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  • Christine Chumbler
    Malawi govt under pressure as poll looms Frank Phiri | Blantyre 08 April 2004 12:13 As Malawi s general elections draw closer, deepening national poverty is
    Message 1 of 1046 , Apr 9, 2004
      Malawi govt under pressure as poll looms

      Frank Phiri | Blantyre

      08 April 2004 12:13

      As Malawi's general elections draw closer, deepening national poverty is haunting efforts by the ruling United Democratic Front to remain in power.

      In March, a United Nations Development Programme study on governance in Malawi revealed that poverty in the country had worsened during the past decade of multi-party politics compared to the situation under former dictator Hastings Kamuzu Banda.

      "A common statement by several people interviewed, including senior political party members... is that 'We are worse off economically than under the previous regime'," reads the study, adding "And indeed, there have been public demonstrations of nostalgia for Dr Banda's rule."

      The findings of the report were underscored when economists and donor representatives met in the capital, Lilongwe, on Saturday and Sunday for the annual conference of the Economics Association of Malawi.

      Delegates noted that Malawi's Poverty Alleviation Programme (PAP) "a national blue print developed by the UDF" had not yielded the desired results.

      "Forced to give a verdict of PAP, the conclusion is that there was no compelling evidence to support the hypothesis of a general improvement in the overall living conditions of Malawians," said development economist Khwima Nthara in a report entitled Has Malawi Developed since 1994?.

      The study cited declining life expectancy, increased child mortality and a high proportion of hungry households as some of the factors behind its conclusions -- as well as stagnating personal incomes.

      While admitting that there had been "indisputable" positive developments in Malawi during the past decade, including a boom in real estate and informal trade, the study said there was still uncertainty about whether these trends had really raised living standards.

      According to the UN Development Report for 2003, just under 42% of Malawians live below the poverty line of a dollar a day. These claims have come as a blow to the United Democratic Front (UDF).

      Having ruled Malawi since 1994, the party has not been able to escape allegations that it bears most of the responsibility for the country's decline.

      But, "that is rubbish and lies," thundered Mary Kaphwereza Banda, UDF deputy publicity secretary.

      "The UDF has taken care of the people. We have sunk boreholes everywhere."

      Kaphwereza Banda blamed Malawi's food shortages on drought. "The UDF does not make rain. If people are starving, it is because of drought which we can't control, and which no party can control," she said.

      Norman Ling, the British High Commissioner to Malawi, disagreed.

      "All that this country needs is a good and decent manager. It's a fallacy to say that you have hunger because of poor rains. The average rainfall of Malawi is double that of East Anglia, Britain's food basket," he said.

      The UDF's presidential candidate for the May 18 poll, Bingu wa Mutharika has also rebuffed the UN report, to the delight of other parties.

      "It's a big joke, and surprising, that an economist of Bingu's calibre should refute credible studies of poverty," said Salule Masangwi, Director of Publicity for the opposition National Democratic Alliance.

      The UDF's position has also been weakened by the fact that donors have been withholding aid to Malawi since 2000 because of poor economic management on the part of the government.

      Since aid makes up about 38% of the national budget, government has borrowed money locally to make up the resulting deficit.

      This has caused interest rates to soar -- dismaying businesses which needed to raise capital. Aware that concerns about economic stability and food shortages could prove key battle grounds in the fight for votes, opposition parties have wasted no time in promising Malawians better governance. The Malawi Congress Party, for one, said it would take measures "to ensure subsidising of essential farm inputs, making farm credits readily available".

      Taking a different approach to his UDF colleagues, President Bakili Muluzi showed a willingness to eat humble pie recently when he admitted that his government's economic management had not been stellar. But, he cannily used the occasion to justify his choice of Mutharika as successor, a move that received a chilly response from various UDF stalwarts.

      "In 1993 and 1994, this country needed a political engineer and I was voted. But now that we have laid a political foundation, this country needs an economic engineer, and I am sure that is Dr Bingu wa Mutharika," boomed Muluzi to a mammoth crowd in Blantyre's Njamba Freedom Park on Sunday. - IPS


      Malawi's president pardons prisoners on Easter


      09 April 2004 13:07

      President Bakili Muluzi on Friday commuted the death sentences of 79 prisoners and freed 320 others in a gesture to coincide with Easter.

      "The president has commuted death sentences of 79 prisoners to life imprisonment and set free 320 out of 9 500 prisoners with minor offences to mark Easter festivities," said Smart Maliro, prisons spokesperson.

