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Opinion: Mugabe retains grip on foreign affairs

Visit of Iran's Ahmadinejad shows wide gap between Mugabe and Tsvangirai.

But the days when the Zimbabwean despot could strut upon the international stage with authority have long since passed. The collapse of the Communist bloc tore away the struts underpinning international support for regimes such as Mugabe’s.

Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s visit in 1983 was a high-water mark for Zimbabwe’s post-independence diplomacy but nowadays even Chinese leaders give Harare a wide berth.

Mugabe’s unilateral invitation to Ahmadinejad has once again focused attention on the shortcomings of the GNU. Senior officials appointed by Mugabe recently declared they were under no obligation to attend meetings of the Council of Ministers that Tsvangirai chairs. A “Government Work Plan” drawn up largely by MDC ministers to plan for the year ahead had not been approved by the cabinet and was therefore unconstitutional, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa declared last week. Chinamasa lost his seat to the MDC in the 2008 election.

Observers are waiting to see what impact this obstruction of government business will have on a forthcoming visit to Brussels of several cabinet ministers, including Chinamasa, to get European Union sanctions lifted. Despite suggestions that some concessions may be forthcoming, it is difficult to see what tangible progress the GNU can point to as warranting their removal.

The heads of Zimbabwe's bloated state-owned corporations recently refused to give the MDC minister responsible for parastatals accurate estimates of their incomes. Only 10 out of 85 submitted the information required. Others submitted false information, according to local reports.

The chief executives of the state-owned corporations enjoy hefty incomes and generous allowances, including entertainment allowances running into thousands of dollars. Their children’s education and payment of domestic staff are also paid for by their companies, many of which are in financial difficulties. The companies include fuel and power providers.

The minister, Gabuza Joel Gabbuza, said he was “only trying to rationalize salaries of chief executives and at the same time rectify anomalies where the top brass are earning unrealistic salaries while their companies are constantly applying for government bail-outs.” Most CEOs in state companies are the beneficiaries of Mugabe’s patronage.

Mugabe continues to be the chief obstacle to change, clawing back as many powers as possible, and threatening to do to the business sector what he has done to agriculture. South African negotiators appear not to have made much impact, with President Jacob Zuma giving the impression he is out of his depth. British officials had no difficulty rebutting his attempt to get sanctions lifted when he visited London earlier this year.

With over a year of tenure behind it, the GNU’s report card reads “could do better.”