Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe announces reelection bid amid growing polarization

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. (Photo Credit: Gregg Carlstrom via Flickr Creative Commons)

In Zimbabwe, the country’s long-ruling party has cleared the way for nonagenarian Robert Mugabe, one the world’s longest serving leaders, to run for another presidential term. The 92-year-old is a polarizing figure inside the southern African country where he’s revered by many as a hero of the country’s post-colonial liberation. But others blame him for chronic economic mismanagement that has resulted in one of the world’s highest rates of unemployment. FSRN’s Garikai Chaunza explains.

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A visibly shaky President Robert Mugabe addressed parliament on December 6 in which he appealed for calm amid rising discontent and street violence over the country’s struggling economy: “Let us continue to find national pride in our core values of unity, hard work and freedom. But let us also thank our forces for the peaceful environment that we have.”

Those forces he mentions are the riot police who in recent months have routinely broken up peaceful rallies by opposition parties and young Zimbabweans angry over increasingly desperate economic conditions.

“We actually respect Robert Mugabe. We even respect the role he played during the liberation struggle,” says 31-year-old college graduate Donald Mavhundzi. “He fought very hard to make sure that Zimbabwe gains political independence.”

But President Mugabe’s role in the 1980 independence movement – during which some 20,000 civilians were massacred – was before Mavhudzi was born. And now – despite a college education – he can’t find a better job than peddling cell phone parts in the capital.

“But unfortunately, he failed to bring through economic independence or economic emancipation to the people of Zimbabwe and we are saying on that he has failed,” says Mavhudzi. “He has to hand over the baton and allow somebody who is able and prepared to bring that through that to the people of Zimbabwe – to take over power and actually lead Zimbabwe to a better future.”

Yet President Mugabe still has a lot of supporters in the country. They are largely from the older generation who benefited from controversial land reform policies that saw mass evictions of the white landowning class from the colonial era. Mugabe’s hard-line, anti-colonialist policies also brought economic sanctions from the United States in 2001 – though they were later reversed by President Obama.

Ronnie Danga was one of those who benefited from the controversial land reforms. He was granted farmland in Goromonzi, about 26 miles east of the capital Harare. To him, President Mugabe is the guerrilla leader who fought the British to achieve national liberation.

“He has built a lot of schools, a lot of road networks – though they are now neglected because of the economic challenge,” Danga says. “But what we are saying is he is a good leader, and that’s why we cannot take it away from him.”

Critics inside the country say Mugabe’s policies aren’t working – and neither are most people. The country’s largest union, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, says the country‘s unemployment rate has reached 90 percent. And during the first half of this year, more than 300 firms shut down due to dwindling foreign investment.

Cash is literally drying up with a shortage of the U.S. dollars that have been the country’s currency since 2008, when hyperinflation forced the government to scrap its own money.

The government has recently introduced so-called “bond notes” which are supposedly tied to the U.S. dollar – but the bid to reverse the cash crunch quickly ran into trouble with reports of merchants refusing to accept the green paper. More riots are expected as fears of hyperinflation return.

It is amid this backdrop that the elderly Robert Mugabe will bid for reelection in 2018.

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