Zimbabwe marked 37 years of independence Tuesday. However, the country’s persistent economic problems cast a shadow over the celebration, despite President Robert Mugabe’s promise of better times ahead.
In a speech to the more than 50,000 people gathered at a stadium in the capital, the president was hopeful that Zimbabwe’s moribund agriculture-based economy will pick up thanks to above-average rainfall in the 2016-’17 growing season.
The U.N. says about four million people in Zimbabwe remain dependent on food aid after a drought during the previous two growing seasons.
But Mugabe said Zimbabwe would have a “bumper harvest” this year.
“Comrades and friends,” he told the crowd, “as we today celebrate our hard-earned independence, I urge you to remain vigilant. The enemy is ever ready to pounce on any signs of laxity and weakness on our part. We celebrate as a vigilant nation, even as we prepare for economic general development. What we have done in the past to bring unity in the past is not enough.”
Mugabe has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980. He has announced plans to run again in March, but there are hints of political instability.
The ruling Zanu PF party is embroiled in fighting over who will one day succeed the 93-year-old leader. This month, his party is expected to expel one of his trusted top officials accused of secretly setting up structures to replace Mugabe.
Pro-opposition political commentator Vince Musewe told VOA there was nothing to celebrate Tuesday.
“This country has gone 30 years backward,” he said, “whether you look at social infrastructure, at jobs, quality of life. And it is shocking to actually get a president who spends time talking about what is not there. My fear or suspicion is that he is no longer aware of what is happening. Number two, he is being fed false information. He did not speak about the cash crisis. He did not speak about unemployment and he did not speak about food security. Everything since 1980 has deteriorated.”
Since last year, Zimbabwe has seen sporadic anti-government protests over the economy and human rights.
For over a year, the country has also experienced a severe cash shortage in which people can wait for their money at banks for hours, or even days. Economists attribute the shortage to Zimbabwe’s dwindling exports and to government mismanagement.
Zimbabwe abandoned its own currency in 2008 amid hyper-inflation. The introduction last year of what the government calls “bond notes,” which trade on a par with the U.S. dollar, has not helped the situation.