of the Management Training Bureau, among others.

The Herald on Monday screamed: “President Mnangagwa will today join his Botswana and Zambian counterparts for the commissioning of the Kazungula Bridge to which Zimbabwe is now part of having been included in the project thanks to the re-engagement and engagement efforts of the Second Republic.”

They maintained the narrative although Botswana government clearly stated that the bridge was jointly owned by Zambia and Botswana.

To bolster its position, Botswana further put into the public domain how the project was financed and one glaring fact was Zimbabwe had contributed absolutely nothing to the project.

Left with nowhere to run, Charamba, the presidential spokesperson, had no option but explain whether Zimbabwe was part to Kazungula project or not.

He could not put this position in The Herald but tweeted it on his personal account @Jamwanda2.

“What ignorant pundits on Kazungula debate never want to know: 1) “A tripartite agreement was reached that Zimbabwe will become part of the project once it pays its own contribution.

“Discussions smoothly underway. Until that payment is done, Kazungula remains jointly owned by Botswana and Zambia.

“It is that straightforward.”

It, therefore, follows, Mnangagwa was a mere invited guest as a neighbour and nothing else at the commissioning of the bridge.

Any amount of propaganda will not change that fact.

The debacle teaches the country a few things. The administration has to be truthful to its citizens.

It has to accept that action speaks for itself and more importantly, rave reviews in the media means nothing when real action on the ground is absent.

This was a bad week for Mnangagwa. The President had to sign the contested Constitutional Amendment No 2 into law.

The law is seen as giving him imperial powers and saving Chief Justice Luke Malaba from retiring. Mnangagwa could not disappoint his critics, he went on to extend Justice Malaba’s tenure although the matter is pending before the courts.

This drama, like the Kazungula Bridge, is a drama Zimbabwe cannot afford. It will be on international news, back on the spotlight like 2000.

Mnangagwa will be left bruised from it whether the courts rule the amendment to be constitutional or not. His stature would be demeaned, worse for a person who willed external validation after the November 2017 coup.

If Mnangagwa has pride, he must be feeling wounded by the mismanaged information flow from his office, the attempt to please him more than to tell the truth to citizens. He must be angry that each day he is becoming more of a cartoon character and a butt of jokes.

Kazungula was his undoing. It was a circus not worth it. He became a monkey in the zoo not because of his liking, but his praise singers who did not want inconvenient truths in the way of their propaganda. The end result was hilarious — getting tied in own knickers.

  • Paidamoyo Muzulu is a journalist based in Harare. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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