      Maliro said the prisoners, drawn from 24 jails across the southern African country, were "released immediately".

      He said those pardoned did not include inmates convicted of serious offences like rape, murder, manslaughter and armed robbery.

      "It was those with good behaviour and terminal illness," said Maliro.

      Some 20 prisoners remain on death row, including Malawian opposition lawmaker Nasser Kara, convicted earlier this year on a charge of murder.

      Muluzi, who retires in May after his two terms as the country's first multi-party president since 1994, has been credited with improving Malawi's human rights record after three decades of dictatorial rule under the conservative Kamuzu Banda.

      Since Muluzi's ascent to power, no person had been put to death under the country's penal system.

      He has in the past also commuted death sentences and has told rights watchdog Amnesty International in 1998: "I will never sign the death sentence for a fellow human being."

      Malawi's prisons are congested and a high court judge once described their conditions as "hell on earth." - Sapa


      Zimbabwe, Malawi in Talks to Bring Down Barriers to Trade

      Financial Gazette (Harare)

      April 8, 2004
      Posted to the web April 8, 2004

      Staff Reporter

      ZIMBABWE is working with the Malawian government to facilitate smooth trade between the two countries.

      Industry and International Trade Minister Samuel Mumbengegwi confirmed the talks, saying the officials would meet to iron out barriers to exports.

      "A high-powered delegation is in Malawi to facilitate smooth trade relations between the two countries," he said. "The delegation from the Industry and International Trade ministry returned over the weekend."

      Zimbabwean exporters have, in the past three years, been facing resistance to their products in the Zambian and Malawian markets because of the weakening local currency that has rendered their goods cheaper compared to its neighbours.

      Zambia and Malawi have in the recent past barred selected Zimbabwean hardware and food products from their market, citing anti-dumping regulations.

      Harare has, in turn, argued that these moves were against the spirit of regional trade protocols under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community (sadc) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

      Zimbabwe exports tobacco, textiles, beef, gold, cotton, flowers and horticultural products, asbestos, ferro-alloys and other minerals to various countries throughout the world.

      In turn, the country imports chemicals, machinery and equipment, motor vehicles and petroleum products.

      Zimbabwe is a member of several multilateral organisations that provide avenues for trade and trade-enhancing activities.

      Investors in the country enjoy preferential treatment in regional and international markets through Zimbabwe's membership to SADC and COMESA. The country also has bilateral trade agreements with Malawi, South Africa, Egypt, Namibia, Botswana and Mozambique.

      Efforts are underway for bilateral trade arrangements with countries in the Far East.

      The country's comesa membership provides potential for increased trade in a market of approximately 320 million people.

      The COMESA free trade area will enjoy an accelerated reduction of tariffs, making it easy for Zimbabwean exports to enter the regional market.


      Sixty-three die of hunger in Bulawayo


      08 April 2004 12:13

      Sixty-three people, 48 of them children, died from hunger last month in Zimbabwe's second city of Bulawayo, a health official was quoted as saying in a newspaper report on Friday.

      A top health official in the city, Zanele Hwalima, told the Zimbabwe Independent that "poverty, food shortages and inability to access nutrients" contributed to the deaths.

      Health officials in Bulawayo were not immediately available to confirm the figures.

      Aid agencies estimate that some 5,5-million Zimbabweans -- 2,5-million of them in urban areas -- need emergency food aid this year.

      The United Nations last week appealed for close to $100-million (82-million euros) to meet "massive humanitarian needs" in Zimbabwe caused by economic hardships, chronic food shortages and the Aids pandemic.

      Zimbabwe is reeling under severe hardships with inflation hovering at over 600%, high unemployment and critical shortages of food, medicine and fuel. - Sapa-AFP


      Mugabe 'experts' spark fear of land grab in Namibia

      09 April 2004 08:06

      Zimbabwe has sent six land "experts" to Namibia in a move that could accelerate a planned expropriation of white-owned farms.

      The Zimbabwean land evaluators arrived in Windhoek this week to advise officials on how to carry out land redistribution, the newspaper The Namibian, reported on Thursday.

      Ndali-Che Kamati, the Namibian ambassador to Harare, said it was hoped that President Robert Mugabe's regime would be able to help the government of Sam Nujoma.

      "We just started implementing our land reform and in that regard we have a lot to learn from the Zimbabwean experience," Kamati told Zimbabwe's government-controlled daily The Herald.

