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September 18, 2013

Mugabe's New Government Faces Old Challenges

by Sebastian Mhofu

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe officially opened the new parliament this week, with his ZANU-PF party now firmly in control after July's elections.  While the parliament has a huge task of ensuring all Zimbabwe’s laws are in line with the country’s new constitution, Mugabe’s major headache is on how to turn around a battered economy.

“Long live Zimbabwe!  Long live in our unity, diversity.  Long live in our peace and sovereignty,” said President Mugabe, ending his official opening of Zimbabwe’s parliament this week.  He told the new MPs elected in the July elections that 14 new bills would be brought to parliament so the government conforms with Zimbabwe’s new constitution, which came into effect in May.

Mugabe said Zimbabwe’s economic recovery would center on financial assistance from countries like India and China as part of his longstanding “Look East” policy.

Independent analyst Takura Zhangazha predicted that Zimbabwe's situation would improve in the next five years as long as the cabinet and parliament did not fool themselves about the country's problems.

“Zimbabwe will progress, there is no regression.  The big issue is his cabinet’s ability to perform and the majority of ZANU-PF in parliament to understand the key challenges the executive arm of government faces,” said Zhangazha.

Zimbabwe's economy rebounded under the coalition government that ended with the July 31 elections.  But at the moment, about 2.2 million Zimbabweans depend on food handouts; the unemployment rate hovers above 70 percent; and power cuts and unsafe drinking water have become the norm for most Zimbabweans.

On top of that, Western countries show no signs of restoring bilateral aid or removing financial and travel sanctions on Mugabe and his close political allies, who the U.S., Britain, and other countries accuse of election rigging and human rights abuses.

This week Mugabe said it was high time the West changes their hearts.

“With the elections now behind us, we look forward to meaningful and effective collaboration with all progressive members of the global community.  We indeed stand ready to work with those, who, before were at odds with us.  Our detractors.  On the other hand, Zimbabwe will continue to demand the immediate and unconditional removal of illegal sanctions imposed by some Western arrogant countries,” he said.

Bruce Wharton, the U.S. ambassador to Harare, said Washington remained ready to help Zimbabwe, though he mentioned nothing about sanctions.

“I am looking for all the ways that we can cooperate with the people and government of Zimbabwe... I think at this point we are providing about $95,000 a year in health assistance to the people of Zimbabwe, agricultural development, we are encouraging business and development.  I think our support for the people of Zimbabwe is pretty clear,” he said. 

Mgabe also announced this week that his government would move with “renewed vigor” on "indigenization" - his policy of giving a majority stake of foreign-owned companies to Zimbabwean blacks.  That policy has discouraged foreign investment in Zimbabwe, much like the  earlier seizures of white-owned farmland.