PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe, sworn in for a seventh-consecutive term in office on Thursday last week, faces the unenviable task of pulling Zimbabwe out of the doldrums.
It is certain that how he performs in the next five years will make a lasting impression on his legacy that so far has been filled with several twists and turns of high and low points.
President Mugabe, who turns 90 next February, will now need to use all the political wit and acumen he has accumulated over the past 33 years at the helm of government to deal with a plethora of challenges that plague the country.
These include an economy in recession, pleasing an agitated public service, courting foreign investors and creating jobs for unemployed youths.
Estimates from the United Nations put the rate of unemployment in Zimbabwe at over 80 percent of the national population — with youths bearing the greatest brunt.
The myriad of challenges threaten to overshadow President Mugabe’s entry onto the political stage as the newly-elected Prime Minister of an independent Zimbabwe in 1980, an event which was celebrated with high hope, pomp and fanfare.
Handlers in ZANU-PF deliberately tried to “re-create” President Mugabe’s inauguration last week along the theme of 1980.
The celebratory mood of independence in 1980 was, however, short-lived in the mid 1980s as the Gukurahundi killings in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces tarnished President Mugabe’s early years in office — when nearly 20 000 people were killed.
Economic challenges which followed in the 1990s brought about by the implementation of the World Bank’s recommended Economic Structural Adjustment Programme was widely seen by political observers as the catalyst that sparked political and civil unrest in the country, which eventually culminated into the political tug-of-war that dominated Zimbabwe at the turn of the new millennium in 2000.
The height of political contestation between President Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) led to a deeply flawed election in 2008 and was the impetus to the formation of the government of national unity in February 2009.
President Mugabe routed his rival from the MDC-T in the July 31 election and won 61 percent of votes, against Tsvangirai’s 33 percent of the 3,4 million votes cast.
His win was roundly praised by most African countries but was unsurprisingly frowned upon by the West which held out “grave concerns” over the conduct of the election.
The West’s reservation over the poll is now certain to see the tightening of screws and maintenance of sanctions imposed on President Mugabe and ZANU-PF’s inner circle for the next five-years, a stance which does not augur well for prospects of attracting foreign interest.
The United States last week indicated that it would not lift sanctions imposed against President Mugabe and snubbed calls by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to have the decade-long sanctions removed.
In traditional rhetoric, President Mugabe began his new five-year term in office by launching an attack on the West that questioned his victory and promised in retaliation, that his ZANU-PF would now step up its election promise to roll-out the 51 percent indigenisation programme, which targets foreign-owned companies.
“As for the odd Western countries who happen to hold a different, negative view of our electoral process… we dismiss them as the vile ones whose moral turpitude we must mourn,” said President Mugabe in his inaugural address.
Rashweat Mukundu, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, said one of President Mugabe’s challenges was to manage a hostile international community and he has to work hard at normalising the frosty relations.
“While President Mugabe is digging in on his relationship with the West, he needs to be reminded that Zimbabwe is an invisible dot in world affairs and cannot do anything to the powerful Western countries and is better advised to seek a resolution than to prolong the fight,” said Mukundu.
“The ZANU PF government has promised a lot which is near impossible to fulfil and the party is distracted by the succession issue. By claiming this huge electoral victory, ZANU-PF has also put itself in a trap as the party will be judged harshly by voters.”
Other political obse-rvers said the inaugural speech delivered by President Mugabe reflected realism and showed a consciousness of the key domestic expectations upon the new government.
Trevor Maisiri, a senior analyst with the Interna-tional Crisis Group, said the biggest challenge for President Mugabe’s government was more about economic deliverables than anything else.
“Forget issues of legitimacy and issues of the MDC-T party challenges. The economy is the battleground this time around. The biggest challenge for President Mugabe is that even his own supporters are expecting miracles out of this economy in order for them to substantiate his legacy based on the capacity to fulfil his promises made during the election campaign period,” said Maisiri.
A top official at AfrAsia Kingdom Bank said so much of the country’s future depended on who gets the key economic postings in the new Cabinet.
“The market seems to be looking for firm leadership,” said the banking official.
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