Zimbabwe parties focus on alliances, not economy

HARARE – Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe and rival Morgan Tsvangirai are expected to appoint political allies to a unity government who lack the credentials to lure Western donors and investors to rebuild the ruined economy.

Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is due to join Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party in government on Friday under a September power-sharing pact.

Tsvangirai will become prime minister and is due to be sworn in on Wednesday alongside his MDC deputy Thokozani Khupe and MDC faction leader Arthur Mutambara, who will both be deputy prime ministers.

Speculation is rife in the local media that Mugabe and Tsvangirai will appoint their close political lieutenants into a 32-member cabinet whose major challenge will be to turn around an economy ravaged by the world’s highest inflation rate, put at over 231 million percent last June.

Analysts say the country needs a high profile economist or technocrat who commands international respect and neither side can afford to spend time forging political alliances.

"The names being floated around are all very familiar and expected, and unfortunately none of these people have the solid international credentials that can help the government to manage the economic crisis we are facing," said Eldred Masunungure.

"I think for the economic ministries, the parties should have cast their nets wider and outside their established ranks to get real skilled people with business or financial experience to help out," Masunungure told Reuters.

Western donors want assurances that the new government will be a democratic one prepared to make bold economic reforms, tall demands in a country that witnessed violence and power-sharing negotiations often close to collapse after elections. 

While critics say Mugabe has brought Zimbabwe’s economy to its knees with reckless policies, Tsvangirai has only made vague promises and not spelled out how he would bring financial stability.

Under Zimbabwe’s laws, only members of parliament can become cabinet ministers but the power-sharing deal also allows Mugabe and Tsvangirai to nominate unelected members to the Senate.

The two could use this window to appoint technocrats into cabinet but analysts say they will likely choose ministers from inside their ranks to strengthen party unity ahead of expected elections after about two years.

CRITICAL REFORMS

John Robertson, a leading economic consultant, said although Zimbabwe would be better off if technocrats occupied key posts, it was now more important for old foes Mugabe and Tsvangirai to agree on reforms and inspire international confidence.

"I think they have to get the policy framework right first, and then in Zimbabwe’s case, it is convincing the world that we are putting bad politics and bad policies behind us … and that’s going to take a while," he said.

Mugabe — whose ZANU-PF will retain greater control of the security ministries, mines and agriculture — is expected to bring back into the government party officials who helped him make a political comeback after losing the first round of the presidential election in March.

These include Emmerson Mnangagwa, seen as his potential successor, current Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Labour Minister Nicholas Goche.

Tsvangirai’s team is expected to include MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti, tipped to become finance minister, and 31-year-old party spokesman Nelson Chamisa who would be the youngest minister in the cabinet. 

Eric Matinenga, a prominent lawyer who has defended Tsvangirai in the past, is also expected to join the cabinet.

Tsvangirai’s party will largely be in charge of economic and social ministries such as health and education, water, energy and power development — all sectors have been devastated in Zimbabwe’s 10-year economic crisis.

Taking over the finance ministry will put enormous pressure on Tsvangirai to show millions of desperate Zimbabweans, as well as the international community, that he has a strategy to tackle severe food and fuel shortages and high unemployment.

He may be pre-occupied by trying to make sure Mugabe, a master political tactician, does not outfox him as the two sides compete to steer policies.

The southern African country has turned from a regional bread basket into a basket case where more than half its people are surviving on food aid and a quarter have been forced to flee abroad as economic refugees.

Mugabe, who will be 85 later this month and has been in power since Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980, says the economy has been strangled by Western countries opposed to his seizures of white-owned farms for blacks.

But Zimbabweans are tired of accusations and counter accusations made by Mugabe and Tsvangirai. They want relief and few care who provides it. Hardships are deepening by the day.

The deadliest cholera outbreak in Africa in 15 years has added to the urgency. The number of people suffering from cholera in Zimbabwe has risen to more than 69,000 cases, U.N. figures showed. The epidemic has killed 3,397 people out of 69,317 cases since August.