      Some 4 000 white farmers own about half of Namibia's arable land. Since the land reform began in 1990, 118 farms have been purchased by the government and 37 100 people have been resettled.

      In Zimbabwe the land seizures have been violent, with Mugabe supporters grabbing more than 90% of previously white-owned farms as well as land owned by some black farmers. The country's agricultural output has decreased by so much it has been forced to rely on international food aid for three years.

      Namibia's President Nujoma has copied many of Mugabe's policies, including tirades against gay people, sending troops to Congo's war, building a lavish palace and altering the constitution to extend his time in power.

      Although he recently said he would not seek a fourth term in office, it is believed he intends to speed up land redistribution to black Namibians to assure that his Swapo party wins the next election. The Zimbabwean land specialists will suggest how to determine the compensation to be offered for developments on the commercial farms.

      Zimbabwe has refused to pay compensation for land it has seized from white farmers, on the grounds that the land was originally stolen from the African people. Mugabe said his government would only pay compensation for improvements such as buildings and wells, but in practice this has not been done.

      The arrival of the Zimbabweans has prompted speculation that the Namibian government may seize land. It is likely to take 40 years before half of the white-owned land is in the hands of poor black Namibians, according to the independent Institute for Public Policy Research.

      A study by the institute said the government's land policies had led to only 1% of commercial land being redistributed a year. This pace meant the issue was "unlikely to be resolved soon" and would "continue to hold back national economic development by aggravating racial tension and creating uncertainty".

      The Namibian government recently said it would be expropriating land for resettlement purposes. While welcoming efforts to speed up such land reform, the study called for clear targets. "Is 50% of total commercial farmland sufficient within a generation or should it be 75% within 10 years? What is a politically acceptable racial balance?" it asked.

      "Do black Namibians really want to own what are after all often rather bleak and unproductive tracts of land?"

      The government's approach to date seemed sensible: to expropriate unproductive land held by foreigners and absentee landlords, the institute said. But "by widening the criteria to include just about anyone, [it] is clearly counterproductive." - Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004
    • Christine Chumbler
      ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17 The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by
      Message 1046 of 1046 , May 22, 2006

        ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract

        by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17

        The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by government to look for another contractor instead of China Hunan Construction to construct of the long awaited Karonga/Chitipa road.

        China Hunan from Mainland China won the bid which was approved by the ADB but government later wanted to award the contract to a Portuguese firm, Mota Engil, the second lowest bidder, claiming China Hunan's bid was unrealistically low and that the company had very little experience in Africa.

        Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe confirmed on Sunday the ADB rejected the proposal at a meeting held between the bank and Malawi government in Tunisia last week.

        The Malawi government wanted the Tunisia meeting to authorise it to get another contractor for the road, said Gondwe.

        "They did not allow us to look for another contractor because of their regulations. But we are about to get another alternative for Karonga/Chitipa and I would be surprised if it does not start before end June," said Gondwe.

        The minister explained that the bank insisted that regardless of the unrealistic cost estimates, China Hunan should be allowed to go ahead with the construction.

        But Gondwe could not give further details about the alternatives, arguing there are still a few loose ends to tighten up before disclosing it.

        The problem with China Hunan, according to Gondwe, is that it would require more money to meet the total cost of the project.

        This paper reported last week that government met Taiwanese representatives where they offered to fund the road if the ADB continued to reject its favoured contractor, Mota Engil.

        Gondwe could neither confirm nor deny the reports on the Taiwanese offer, saying government was looking at a number of ways to handle the issue.

        According to Gondwe, the China Hunan's bid was 24 percent lower than the consulting engineers' estimates of K7.9 billion and 34 percent below the second lowest bidder.

        President Bingu wa Mutharika laid a foundation stone for the construction of the road this year ahead of a crucial byelection in Chitipa in December last year.

        The President's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the Chitipa Wenya constituency by-election that fell vacant following the collapse and subsequent death of Speaker of Parliament Rodwell Munyenyembe who belonged to the UDF.

        Last week, police and the District Commissioner (DC) for Chitipa stopped a rally that was aimed at soliciting people's views about development projects in the district.

        The meeting, which was reportedly organised by Concerned Citizens of Chitipa, was among other things also supposed to tackle the controversial Karonga/Chitipa road.

        The project failed to start off in 2000 when a contract for an initial loan of US$17 million and US$15 million from the Taiwanese government was signed, with some quarters claiming the Bakili Muluzi administration diverted the money to another road.


