/ 5 March 2008

Mugabe: Makoni candidacy a UK ploy

Former finance minister Simba Makoni’s decision to enter the presidential race is a ploy by former colonial power Britain to divide Zimbabweans, a state-controlled newspaper reported long-time President Robert Mugabe as saying on Wednesday.

Mugabe told ruling Zanu-PF supporters at a rally in Chipinge, eastern Manicaland province, that voters have to ”bury British regime-change schemes”, the Herald reported.

Mugabe (84) has been intensely annoyed by Makoni’s decision to challenge him in the March 29 polls. State media in Zimbabwe this week accused British firm Citigroup of backing Makoni’s presidential bid, a claim dismissed as ”absolute rubbish” by a company spokesperson.

Makoni maintains he is aiming for leadership change and not regime change in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe government regularly accuses its opponents — including the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), whose leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, is also standing in the polls — of working with Britain to overthrow Mugabe.

At a rally in Bazely Bridge, also in Manicaland, Mugabe said that ”the British had identified people within Zanu-PF to work with in causing divisions in the party because it realised the ruling party was a united revolutionary liberation movement that had to be destroyed from within”, the Herald said.

Mugabe handed out more than 200 computers to schools in Manicaland and promised farm equipment and food because ”food shortages are looming”, the report said.

Foreign assistance

Meanwhile, reviving Zimbabwe’s moribund economy would require inflation-battered citizens to swallow the bitter pill of reduced state spending and higher interest rates to attract foreign cash, analysts say.

The ousting of Mugabe is essential to pave the way for reforms to put the country back on track, they believe, and drastic steps are required to re-instil investor confidence.

”They would have to completely reverse the policies of the current government, drastically cut on expenditure and push up interest rates,” said Anthony Hawkins, an economics professor at the University of Zimbabwe.

”It’s impossible to see a solution without some kind of foreign assistance, so whoever wins will have to go on their knees to ask for aid.”

Mugabe is to seek a sixth term in office in joint presidential and parliamentary polls next month at a time the country’s official inflation rate exceeds a mind-boggling 100 000%.

Zimbabwean unemployment stands at about 80%, even basic foodstuffs are scarce, and the general infrastructure is rapidly crumbling. Life expectancy has plummeted to 37 years for men and 34 for women.

Mugabe is widely blamed for the state of affairs over his controversial land-reform policies — seizing white-owned farms for redistribution to landless black Zimbabweans and all but killing commercial agriculture and scaring off foreign investors.

But the octogenarian leader blames his country’s woes on targeted sanctions imposed on himself and members of his inner circle by the European Union and United States following 2002 elections the opposition and Western observers said were flawed.

Analysts said any government elected on March 29 would have its work cut out to attract trade partners.

”There is need for an immediate post-election programme that will have to remove price controls [and] subsidies, and interest rates have to be removed upwards,” said Harare-based economist Witness Chinyama.

”There is also need to come up with policies that will attract foreign direct investment in this country.”

While Makoni has declined to elaborate on his economic vision, the MDC said it planned to reduce money supply, liberalise foreign-exchange markets and restore relations with former trading partners to spur economic recovery.

It would also provide loans to help failed companies back on their feet, halve the number of Cabinet ministers to save money, and woo back professionals who have left the country.

”The MDC does not think that these goals can be achieved easily or quickly and recognises that any stabilisation and recovery programme will inevitably involve both sacrifice and hardships,” party spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said.

”It [MDC] will not only inherit a collapsed economy, failing infrastructure and a massive humanitarian crisis, but also a civil service that is highly politicised and decimated by the loss of both skills and experience.”

Zimbabwe central bank governor Gideon Gono said last month he was drafting a new economic blueprint for ”price stability, inflation control, investment promotion, as well as revamping the general productivity levels of the country”.

Analysts say the country’s economic future is closely tied to the as-yet-unpredictable outcome of the elections.

”The state of the economy is attached to Bob [Mugabe]. If he goes, the economy will improve. But if he stays, things would continue as they are,” said Godfrey Kanyenze, chief economist of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.

Hawkins predicted that not much would change under Makoni, who was likely to continue pursuing Zanu-PF policies.

”Tsvangirai would be able to get foreign aid and assistance, but the question is, will he win?” — Sapa-dpa, AFP