Acrimony assured in new Zim Cabinet

Both Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe have stuffed the new Cabinet with close loyalists from their parties and critics fear the new ministers will be preoccupied more by the desire to outfox one another than by the urgency of solving the country’s crises.

Key MDC appointments
Tendai Biti—finance: Biti is known to have been opposed to the agreement to form a unity government, but he has now been asked to take charge of what most Zimbabweans hope will be the new government’s top priority—halting the country’s economic decline.

A brash lawyer known for speaking his mind—sometimes tactlessly according to colleagues—Tsvangirai could be hoping that Biti will use his strong personality to whip ministries into line, ending the wasteful spending of the past.

Should reserve bank Governor Gideon Gono stay, as many now believe will be the case, efforts towards recovery will likely be hamstrung by constant fights between Biti and Gono, whom the MDC secretary general has described as “an economic terrorist” who must be jailed for fuelling inflation.

Biti inherits an economy that has, over the past two weeks, become more liberal than it has ever been in its history. On the eve of the formation of the unity government, Mugabe shocked many by swinging wildy from a regime of tough economic controls to one so liberal that economists, and the MDC itself, warn he has let go of too much too quickly.

The reforms have further widened the gap between rich and poor, and Tsvangirai’s promise of paying 400 000 civil servant salaries in foreign currency will be the first big to-do item on Biti’s desk.

Biti is no diplomat, but he will need to harness some persuasive skills in order to convince sceptical donors to support his recovery plan.

Abednico Bhebhe—minister of water resources: The appointment of a water minister should not have raised much controversy, even in a country where the provision of clean water has become a central issue.

But Bhebhe is a member of a rival faction of the MDC and his appointment by Tsvangirai has caused a row in both camps. Bhebhe’s appointment is said to be a reward for his campaigning for Tsvangirai’s candidate for speaker last year over his faction’s own nominee. A group of MDC MPs met Tsvangirai on Tuesday to protest Bhebhe’s appointment.

The row has unfortunately soured relations between the two MDC factions at a time when they needed to forge an alliance to check Zanu-PF’s power in government.

Giles Mutsekwa—home affairs: Mutsekwa has the task of running one half of a ministry which will be shared with Zanu-PF.

He is an ex-army major who has served as the MDC’s secretary for intelligence, defence and security. Tsvangirai believes that his military background gives him the necessary backbone to run the ministry, which controls the police and the voters’ roll. His background as a soldier for the Rhodesian army may, however, be a source of conflict in a ministry which has for decades been dominated by former liberation war fighters.

Roy Bennet—deputy agriculture minister: The choice of Bennet, the MDC treasurer and a displaced white farmer, as deputy agriculture minister is risky.

Control over land and agriculture lies at the core of Mugabe’s power. Mugabe seized land held by whites for distribution to blacks to gain a foothold in rural constituencies. Land still remains an emotive, racially charged issue in Zimbabwe and appointing a white person to deputise a Zanu-PF minister sets the stage for acrimony on this key issue.

No major surprises are expected from Mugabe’s Cabinet appointments, which were due to be revealed on Friday as his trusted old guard is expected to return. Under the power-sharing agreement, Zanu-PF controls the security, agriculture and mining ministries.

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