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Zimbabwe’s president sets general elections for August 23

Zimbabwean President, Mnangagwa, points the way to Africa’s economic development

Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ruling party seeks to extend decades-long grip over the African country

President Emmerson Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe’s general election would be held on August 23, as his ruling Zanu-PF seeks to extend its decades-long grip over the southern African country despite a worsening currency crisis.

Mnangagwa on Wednesday announced the date for the country’s second presidential and parliamentary elections since the 2017 coup that overthrew Robert Mugabe, the late dictator, and was supposed to usher in change for Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation-scarred economy.

But activists and the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change, the party of Mnangagwa’s main rival Nelson Chamisa, fear that August’s vote will be a repeat of 2018’s first post-coup poll that declared Mugabe’s ex-deputy the winner but was marred by rigging and violence by the security forces.

They have warned of flaws in the voters’ roll and the decision to deny the vote to Zimbabwe’s diaspora, which has been scattered far and wide by decades of economic chaos.

“It’s difficult to see how we’re not going to end up with a contested process,” Piers Pigou, southern Africa programme director at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, said of the prospect of a disputed election result. “The same playbook appears to be in play.”

The Zimbabwe dollar has lost about three-quarters of its value against the US dollar this year alone, from about 670 to more than 2,500 on an unofficial market. Triple-digit inflation fed by money printing has also led Zimbabweans to stop using the local currency wherever they can.

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The government has pledged to increase government use of the Zimbabwe dollar, and to take over opaque external borrowings by the central bank, but economists say it is not tackling a system that in effect heavily taxes the foreign currency earnings of exporters.

The credibility of the election will be key to whether Mnangagwa will gain international support to help clear Zimbabwe’s $14bn of external debt which has built up through decades of arrears to creditors including the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the World Bank.

Akinwumi Adesina, AfDB president who has brokered talks on the arrears alongside former Mozambique leader Joaquim Chissano, warned this month that the issues were “not just economic or financial . . . the most difficult and more sensitive reforms are the governance reforms”. He called for more urgency to clear the debt and to finance $3.5bn in compensation that has been promised to farmers who were expropriated under Mugabe.

“There’s a question over whether the arrears process can stay on course despite bad elections,” Pigou said.

The 2018 election was marred above all by the killing of six people when the army fired at civilians who were protesting against delayed results on the streets of the capital Harare. Chamisa contested the result but the challenge was thrown out by Zimbabwe’s constitutional court.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023