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Zimbabwe must change and South Africa must act.

In the 1960s Zimbabwe was one of the richer countries of sub-Saharan Africa and neighboring Botswana was one of the poorest. As Botswana has advanced in economic terms, carefully developing a dominant party democracy that sticks to the rules and carefully, through development planning and a pro-capitalist stance, fosters economic growth, Zimbabwe has under the care of Robert Mugabe declined and in the last few years the pace of the decline has accelerated. Festus Mogae, the quiet spoken former President of Botswana has been honored for his pro-democracy and pro-development, anti-AIDS stance. Robert Mugabe, once the hero of the Liberation Movement, is now being called into account by other leaders. The Kenyan Prime Minister recently stated that just because he is a former freedom fighter, Mugabe cannot and should not cling illegally to power. Robert Mugabe, claiming that the country is facing a third struggle against external aggressors, has abused the electorate and the people of Zimbabwe as a whole. He and his closest supporters insist on clinging to power whilst the country suffers. Is there a way out?

Economically, Zimbabwe, though by geographical location a high-cost economy has historically been one of the grain baskets of Southern Africa. It is also part of the great zone of mineralization that runs through southern Africa. Given the right kind of development policy it should be economically significant instead of being in long-term secular decline. What is to be done?

There is no international conspiracy here. There is only misguided judgment and bad economic policy at work. True the country needed a land reform . The support for a rational policy, balancing Zimbabwe’s need for food and the need to expand production on tribal land by adding acreage through farm purchase has always been available. Mugabe preferred a process of rewarding his supporters and silencing his opponents by confiscating the land of productive white farmers and placing it in the hands of those without experience. Behind the rate of inflation that is so large it can hardly be counted (and the abandonment of the Zimbabwean dollar in favor of other foreign currencies in the domestic market), is a fiscal mess. The Government of Zimbabwe has systematically eroded its tax base and destroyed sources of revenue necessary to maintain investment in government run facilities such as hospitals. It has been caught out by the cholera epidemic. It has turned food into a scarce and politicized resource. By early next year, in a human-made crisis, half the population is expected to be on food aid.

There are no quick solutions to the economic problems facing the country. No doubt the United Kingdom government and other international agencies have contingency plans for Zimbabwe but such plans need a domestic political system that is working in an orderly fashion and one that is capable of operating on a non-partisan basis. Developmental aid needs a developmental frame of mind, as neighboring Botswana has shown time and again, and this is significantly lacking in those who give Robert Mugabe their political allegiance. Indeed Mugabe has nurtured a strong sense of grievance against the international community and yet this community is now essential to restoring Zimbabwe’s economic fortunes. The refusal to allow the Elders (an international group of significant former political figures) to enter Zimbabwe is part of this extreme xenophobic mind-set (as is the banning of the BBC reporters from entering the country). Any government that was genuinely concerned about the economic well-being of its population would have made a more considered approach to economic policy before the present crisis had been reached. Governments in sub-Saharan Africa find it hard to promote economic growth but bad government can wreck growth and well being for a generation. The next-door country of Botswana shows what a positve model could look like. The international resources can be readily made available to Zimbabwe but the first thing must be to secure a domestic political settlement that can form a suitable basis for the restoration of growth. A new policy direction requires a new government and this is what Mugabe and his supporters have rejected not just at the outcome of the election but several times since.

Is a political solution possible? Mugabe insists that the land issue and land re-allocations must be maintained. He is more interested in looking after his followers than he is in the wellbeing of all of the citizens of Zimbabwe. An agreement for political cooperation exists but no agreement about the allocation of portfolio responsibility is yet in place. Kenya provides a possible model. It is hard to see, especially for outsiders, where the domestic consensus for change is going to come. Economic problems have not produced such a consensus (and with such a huge rate of domestic unemployment coupled with migration, economic motivation is normally a powerful one) and internal discussions have not either. It is time for further external pressure. The only significant and legitimate external pressure that Mugabe is likely to recognize is from South Africa, backed where possible by other southern-African leaders. That Jacob Zuma, the leader of the African National Congress, has called for change is significant but the South African Government needs to back this call for change with real incentives and disincentives to Mugabe. With-holding aid is a first step in the pressure making process but it is not enough. A policy of constructive engagement is required, backed by international aid. Perhaps there is a need first for discussions built around reconciliation, raising the issue of what kind of Zimbabwe do the politicians really wish to see and from there, work towards the issue of internal power sharing. The rural violence has started again and even if the politicians find a basis for reconciliation, this needs to be sold to their supporters and backed with resources. Here the documentation is not enough for the strains of forging a new policy in a coalition government will soon otherwise overwhelm any agreement. South Africa, given the effective tarnishing of the international community that Mugabe has achieved, needs to be in process deeply, and maintain a leading position. It is only then that the international community can step in with resources designed to achieve economcicstability as the essential counter-part to political stability.