Mugabe scuttles re-engagement hopes


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ZIMBABWE – Zimbabwe is in the throes of a debilitating economic and political crisis and President Robert Mugabe is expected to lead from the front in order to take the country out of the mire. 

Mugabe’s technocrats led by Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa have been criss-crossing the globe seeking balance of payments support, 15 years after Mugabe stuck his finger into the nose of multi-lateral institutions and powerful Western countries at the height of the political fallout.

However, since winning the 2013 elections, Mugabe has markedly reduced his belligerent talk and seems to have made overtures. There are indications he may now be ready to get down his political high-horse in order to engage the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB). In turn, the Bretton Woods institutions have also indicated they are ready to hear Zimbabwe’s case.

Just over a week before the IMF and the WB meet in the Peruvian capital Lima for their annual general meetings, Mugabe’s administration has requested that a meeting be held on the sidelines in order for his lieutenants to present their debt payment plan and a reform agenda that requires massive funding.

However, presented with an opportunity to woo global leaders and plead with them for acceptance at the recent UN General Assembly meeting in the United States, Mugabe instead returned to his old self, berating the West for assuming the position of “global prefects”.

“We reject the politicisation of this important issue [sexual orientation] and the application of double standards to victimise those who think and act independently of the self-anointed prefects of our time. “We equally reject attempts to prescribe ‘new rights’ which are contrary to our values, norms, traditions and beliefs. We are not gays!” Mugabe said.

As Mugabe spoke, the Gays and Lesbian Association of Zimbabwe (Galz) was being conferred with the Felipa de Souza 2015 Outright Action International award for the second time in 10 years. The group has valiantly been fighting for the recognition of the rights of LGBTI people in Zimbabwe, even as Mugabe has described them as “worse than pigs and dogs”.

Chesterfield Samba, Galz director told The Standard in an interview last week that “we need to be strong, refuse to capitulate”.

“We have always maintained that the leadership continues to fuel public prejudice against LGBTI people through public statements that serve to endorse violence and abuse. We feel that the executive needs to stop making populist statements that worsen the situation for LGBTI people,” he said.

“It emerges that a lot of the violations perpetrated against the LGBTI community are driven by homophobia emanating from society’s conservative cultures; strong and sometimes fundamentalist beliefs as well as influence from utterances made by political and other influential leaders,” Samba added.

“Galz may seem small and insignificant, but human rights are not about numbers. In fact, human rights exist as much to protect minorities from the excesses of the majority as they do to protect populations from excesses of the State. Small and often unforeseen victories often turn out to be as important as any major breakthrough and just hanging in there and waiting for a chance to seize is a valid enough reason to exist”.

With the whole country on edge and waiting with bated breath for any flicker of economic hope, Mugabe may have extinguished everything in one sweeping move with his UN utterances.

And, while Mugabe was gushing vitriol against Zimbabwe’s would-be benefactors, back home, his nephew Patrick Zhuwao — recently appointed Youth and Indigenisation minister — was doing worse. Zhuwao was telling the West to “go to hell because we do not need them”. While Chinamasa is at pains trying to tone down the rhetoric coming from Harare, Zhuwao is stoking the fire.

Chinamasa has found an unlikely sympathiser in his predecessor and opposition People’s Democratic Party leader, Tendai Biti.

“The Zanu PF government is not ready for engagement and the IMF and World Bank should not waste their time. It is only a post-Mugabe administration that will be capable of turning around this economy and will be ready to be engaged into the family of nations,” he said.

“They have done nothing to deserve the re-engagement being touted; they have not removed the ghost workers because that is tantamount to taking down their political architecture. Mugabe’s nephew Zhuwao has let the cat out of the bag, indicating they would rather fire Chinamasa than allow him to remove ghost workers,” Biti added.

“Political expediency will always win over economic rationale when it comes to Zanu PF. They have done nothing as regards the toxic Indigenisation law or creating an enabling environment for economic growth and investment.”
Former Zanu PF politburo member and ex-Finance minister Simba Makoni, leader of Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn, said Mugabe is a politician with “no empathy towards the economy”.

“Mugabe is hostile to the economy and has been all his life. He is suspicious of economic actors, whether local or foreign, and has always believed that the Bretton Woods institutions are an extension of the so-called regime change agenda,” he said.

“I would not have expected him to act any better or less. That was vintage Mugabe [speaking at the UN].”

But economist Prosper Chitambara seemed to agree with Mugabe, that the Western world has politicised the issue of homosexual rights.

“It is allowed to differ on certain issues. There will always be arguments on whether the IMF and the World Bank are pro-development and their role in this,” he said.

“I personally would want Zimbabwe to look inwards and deal ruthlessly with hard reforms, including political issues. Of course, we need the support of the West, but there is also need for Zimbabweans to unite around a single value system and agree on what needs to be done now,” Chitambara said. “There is need for a lot of political will in order to deal with the hard structural problems facing our country”.

A seemingly contrite Chinamasa told journalists in the capital, “It was agreed at the spring meetings that the Lima meeting was going to be the platform to engage with major decision-makers and decide on how we will settle our arrears, not the debt, but the arrears”.

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