        Chihana operated on

        by Edwin Nyirongo, 22 May 2006 - 06:32:31

        Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Chakufwa Chihana, who is in South Africa receiving treatment, had a brain operation on Friday at Garden City Clinic, family and party officials confirmed on Sunday.

        Aford national chairman Chipimpha Mughogho said he was told by the family members that Chihana had a successful operation on Friday and was put in an intensive care unit.

        Mughogho said Chihana, who initially complained of headache, was found with a brain tumour which South African doctors removed.

        Mzimba West MP Loveness Gondwe said Aford boss condition was stable.

        "Hon. Chihana had a major operation and after that he was put in the intensive care unit but his condition is stable. I do not know where he was operated on but it had something to do with the skull," she said.

        Deputy Information Minister John Bande referred the matter to the Health Minister Hetherwick Ntaba who was reported to be in Geneva, Switzerland.

        Aford publicity secretary Norman Nyirenda said when Chihana's situation got worse, the family alerted the Office of the President and Cabinet who took him to Mwaiwathu Private Hospital.

        "The doctors at Mwaiwathu advised that he should be sent to South Africa and they even identified the doctor for him," he said.

        He said the costs are being met by the Malawi government, contradicting his earlier statement that his boss covered the cost.

        Mughogho is now in charge of the party.

        Gondwe will be a busy person when Parliament starts meeting on June 6 as she is the only Aford MP remaining.


        Pillane proposes presidential age limit

        by Emmanuel Muwamba , 22 May 2006 - 06:34:13

        A member of the DPP National Governing Council Abdul Pillane on Saturday urged members of political parties and the civil society to put an upper age limit in the Constitution for presidential candidates.

        Pillane was addressing members of political parties and civil society in Liwonde during a two-day follow up workshop to the National Conference on the Review of Constitution held in March in Lilongwe.

        "My view is that (an upper) age limit should be at 75. We have to give a chance to younger people to lead because in circumstance, when you age you become forgetful especially when sickly," said Pillane. "Overall, chances should be given to young people."

        But UDF secretary general Kennedy Makwangwala, whose party members agitated for the age limit during presentations, played the issue down.

        "I feel there is no logic to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates. If someone is 90 or 80 I don't know how that can influence the electorate not to vote for someone who is younger, I don't see any logic behind that," said Makwangwala.

        MCP participants at the workshop also vehemently objected to the proposal.

        MCP vice president Nicholas Dausi in an interview said: "There is no constitution in Africa which stipulates an upper age limit. So it would be strange in Malawi to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates."

        MDP President Kamlepo Kalua also opposed the need to have an upper age limit.

        "If we have personalities in mind that we want to discriminate against then it is unfortunate. The constitution we want to build is a guiding document for future generations and it should not bar certain individuals on the basis of grudges," he said.

        The Malawi Law Constitution Issues Paper of March 2006 says several submissions that were received put an upper presidential age limit in the Constitution.

        "It is argued that it is common sense that mental knowledge faculties tend to fail with age. As regards what the actual age limit should be the submissions are far from being agreed. The range is from 60 years to 80 years," read submissions in the Issues Paper.

        On whether MPs should double as ministers, Kalua said this should be the case.

        Makwangwala also said it is not right for MPs to serve as ministers because the Legislature, another arm of government, is reduced while the Executive branch is beefed up from another arm of government.

        "There is no separation of powers when MPs double as ministers," said Makwangwala.

        But Pillane said there is no problem for MPs to work as ministers as well, saying MPs are elected by the President.

        "One can serve both posts. There have been no problems before for people to double," said Pillane.

        The Centre for Multiparty Democracy funded the workshop through the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy.

        The objective was to come up with a collective position on the Issues Paper which will be presented to the Special Law Commission that will be constituted soon.


        Mussa hails new driving licence

        by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:58:52

        Transport and Public Works Minister Henry Mussa last week said the design of the Malawi-Sadc driving licence would guard against forgery and ensure that only skilled and legitimate drivers of particular vehicles are licensed.

        Mussa was speaking at the official launch of the licences in Lilongwe where he announced that traffic police would from July enforce speed limits and sober driving using Breathalysers which his ministry is in the process of procuring.

        The minister said financial constraints are the reason for the delay in procuring the equipment but assured that by July they would be available.

        "With the new equipment, the days of those who believe in the thrill of drink and driving are numbered," warned Mussa.

