Mugabe swings last missile

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe made a powerful pitch for his re-election at the end of the 13th Zanu PF annual convention but even some of his hardcore supporters privately acknowledge his gamble is dicey.

Turning 89 in February, Mugabe reinforced the indigenisation and empowerment policy as his last ace up the sleeve in a race to overturn the March 2008 defeat to bitter coalition partner Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

He touted his controversial policy that forces foreign firms to surrender 51 percent shareholding to locals and outlined he will be vigorously pursuing a 100 percent stake in a drive that critics say imperils foreign investment if he wins a fresh term.

“In addition to developing our marginalised communities and creating sustainable employment opportunities for our youths, our indigenisation and economic empowerment policy must now give real stake to our workers,” Mugabe said in a 148-page report tabled to the conference.

“The employee share ownership schemes that have been established in a number of key corporate organisations, whose compliance has been notably high, are a clear and tangible direction of our party’s indigenisation and economic empowerment policy.”

With one eye on a looming presidential election, all sorts of people made it to the conference.FROM PAGE 1
Aside from the usual cronies and government officials, young men and women from youth groups loyal to the ruling party such as student group Zicosu suddenly found themselves in favour.

They do not usually get much attention. But this is election time and every vote counts.

The Mugabe campaign worked hard to whip up enthusiasm for the empowerment drive at the conference, making Mugabe the centre of an elaborate personality cult he has forged during his three decades plus in power.

As Zimbabweans get ready to head to the polls for what looks likely to be the most closely fought election since independence in 1980, Mugabe pushed the indigenisation war cry.

“Our people expect the policy of indigenisation and economic empowerment to transform and develop our country’s hitherto marginalised communities that have been ravaged by the effects of the evil and illegal sanctions,” Mugabe said.

“We must be rest assured that there is no alternative to our indigenisation and empowerment policy.”
Indigenise, Empower, Develop and Create Employment — the slogan turned up everywhere at the conference, from umbrellas shielding delegates from the rain right down to T-shirts and even some of the water bottles given away to keep supporters hydrated at the conference.

But privately, even his most hardcore supporters acknowledge, Mugabe’s experiment in indigenisation is dicey. After the chaotic grab of commercial farms for redistribution to landless blacks — agriculture production has plunged.

Mugabe proposed an economy run along the same rigid lines that crippled eastern bloc economies for much of the 20th century.

Foreign investors are closely watching the next election for regime collapse at a time the electric utility has brought chronic blackout throughout the country and the economy is slowly grinding to a halt, amid the waste, corruption and mismanagement of incompetent central planning.

Benefitting from one of the world’s largest diamond reserves, critics say Zanu PF is kept afloat by a torrent of diamond dollars that helped the party build the $6,5million conference centre in a short three months.

“None of this revolutionary thrust is against foreign investment since it is infact the foundation for genuine and sustainable foreign investment,” Mugabe argued.

The veteran leader said he was happy the conference had taken an unreserved and robust stance against political violence. Still, his coalition partners doubt his sincerity — as do most observers — and believe he will again try to stay in power through his tried and tested means. Mugabe and Zanu PF have constantly been forced to deny accusations of using violence during elections since 1980.

Senior commanders now attend virtually all of Mugabe’s public appearances, and were at the conference, reinforcing the image of a military state.

Almost certainly, however, this will be one of those close Zimbabwe elections, like 1980, that may not be settled until the closing days.

In the wake of the launch of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s economic blueprint, Juice, and Zanu PF’s push for its empowerment agenda, more important, may be which camp sets the agenda over the next weeks.

Tsvangirai wants the conversation to be dominated by the nation’s persistent economic struggles — underscored by the toxic effect of Mugabe’s indigenisation policy on the economy and jobs, and the prospect of five more years of the same.

The MDC leader is promising one million jobs in the first five years of his term and a $100 billion economy.

The Zanu PF candidate’s campaign seems intent on accentuating, not playing down the unemployment crisis while pushing his indigenisation economic prescription which critics say is in fact the biggest threat to jobs.

“It is for this reason that many other countries within our region and beyond have recently followed the example of our indigenisation and economic empowerment policy by adopting laws and policies similar to ours,” Mugabe said without naming the countries.

Mugabe said he wants to focus on a violence-free, issues-based election and the way he is repeating this message on the stump, is striking.

“The strength of our mobilisation strategies and messages for the forthcoming make-or-break election must be our superior ideology, policies and organisation as Zimbabwe’s only vanguard and revolutionary party,” Mugabe said. “The opposition MDC formations are ideologically bankrupt and have no policies to offer.

“We know we will win the forthcoming elections thunderously and convincingly and I therefore exhort you all to desist from tainting our victory with any form of violence.”

The influence of money in this presidential campaign cannot be underestimated.

The Mugabe campaign enjoys a huge resource advantage; it has plenty of funds to be competitive anywhere it chooses. - Gift Phiri, Politics Editor

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