Who can bring Zimbabwe back to its glory days?

Of the three presidential candidates in the March 29 elections, two are in their 50s and one will be 84 years.

Of the three presidential candidates in the March 29 elections, two are in their 50s and one will be 84 years.

The preference is for the young people, although a logical poser will be: what do they know about running a country with the highest inflation rate in the world and a currency so devalued it is the laughing stock of the entire world?

At its independence in 1980, Zimbabwe's currency was not at all ashamed or embarrassed to be standing side by side with that of the former colonial master, the British pound.

If you stood it cheek to cheek with the mighty US dollar, it managed to keep its upper lip stiff, its chest thrust out, pugnaciously. It was no pushover.

Who of the three candidates has the foresight, nay, the courage, to bring it back to those truly good old days when its strength was anchored in the country's agriculture and mining?

Today, nearly 28 years after President Robert Mugabe was sworn in as its prime minister by Lord Soames, the Zimdollar is worth very little. Mugabe himself, though maintaining a cocky stance as we go into the elections, knows his days are numbered, if not by Father Time, then by the winds of change ushered in by an economic collapse which will probably deal his ruling Zanu-PF a fatal blow to the political solar plexus, come March 29.

Mugabe has said he is "raring to go" into the contest. He is relying more on his past glory than on any tangible feats of achievements during the last seven years.

His land reform programme, turned into a political gimmick for the 2000 parliamentary elections, cost the country its status as the breadbasket of the region, into simply a basket case.

Agriculture, previously the mainstay of the economy, plummeted in value, followed almost immediately by a drop in the value of the dollar.

The economy went into a tailspin, shedding jobs like a withered msasa tree shedding leaves in a windstorm. Millions of citizens fled the poverty and the political repression that followed the economic collapse.

The competitors for the top job, Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change, and Simba Makoni of the non-political Mavambo (beginnings) movement are promising change.

For many voters, any change from Zanu-PF is glorious enough, even without the specifics.

Yet victory for either of them cannot be guaranteed: Zanu-PF will not lie down and die quietly. It still has its ace up its sleeve: the fact of being the ruling party, controlling all the levers of the electoral process, which it has used in the past to ensure victory.

What most analysts see is the combined electoral clout of the two opposition groups overwhelming Zanu-PF in the elections for the senate, the house of assembly and the local government. In the presidential stakes, Mugabe could score big in the rural areas, his stronghold, where the fear of a return to the guerilla war of the 1970s has always frightened the voters into preferring Zanu-PF to any other party.

But it would seem that a clean sweep by Zanu-PF is not in the offing. What may be difficult to predict is how Zanu-PF would react to a rout. Mugabe has not repudiated his claim to having "many degrees in violence".

Zimbabweans may still be far from achieving the Zimbabwe they want, the Zimbabwe they lost to Zanu-PF...

lBill Saidi is deputy editor of The Standard in Zimbabwe.