Zimbabwe's national unity government emerged Monday from a weekend retreat and launched into day one of an ambitious 100-day program to jump-start the economy, re-engage the international community, and restore media freedom among other goals.
Minister of State Gorden Moyo, attached to the office of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, said the clock started on Monday for the turnaround effort organized under five "clusters" including the economy, security, infrastructure, social services, and interests and rights.
He said the Friday-Sunday retreat by cabinet ministers and their deputies in the resort town of Victoria Falls, sponsored by the World Bank and international donors, achieved its prime objective of team-building between the government's disparate political elements.
The unity government was formed in February by President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, with a smaller MDC formation led by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara. The government resolved an impasse following March 2008 elections which were followed by violence.
Few details were provided as to how the government would thaw a media environment which has seen newspapers shuttered and journalists harassed for most of the past decade. But the notion of media liberalization received a public endorsement by Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, who said a climate was sought "where divergent voices will be heard."
It remains to be seen whether ZANU-PF, which controls the Information Ministry, is ready to give up the state's monopoly on domestic radio and television broadcasts, or to accept the launch of a daily newspaper which will aggressively cover and challenge authorities. Such a newspaper, the Daily News, closed its doors in 2003 under state pressure.
The cabinet also pledged to improve prison conditions. A recent investigative report by South African television documented horrific conditions inside Zimbabwe's prisons and alleged that at least 20 prisoners were dying each day from malnutrition and disease.
Moyo told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the government did not mean to say it would accomplish all of its objectives within 100 days, merely take steps to launch a broad array of initiatives essential to rebuilding and reactivating Zimbabwe.
Some observers voiced skepticism the government could achieve such lofty goals, among them Earnest Mudzengi, director of the National Constitutional Assembly, who questioned whether the ZANU-PF component of the government would support genuine reform.
Health Minister Henry Madzorera set his own 100-day target: bringing the cholera epidemic that has claimed more than 400 lives in the country to an end.
Dr. Madzorera tells reporter Marvellous Mhlanga-Nyahuye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe he will pursue restoration of the health care system over the next three months.More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...