Tumult in Southern Africa

Businesses and citizens in Zimbabwe are bracing for a steeper economic downturn--and possibly civil unrest--as a result of Robert Mugabe's reelection to a fifth term as President. After a fierce electoral tussle with his challenger, former labor leader Morgan Tsvangirai, Mugabe was declared victor on Mar. 13. However, Tsvangirai's supporters, as well as independent observers, claimed the 78-year-old Mugabe's win was a result of electoral fraud as well as procedural abuses that prevented hundreds of thousands of Zimbabwe's 5.6 million registered voters from casting their ballots. "The will of the people was the chief casualty," Walter Kansteiner, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Africa, told reporters in Johannesburg.

Now, the U.S. and European Union may tighten sanctions imposed in February on Mugabe and his inner circle. Tsvangirai is contemplating whether to mount a court challenge. The biggest immediate worry for Zimbabwe, however, is food shortages. The U.N. says up to 900,000 of its 12 million people face starvation if aid isn't shipped immediately.

Meanwhile, economists predict that Zimbabwe's gross domestic product could plunge more than 10% in 2002. Unemployment is 60% and foreign investment has slowed to a trickle as Mugabe has attacked white farmers and private businesses for political gain. Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis could also undermine South African President Thabo Mbeki's plan to attract foreign investment to stimulate growth throughout the region, analysts say.

By Ed O'Loughlin in Harare

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