ZIMBABWE President Robert Mugabe said Tuesday that he welcomed western re-engagement in his country’s economy, the first such statement in a decade and a half of strained relations with the U.S. and Europe.\r\n\r\nGiving his State of the Nation address in the capital, Harare, Tuesday, Mugabe, 91, also called for strengthening of ties with multilateral institutions, which include the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.\r\n\r\n“My government values re-engagement of the western world in the Zimbabwe economy” he said.\r\n\r\nThe southern African nation owes lenders about $8.4 billion, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa said Nov. 27. The IMF began a staff monitoring programme in Zimbabwe in 2013, its first formal contact with the country in more than a decade. The economy will probably expand 1.5% this year from an initial projection of 3.2 percent, Mugabe said, blaming drought.\r\n\r\nZimbabwe will seek to “repeal all laws that hamper business,” he said, and the government has a plan to revive agriculture, including cotton, and expand the mining industry.\r\n\r\nMugabe, who’s ruled the former British colony since 1980, said his government will create an “Anti-Corruption Trust” to battle graft, which he said is “killing the country.”\r\nSignificantly, this was Mugabe’s first State of the Nation address since 2007, the era when inflation was in the billions.\r\n\r\nMail & Guardian Africa’s Harare-based sister publication NewsDay noted in its online report of the event that; “Mugabe’s usual apostolic sect praise-singers [were] conspicuous by their absence outside the National Assembly. Nothing like the usual pomp and fanfare associated with such events”, ahead of the Zimbabwe’s leader’s arrival.\r\n\r\nIt also said Mugabe left the house “amid chaos as opposition MPs asked him about the whereabouts of Dzamara and the promised 2 million jobs”.\r\n\r\nHuman rights activist Itai Dzamara was abducted in March 9 this year by as yet unknown assailants, and is still missing. His family accuses state elements of a role in his disappearance.\r\n\r\nHowever, ruling Zanu-PF rallied for Mugabe and “started singing in praise of their leader”.\r\n\r\nMugabe is a close ally of China, and with commodities tanking, its slowing economy might be one of the factors informing the veteran’s softening attitude to the west.\r\n\r\nAnother of our sister publications in Zimbabwe, The Independent, recently reported that even Beijing has become uneasy about the state of economic stewardship in Zimbabwe.\r\n\r\nIt reported that China had briefly seconded experts to the Office of the President and government departments in a move aimed to help Harare better implement deals signed between the two countries last year. It would be unusual, echoing the “meddling” that Mugabe long criticised institutions like the IMF and World Bank for.\r\n\r\nThe Independent also said that while China had committed to funding key infrastructure developments in the country, it was also “reportedly worried about leakages in government, hence the seconding of officials to set up tight financial systems, among other objectives”.\r\n\r\nLast year, for instance, China, through Eximbank Bank, provided the Harare City Council with US$144.4 million for the rehabilitation of waterworks, but part of the money was allegedly instead diverted to purchase 50 top-of-the-range vehicles worth over US$2 million for politicians and officials.\r\n\r\nZimbabwe has also been failing to repay loans of about US$1. 5 billion provided by the Chinese. There are indications that some of the money was misused and could not be accounted for, The Independent said.