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Planning for Post-Mugabe Zimbabwe

CSR No. 31

Michelle D. Gavin

Council on Foreign Relations

October 2007

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Introduction and summary of recommendations

Over the past decade, the refusal of President Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) ruling party to tolerate challenges to their power has led them to systematically dismantle the most effective workings of Zimbabwe’s economic and political systems, replacing these with structures of corruption, patronage, and repression. The resulting 80 percent unemployment rate, hyperinflation, and severe food, fuel, and power shortages have created a national climate of desperation and instability. Meanwhile, often-violent repression has left the opposition divided and eroded public confidence in mechanisms to effect peaceful political change.

The human rights and humanitarian consequences of these developments have attracted the attention of the United States and others in the international community, as has the potential of the crisis to descend into civil conflict, to result in a failed state, and to trigger region-wide instability. But years of Western condemnation and targeted sanctions have done little to alter the course or speed of Zimbabwe’s decline.1

A continuation of the same painful deterioration that has characterized the country in recent years is one possible scenario for the future. Nevertheless, today internal economic and political pressures are coinciding with increased international attention and regional engagement in the Zimbabwe crisis. The United States should act now to capitalize on these developments and develop a new direction for its Zimbabwe policy—one that focuses not just on disapproval of the current regime, but also on a vision for the country’s future and a plan for how to get there.

Given the limits of U.S. interests and influence in Zimbabwe, policymakers and advocates should recognize that the United States probably cannot compel President Mugabe and his loyalists to step aside. But engaging with other members of the international community now to map out a path for Zimbabwe’s recovery is more than an exercise in advance planning. By working multilaterally to build consensus around governance-related conditions for reengagement, and by marshaling significant reconstruction resources in an international trust fund for Zimbabwe, the United States can help establish clear incentives for potential successors to Mugabe to embrace vital reforms. In this way, the United States can encourage and even hasten constructive forms of potential political change by affecting the calculus of those who are in a position to trigger a transition.

Sound recovery and reconstruction planning can also help the United States and others to prevent the worst-case scenarios of civil conflict, state collapse, and regional destabilization from taking hold during any future attempted political transition. Instead of scrambling to respond to unfolding catastrophe or simply setting the stage for another crisis in the future by focusing exclusively on short-term stabilization and ignoring governance, the United States can be prepared to support stabilizing efforts that create the conditions for growth and development. Once governance reforms are consolidated, the international investment in Zimbabwe’s recovery should be secured with initiatives that focus on making transitional gains sustainable, including efforts to revive agriculture, reform the security sector, and provide services and opportunity to Zimbabwe’s youth.

Finally, the United States can seize on the opportunity presented by change in Zimbabwe to enter a new phase of cooperation with southern Africa, and particularly to improve a somewhat strained relationship with South Africa. South Africa is an indispensable leader in regional peace and security matters, a driving force for establishing new standards of governance in Africa, and a tremendously important investment presence on the continent. These factors, combined with South Africa’s influence as a leader in the global south and importance as a partner in counterterrorism efforts, make the U.S.-South Africa relationship among the most important in the region.

The course of Zimbabwe’s future could continue to complicate that relationship, or, alternatively, could deepen and enrich it. By engaging in detailed consultations with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) now and developing a regional dimension to reconstruction plans, the United States can develop an approach to Zimbabwe’s transition that, in the best case, complements South Africa’s own efforts. Zimbabwe can move from the list of irritants in the bilateral relationship to the list of issues on which the United States and South Africa are invested in each other’s success.

In fall 2006 the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization spearheaded an interagency planning exercise to prepare for a range of potential changes in Zimbabwe. The United States and others have also been part of multilateral discussions about the prospects of reengaging with Zimbabwe and the reforms that would be necessary to reestablish normal relations with the donor community. Britain has begun planning for reengagement with Zimbabwe when political conditions are ripe, and the World Bank is coordinating analytic work that will be shared among donors to help them respond to the needs of a Zimbabwe in transition. But more needs to be done to make these efforts effective.2

Zimbabwe, with its tremendous national potential and existing roster of civil society leaders who have worked tirelessly and at great personal risk to resist oppression, lends itself to the U.S. desire to see success stories emerge in Africa that are grounded in democratic governance and respect for the rule of law. This report supports continuing current policies aimed at pressuring the Mugabe government and easing the suffering of the Zimbabwean people, but also aims to encourage the United States, other major international donors, and the states of southern Africa to act now to develop viable reconstruction plans, establish the institutional infrastructure necessary to ensure donor coordination, and, critically, begin marshalling the resources necessary to help the people of Zimbabwe put their country back together again. By doing so, the United States and others can help create incentives for peaceful political change in Zimbabwe.

  1. For an excellent discussion of the constraints on U.S. policy, see Princeton N. Lyman, “Zimbabwe: The Limits of Influence,” African Renaissance, vol. 3, no. 2, 2006, pp. 8–16.
  2. Earlier, groundbreaking work on this topic was done by Todd Moss and Stewart Patrick of the Center for Global Development. Their publications The Day After Comrade Bob: Applying Post-Conflict Recovery Lessons to Zimbabwe (Center for Global Development Working Paper no. 72, December 2005) and “After Mugabe: Applying Post-Conflict Recovery Lessons to Zimbabwe,” (Africa Policy Journal, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, vol.1, Spring 2006) continue to inform discussions in policy circles.

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