The International Role in Promoting Democratic Governance and Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe
The International Role in Promoting Democratic Governance and Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe
Speech / Africa 12 minutes

The International Role in Promoting Democratic Governance and Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe

Testimony for House of Commons International Development Committee by Donald Steinberg, Deputy President, International Crisis Group, 26 January 2010.

Mr. Chairman:

Thank you for the opportunity to address the International Development Committee on the challenges facing the international community in supporting democratic transformation and economic recovery in Zimbabwe.  As an international non-governmental organization committed to preventing and ending deadly conflict, Crisis Group welcomes the committee’s travel next week to Zimbabwe to highlight the challenges ahead for the British government in this effort.  We believe that Zimbabwe now has its best chance in a decade to put behind it the divisions, abuses, and self-implosion that has plagued the country.  The combination of an inclusive government; a re-emerging civil society; an educated population and work force; manufacturing, agricultural and mining sectors primed for recovery; and the good will of countries in its region and beyond can help Zimbabwe open the door to post-conflict recovery.  This would benefit both its long-suffering people and the broader southern African region.  

Nonetheless, major threats could still derail the process, including the resistance of intransigent senior security officials; fractious political in-fighting, especially within the with Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU-PF); a growing gap between the political class and civil society; a battered economy unable to address a 90 percent unemployment rate and meet the immediate expectations for a peace dividend; and the capricious and ever-dangerous whims of President Robert Mugabe.

MDC's Entry into Government

When Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party formed a unity government with ZANU-PF a year ago under the Global Political Accord, skeptics gave the new formation little chance of success and predicted that Tsvangirai and the MDC would fall prey to Mugabe's "divide, rule, co-opt and destroy" strategy.  While even some within the MDC shared this views, others believed there was no option.  Mugabe and his hard-line allies and security forces held a monopoly on force, was prepared to repress and abuse its political opponents, and had the obsequious support of most regional leaders, charged by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to negotiate a solution to the long-standing electoral and political crisis. The MDC calculated that its capacity to affect change would be greater within government than outside it.

The new government started out reasonably well.  Schools and hospitals re-opened.  Civil servants were paid a small stipend and returned to work.  As the Zimbabwe dollar was shelved, goods returned to empty store shelves.  A cholera epidemic was brought under control; and a bipartisan parliamentary committee was formed to reform the constitution. Human rights activists reported a significant drop in government abuses.  An ambitious yet pragmatic reconstruction program – the Short-Term Economic Recovery Programme – called for about $8.5 billion in resources, including foreign assistance and investment, and was generally well-received by foreign donors and the Bretton Woods institutions.  Prime Minister Tsvangirai, Finance Minister Tendai Biti and the MDC received much of the credit for these developments – even from the rank-and-file army – and new hope returned to Zimbabwe.

But from early on, there were ample signs of concern.  Farm seizures continued virtually unabated. While human rights abuses declined, hardline security forces continued to arrest and detain activists and MDC parliamentarians.   ZANU-PF partisans Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono and the Attorney General Johannes Tomana were unduly reappointed, top generals boycotted the new national security establishments and showed public disdain for Tsvangirai, and ZANU-PF delayed or ignored key commitments under the GPA.  The constitutional reform process stalled as ZANU-PF insisted that the so-called Kariba draft serve as the basis for a new constitution.  Some old regime elements, especially hard-line generals and other Mugabe loyalists, actively thwarted the new government, and undermined it by refusing to implement its decisions.

The Formal Challenges Ahead

Looking ahead, Zimbabwe faces several challenges, including completing the GPA, fashioning a new constitution, and moving toward new elections.  On the GPA, there has been some positive movement since the temporary suspension of the MDC’s participation in the unity government last fall and the subsequent SADC re-engagement at and since the Maputo Summit..  Among these steps are the formation of national councils to address issues of the media, human rights, and forthcoming elections.  The land audit may soon commence, which would not just be a surveying exercise but an attempt to lay the groundwork for addressing the most sensitive issue of land reform and ownership.  Regrettably, the agriculture minister has reportedly said that it is “too soon” to proceed with this vital exercise, which is intended to flush out multiple land owners, find and allocate idle land, and determine the need for assistance to new farmers -- There has been a decline in arbitrary and politically motivated detentions and arrests, but such actions must cease entirely and the onerous public order act (POSA) must be amended soon.  The appointment of governors, the installation of Roy Bennett as Deputy Agriculture Minister, and the regular functioning of the National Security Council in place of the infamous Joint Operations Command must take place as well.

