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Zimbabweans Express Optimism After SADC Approves Reconstruction Plan

Zimbabweans have welcomed news that the Southern African Development Community's (SADC) approval of Harare's reconstruction plan, amounting to $8.5 billion. The SADC leaders currently meeting in Swaziland Monday approved Zimbabwe's reconstruction plan that would initially need about $2 billion to jumpstart the faltering economy. Under the reconstruction plan, SADC included $2 billion in short term aid to kick start the collapsed economy, comprising $1 billion in loans and another $1 billion in aid. Political analyst George Mkwananzi tells reporter Peter Clottey that Zimbabweans are expressing optimism about the reconstruction plan put forward by the new unity government.

"Obviously, Zimbabweans are going to be ecstatic about this news, which is quite good to the ears. No Zimbabwean is happy to be scattered around the globe. They would want to come back home and live meaningful lives. So I am very sure that they are very happy with this news," Mkwananzi pointed out.

He said the regional body has a herculean task in its bold attempt in supporting Harare's reconstruction plan.

"I'm sure you will appreciate the fact that SADC took a pivotal role in bringing together the parties that were in conflict. And this they regard as an egg that is laid by them, and they have duty to make sure that they incubate the egg until it hatches. And this is a demonstration of that willingness by SADC to make sure that the arrangement in Zimbabwe not only succeeds, but also flourishes. I'm aware that they are limited in terms of resources within their member countries, but they will obviously look to the international community to assist Zimbabwe by way of financial aid," he said.

The international community, including Washington and the European Union, has been cautious about lifting sanctions against Zimbabwe, saying the new government has a long way to go in order for those sanctions to be lifted. George Mkwananzi says this distrust of the new Zimbabwe administration by both Washington and the European Union are spot on, due to the actions of President Robert Mugabe.

"We know the skepticism of the west towards Zimbabwe. But that is mainly emanating from the behavior of particularly Robert Mugabe, who has not shown sufficient good will to see this arrangement (unity government) work," Mkwananzi noted.

He said the regional body could push in more ways than one for Harare to gain financial support from the international lending institutions.

"With sufficient mobilizing and lobbying, they should be able to persuade those that have the financial muscle to help Zimbabwe. I think it all boils down to political good will and the international willingness to give Zimbabwe an ear, give SADC an ear and give Zimbabwe a chance to restart," he said.

Mkwananzi said most Zimbabweans are expecting soon to see the fruits of the support the country should be receiving.

"I think the time frame for things to begin to manifest an improvement in the lives of the ordinary Zimbabwean should be urgent. It must begin to show fruit immediately because the people of Zimbabwe suffered for too long. Amenities have collapsed, the education sector, the health sector and these are the things that made them vulnerable to outbreaks of diseases such as the cholera," Mkwananzi pointed out.

Zimbabwe's new cabinet has unveiled an economic recovery plan that slashed price controls, eased import restrictions and made the South African rand the currency of reference -- after the local Zimbabwe dollar collapsed in value, leaving it worthless.

Member states of SADC agreed that starting from next week, individual governments would each decide what they could afford to give in support of Harare's reconstruction plan. They would try to mobilize funds to supplement the efforts of the regional block from international donors and international financial institutions.

The Africa Union and regional body SADC have urged both Washington and the European Union to lift sanctions against Zimbabwe now that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has joined President Mugabe's ZANU-PF party to form a unity government under SADC-backed peace efforts.

Meanwhile, neighboring South Africa has pledged to provide credit lines and some project finance. Pretoria adds that it will inquire whether the International Development Corporation (IDCY) and the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) have in mind bankable projects in the Zimbabwe plan that they could finance.

Harare has recently expressed confidence that the International Monetary Fund would assist the country's faltering economy, despite the lender's concerns raised during a recent mission to the country. The government hopes the IMF will take note that Zimbabwe can return to its former preeminence as a breadbasket for the Southern Africa region. The IMF recently set conditions for any new lending, including Harare's ability to rally donor support and settle more than $125 million in arrears.