Election behind us, focus now on economy – ED

President Emmerson Mnangagwa is yet to live up to his promise of austerity

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has pledged to speed up economic reforms, urging Zimbabweans to unite to build the economy and put a hotly disputed election behind them.

In a speech after his inauguration at the National Sports Stadium in Harare, Mnangagwa said campaigning was over and it was time to shift focus to the economy.

“Now that elections are behind us, we must focus on the economic challenges facing our country,” he said in his speech, which lasted some 25 minutes.

His focus, he said, would be to change investment laws, repay debts, cut spending and increase focus on infrastructure, agriculture, mining, manufacturing and tourism.

He pledged “market driven policies” over the next five years.

On cash shortages, which was one of the biggest election issues, Mnangagwa said: “Measures will be taken to correct the fiscal imbalances that threaten to undermine the viability of the financial sector, as reflected through the spiraling cash shortages and the distortions plaguing the foreign currency exchange market.”

He said there would be a review of Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (Bippas) to promote and encourage investment from across the world. This has been a sore point with many investors, who remain wary of the security of their assets in Zimbabwe after the land takeovers of the 2000s.

Zimbabwe has foreign debt of over $10 billion, and Mnangagwa says there will be fresh effort “to expedite and bring to finality the resolution of the country’s debt arears under the LIMA plan”. However, this has been made harder by the extension of US sanctions on Zimbabwe, which effectively bar debt relief to the country.

The US has taken a harder stance on Zimbabwe after the election. Just hours ahead of Mnangagwa’s inauguration, the NDI-IRI observer group, America’s main observer mission to the election, said “Zimbabwe has not yet demonstrated that it has established a tolerant, democratic culture”.

But Mnangagwa, in his speech, said Zimbabwe would continue with efforts to end its isolation by engaging foreign governments.

After a bitterly fought poll, contested in the Courts by the opposition, Mnangagwa sought to strike a conciliatory tone. There was no mention of his main rival, but Mnangagwa said parties in Parliament must cooperate to bring about economic reforms, repeating his mantra that he will be a President for all.

“The vision of a new and prosperous Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe we want, is a shared one, and transcends party lines. As your President, I pledge to act fairly and impartially, without fear or favour, as a President of all Zimbabweans.”

He also moved to temper high expectations, which crippled his Government over the past nine months since his first inauguration after the ouster of Robert Mugabe.

“It will not be easy…as I have repeatedly said in the past months, real change does not happen overnight. However, inspired by our national anthem, we must work together, nothing is beyond our reach. We will build the Zimbabwe we want, brick upon brick, stone upon stone.”

But he still promised what he said would be “radical economic transformation” over the next five years, including the modernisation of roads, railways, airports and border posts.

He said: “Through modern infrastructure, we will connect Zimbabweans to each other, to the region, and to the world.”

Mnangagwa’s inauguration was attended by several Heads of State and diplomats. Despite questions over his election by opponents at home, he received support from the region.