        Mussa added that with the new licence, government is optimistic that the country's roads would be safe.

        Acting Director of Road Traffic James Chirwa said the features that distinguish the new from the old licences are the Malawi national flag and a ghost image of the driver's photograph, among others.

        Those with old licences, according to Chirwa, are expected to get the new ones after the expiry of the former.


        UDF demands investigation on Kasambara

        by Rabecca Theu, 22 May 2006 - 06:30:46

        The United Democratic Front (UDF) has asked government to investigate Ralph Kasambara on allegations of abuse of office while he was attorney general.

        UDF publicity secretary Sam Mpasu told the press Sunday that the party is neither amused or saddened by the removal of the former AG but asked government to institute investigations on Kasambara.

        "Beyond the removal of the Attorney General, we now urge President Mutharika to institute investigation against Mr Kasambara into allegations that have made rounds in the public domain during the recent past. These include: Mrs Helen Singh and SS Rent-a-Car; SGS and ITS saga; ...........the use of Malawi Police Service in the arrest of three Chronicle journalists and the handling of Mrs Rubina Kawonga," said Mpasu.

        Mpasu also accused Kasambara of awarding government contracts to Lawson and Company where he was a senior partner.

        "We urge government to thoroughly investigate the former AG. We also ask government to cautiously select the new AG ," said Mpasu, who was accompanied by the party's Secretary General Kennedy Makwangwala, leader of the party in Parliament George Mtafu, chief whip Leonard Mangulama and a member of the executive Hophmally Makande.

        But Minister of Information Patricia Kaliati said UDF should give offer its advice to the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB).

        "They should advise bodies like the Anti-Corruption Bureau to conduct the investigations and why are they saying this now? Is it because Kasambara has been fired? This is not a personal issue. If they have other pressing issues they should just say so. These arguments should have come up earlier on when the said cases were happening," she said.

        Kasambara asked UDF to proceed with the mission of urging government to investigate him.

        "They can do their job. Everyone has a right to lobby for anything they want in the country. UDF has a right to do that, let them go ahead," he said.

        Kasambara was relieved of his duties as AG by the President last week. Government has not given reasons behind the removal.


        Zambia: Malawians Grab Zambian Land

        The Times of Zambia (Ndola)

        May 18, 2006

        Posted to the web May 19, 2006

        Andrew Lungu


        MALAWIANS who have encroached on both the 'no-man's' and part of the Zambian land at the Mwami border in Eastern Province have plucked out some beacons that were used in the demarcation of the border.

        The Malawians are now using the beacons as stools in their newly-established villages on Zambian land.

        Eastern Province Minister, Boniface Nkhata, said in Chipata yesterday that if the situation was not controlled urgently, Zambia would lose huge tracts of land to Malawians migrating into Zambian in large numbers.

        A check at the Zambia-Malawi border showed a number of beacons had been vandalised and new structures constructed on the 'no man's' land and a large portion of Zambian land.

        Mr Nkhata said the trend extended to many parts of the province bordering the two countries.

        "A large portion of Zambian land has been taken up by the Malawians starting from the Chama boundary up to the Mwami border.

        "The weighbridge at the Mwami border was initially in Zambia from the time both countries gained independence from Britain, but now the bridge is on Malawian soil," Mr Nkhata said.

        The minister, who is former Chama District Commissioner, said there was similar encroachment in Lundazi and Chama districts where Zambia shares a boundary with Malawi.

        He said a Malawian farmer identified as Mr Mfune had cultivated 71.5 hectares on Zambian land and employed about 265 Malawian workers.

        "Khombe Farm in Chama district in Kanyerere's area, along the Muyombe road which leads to Northern Province where this Malawian farmer has cultivated a vast land is on the Zambian territory," he said.

        Workers on the farm admitted that they were farming on Zambian soil but could not go back to Malawi because the land in that country was inadequate for cultivation.

        Mr Nkhata appealed to the ministry of Lands to urgently release money for the demarcation of the Zambia-Malawi border to avoid further land disputes between the two countries.

        Meanwhile, the Immigration Department in Livingstone has arrested a couple and another man, all Zimbabweans, for working in Zambia without permits.

        They were arrested at Gwembe village yesterday where they worked for Into Africa, a tour operating company that provides bush dinners and breakfast.

        According to the Immigration Department in Livingstone, the trio entered Zambia through the Victoria Falls border as visitors but decided to work for the company illegally.

