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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Zimbabwe's new president picks military officials, former ministers for cabinet posts

Opposition leaders say Emmerson Mnangagwa's choices dash hopes for change after 37 years under Robert Mugabe

Traffic flows past a billboard with a portrait of Emmerson Mnangagwa, the new Zimbabwean president, in Harare on November 27, 2017. Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi / AP Photo
Traffic flows past a billboard with a portrait of Emmerson Mnangagwa, the new Zimbabwean president, in Harare on November 27, 2017. Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi / AP Photo

Zimbabwe's new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has appointed senior military officials to top posts in his new cabinet and chose a veteran cabinet minister to head the finance ministry.

Mr Mnangagwa was sworn in as president on November 24, days after 93-year-old Robert Mugabe quit under pressure from the army.

He named Patrick Chinamasa as finance minister, Air Marshal Perrance Shiri as land minister and Major General Sibusiso Moyo as foreign minister, among other appointments.

He also brought back many faces from the Mugabe era, which could disappoint Zimbabweans who had been expecting a broad-based government and a break with the past.

Tendai Biti, leader of the opposition People’s Democratic Party and a former finance minister, said the new president's cabinet picks had dashed hopes for change after 37 years of Mr Mugabe's rule.

“The honeymoon is over even before it had begun,” Mr Biti said on Twitter. “What a shame. What a missed opportunity.”

Zimbabwe’s main opposition Movement for Democratic Change party said the cabinet was a disappointment.

“It’s the antithesis of most people’s expectations, more of the same old, same old,” the party’s vice president, Nelson Chamisa, said. “Mnangagwa never reached out to us. That didn’t happen.”

The new cabinet, with “the same tired faces being recycled” means that a change in policy direction is unlikely, said Eldred Masunungure, a political science professor at the University of Zimbabwe.

“We had high expectations, but what we see is a ‘thank you’ cabinet — thanking the people that may have contributed in various ways to his ascendancy,” he said. “He promised to hit the ground running. That is not going to happen - it’s more like hitting the ground crawling."

Mr Chinamasa, a former finance minister in Mr Mugabe's government, had been moved to a newly created ministry of cyber security in a reshuffle in October. The cyber portfolio has now been folded into the information ministry headed by a former deputy minister in Mr Mugabe's government, Supa Mandiwanzira.

Mr Mnangagwa is under pressure to revive an economy in free-fall, with a 90 per cent jobless rate, a severe cash shortage and crumbling public infrastructure.

He told heads of government ministries on Tuesday that he was putting together a "leaner" government, which would see the merging of some departments to enhance efficiency.

Mr Mnangagwa came to power after a tumultuous three weeks that started with his firing by Mr Mugabe on November 6 following accusations by the president’s wife, Grace, that the former spy chief was plotting a coup. An intervention by the armed forces and a decision by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front to back Mr Mnangagwa as its leader and to begin impeachment proceedings against Mr Mugabe prompted the president to resign.

In addition to the new cabinet, court decisions since the coup have been criticised as showing that little change can be expected in a country that has been riven by human rights violations for two decades. The high court ruled that the coup was legal and an ally of Mr Mugabe claimed that he was tortured while in custody.

Ignatius Chombo, who replaced Mr Chinamasa as finance minister on October 10, was arrested during a brief period of military rule from November 15 to 21. He has since been expelled from Zanu-PF and faces corruption and fraud charges, with a court appearance scheduled for December 8.

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