The Sunday Mail
On April 6, 2018, a few journalists and I had the opportunity and privilege to travel with His Excellency, President Mnangagwa, on his maiden State visit to China.
He was just a few months in office then.
This was the first time I had close contact with him.
Previously, I had just observed him from a distance.
He always struck me as a quiet strategist.
This time, I had the opportunity to actually speak to him.
It so happened that the late Judith Makwanya and I were invited into their lounge to talk to the First Lady, Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa.
The President was there as well.
He already knew Judith and asked who I was as he gestured towards me.
Judith introduced me as managing editor of The Herald, a position I held at that time.
The President appeared to remember my name, but not the face.
We exchanged pleasantries and in those few minutes, I could tell he had a fatherly instinct, a critical attribute he surely needed to lead the nation.
Over the ensuing days, I would experience his other dimension — that he is a workaholic.
The tour turned out to be the most hectic, with a punishing schedule.
President Mnangagwa had meetings with President Xi Jinping of China.
He also had meetings with business executives from home and Zimbabweans who were living in the Asian country.
We travelled to three provinces, where he had a series of meetings with the business community and investors in each of them.
He initiated the “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra to lure investors.
One of the salient features was how he was very much at home when responding to questions from investors and Chinese officials.
No question was too difficult for him.
He was up to speed with issues.
Every day of the five-day tour had a series of meetings; there was hardly time to breathe.
Inwardly, I wondered about the size of his energy reserve.
On the fourth day of the visit, I looked at the list of items my family had asked me to buy with lingering sadness and unexpressed regret — there was no time for shopping.
It was a different ball game.
Indeed, it was business unusual.
But I still hoped on the last day, the itinerary would allow us some free time.
Apparently, I was daydreaming.
The President was immersed in work up to a few hours before take-off for home.
I could not help but marvel at such industry and application.
We actually had to sneak out of the hotel for just an hour, when we learnt that the President was having a private meeting, just to buy a few items for my family to pacify them (my boys are highly expectant when I go on trips, and I did not like the prospect of Armageddon when I got back!)
While my suitcase was almost empty as we went back home, my mind was full of lessons learnt from observing the President on this tour.
Hard work, allegiance to duty, passion for the country, astuteness, being knowledgeable and articulate are traits about him that I observed, and these have become more demonstrable in subsequent years.
On the flight back home, I wished in my heart of hearts that if only many of us could have such kind of drive to fashion the country we envisage, Zimbabwe would soon be the jewel of Africa it is supposed to be.
I had seen with my own eyes that in President Mnangagwa, we have a servant leader with aspirations to transform the country.
He practises what he preaches, that none but ourselves must build our country.
“Nyika inovakwa nevene vayo”.
As we disembarked on arrival at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, I thought it was obvious that everyone would rush home to catch up on sleep.
The more than 13 hours’ flight and the five-day schedule demanded rest and those so inclined could visit a massage parlour the next morning.
Perish the thought!
I was amazed to learn on ZBC News that the President had had two engagements on that day!
From the airport, he went straight to his office.
I felt guilty that perhaps I should have dashed to the office myself.
Maybe . . . just maybe, I would have done something to advance the country’s cause.
So, it was from my experience on the trip that I realised that the President’s offices at Munhumutapa Building were occupied by someone who clearly has the welfare of Zimbabwe at heart.
His inauguration speech began to replay in my mind, assuming even greater significance.
I began to realise that it was not just a motivational speech or some casual rhetoric just to endear himself with the crowd and dignitaries.
He meant every word he said.
“We have an economy to recover, a people to serve. Each and every one of us must now earn their hour, day, week and month at work. Gone are the days of absenteeism and desultory application, days of unduly delaying and forestalling decisions and services in the hope of extorting dirty rewards. That will have to stop,” he said.
Over the past five years, we have seen him do just that.
The introduction of 100-day cycles in Government have birthed a culture of discipline and hard work within ministries.
Add to that the introduction of performance contracts for civil servants, then his preoccupation with delivery becomes crystal clear.
Importantly, evaluative processes are in place, greater accountability established and responsibility deepened.
It is in this regard that confidence rises in the attainment of the upper middle-income economy by 2030.
That Zimbabwe will have sunny days echoes in all his speeches, engendering hope.
Even the deleterious effects of Covid-19 have not diminished this dominant belief in a brighter Zimbabwe.
