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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.

“The country’s economy will continue to be held hostage by politics,” the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries president, Kumbirayi Katsande, warned last week.

Katsande should know. He was arrested and interrogated by police recently when the company he heads, Nestle Zimbabwe, declined to purchase milk from a company, Gushungo Holdings, belonging to First Lady Grace Mugabe. This followed protests in Europe that Nestle was doing business with properties seized from white farmers.

A compromise has since been reached. But the impression remains that Nestle has been ordered to purchase its requirements from the first family. Significantly, Mugabe is in breach of his own policy outlawing multiple-farm ownership. He and his wife own six. And elsewhere farm seizures persist. A list published recently of land seizures in the Chegutu area southwest of Harare reveals the participation of judges, policemen and local land allocation officials.

Western governments have told Tsvangirai that he should ensure compliance with February’s political agreement before asking for sanctions to be lifted. With Mugabe’s followers helping themselves to farm property, threats being made against international companies such as Nestle, and the attorney general continuing to bring trumped-up charges against MDC activists, a genuine democratic order seems still far off.

The case of Roy Bennett who Mugabe refuses to appoint to government because “he is facing very serious charges” is emblematic of the problems the MDC faces. Bennett is deputy minister of agriculture-designate and seen by Zanu-PF as a threat to its land policies.

Mugabe said over the holiday that there was no urgency in completing negotiations between the parties while South African mediators try to set time-frames for a comprehensive deal. He used the Copenhagen climate summit to grandstand in front of an influential audience, once again denouncing the West for hypocrisy.

But it has become clear that developing countries no longer see Mugabe as their spokesman. And his entourage of over 60 including his wife, cabinet ministers and their wives raised questions about Zimbabwe’s commitment to fiscal probity at a time when the country is holding out the begging bowl to donors. Tsvangirai declined an invitation to attend.

So long as old habits die hard and Mugabe continues to be the chief obstacle to reform, the prospects for 2010 remain dim.