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Zimbabwe’s new leader under fire over maiden cabinet pick

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(FILES) This file photo taken on November 24, 2017 shows Zimbabwean new interim President Emmerson Mnangagwa receiving the chain and sash of office from the Chief judge of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Luke Malaba as he is officially sworn-in during a ceremony in Harare. Mnangagwa unveils on December 1, 2017 his first cabinet, drawing criticism for recycling the old guard and rewarding cronies who helped propel him to power following a military takeover and mass street protests. / AFP PHOTO / TONY KARUMBA

Zimbabwe’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, came under fire on Friday for unveiling a debut cabinet that named two military allies to top positions, reappointed figures from Robert Mugabe’s discredited era and sidelined the opposition.

Mnangagwa gave key jobs to two top military officers, including Sibusiso Moyo, a major general who on November 15 went on state TV to announce the military’s takeover — a power grab which climaxed a week later when Mugabe quit the presidency.

According to a statement released late Thursday, Moyo was appointed foreign minister while the long-serving airforce commander, Perence Shiri, became minister of lands and agriculture, a vital job following the controversial seizure of land from white farmers nearly two decades ago.

Observers sharply criticised the lineup and many Zimbabweans groaned with dismay, but the government defended the choices as balanced.

“The deployment of senior members of the military into the cabinet is profoundly shocking,” said Piers Pigou of the Brussels-based think tank, the International Crisis Group (ICG).

Their appointment suggests “the army has gained so much influence in government, it is going to start to dominate government, ” said Abel Esterhuyse, a strategy professor at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University.

Mnangagwa, 75, was sworn in last Friday after the takeover, which the military said aimed at arresting “criminals” in government around the 93-year-old Mugabe.

His cabinet also retains many faces from the Mugabe regime, including the finance minister, Patrick Chinamasa, and Home Affairs Minister Obert Mpofu.

“The bulk of members of the so called new cabinet is from the old guard,” said University of Zimbabwe political scientist Eldred Masunungure.

“It is like recycling dead wood. Essentially, this is like putting old wine in new bottles,” said opposition Movement for Democratic Change spokesman Obert Gutu.

However, Mnangagwa dropped figures aligned to a rival faction in the ruling ZANU-PF party who had backed Mugabe’s 52-year-old wife Grace in a bid to replace her husband.

Analysts said Chinamasa’s return gave hope of positive reforms to the moribund economy.

Chinamasa oversaw the reopening of talks this year with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the easing of the so-called indigenisation policy which had scared away foreign investors.

“We are likely to see economic reforms but very little on the political front,” said Zimbabwean Brian Raftopoulos, who heads an advocacy group, the Solidarity Peace Trust.

‘We are doomed’
Zimbabwean citizens interviewed by AFP said they found the new government’s lineup to be uninspiring, even disastrous.

Many are yearning for a clean break from Mugabe’s 37-year rule, which left the country with a crippled economy, high unemployment and emigration, and marred by allegations of rights abuses and election-rigging.

“We thought we are going to have a new Zimbabwe after Mugabe’s fall but it seems there is nothing new. The same failed ministers have been re-appointed. It is sad. We are doomed,” lamented Tererai Moyo, a 37-year-old florist in the capital Harare.

In his inaugural address last week Mnangagwa vowed to make sweeping changes in government and new policies to attract investment and revive the ailing economy.

But for some, the new cabinet line-up did not come as surprise.

They saw Mnangagwa, who is serving out the remaining months of Mugabe’s term, as playing a longer game, surrounding himself with people who will help him win general elections that due by next August.

Mnangagwa did not include figures from the opposition despite his pledge to a “new and unfolding democracy”.

“The makeup of this cabinet does not reflect the sentiment expressed in his inaugural address in terms of a move towards inclusivity. This is certainly a negative indicator,” said Pigou.

‘New blood and continuity’
“Those who naively thought that a revolution took place will be disappointed by the reassertion of power by the military deep state and the attempt to re-establish unity within ZANU-PF, without representation for the youth or opposition politicians,” said Hasnain Malik of the UK-based emerging and frontier markets investment bank Exotix Capital, in a note.

“The honeymoon is over, we are going to see a tough ZANU-PF coming out of this especially if you consider the history of some of those individuals,” Esterhuyse said.

Incoming minister of information and a war veteran leader Chris Mutsvangwa, dismissed the criticism, saying the cabinet was balanced and Zimbabwe was not the first to appoint the military in government.

Mnangagwa “is trying to introduce new blood and to have some continuity,” he said.

“People have to understand that some of the cabinet ministers were in the forefront of doing away with Mugabe,” said the minister.

“Everyone appreciates the role of the military and there is nothing wrong in the president appointing people from the military who are patriotic, loyal and educated. It happens in many other countries, like in the United States,” he said.



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