On the contrary, it has strengthened resolve, consolidated ambition and elevated confidence.
Agriculture value chains are buzzing, mining is bursting with expectations and projections of exponential growth, tourism is on a recovery trajectory while capacity utilisation in the manufacturing sector is at its peak, hovering around 60 percent, the highest in a long time.
Inclusive growth is a constant refrain.
No one and no place should be left behind in this growth trajectory.
The emphasis on rural industrialisation, Pfu-mvudza/Intwasa, infrastructural developments and the increasing community radio stations cannot be ignored.
We have seen that increases in the gross domestic product (GDP) do not necessarily translate to broader national improvements or tangible benefits accruing to the majority of any given populace, but this narrative is changing in Zimbabwe.
The President is ensuring that requisite attention is given to the cause, and inclusive growth underpins strategy.
Furthermore, we have seen the President put an accent on the engagement and re-engagement drive primarily to mend relations, lure foreign investors and decidedly integrate Zimbabwe into the community of nations.
Escapades in Africa and beyond have yielded positive results.
The European Union has removed some of its sanctions on this country, while others have taken a softer stance on Zimbabwe.
We have seen increased inflows of foreign capital, improving trade and rising export receipts.
The new Brand Zimbabwe project is also quite strategic.
President Mnangagwa assumed office when this country was in dire straits.
Negative economic growth, dilapidated infrastructure, rampant corruption, scant social support services, international isolation, a glaring current account deficit, declining agricultural production, diminishing capacity utilisation, food shortages and much more. It would take monumental efforts to bring it on track.
There is light at the end of the tunnel.
Encouraging progress has been made on many fronts and there is no resting on our laurels.
Progress made in the last few years must give us even greater impetus to achieve more, deriving momentum and motivation in our demonstrable ability to do so.
Our education has transformed from 3.0 to 5.0, with the twin concepts of innovation and industrialisation incorporated, on top of the traditional thrust of teaching, research and community service.
This has seen the establishment of innovation hubs in universities and other tertiary institutions.
To their eternal credit, they have been responsive and have embraced this new thrust, with industry-relevant products being churned out and home-grown solutions being devised.
Entrepreneurship, too, has assumed greater importance in recognition of the role the informal sector, and small and medium enterprises play in this economy, contributing about 65 percent to GDP and employing over 80 percent of the population.
The progress made is unquantifiable, without saying we have reached the Promised Land. Far from it, our work is cut out but one cannot deny the milestones covered.
Those with sober minds and a genuine desire to see the country prosper have noted the huge progress made.
The President himself is not swayed by negative and cheap talk.
He remains singularly focused on his goals and aspirations to transform this country.
I have mentioned before that turning around a single corporate entity is challenging enough. Those in the field will be aware.
It is more complex to effect the same for a whole country.
One would require to balance innumerable competing and often conflicting national interests in the face of finite and oftentimes inadequate resources.
I have observed the President visit projects countrywide to assess their progress for himself and render support.
I am not privy to his work schedule except that which we are briefed on, but I would bet my bottom dollar that he spends more time in the trenches than he does in his office. He visits the length and breadth of the country, assessing projects on the ground.
There is greater production in rural areas.
Matabeleland water problems have been addressed and bridges built, even in some remote areas, while social safety nets have been strengthened and are receiving funding, relative to budgetary considerations.
The President maintains an open mind.
He is not impervious to criticism or averse to suggestions.
Just recently, he asked delegates at an investors’ forum to narrate Government weaknesses, a salient acknowledgement that we each have a role to play and we can edify each other by incorporating input from other players.
National Development Strategy 1 is well-crafted and looks set to usher this country into the envisaged upper middle-income status.
While our Achilles heel has been failure to execute, evidence abounds of milestones on the ground.
The President also introduced the post-Cabinet briefings to keep the nation informed and updated of programmes and projects.
This further underlines accountability and responsibility.
This was previously unknown.
There is so much that still needs to be done.
The economy is still fraught with a number of challenges that need redress, corruption still rears its ugly head, the health sector needs more funding and there are other challenges that need attention.
The road to a better Zimbabwe is still facing impediments here and there, but we are not blind to achievements made thus far.
Let us celebrate them as we work towards resolving that which stands in the way of the Zimbabwe we want.
We say happy birthday to His Excellency and may God continue to grant you wisdom, strength and courage as you execute your duties.
In God I Trust!