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Propaganda propels Mugabe to the top

PUBLIC trust in Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has more than doubled in the past five years helped by propaganda despite chronic food shortages and political and economic crisis, a new survey showed yesterday.

>The Afrobarometer survey, given to the Zimbabwean government on Wednesday showed 46% of Zimbabweans trust Mugabe, up from just 20% when the last survey was compiled in 1999.

That puts his domestic popularity ahead of both South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki and Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo – the presidents who lead Africa on the world stage and have come under Western pressure to rein in Mugabe over the seizure of white-owned land and accusations of vote rigging in 2002.

The survey, compiled by South African and US-based researchers with funding from the Netherlands and the United States Agency for International Development, attributed Mugabe’s rising popularity mainly to propaganda in state media controlled by Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF party.

“Our analysis shows that political propaganda is by far the most important determinant of presidential approval,” said the survey, titled The Power of Propaganda: Public Opinion in Zimbabwe.

“In a setting where the mass media have been strangled and the diet of public information is tightly controlled, many Zimbabweans have apparently succumbed to Zanu PF’s view of a country beset by internal and external enemies,” it said.

The Afrobarometer, which describes itself as independent and non-partisan, surveyed 1 200 randomly selected people across Zimbabwe in April and May 2004.

It said Mugabe’s approval ratings also rose thanks to those who benefited from Zanu PF patronage such as party loyalists, military forces and resettled peasant farmers, as they credited Mugabe with improvements in their own economic circumstances.

The survey showed levels of political fear in Zimbabwe were among the highest of 16 African countries surveyed in recent years, with 60% of respondents saying people always have to be careful what they say about politics.

The survey also shows Zimbabweans’ support for democracy has fallen to the lowest of the 16 countries, with just 48% responding they prefer democracy to any other form of government – down from 71% in 1999.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of all respondents agreed that “problems in this country can only be solved if MDC and Zanu PF sit down and talk with one another”. — Reuter

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