Zimbabwe’s new leader begins journey to key 2018 election

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa speaks after being sworn in at the presidential inauguration ceremony in the capital Harare, Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s new president is taking steps to differentiate himself from his ousted mentor, Robert Mugabe, as he tries to win over the country before next year’s elections. (AP/Ben Curtis, File)
Updated 14 December 2017
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Zimbabwe’s new leader begins journey to key 2018 election

HARARE, Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe’s new president is showing signs of charting a path different from that of his ousted mentor, Robert Mugabe, as he tries to win over the country before next year’s elections.
On Friday, the ruling ZANU-PF party is expected to endorse President Emmerson Mnangagwa as party leader and its presidential candidate. The elections are a key test of his promises to strengthen Zimbabwe’s democracy and attract badly needed foreign investment to revive a devastated economy.
The party congress also will endorse the recall of 93-year-old Mugabe from the party and government, said spokesman Simon Khaya Moyo, completing last month’s dramatic events that saw the military put Mugabe under house arrest, scores of thousands rally in the streets and lawmakers begin impeachment proceedings before the longtime leader resigned.
Mnangagwa at his inauguration described Mugabe as a “father, comrade-in-arms and my leader” but called his swearing-in the day “Zimbabwe renews itself.”
Zimbabweans and others are watching closely to see whether Mnangagwa, a longtime Mugabe ally whose firing as vice president led the country to turn against the president after 37 years in power, can step out of his mentor’s shadow.
So far he has made some bold moves, despite stocking the new Cabinet with military and ruling party members and shutting out the opposition.
A new budget plan by Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa proposes to reduce diplomatic missions and ban first-class travel for everyone but the president as the government tries to cut costs and repair the once-prosperous economy.
The southern African nation also plans to amend an unpopular, Mugabe-backed indigenization law limiting foreign ownership of businesses to no more than 49 percent of shares.
Zimbabwe’s police, known for setting up numerous roadblocks and demanding bribes, have been removed from the streets and told to reform, while Cabinet ministers who rarely attended parliamentary question-and-answer sessions seem to have changed their ways.
Such changes would have been unthinkable under Mugabe, who was widely criticized for mismanaging the economy so badly that millions of people fled abroad and many in the well-educated nation were reduced to street vending.
The 75-year-old Mnangagwa, who raised the loudest cheers at his inauguration with the promise of “jobs, jobs, jobs,” is at his office before 8 a.m. these days and his motorcade has been seen there on weekends, signaling what some allies call a new work ethic. Among the complaints raised by the ruling party during impeachment proceedings against Mugabe was that he was too old to rule and routinely slept in meetings.
Yet amid the transformation some things have remained the same.
“Mnangagwa is showing postures of one willing to reform and not necessarily change,” said Alex Rusero, a Harare-based political analyst.
Reminiscent of Mugabe’s days, state enterprises have been splashing advertisements in state-run media congratulating the new leader and pledging their loyalty.
“It is a desperate indicator of how ZANU-PF has over the years become a source of livelihood such that failure to exhibit enthusiastic bootlicking, accompanied by hero-worshipping, might automatically translate to deprivation of that very same livelihood. It’s a survival tactic,” Rusero said.
At the ZANU-PF party’s headquarters, Mnangagwa’s face has replaced Mugabe’s on billboards.
“They seem keen to build a personality cult around Mnangagwa just like they did with Mugabe,” said Gabriel Shumba, a human rights lawyer and chairman of the South Africa-based Zimbabwe Exiles Forum.
Zimbabwe’s economy is yet to respond favorably to the change in leadership. Prices of basic food and household items are going up, while banks are still struggling to dispense scarce cash to customers.
The euphoria that greeted Mugabe’s resignation seems to be giving way to expectation. “Things are still tough,” said Anesu Kaeresera, waiting in a bank line.
“You can put up tanks against a seating president, but you can’t put tanks against a non-performing economy,” Tendai Biti, an opposition leader and former finance minister, said on Twitter.
Mnangagwa seems aware of the huge expectations.
“As time is of the essence, we thus need to pursue high-speed program execution,” he told his new ministers at the first Cabinet meeting on Dec. 5.
Some Zimbabweans are expressing concern that two former military commanders are in top Cabinet positions and that the military, cheered by many for its role in removing Mugabe, still seems to be in charge of law enforcement. Soldiers are still visible on the streets of the capital and have mounted roadblocks on all major highways.
“Soldiers belong to the barracks and they must return there,” said Dewa Mavhinga, the southern Africa director for Human Rights Watch. “Their history of human rights abuses makes their presence discomforting.”