The constitutional reform process must be given greater impetus as well.  There is a growing recognition that this process cannot be the exclusive reserve of the executive and legislative committees, but must be a national exercise with full participation of civil society.  This is essential especially to the MDC, since some worry that the party is losing contact with its popular base as civil society activists and unions have complained that this process is being driven by political elites for their own purposes.  Equally positive, it is increasingly accepted that the Kariba draft cannot serve as a reference for the new constitution, as it incorporates a number of anti-democratic principles and further entrenches executive powers.  The constitutional reform process seems destined to produce an acceptable draft by the end of 2010.

Finally, there must be preparations for new elections.  Many in Zimbabwe are discussing a delay of such elections for several years, perhaps until 2013, in order to take politics out of the equation as the country faces massive economic and social requirements.   Politically, many in the MDC believe that the party still has not built up enough of a record in government, and are also concerned over the military reaction to a potential MDC victory.  By contrast, many ZANU-PF stalwarts worry that their party would be swept aside in new elections, with popular support now judged very low in recent polls.  While it is still possible that Mugabe will dissolve the government in an attempt to catch the opposition off-guard and proceed to another undemocratic election accompanied by repression and fraud that secures his ”victory,” such an approach seems increasingly less likely, given increased international scrutiny, resolve and engagement.

Political, Security and Economic Challenges

Even if Zimbabwe can complete GPA, adopt a new democratic constitution and address electoral processes, however, the transition will face broader challenges.

First, there must be a maturation of the political system to ensure that the ZANU-PF and the MDC engage as both competitors in the political arena and partners in the unity government.  This will be difficult to achieve, especially under the divisive Mugabe, but other ZANU-PF leaders, including a faction led by Vice President Joice Mujuru, know that their party is reeling, has lost much of its popular support, and needs a generational shift to rejuvenate its leadership.  Meanwhile, the MDC knows that it must still demonstrate to the country that it is a viable custodian of the state, showing itself to be competent, clean, and capable of preserving social change since independence.  It is responding seriously  – as it must – to recent allegations of untoward practices by some regional councils and recent entrants into government.  It must also keep faith with its broad following by ensuring that civil society – including trade unions, human rights groups, and women’s organizations – are fully engaged in the process of governance.

Equally challenging are security issues.  Many observers fear that a dozen or so so-called “securocrats” hold de facto veto power over transition.  This topic was so sensitive that it was not even addressed in the GPA negotiations.  These generals and other senior security officials are motivated by differing factors: fear of a loss of power and its financial benefits; possible prosecution for their crimes, including Matabeleland killings in the 1980s; hatred of Tsvangirai and the MDC; and a belief that they are the guardians of the country's liberation.  Many Zimbabweans believe it is necessary to achieve their retirement, even at the cost of a “soft landing” allowing them to keep their assets and gain domestic impunity from possible prosecution.  Similarly, the living conditions and salaries of the rank and file military must be improved, and security sector reform must ensure an apolitical military and police force respectful of human rights.

The devastated economy is an equally daunting challenge. While Finance Minister Biti has won good marks for helping restore confidence and stability to the economy, the prospects for rapid recovery are weak, given years of agricultural decline, infrastructure neglect, anti-business policies, and a weak international economy that rules out large new aid or investment packages.  There is a broad consensus among labour and business leaders to reverse the negative impact of an “indigenisation” policy, formally adopt a stable foreign currency to permanently replaced the Zimbabwe dollar, ensure foreign donors that the Multi-Donor Trust Fund will be a clean and transparent mechanism for aiding the country, and secure the departure of reserve bank governor Gideon Gono, whose record of biased and tainted practices have discouraged new donors and investors.  Not only were so-called “quasi-fiscal” measures used to divert government resources into pet projects benefitting the politically connected in the past, but as recently as this year, the IMF has reported that up to $16 million was transferred from statutory reserves into such areas as funding presidential scholarships, Air Zimbabwe, and diplomatic missions.

The Risks of International Disengagement

During his visit to London, other European capitals and Washington last summer, Tsvangirai was met with luke-warm encouragement, much skepticism, and little cash.  In addition to donors’ reluctance to support a government including Mugabe, Zimbabwe's timing is awful.  It is seeking massive foreign aid and private investment at a time when donors are cutting aid budgets and foreign investors are seeking safe havens in the stormy global economy.  Tellingly, no one called for a "Marshall Plan” for Zimbabwe.

In fact, this stance risks thwarting the very changes the international community is seeking, both by weakening the hand of the MDC and moderates in ZANU-PF, and by undercutting popular support for the reform process. The humanitarian situation remains dire, with reluctant donors hard-pressed to address the demands to ward off disease and hunger. The UN and non-governmental organizations have warned of a potential new cholera outbreak ahead of the rainy season.  Moreover, doctors and teachers have gone on strike off-and-on to demand real pay.

