Much to be done to arrest decline in Zimbabwe
Much to be done to arrest decline in Zimbabwe
Op-Ed / Africa 2 minutes

Much to be done to arrest decline in Zimbabwe

A year after Zanu (PF)’s election victory and the formation of a new government, Zimbabwe’s politics and economy are increasingly precarious. Immediate prospects for a sustained recovery remain bleak, made worse by dire economic decline, endemic governance failures and tension over ruling-party succession.

The 2008 Global Political Agreement (GPA) was intended to provide space to lay foundations for the country’s revitalisation. Key elements of the GPA framework, however, were left undone and what was started by the previous government of national unity has not been consolidated by the new administration. Without major political and economic reforms, the country could slide into a failed state.

Rather than addressing the corroding social and economic fabric, both the ruling party and opposition are embroiled in internal power struggles. Zanu (PF) continues to wheel out an increasingly threadbare explanation that western sanctions bear primary responsibility for its predicament, and that its economic future relies on developing relations with allies such as China and Russia. At the same time, it continues efforts to resuscitate relations with international financial institutions, as its desperate quest to alleviate liquidity constraints continues.

It is, of course, not an "either/or" situation, and Zimbabwe’s recovery requires constructive engagement on all fronts. Ironically, it is western support over the past 15 years that has averted a major humanitarian disaster.

Zimbabwe still has the capacity to reform and prevent further deterioration, but has failed to demonstrate the political will to do so. It will continue struggling without actively building confidence on a range of fronts, including tangible commitments to greater policy coherence, improved governance, adherence to the rule of law, accountability and clarity on the leadership succession in Zanu (PF).

Political and economic insecurity is worsened by mounting tension over the succession imbroglio, which has been further complicated by the entry of the first lady, Grace Mugabe, into the political arena. Declaring President Robert Mugabe as the party’s candidate for the 2018 elections, when he will be 94 years old, will do little to allay concerns and Zanu (PF) should use its December congress to decide who will replace him were he to be incapacitated or decide not to seek re-election in 2018.

Questions remain about Mugabe’s 2013 election victory, which did not secure broad-based legitimacy for the new government. Key process and institutional concerns must be addressed to avoid a rerun of such concerns in 2018. An unambiguous and tangible response to the issues raised by Southern African Development Community and the African Union observer missions is necessary. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s recent report on the polls and the body’s failure to make available an electronic copy of the voters’ roll simply reinforces perceptions of institutional bias. Such concerns cannot be simply wished away.

Zanu (PF) holds primary responsibility for investing in efforts to rebuild trust and collaboration with domestic and international constituencies. The challenge needs a collective effort underpinned by an inclusive national dialogue with the opposition and civil society on political, social and economic reform priorities; and clarifying and acting on key policy areas, including indigenisation, land reform, rule of law and fighting corruption.

Opposition to Zanu (PF) has been weakened; the Movement for Democratic Change and other opposition parties are sidelined, their cachet with international players as conduits for recovery severely damaged, and prospects for a common opposition agenda remote. Their inclusion in mapping the way forward is, however, vital, although Zanu (PF) has shown little inclination to engage.

Zimbabwe is an insolvent and failing state, its politics zero-sum, its institutions hollowing out and its once vibrant economy moribund. A major culture change is needed among political elites, as well as a commitment to national over partisan and personal interests. The international community, East and West, must explore common ground to nurture a climate for economic recovery and policy coherence. The government must show it is a reliable partner. The situation is not sustainable and the toxic residue of Zimbabwe’s decay permeates the region, further stymieing integration and development.

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.