30 January 2004

Zimbabwe police try to delay opposition manifesto



Zimbabwe police tried yesterday, Jan 29, to delay the launch of an economic policy manifesto by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, by refusing permission for a public meeting. But the launch of the detailed economic programme, designed to demonstrate that the MDC offers a serious alternative government to that of President Robert Mugabe, went ahead after the opposition group obtained a court order overturning the police ban. Morgan Tsvangirai, MDC leader, said Zimbabwe's crisis was too deep-seated to allow a quick-fix solution. But he said Restart - an acronym for Reconstruction, Stabilisation, Recovery and Transformation - was the best chance for a return to normality "within a bearable time-frame". Mr Tsvangirai said that almost 25 years after independence, Zimbabweans were as poor as they had been in 1970. Life expectancy was at its lowest for more than 40 years. The 70-page Restart document details measures to reverse this by creating millions of jobs in the formal and informal sectors, improving incomes, restoring relations with the international community, investing heavily in health, education and poverty reduction and encouraging local and foreign investment.

The policy has already been attacked by the state-owned media, which have claimed the MDC has no policy on land beyond returning confiscated areas to white owners. But economists say Restart will resonate well with the donor community and agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, because it sticks closely to orthodox stabilisation policies and focuses on good governance, anti-corruption measures, institution building and poverty reduction. On the controversial land issue, Restart calls for comprehensive agrarian reform extending well beyond the large-scale commercial farms, formerly owned by some 6,000 white farmers, that have been the sole focus of recent government policy. The opposition says the 42 per cent of the country classified as communal land must also be the target of measures to raise productivity and incomes. It argues that while land reform is an important element of agrarian reform, it must be underpinned by support services in infrastructure, credit, marketing, hospitals and schools, plus farmer training and extension services. In contrast to the Mugabe government, which has no formal economic plan, the MDC sets out detailed targets for gross domestic product growth of more than 5 per cent annually after it takes office, supported by projections for inflation, savings, investment, employment, the balance of payments and foreign debt. One leading economist, who declined to be named, said the key difference between the government's stance and that of the opposition MDC was that the international community would support the MDC programme with aid and debt relief, neither of which is available to Mr Mugabe's administration. (The Financial Times, London)

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