Zimbabwe: Mnangagwa’s growing love for rule-by-decree

By Michelle Chifamba
Posted on Thursday, 29 July 2021 15:46

Zimbabwe State of the Nation
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa delivers his State of the nation address at the opening session of parliament in Harare, Tuesday Oct. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been increasingly making use of Statutory Instruments (SI units) during his tenure as head of state. Analysts are describing it as a form of command politics steering him down the path to becoming one of the powerful authoritarian leaders of his time.

SIs are statutes implemented under the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act, which empowers the president to make temporary regulations that last a maximum of six months to address an urgent situation for which no other legislation exists, according to the Zimbabwe Democracy Institution (ZDI).

In the past three years, Mnangagwa has implemented more than 200 SIs, circumventing parliamentary law-making powers. The effects of such actions have further weakened the country’s economy.

Part of the landmark SIs include:

  • Issuance of RTG Dollar and the end of the 1:1 exchange rate to the US Dollar (SI 33/2019)
  • Full Return of the Zimbabwe Dollar as Legal Tender (SI 142/2019)
  • Offences and Penalties for Trading of Goods and Services in Foreign Currency (SI 213/2019)
  • The Financial Laws Amendment Regulations, to stabilise the banking system, (SI 127/ 2021)

Misuse of SIs

Urgent situations to consider when invoking SIs include those in areas of defence, public safety, public order, public health, public morality and the economic interests of Zimbabwe or the general public interest.

The pandemic has gradually become an enabler for authoritarian leaders to usurp the powers of parliament to pursue their own personal interests.

SI units are secondary pieces of legislation that can be used in times of emergencies to provide short-term responses. But how they are used is what has become increasingly problematic.

“Statutory Instruments are not wrong. What is worrying is the frequency of imposition that raises questions. It is like president Mnangagwa cannot rule or govern without implementing a statutory instrument,” Phekezela Gumbo, ZDI’s senior researcher, tells The Africa Report.

Rule by decree

“The manner in which they were introduced has not been ideal and Mnangagwa’s use of the Temporary Measures is going beyond the powers granted by the constitution. In most cases, the terms of the Statutory Instruments are dictatorial in process, creating conflict between citizens and policy makers, since most of the SIs are [more] reactionary than transparent,” says Gumbo.

As the world continues to grapple with the effects of the global pandemic, Zimbabwe remains under a state of emergency thereby requiring immediate solutions to impending problems. But as has been the case in certain countries, the pandemic has gradually become an enabler for authoritarian leaders to usurp the powers of parliament to pursue their own personal interests.

“There are issues that need representation of people, and [these should] not be legislated by one person… Those issues need parliamentary oversight for the greater good, to promote human rights,” says Gumbo.

Mnangagwa usurps parliamentary powers

Brewing himself into an authoritarian leader, Mnangagwa appears to be carrying the leadership mantle from his predecessor, the late Robert Mugabe, who centralised power and authority.

Despite having the majority of power in parliament, Mnangagwa makes use of the Presidential Powers Act to enforce law through the executive branch.

Owen Dhliwayo, a civil rights activist, tells The Africa Report that Zimbabwe’s constitution has loopholes that enable the president to create laws.

“Mnangagwa is using his presidential powers to make laws, hijacking the powers of parliament. The current [2013] constitution is not different [from] the Lancaster House Constitution, that was used by Robert Mugabe, in terms of the framework that governs the powers of the president,” says Dhliwayo.

“The only difference between Mnangagwa and his predecessor is that Mugabe was more strategic when implementing the SIs. Mugabe’s government enacted (SI 133/2016) -introducing Bond Notes and Coins – that worked as a stable surrogate currency at 1:1 exchange rate with the US Dollar. The Issuance of RTGS Dollar and [the] end of the 1:1 exchange rate to the US Dollar (SI 33/2019) severely tumbled the economy under Mnangagwa’s government in 2019,” says Dhliwayo.

As an authoritarian regime appears to be emerging under Mnangagwa, the government has taken to closing spaces of contention, with citizens and lawmakers incapacitated, without power to dispute.

“The government is imposing shortcuts, by-passing parliament criticism and oversight. Despite having [a] majority in parliament, legislatures are empowered through the constitution to practice oversight, debate and scrutiny. He is unitarily imposing SIs without public consultations, destabilising the economy and affecting national development,” says Dhliwayo.

Command economics

The imposition of SIs is a sign of bad economic policies under the country’s second republic that was premised on economic recovery, says Masimba Manyanya, an economist.

“We are in a total crisis. The imposition of Statutory Instruments by the president is a style of command economics to solve economic problems. When a government is continuously using SIs, it means that there are gaps in its policy-making process,” he says.

Unable to meet its supply-demand, Zimbabwe’s economy has been on a downward spiral for more than a decade. Affected by challenges of high inflation, unstable currency, company-closures (no-industries) and a weak agriculture sector, the economy suffers imposed SIs as a means to solve its economic problems.

“The country needs policies that are transparent, not reactionary. Zimbabwe does not need command policies that create conflict with the citizens or burden the tax-payer. The government needs to be truthful and transparent. The dictatorial SIs are a bad practice,” says Manyanya.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options