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Mugabe Launches Promised Changes to Zimbabwe Government - 2003-11-07

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has begun instituting a series of changes he promised a week ago, aimed at resolving the country's economic and political problems. Some of the most significant changes may still be ahead.

President Mugabe promised the changes at a meeting of his ruling ZANU-PF party central committee meeting last Friday. He said the changes would start with a restructuring of the central bank to enable the country to deal with issues, such as the chronic shortage of foreign currency, high inflation and high interest rates. He said changes to other key national institutions and the Cabinet would follow.

Mr. Mugabe made good on his first promise by appointing banker Gideon Gono to the governorship of the central bank on Tuesday. Mr. Gono is the successful head of a commercial bank, and is viewed as a ruling party sympathizer.

The president also appointed four new provincial governors. One of the new appointees went straight from the army to his new post.

More significant, however, was the announcement that the commander of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces, General Vitalis Zvinavashe, will retire next month. General Zvinavashe, a veteran of Zimbabwe's liberation war, made news ahead of last year's presidential election, when he announced that the armed forces were not prepared to salute a president who did not have liberation war credentials. Mr. Mugabe was a key leader of that effort. His main opponent, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, was not involved.

Analysts see the general's retirement as a prelude to his appointment as the country's second vice president, a position left vacant by the death of Vice President Simon Muzenda in September. Mr. Muzenda's replacement has been the subject of intense speculation. If President Mugabe dies or retires, his party must choose one of the vice presidents to succeed him and prepare for elections.

Political analyst John Makumbe of the citizens' group, Crisis in Zimbabwe, thinks General Zvinavashe is likely to get the nod, because his loyalty to the president is not in question, while other front-runners are more independent-minded.

"They have not been pushovers for Mugabe, they have not jumped when he says jump, they have sometimes questioned his decision making, and if you like his wisdom and so they are not really trusted," he said. "Some of these people have not been loyal, or they have been loyal in a way, which makes Mugabe very nervous."

The changes come ahead of the ruling party's national conference early next month. Many observers expect Mr. Mugabe, who is 79 years old and has been in power for 23 years, to announce a timeframe for his retirement at the conference.