May 16, 2003

ZIMBABWE: Post-Mugabe deal in place - international economic help?

The international community is putting together an economic package for Zimbabwe that is dependent on President Robert Mugabe stepping down in the next six months, Western diplomats in Harare said yesterday, April 15.

They told The Daily News that the proposed package would support a transitional government that would take over if Mugabe stepped down before the end of the year. The transitional government would be in place until fresh elections were held. "We are working on a plan to help Zimbabwe in the transitional period, which will occur within the next eight months at the very latest." a senior Western diplomat based in Harare said. He added: "President Robert Mugabe might not finish his term of office - that is the information we have in the diplomatic community. In fact, he might step down by the end of the year given the slide the country is experiencing. Our plan is based on this information." The ruling ZANU PF's secretary for information, Nathan Shamuyarira, declined to comment on the matter.

However, opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) president Morgan Tsvangirai said his party would welcome a transitional "arrangement" that would lead "to the restoration of legitimacy in Zimbabwe". The MDC says Mugabe's government is not legitimate and is only in power because it rigged the 2000 parliamentary elections and last year's presidential poll. The opposition party is challenging the parliamentary and presidential election results in the courts.

According to diplomats, “the economic package is based on the need to get Zimbabwe working and that there be stability during the tenure of the transitional period before elections are held." Under the financial arrangement, international lines of credit would be reopened as a way to trigger inflows of foreign currency into Zimbabwe. International financial institutions have withdrawn lines of credit in the past three years because of the country's hard cash squeeze, which has made Zimbabwe a bad credit risk. The withdrawal of credit has hampered imports of major commodities, especially fuel and electricity, and has also crippled the operations of many local companies.

Diplomats said under the envisaged economic package, the international community would also offer to reschedule or even retire Zimbabwe's foreign debt of nearly US$5 billion (Z$4 120 billion at the official rate). Western countries would also provide funds for fuel and power imports. Financial help and technical expertise would also be offered to revamp the voters' roll under the auspices of the United Nations.

This would be done in preparation for a fresh poll. The diplomats said it was not clear at present what form the proposed transitional government would take. However, the international community would soon begin to sell the idea to influential officials within ZANU PF and the MDC. They said former finance minister Simba Makoni and Speaker of Parliament Emmerson Mnangagwa were two of the names being suggested as possible candidates to head the transitional government. However, Mnangagwa this week denied that he had any interest in succeeding Mugabe. The diplomats said the international community was proposing that the head of the transitional government should not be allowed to contest fresh elections.

Reports of the international community's economic package came as Britain and South Africa this week indicated that they were now in full agreement on how to tackle the Zimbabwe crisis. The indications were made during a visit to South Africa by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw this week, a week after regional leaders flew to Harare to press for talks between Mugabe and Tsvangirai.

The leaders of Zimbabwe's two main political parties have so far taken a tough stance against the proposed talks. Mugabe says he wants the MDC to recognise him as the legitimate head of the Zimbabwean government before he will agree to any negotiations. The MDC says there should be no preconditions. (The Daily News, Harare)

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