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World

Intense Unrest Follows Protests Against Zimbabwe's Longtime President

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's talk about the pressure on the president of Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe is 92 years old. He's been in power for 36 years, ever since white minority rule came to an end in that country. But he has led Zimbabwe to poverty and has faced a series of protests.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is in the capital, Harare. Hi, Ofeibea.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings.

INSKEEP: Every now and again, we hear stories about ridiculous inflation and other economic problems in Zimbabwe. What's it like for people these days?

QUIST-ARCTON: Tough, very, very tough. Every Zimbabwean you talk to says they are trying to eke out a living, even. You know, you have thousands of people, Steve, trekking from the high density, the poorer townships and suburbs into town. And what are they trying to do when they get here? They set up a stall to sell either vegetables or fruit or telephone credit, whatever it is that they can sell, they say, so that they can afford to put food on the table at home and send their children to school.

So things are tough. The economy is in the doldrums. And President Mugabe is certainly under pressure. Although, you know, beautiful mauve jacaranda trees in full bloom. On the surface, Harare looks good. But you scratch the surface, and there's anger and there's desperation and people are apprehensive.

INSKEEP: How are people expressing that pressure? How has he been put under pressure?

QUIST-ARCTON: In the past few months there have been anti-government protests. And the main call of these protests by opposition leaders - but by many ordinary Zimbabweans, as well as the street vendors who say they're trying to eke out an existence and the government can't give them jobs - is, Mugabe must go.

He has mismanaged the economy. He's 92 years old now. He has had his time. It's now time for Zimbabwe to look for new leadership, and to try to return to the prosperity and the hope that there was in this country back in 1980, when Zimbabwe won independence from Britain and from minority white rule.

INSKEEP: You know, I don't know the median age in Zimbabwe, but I'm guessing that most Zimbabweans were not even born when Robert Mugabe was a hero who helped to end white rule. How is he still in power today?

QUIST-ARCTON: And this, is as you say, the only leader that many Zimbabweans have known - 36 years of Robert Mugabe.

INSKEEP: How is it that he's managed to hang on so long?

QUIST-ARCTON: Because he has managed to outwit the opposition in all forms. Even through a unity government, he managed to put them on the back foot. He has thrown people out of his governing ZANU-PF party who have been seen to perhaps contest him.

And even within his party, there is now this succession battle. Who will lead Zimbabwe after Robert Mugabe? But he has everybody on the back foot by saying, I don't want talk of a succession. What we need to do is stop the U.S. and Britain imposing targeted sanctions. He blames all Zimbabwe's woes on the outside and on people who are disloyal.

So 92 years, but we're told that he rises very early in the morning, does his exercises, doesn't drink alcohol, does not smoke. Who knows when the end of the Mugabe era will be?

INSKEEP: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Harare, Zimbabwe. Thanks very much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Thank you, Steve Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.