23 August 2014

Zimbabwe: Mugabe Leaves for Crucial China Trip

Photo: Nehanda Radio
Robert and Grace Mugabe.

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe left Harare Sunday for a five-day trip to China which could prove critical for the country as well as for what could be his last term in office.

The government desperately needs a multi-billion-dollar package to rescue an economy its own advisers warn may be sliding back to the chaos of 2008 and negotiations are understood to have been underway over the last few months with the Chinese government.

But Mugabe's spokesman, George Charamba, downplayed expectations, saying there was no truth to media reports Beijing would agree a US$4 billion package with Mugabe.

"Variku expecter kuti tichauya nema billion ari munhava (those expecting us to bring billions) don't know the strategic direction of Zimbabwe. We are looking at ourselves as the investors, we are looking at inward investment," Charamba told the Sunday Mail.

Mugabe turned 90 this year and although supporters have already started nominating him to be Zanu PF's candidate in 2018 presidential elections the veteran leader hinted, in an April interview with the BBC, that he would likely step down before that vote.

He won a new five-year term in July last year following elections dismissed as a monumental fraud by main rival and MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

But more than a year since the vote, the economy is threatening to seriously undermine what could be his swansong.

There has not been any positive bounce from the landslide election victory while companies continue to close, adding hundreds each week onto the jobless ranks.

Government has no money and struggles to pay its workers every month while its ZimAsset economic programme has failed to take-off due to the lack of funding.

Opposition parties have already been upping the pressure, reminding Mugabe and his Zanu PF party of pre-election promises to deliver over two million new jobs.

But Mugabe has remained optimistic, saying the economy was on the mend.

He recently told anxious Zimbabweans that those claiming otherwise were not in the loop regarding key developments progressing behind the scenes.

"So when we say there is a rise now in the economy, some may not understand it but those inside will understand from the preparations that there are initiatives that have been taken and the resources that are flowing albeit gradually," Mugabe said in July.

The government is pinning its hopes on help from Beijing.

Chinese embassy officials confirmed negotiations were underway with Harare over a financial package with Beijing open to the deal but insisting on security for its cash.

Several cabinet ministers have travelled to Beijing in recent months with reports a $4 billion deal would likely be sealed during Mugabe's visit.

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa and industry counterpart, Mike Bimha flew to Beijing ahead of Mugabe with the veteran leader following Sunday accompanied by his wife and a number of cabinet ministers.

Mugabe told Xinhua news agency that he would seek more Chinese investment for infrastructure projects and value-addition for local industries.

"We will be talking about how we can work together once again, now in our socio-economic program, so the fruit of what we fought for together can be yielded by yet another joint struggle - a peaceful and economic struggle that we shall be waging with our natural recourses so we can produce the necessary wealth for our people," he said.

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