Five years after standing on the brink of electoral defeat, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was inaugurated to extend his 33-year rule with renewed power at home and acceptance from neighboring countries.
Mugabe, 89, was sworn in today by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku at the 60,000-seat national stadium in Harare, the capital. Mugabe won last month’s vote with 61 percent in the presidential race and his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front secured a two-thirds parliamentary majority in elections that his rival Morgan Tsvangirai said were rigged. The 15-nation Southern African Development Community last week chose Mugabe to be its next chairman.
“His tail is up and he’s walking with a definite spring in his step,” Eldred Masunungure, a University of Zimbabwe political analyst, said in an Aug. 19 interview in Harare, the capital. “He has emerged stronger, either by foul or fair play, because it was a landslide victory.”
Mugabe, using the powers of state, vocal support from the security forces and a well organized campaign by Zanu-PF, reversed his losing position from the 2008 elections. Then, Tsvangirai was leading after the first-round ballot and Zanu-PF lost its parliamentary majority to the Movement for Democratic Change for the first time since independence from the U.K. in 1980.
“Zimbabwe will never be a colony again,” read a poster at the stadium. The ceremony was attended by the leaders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, Namibia and Tanzania, as well as South African Vice President Kgalema Motlanthe and Chinese Minister of Civil Affairs Li Liguo.
While most African nations endorsed the July 31 vote, the U.S., the U.K. and domestic monitors said irregularities compromised the fairness of the elections.
“We have had free elections,” Mugabe said after being sworn in for a five-year term. “As for those odd Western countries who happen to hold a different, negative view of our electoral process and outcome, well there is nothing we can do about them. We dismiss them as vile ones whose moral turpitude we must mourn.”
Since his election victory, Mugabe pledged to press ahead with an indigenization policy to give black Zimbabweans control of the economy. The southern African nation holds the world’s second-biggest platinum and chrome reserves, as well as diamond, gold and coal deposits.
“The time has come for us to extend our dominion to all those resources which the Almighty has been generous to give,” Mugabe said.
Mugabe is forcing mining companies such as Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. (IMP) and Anglo American Platinum Ltd. (AMS) and banks including the units of Barclays Plc (BARC) and Standard Chartered Plc (STAN) to cede majority stakes in their local assets to black Zimbabweans or the government.
In the mining industry “our policy reflexes must be oriented towards goals of indigenization,” Mugabe said today. “Where we can, we go it alone.”
In 2000, Mugabe started a program of confiscating white-owned farms that sparked a decade-long crisis in which the economy contracted 39 percent and inflation soared to an estimated 500 billion percent, according to the International Monetary Fund.
During the past four years of a coalition government, the authorities abolished the Zimbabwe dollar and legalized the use of several currencies, including the U.S. dollar and the South African rand. That helped to bring inflation down to single digits.
While the economy has expanded in the past four years, it remains fragile. Growth is set to slow to 3.4 percent this year from 5 percent in 2012 after commodity prices fell, according to outgoing Finance Minister Tendai Biti, who is also secretary-general of the MDC.
“Politically Mugabe may have the game in his hand, but economically he’s got a challenge ahead,” Trevor Maisiri, an analyst with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said in an interview Aug. 20. “The economy is his enemy. It doesn’t have enough capital to kick start its own revival, so he relies on foreign direct investment.”
The main stock index has plunged 21 percent since the election, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries on Aug. 2 asked the government to cut taxes and mint local currency coins to boost domestic consumption. Central bank Governor Gideon Gono on Aug. 6 pledged to maintain the multi-currency system for the “foreseeable future.”
There is no sign that the U.S. and the European Union, which criticized the elections as flawed, will lift their sanctions against Mugabe and his close associates. He blames the U.S. and the EU for the country’s economic woes.
“Most likely we shall remain under these sanctions for much longer,” Mugabe said today. “We have to raise ourselves by our bootstraps. The mining sector will be the epicenter of our economic growth and recovery.”
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said today in an e-mailed statement that he was “disappointed” SADC had endorsed Mugabe’s victory. He cited “grave concerns” over the how the election was conducted, including the electoral commission’s failure to produce the voters’ roll, a large number of voters being turned away and a high number of ballot papers being printed.
Some Zimbabweans side with their president.
Mugabe “is the greatest leader we will ever have,” said Tawanda Nyevero, a 43-year-old man who sells roofing material in Harare’s Mbare market. “So the West and their local detractors must stop snooping into our affairs. No other African leader will take land from whites and give it to blacks.”
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