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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 14:19 GMT
Mugabe's challenge
Celebrating Zanu-PF supporters
Now Mugabe must tackle the economic meltdown

President Robert Mugabe may have won the election but his victory celebrations will be short-lived.

His first priority will be to consolidate his hold on power in the face of opposition charges that the poll was rigged.

Robert Mugabe
President Robert Mugabe:
  • A former teacher, made his name as a fighter in Zimbabwe's war of independence
  • Resurrected the nationalist agenda of the 1970s - land redistribution and anti-colonialism
  • Critics accuse him of resorting to political violence to cling to power

  • Remembering recent examples from Yugoslavia and Ivory Coast, he will be worried that street protests might succeed where the elections failed, in unseating him.

    Zimbabwean political analyst Masipula Sithole told me: "Dictators don't leave power after elections, they only leave under intense pressure."

    But Mr Mugabe is trying to avoid being put under that kind of pressure.

    Even before the results were announced, soldiers were deployed in potential flash-points across the country in case opposition supporters took to the streets.

    In the past few years, the security forces have managed to crush a series of anti-government protests and Mr Mugabe will certainly not be afraid to give them orders to shoot at demonstrators and arrest opposition leaders.


    Alternatively, he may try and work with the Movement for Democratic Change in order to end the bitter divisions which have held Zimbabwe back in recent years.

    Such a move would come as a major surprise after Mr Mugabe repeatedly accused the MDC's Morgan Tsvangirai of being a traitor.

    But after years of directing a guerrilla war, he did extend the hand of reconciliation to his erstwhile enemies who had established white minority rule in the then Rhodesia.

  • Mugabe: 1, 685,212; Tsvangirai: 1,258,401
  • Official turnout: 3,130,913 or 55.9%
  • High turnout in Zanu-PF's rural strongholds

  • In any case, Mr Sithole says the MDC would be unlikely to take such an olive branch - were it offered.

    Assuming he does manage to ride out this initially bumpy period, his next big task will be to kick-start the economy.

    With inflation running at around 120%, hundreds of thousands dependent on food aid and millions out of work, this will be a huge task.

    Mr Sithole says that the newly re-elected president will try and use his regional allies, South Africa and Nigeria, to make overtures to the west on his behalf.

    Again this would constitute an astonishing about-turn but Mr Sithole says Mr Mugabe would have no choice as "the country is bleeding".

    A resumption of aid by the IMF would be the quickest way of getting badly needed foreign currency back into the country.

    But this is unlikely to happen while Mr Mugabe is in power, especially with most western countries deeply suspicious about his election victory.


    The European Union and the United States have already imposed "smart sanctions" on Mr Mugabe and his associates and are unlikely to change their views on his leadership.

    Mr Mugabe has been trying to make alliances with alternative sources of cash, from Libya to Malaysia.

    He will also try to retain the support of his southern African neighbours to counter Western attempts to isolate Zimbabwe.

    Children queue for food aid in February 2002
    Half-a-million Zimbabweans need food aid

    Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi has supplied lots of oil but the reality is that only the West can supply the huge amounts of hard cash Zimbabwe needs.

    Mr Mugabe ran his campaign on the slogan, "The economy is the land," arguing that giving plots of land to poor black farmers will raise their living standards and so boost the economy.

    Mr Mugabe will undoubtedly continue with this programme and with a new, six-year term will now have the time to put this theory - rejected by mainstream economists - to the test.

    Responding to suggestions that at 78 and after 22 years in charge, he should consider stepping down, the president has hinted that he will do so when he completed his land "revolution".

    There has been speculation that he may finish this within a year or two and then resign, handing over to his chosen successor - tipped to be Emmerson Mnangagwa, speaker of parliament.

    But the constitution at present states that this would require new elections after three months, plunging the country back into the political uncertainty of recent years.

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    See also:

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