World War III: Biti vs. Gono for Zimbabwe's finances

HARARE – Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is expected on Tuesday to name his cabinet team to serve in a unity government with President Robert Mugabe, officials of Tsvangirai's party said amid reports that Tendai Biti is set to take on Gideon Gono in the Ministry of Finance as first reported by The Zimbabwe Mail.

Gono is Robert Mugabe’s rogue Central Bank Governor. 

Tsvangirai, who agreed to form a coalition with Mugabe last week, will be sworn in as prime minister on Wednesday under a power-sharing deal designed to end Zimbabwe’s political crisis and revive an economy in a state of collapse.

Senior Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) officials said party Secretary General Tendai Biti was frontrunner to be finance minister, who will need the confidence of foreign donors and investors. The joint cabinet will be sworn in on Friday.

"Barring any last minute changes I can say Biti will certainly be the man at finance," an MDC official told Reuters.

A party spokesman said an announcement was due at 1000 GMT.

Analysts believe Mugabe and Tsvangirai, two old foes faced with the prospect of working together, will appoint political allies rather than technocrats and economists who might have better qualifications for rebuilding the ruined country.

Appointing Biti, a lawyer and founding MDC member who fiercely opposed compromise with Mugabe, to the finance ministry could reinforce that view.

It also raises the risks of confrontation between him and Central Bank Governor Gideon Gono, a Mugabe ally. 

Zimbabwe was once the breadbasket of southern Africa and one of the continent’s most promising economies but hyperinflation means prices now double every day, unemployment is over 90 percent and the currency is almost worthless.

ASSURANCES SOUGHT

Western donors want assurances that the new government will be a democratic one prepared to make bold economic reforms, such as reversing laws that aimed to nationalise mines and banks.

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 which have been devastated by Zimbabwe’s 10-year economic crisis.

Critics say Mugabe has brought Zimbabwe’s economy to its knees with reckless policies while the veteran leader blames Western sanctions. But Tsvangirai has not spelled out how he would bring financial stability.

Central bank governor Gono has in the past dismissed an idea floated by South African President Kgalema Motlanthe that Zimbabwe’s dollar be linked to the rand.

Namibia, Swaziland and Lesotho all use the rand alongside their own currencies but South Africa’s Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni has in the past ruled out a formal arrangement with Zimbabwe.

Tsvangirai is also expected to include MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa in the cabinet, as well as Eric Matinenga, a prominent lawyer who has defended Tsvangirai in the past and Elias Mudzuri, a former mayor for Harare, the officials said.

Biti, 42, is a senior partner at a Harare law firm which focuses on human rights, labour and constitutional law. A magistrate court last week dropped a treason charge against Biti. He denied the charge.