Saturday, 14 September 2013

A Belated Opinion on Zimbabwe’s not so new Cabinet.

By Takura Zhangazha*

A colleague asked if I had an opinion on Zimbabwe’s recently appointed cabinet. It’s a debate that I had been deliberately avoiding because there are a lot of more important and controversial opinions on the matter. These range from outright praise of President Mugabe’s choices to downright dismissal of the same. All of these initial assessments have largely stemmed from partisan standpoints. Some of them self righteous in victory, others bitter in defeat.

The reasons given by President Mugabe for his appointments have also had the effect of allowing him latitude to outline what he expects from his cabinet. This,  with the caveat that if he feels any of the ministers are underperforming, he will dismiss them. How the President will measure under-performance is not publicly known. Suffice to say, cabinet ministers are rarely fired. Instead, they tend to have their ministerial portfolios changed.

So if there is any particular certainty about what will happen to the new or re-appointed ministers, it is that they may most likely not serve in the same capacity for the duration of the five year mandate of this government.

It is however necessary to try and glean some political meaning of both the expectations as well as the capacity of cabinet to undertake work that makes Zimbabwe’s politics either more democratic or makes the economy responsive to the people’s needs.

For all the private and public assessments of the capacity of specific ministers to be able to offer the aforementioned improvements in their specific portfolios, there is one thing that stands out for scrutiny.
This being that before cabinet is disaggregated into individual characters, it should essentially be judged on the functional principle of collective responsibility.  

This means before we seek to analyse this single party executive arm of government on the basis of the personal characters of the persons in it, we must not only look at its shared agenda (party manifesto) but also its ability to function as a collective. Both in relation to its ability to shoulder an organic responsibility for the successes or failures  of its policies.

Given the manner in which it was appointed, it is least likely the cabinet will function any differently from previous ones. True to fashion, this new cabinet will tend more to function fully on the basis of the individual ministers awareness that they are in it solely on the basis of the benevolence of the President. And therefore before they achieve anything else as part of a collective, they are most likely to function and work in order to retain their individual positions as opposed to maintaining a semblance of collective responsibility. Even in the aftermath of an inclusive government.  

So with the passage of time, it will be individual ministers who will be measured as being either good or bad, and not the entirety of cabinet.  Any transgressions or failures to deliver will unfortunately not be measured on the basis of a collective government programme of action. Instead the judgment calls will be on which minister is savvy enough or fits a particular civil society stakeholder lexicon. 

This is why for example, the comparisons of Ministers Kasukuwere and Nhema have centered more on their assumed personal characters than the policies that they, on behalf of the cabinet, pursued in their previous capacities.

An added consideration when analyzing our new cabinet is what has inadvertently been cited by some analysts as its ‘revolving door’ framework (though not in those words). There are not many persons who are new to cabinet in President Mugabe’s team in the executive. Most of its members, save for at least five, have previously served in cabinet in one capacity or the other. 

This means that there is most likely a sense of entitlement to cabinet posts wither by virtue of proximity to the presidency, experience or particular roles played during the July 31 2013 campaign period. This less in terms of what is intended to be deliberately and conscientiously achieved and more in relation to what gives the appointed ministers a modicum of justification for their appointment. 

It is therefore more likely that their performance will be more in keeping with the default tradition of previous cabinets.  This is a tradition which generally emphasizes marking and keeping one’s turf without stepping on the toes of the President. While on the other hand the Zimbabwean public will also carry on with its own tradition of creating sarcasm and humour over and about cabinet ministers performances or roles (a tendency which has already been evidenced by the dry humor about Minister of State, Josiah Hungwe’s portfolio)

As I stated at the beginning of this article, the new cabinet was a matter I was willing to leave to others to debate and analyse. The colleague who requested an opinion from me on the same matter perhaps views these matters differently. I am however of the firm view that the cabinet will not differ spectacularly from previous ones (inclusive or otherwise). The more important task for Zimbabweans is to bring this cabinet to account. Not only in terms of the ruling party’s manifesto but more significantly on the basis of social democratic values and principles.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity. If you decide to use this article elsewhere please acknowledge that you got it from