        Last week, immigration officers arrested 10 Zimbabwean traders and six Ethiopians for entering and staying in Zambia illegally.

        The Zimbabwean traders were warned and cautioned and later released.

        The Ethiopians were arrested at Konje Guest House when they ran out of money to proceed to Botswana.



        Zim unions, MDC still plan anti-govt protests

        Harare, Zimbabwe

        22 May 2006 11:51

        Zimbabwe's biggest labour federation on Saturday threatened to call massive demonstrations against the government over poor salaries and worsening living conditions for workers in the country.

        The threats are ratcheting up pressure against President Robert Mugabe's government after similar threats by the biggest opposition party in the country, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), about two months ago.

        Speaking at the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) conference on Saturday, the labour body's president, Lovemore Matombo, said the powerful union wants the government to award workers salaries that match the country's ever-rising inflation.

        "I can assure you we will stage massive demonstrations to force them [employers] to award workers minimum salaries that tally with the poverty datum line," said Matombo.

        Matombo did not say when exactly the ZCTU would order workers to strike.

        Opposition protests

        Meanwhile, the MDC on Sunday said it will push ahead with plans for anti-government protests, saying victory in a key by-election at the weekend was a "sign the electorate supported its policies", including democratic mass resistance.

        A spokesperson of the main faction of the splintered MDC, Nelson Chamisa, said victory over Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF and a rival MDC faction in a Saturday by-election in Harare's Budiriro constituency is a sign Zimbabweans still have confidence in party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his policies.

        Tsvangirai, the founding leader of the MDC, heads the main rump of the opposition party whose candidate, Emmanuel Chisvuure, polled 7 949 votes to win the Budiriro House of Assembly seat.

        Gabriel Chaibva of the other faction of the MDC, led by prominent academic Arthur Mutambara, garnered 504 votes while Zanu-PF's Jeremiah Bvirindi polled 3 961 votes.

        "This election showed that the electorate still has confidence in the MDC [Tsvangirai-led] leadership and its policies," Chamisa told independent news service ZimOnline.

        He added: "We will now move to consolidate our position * we still believe in mass protests. Until we have attained our goals we see no reason why we should abandon [plans for protests]."

        Tsvangirai has threatened to call mass protests this winter against Mugabe and his government. He says the mass protests, whose date he is still to name, are meant to force Mugabe to relinquish power to a government of national unity to be tasked to write a new and democratic Constitution that would ensure free and fair elections held under international supervision.

        Mugabe and his government, who had hoped for victory in Budiriro to show they were recapturing urban support from a splintered MDC, have not taken idly the opposition's threats to call mass protests, with the veteran president warning Tsvangirai he would be "dicing with death" if he ever attempted to instigate a Ukraine-style popular revolt in Zimbabwe.


        In a fresh crackdown against dissension, the police last week arrested several church and civic leaders for organising public prayers and marches to mark last year's controversial home-demolition exercise by the government.

        The police also banned the marches and prayers, fearing they could easily turn into mass protests against Mugabe and his government.

        However, the marches went ahead in the second-largest city of Bulawayo after organisers had obtained a court order barring the police from stopping the march.

        Political analysts say although Zimbabweans have largely been cowed by Mugabe's tactics of routinely deploying riot police and the military to crush street protests, worsening hunger and poverty are fanning public anger that Tsvangirai -- with proper planning and organisation -- could easily manipulate.

        Zimbabwe is in the grip of a severe six-year old economic crisis that has seen inflation breaching the 1 000% barrier. Last year, the World Bank said Zimbabwe's economic crisis was unprecedented for a country not at war.

        The MDC and major Western governments blame Mugabe for wrecking the country's economy, which was one of the strongest in Africa at independence from Britain 26 years ago.

        Mugabe denies the charge blaming the crisis on sabotage by Britain and her allies after he seized white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks six years ago.

        The Harare authorities recently hiked salaries for civil servants, with the lowest-paid soldier now earning about Z$27-million while the lowest-paid school teacher now takes home about Z$33-million.

        But the salaries are still way below the poverty datum line, which the government's Consumer Council of Zimbabwe says now stands at a staggering Z$42-million a month for an average family of six.

        The Zimbabwe government often accuses the ZCTU, a strong ally of the MDC, of pushing a political agenda to remove Mugabe from power.

        Meanwhile, Matombo and Lucia Matibenga retained their posts as president and first vice-president respectively during the ZCTU congress that ended on Saturday. -- ZimOnline

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