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Mugabe in a desperate search for allies

Mugabe in a ‘desperate’ search for allies
Harare, Zimbabwe
23 November 2006 12:34

Robert Mugabe this week sought to bolster ties with fiery but
controversial Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a move analysts
said showed the veteran leader was frantically seeking political and
economic allies after being isolated by the West.

Mugabe has fallen out with Western nations, who for a long time backed
Zimbabwe’s economic reforms, after accusations that his government is
violating and rigging elections.

The veteran 82-year-old leader has embarked on a so-called “look-East”
drive, a policy meant to strengthen ties with Asian and Muslim nations
with prospects for economic and political backing.

“I think he is desperate. There are few countries out there who want to
stand by Mugabe at the moment because of his policies,” John Makumbe, a
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer and fierce Mugabe
critic told ZimOnline.

“But on his part he is saying I can do without your [West’s] help
because there are friends who will not talk about accountability as a
precondition to friendship and help,” added Makumbe.

Critics say Mugabe has plunged the once-thriving into its worst
economic crisis since independence in 1980 through controversial
policies such as his seizure of land from white commercial farmers to
give to Africans.

The land reforms have aggravated a crisis shown in the world’s highest
inflation, at 1 070,2%, unemployment above 80%, high poverty levels,
shortages of foreign currency, fuel and food and intermittent
electricity and water cuts.

International donors have halted lending to the country, heightening the

Mugabe’s trip to Tehran, which is at the centre of a nuclear dispute
with the United States and European powers, was meant to show his
Western foes that Zimbabwe could survive without their help, analysts said.

Mugabe has developed a knack for embracing some of the world’s known
abusers of human rights, such as Cuba’s , ’s Hugo
and Equatorial Guinea leader Theodore Obiang Nguema, among others.

“It is not surprising because he shares the same traits with these
leaders; they all run various forms of dictatorships,” said Makumbe.

Iran, which is trying to emerge as the undisputed powerhouse in the
volatile Middle East, has a strong economy, which could help Zimbabwe.
The Islamic republic has advanced telecommunications, ,
energy and technology industries, all of which Zimbabwe could tap into.

But analysts said there is not likely to be much that Zimbabwe will
benefit from in its relations with Iran, pointing to the fact that since
the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding last year there
was little to show for it.

Government-owned broadcaster ZBH Holdings has been the largest
beneficiary of the Zimbabwe-Iran ties to date after getting a €6-million
loan to digitalise its studios.

And a few dozen tractors have been sold to the country, but plans by the
Iranians to set up a bus manufacturing plant in Zimbabwe have since stalled.

“Iran has the economic muscle to help nurse Zimbabwe through this
turbulent period, but if we are to go by past events, there are always
doubts whether this trip will bring anything meaningful to the many
people who are struggling out there,” said James Jowa, a Harare economic

But Harare insists there are huge benefits from its “look-East” policy
and has made a recently publicised $200-million agriculture loan
facility from the showcase of its new-found relations with Asian

Although there are no details of the loan, it is Zimbabwe’s largest
foreign loan since the country was shunned by donors in 1999.

Analysts say Zimbabwe needs foreign direct investment first to boost
industrial capacity and to generate foreign exchange, because it
currently does not have capacity to repay foreign lenders.

Mugabe, one of the few remaining African big-men rulers, accuses the
West of sabotaging the country’s economy as punishment for his
often-violent land-seizure drive.

He denies charges of mismanaging the economy and says the land reforms
were necessary to redress colonial imbalances, which left the most
fertile soils in the hands of a few whites.

“At the end of the day, whether its China or Iran, investors want one
thing: a return on their investment and they do not seem to believe they
can get that return [from Zimbabwe],” Jowa said. — ZimOnline

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