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.