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Detached feeling in Zimbabwe

This feed just came in from one of our correspondents in Harare, who for reasons of security cannot be named:

It's a measure of how deeply we Zimbabweans are mired in our own crisis, that half the morning passed by before I remembered that today is inauguration day in the U.S. There is a detached feeling here about the events in Washington, D.C. The bulk of the population cannot see it because the state television will not cover it. The middle class are taking an interest and will watch it on CNN.

When people do think about Obama they are hopeful that his new government will make some sort of difference here, but no one is sure how. Obama has been aligned with African-American lobbying groups that do have a clear view of the rights and wrongs here in Zimbabwe. The appointment of Susan Rice to the United Nations is taken as a good sign — as she has been outspokenly critical of the Mugabe regime and is known for viewing interventions favorably.

The state's Herald newspaper — Mugabe's shrill mouthpiece — has nothing about the inauguration on the front page. It is all about the inconclusive talks between Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. But on the Op Ed page there is an opinion piece entitled "Adios Bush, Zim won't miss you". And there is a cartoon showing Bush telling Obama to have a good time while handing over boxes labeled "2 unfinished wars" and "economic meltdown". So the gist is more about good riddance to Bush than it is welcome to Obama.

Quite interestingly, Mugabe sent Obama a congratulations letter upon his election that, for Mugabe, was conciliatory in tone. Of course, it was published here by the state press. But since that relatively friendly gesture we have seen continued hostility. The columnist Nathaniel Manheru — whom everyone knows is the pen name for George Charamba, Mugabe's spokesman — has consistently take pot shots at Obama, saying he doesn't expect any change to come from Obama because he is the first black president. Manheru hammers on the point that black Americans who have risen to prominence — Susan Rice, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Jendayi Frazer — are just tokens who carry out the wishes of white America. He repeats what Mugabe has often said, that black Americans are manipulated to do what white America wants.

So there is very little hope that Mugabe will respond differently to Obama than he has to Bush. That is why there is not much excitement here about Obama's inauguration.

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