Afghanistan has half a million widows, and the number is increasing, says government

Updated 43 min 33 sec ago
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Afghanistan has half a million widows, and the number is increasing, says government

  • Some 15 kilometers southeast of the capital is the “zanabad,” or city of women, built completely by widows
  • Widows are the most vulnerable people in Afghanistan

KABUL: The burden of life has made Masooma look twice her age. Her life story in many ways is similar to those of several hundred thousand other Afghan women who have become widows since the latest conflict began here more than 40 years ago.
She lost her husband in a rocket attack 17 years ago in Kabul and since then has been feeding and raising her five children, doing jobs such as cleaning and laundry.

Looking frail and exhausted, Masooma is now part of the army of Kabul’s municipality and cleans roads in the city where the gap between the rich and poor is widening, thanks to the flow of foreign aid that has largely ended up in the pockets of commanders and those with links either to the government or foreign troops, as Masooma laments.

“I hate to beg and am proud of my job. I'm happy to earn a livelihood in a legitimate way,” Masooma told Arab News, sweeping a road and wearing an orange gown and a tight headscarf.

Like the rest of her female colleagues, she cleans the streets by braving the attacks, the rising heat in summer and extreme cold in winter.

Her eldest child is a young man now and he is a bus conductor, helping her to pay the rent for the house and sharing other responsibilities. 

But her life has been a long struggle in a male-dominated society where women are perceived largely as owned by their father before becoming their husband’s property and widows are often rejected or regarded as burdens.

“You cannot imagine the hardships I have gone through. It is not easy to raise five children without a father, without money and a house,” Masooma said.

Widows are the most vulnerable people in Afghanistan. They suffer violence, expulsion, ostracism and sometimes forced remarriage, often with a brother-in-law, as reported by the UN Mission in Afghanistan in a study in 2014.

Ferooza, another widow, lost her husband 20 years ago during a clash with the Taliban in northern Baghlan province. She moved to Kabul along with her daughter, Habiba. They have similar jobs to Masooma, with no health or life insurance in a country in the middle of war that relies on foreign aid.

“Life is very tough for widows. It is not easy for women to clean the streets day after day, for months and years, but we do not have an alternative. We are content and feel happy that we are working rather than being a burden on others,” Habiba told Arab News with a mild smile.

According to the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled, there are more than 500,000 widows in Afghanistan, most of them war widows. Of these, 70,000 are breadwinners for their families, the ministry said in recent statistics given to the media last week.

Some 15 kilometers southeast of the capital is the “zanabad,” or city of women, built completely by widows. The first women settled on this stony-slope location outside Kabul in the 1990s, hoping to escape the stigma they are forced to endure.

Today it is known as Afghanistan’s "hill of widows," home to a cluster of women who have eked out independence in a society that shuns them.

Ninety percent of them are illiterate, some even taking care of as many as eight children, Hashratullah Ahmadzai, spokesman for the ministry, told Arab News.

“We are in a state of war. The number of women who become widows is increasing. Those who fight on the government side and those on the side of the Taliban and the miltants have wives and mothers too. People on both sides suffer and women on all sides are affected more than anyone in this war,” Ahmadzai said. 

War widows who are registered by the government receive some meagre annual help from the ministry, but that does not meet the need of the victims, he said.

Gul Ghotai, head of the statistics department at the Ministry of Women Affairs, said the government lacks any strategy on creating vocational or short-term jobs for the widows.

“The ministry of women has done nothing on this. The government as a whole has failed to address the widows’ problems because it does not have the capacity. It has not even come up with a plan as to how to tackle the problem,” she told Arab News.