Mnangagwa Seeks Cash in Russia as Zimbabwe Slides Into Chaos

(Bloomberg) -- Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa said he’s seeking loans from Russia on a visit to Moscow, as a crackdown on protests against his government’s handling of an economic crisis left as many as eight people dead.

Shops and factories in the southern African country kept their doors shut Tuesday, the second of a three-day national strike called by Zimbabwe’s biggest labor-union federation. It called for the stay-away over Mnangagwa’s decision at the weekend to raise the cost of gasoline to the highest in the world, at a time when prices are rising at their fastest pace since a hyperinflationary spiral a decade ago.

Mnangagwa’s trip to Russia, which began Monday, was planned before the protests erupted. He’s also scheduled to visit Kazakhstan, Belarus and Azerbaijan before flying to Davos, Switzerland, in an effort to raise investment for his economically blighted nation.

“I can’t say that we want this much or that much,” he said in an interview with the state-run Russian news agency RIA Novosti published Tuesday before a meeting with President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin announcement of the talks made no mention of loans and Moscow has in the past been reluctant to bail out struggling allies, though Russia has recently been building ties in Africa.

Mnangagwa Seeks Cash in Russia as Zimbabwe Slides Into Chaos

Russia is “ready to do everything that depends on us” to ensure its cooperation with Zimbabwe makes “a significant contribution” to government programs, Putin told Mnangagwa at the start of their talks, without mentioning money. Mnangagwa said he wanted to focus on economic ties, as political cooperation was already well-established.

In the RIA interview, Mnangagwa invited Russian companies to discuss investing in oil and gas projects in Zimbabwe, as well as in the energy sector. Russia’s state-owned diamond giant Alrosa PJSC on Monday announced plans to return to Zimbabwe to develop new mining operations with the support of the government. After the Kremlin talks, the two countries signed agreements including on a joint platinum project.

From Libya to Madagascar, Russia has been carving out a niche in Africa in part by shoring up strongmen in unstable but potentially rich states. The Kremlin has made the region a focus of its efforts to reassert geopolitical prowess and open new markets for domestic companies hamstrung by Western sanctions. Putin will host more than 50 leaders from the continent for the first Russia-Africa summit this year.

Protests Continue

In Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa’s absence leaves Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, a retired general, in charge of the southern African country. There were fewer people on the streets of the capital, Harare, on Tuesday as the government ordered Internet service providers to cut access to social-media sites including WhatsApp.

On Monday, a crackdown by security forces left eight people dead, while 200 people were “arbitrarily detained,” Amnesty International, a London-based human-rights group, said in an emailed statement.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights said 13 protesters were treated for gunshot wounds on Monday. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC, said in an emailed statement its headquarters in Harare were broken into Monday night and set ablaze by unknown assailants.

Security Minister Owen Ncube told the state-controlled Herald newspaper that the MDC, non-governmental organizations and civil-society bodies were to blame for Monday’s violence.

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