Zimbabwe’s new leader under fire over maiden cabinet pick

Harare (AFP) – Zimbabwe’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, came under fire on Friday for unveiling a debut cabinet that named two military allies to top positions, reappointed figures from Robert Mugabe’s discredited era and sidelined the opposition.

Mnangagwa gave key jobs to two top military officers, including Sibusiso Moyo, a major general who on November 15 went on state TV to announce the military’s takeover — a power grab which climaxed a week later when Mugabe quit the presidency.

According to a statement released late Thursday, Moyo was appointed foreign minister while the long-serving airforce commander, Perence Shiri, became minister of lands and agriculture, a vital job following the controversial seizure of land from white farmers nearly two decades ago.

Observers sharply criticised the lineup and many Zimbabweans groaned with dismay, but the government defended the choices as balanced.

“The deployment of senior members of the military into the cabinet is profoundly shocking,” said Piers Pigou of the Brussels-based think tank, the International Crisis Group (ICG).

Their appointment suggests “the army has gained so much influence in government, it is going to start to dominate government, ” said Abel Esterhuyse, a strategy professor at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University.

Mnangagwa, 75, was sworn in last Friday after the takeover, which the military said aimed at arresting “criminals” in government around the 93-year-old Mugabe.

His cabinet also retains many faces from the Mugabe regime, including the finance minister, Patrick Chinamasa, and Home Affairs Minister Obert Mpofu.

“The bulk of members of the so called new cabinet is from the old guard,” said University of Zimbabwe political scientist Eldred Masunungure.

“It is like recycling dead wood. Essentially, this is like putting old wine in new bottles,” said opposition Movement for Democratic Change spokesman Obert Gutu.

However, Mnangagwa dropped figures aligned to a rival faction in the ruling ZANU-PF party who had backed Mugabe’s 52-year-old wife Grace in a bid to replace her husband.

Analysts said Chinamasa’s return gave hope of positive reforms to the moribund economy.

Chinamasa oversaw the reopening of talks this year with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the easing of the so-called indigenisation policy which had scared away foreign investors.

“We are likely to see economic reforms but very little on the political front,” said Zimbabwean Brian Raftopoulos, who heads an advocacy…

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