Connect to share and comment

Opinion: Zimbabwe's New Year looks a lot like the old

Uneasy status quo may continue in 2010. Mugabe's regime may be doomed, but it is clinging on.

A Zimbabwean boy carries a container of water in the Epworth township of Zimbabwe's capital Harare, on Dec. 7, 2009. Aid agencies, led by the United Nations, in December launched an appeal for $378 million to feed Zimbabwe's hungry and meet other humanitarian needs. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabweans are hoping that 2010 will bring continued economic and political improvements, but there are already many signs that the new year will bring more of the same.

2009 wasn’t the best of years but it was a huge improvement on 2008.

For Zimbabweans there was one thing that stood out: a stable economy with zero inflation. While there were cash shortages over the holiday, there was no repeat of the long lines at banks that made the festive season so miserable for many in recent years.

Nor were there the waves of abductions and human rights abuses that were common in the wake of 2008’s bloody poll. While the state has been contriving cases against lawyers and civic activists, it has found the courts less sympathetic than in the past.

The winds of change, first articulated by British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1960, are once again blowing across the land and there is a palpable sense in which President Robert Mugabe’s repressive regime is doomed. But it is not going without a fight.

It recently recruited professor Jonathan Moyo, a former minister of information, whose recriminatory prose and sinister threats have occupied column inches in the official press in past electoral contests. Moyo is already applying his considerable talents to denouncing Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) despite the fact that it is now part of the government. He has accused Tsvangirai, who is prime minister, of running a “parallel government” with the support of donors who don’t want to see their funds falling into Mugabe’s hands.

As 2009 drew to a close, Mugabe announced members of statutory commissions to regulate the media, protect human rights and run elections following lengthy negotiations with the MDC, as stipulated in last February’s political agreement.

Civil society has complained that many of the appointees are staunch supporters of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party. Among those appointed to the Human Rights Commission, for instance, is a former senior immigration officer who in 2003 was responsible for the abduction and deportation of a foreign correspondent in violation of three High Court orders.

It remains to be seen if these so-called independent bodies are given free rein.

“While the coalition is still holding,” the editor of the independent Financial Gazette wrote at the end of last year, “it is all too clear that the marriage is not working. It has been dogged by allegations and counter-allegations. Should the wrangling in the unity government continue into the new year there won’t be much for Zimbabweans to hope for.”

So while there has been real progress on the economic front with stabilization and investor interest, the political situation remains fragile as Mugabe battles to retain control.