While the primary tasks ahead rest with Zimbabweans themselves, the international community has a vital role to play.  SADC must take its role as guarantor of the GPA seriously, as it did during its meeting in Maputo in early November.  In particular, the advent of South African President Jacob Zuma and his pledge to stay on top of the brief must convey the message that the region will abide no alternative to the current process.  President Zuma’s appointment of three of his most respected and trusted advisers to monitor the Zimbabwe account was a welcome indication that he will press a tougher stance vis-à-vis Mugabe on outstanding GPA obligations, respect for rule of law, and cessation of repressive actions by the security forces under his control.

The broader international community, especially the UK, U.S., the EU and China, should support and complement SADC’s efforts by a careful calibration of trade, aid, and investment to encourage progress, and maintenance of sanctions on the intransigent parties.  The outside world should provide new recovery and development assistance only through “clean” and official mechanisms, and new engagement from the IMF, World Bank and African Development Bank.

Targeted Sanctions; Targeted Assistance

The international community should stand firmly against those thwarting democratic transformation in Zimbabwe.  Tough targeted sanctions against such individuals and the companies they control should remain in place to secure the commitment of the recalcitrant parties to their commitments under the GPA.  At the same time, the international community must recognize and encourage changes now occurring.  One tangible step would be to consider lifting sanctions of certain entities, such as the Agricultural Bank of Zimbabwe, that help revitalize key sectors of the economy without overly benefitting the intransigent parties.  The U.K. and EU should make clear to Zimbabwe the specific steps it needs to see in order to lift these and other sanctions.

Further, targeted reconstruction and development assistance – channeled through fully transparent, credible and accountable mechanisms and institutions – is essential now.  Such mechanisms exist, such as the Multi-Donor Trust Fund.  The International Monetary Fund has ensured responsible use of the one-time expansion of special drawing rights to Zimbabwe equivalent to a $500 million loan for the purpose of building and repairing schools, hospitals, roads, railways and communication networks.

International donors should assist revival of education, agriculture, water, health and sanitation, including support for the Government Works Program.  Particular attention should be given to assisting women, including reproductive health care and girls' education.  Donors should also help empower a functioning civil service and legislature, and help reform politicized government institutions, including the judiciary.  Civil society must be strengthened, given that groups of women, academics, journalists, lawyers, farmers, and others were fractured and polarized in recent years by Mugabe's tactics.  Finally, innovative programs should encourage new trade and foreign investment in Zimbabwe to address the country's massive unemployment rate and promote the return of millions Zimbabwean migrants who are increasingly the target of xenophobic attacks in South Africa and elsewhere in the region.

British Interests in Zimbabwe's Recovery

At a time when more urgent and higher-profile crises fill the in-boxes of British policy-makers, it would be easy to move the slow-simmering crisis in Zimbabwe to the back-burner.  Neither the MDC nor ZANU-PF consorts with global terrorists, and collapse of the unity government will not lead to jihadi training camps in rural areas.  Zimbabwe neither supplies nor traffics in illegal drugs, arms or persons.  Its refugees are not flooding into the UK.  Zimbabwe has no oil, and many of its minerals face weak global demand.  No exotic diseases threaten pandemic: Zimbabwe suffers from "just" cholera, malaria and HIV/AIDS.  The country straddles no sea lanes and has no pirates.

But there are strong motivations for broad British engagement. Just because the global effects of Zimbabwe's implosion have so far been modest, this could change rapidly. Transnational threats incubate in unexpected ways in the hothouse of instability and weak governance. What if the H1N1 virus had emerged in Harare and swept through a country where the health infrastructure had been ravaged?

Zimbabwe's recovery is of major regional importance.  If Zimbabwe is a smallish country of 12 million people, the southern African region – with a market of 200 million, growing oil production, peacekeepers throughout Africa, and a location along key shipping lanes – is by contrast of great strategic, commercial and political importance to the UK.  A prosperous Zimbabwe could be an engine of growth for the region, providing key links to regional communications, transport and electricity grids.  Zimbabwe has long been considered a potential breadbasket for the region, based on what used to be efficient agriculture, albeit needing serious and responsible land reform and new capital inputs.

By contrast, instability in Zimbabwe is profoundly destabilizing to its neighbors.  Zimbabweans fleeing economic hardship and political abuses have flooded across borders, overwhelming the social services and the good will of South Africa, Botswana, and other neighbors.  Notwithstanding its stellar record for stability and human rights, Botswana has built an electrified fence and resorted to detention and expulsions to keep desperate Zimbabweans out.

Some worry that a strategy of engagement would prematurely reward Mugabe and his hard-line supporters, or somehow reduce the pressure on them to cooperate with the reform process.  In truth, political engagement and targeted assistance through credible and transparent channels would strengthen the hands of moderates and make it more difficult for the extremists to again seize power.

Put simply: to sideline those who are thwarting the democratic transformation in Zimbabwe, the world should embrace the unity government now.

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