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Zimbabwe Deep in Limbo
Zimbabwe Deep in Limbo
Zimbabwe: An Opportunity for Reform?
Zimbabwe: An Opportunity for Reform?
Op-Ed / Africa

Zimbabwe Deep in Limbo

Originally published in Independent Online (South Africa)

Political infighting and a collapsed economy offer little light at the end of tunnel for the majority of Zimbabweans.

There is no end in sight to the hardships faced by the majority of Zimbabweans. Political uncertainty and economic insecurity have worsened as the country struggles to develop the necessary foundation to underwrite a broad-based and sustainable recovery.

There was hope in 2013 that Zimbabwe was turning a corner. Elections that year should have provided a platform of legitimacy for the ruling Zanu-PF party and the country to build on the fragile confidence developed through the power-sharing period of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) between 2008 and 2013.

Thirty months later, the failures of governance in the ruling Zanu-PF party are palpable. Upbeat projections have proved to be mostly predicated on government rhetoric about new policy commitments and belief in the country’s potential.

The Southern Africa Development Community has withdrawn its mediation efforts. No replacement framework has emerged for stability, economic recovery or alignment of laws with the constitution and implementation of the rule of law.

Only 700 000 people among a population of 13 million have formal jobs, less than at independence in 1980. Ninety percent of jobs reside in the informal sector, where reliance on diaspora remittances remain crucial.

Conditions are likely to deteriorate further due to insolvency, drought and growing food insecurity, and the exigencies of its venal political culture.

Zimbabwe needs improved access to capital to help the economy grow. Harare reneged on debt repayments to international financial institutions (IFIs) in the early 2000s, triggering a 15-year-long struggle for funds.

Alternatives have proved hard to find. The country’s “Look East” policy opened important new avenues of investment, especially from China, but this is no panacea.

Zimbabwe’s hopes for a major loan on easy terms from Algeria have been dashed by the oil price collapse, which has forced the introduction of austerity measures in that country.

In the power-sharing area before 2013, a slow dance of promised reform was accompanied by incremental re-engagement with Western countries. The adoption of a new constitution was a laudable achievement, but unsurprisingly violation and selective application of the law has continued.

Since 2013, specific attention has focused on addressing the huge foreign debt. In October 2015, IFIs accepted a plan to clear $1.8 billion in arrears by May 2016. This now looks increasingly unrealistic.

Harare has only partially implemented the plan’s fiscal policy conditions, like a sizeable reduction in the public wage bill that now accounts for over 80 percent of government expenditure.

The plan also only aims to deal with outstanding debt arrears.

Obtaining new credit will require more significant and politically sensitive reforms, for which there is limited appetite ahead of elections in 2018.

US law requires American delegates in the IFIs to vote against Zimbabwe accessing new lines of credit if there are not significant improvements around “respect for ownership and title of property, freedom of speech, an end to lawlessness, violence and intimidation sponsored, condoned or tolerated by the government of Zimbabwe, the ruling party, and their supporters or entities”.

Zimbabwe must also have held a presidential election that is “widely accepted as free and fair”.

Progress in nearly all these areas has been marginal.

As with many liberation movements in the region, Zanu-PF will not countenance public debate on succession, and instead promotes a fiction that ailing 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe will be their presidential campaigner in 2018. Public promises by his controversial wife, Grace, to wheel him into work even if he can no longer walk fuel speculation that he will remain in office until he can no longer function.

This feeds growing levels of political uncertainty and insecurity, both in the back rooms of Zanu-PF and outside. Political opposition remains fractured, and prospects of convergence unlikely ahead of the 2018 elections.

The People First party, launched this week by former vice-president Joice Mujuru, will have to prove it can organise on the ground to have any real impact.

Vital reforms of abusive electoral practices and the institutions controlling them are also unlikely, increasing the likelihood of a disputed election in 2018.

Zanu-PF is fractured, but incumbency and its institutional dominance make it the country’s most powerful political entity.

Mujuru’s defection triggered a purge of any leadership elements associated with her. Fluid fault-lines pit supporters of Mujuru’s newly elevated rival, Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, against an assorted mix of Zanu-PF leaders (often referred to as Generation 40 or G40), who have lined up behind an increasingly ambitious and influential Grace Mugabe.

Her public interventions appear to have the support of her husband, including attacks on elements of the security sector and war veterans that raise fears of open conflict.

As the struggle over the Mugabe succession heats up, it is perhaps unsurprising there is little prospect of reform. The politics of fear predominate, suffocating hopes of new initiatives.

Mugabe’s eventual exit will certainly shift the political calculus, but is not a panacea for recovery; in fact, without a consensus on how to choose a successor, it may well aggravate insecurity.

If Zimbabwe is to move beyond its current stasis, and regain the trust of donors, private investors and ordinary citizens, the government must become more accountable, initiate electoral reform, end human rights and rule-of-law violations and articulate a coherent vision. Above all, Harare’s rulers must “walk the talk” of reform with actions that go beyond personal, factional and party aggrandisement.

Commentary / Africa

Zimbabwe: An Opportunity for Reform?

A new presidential administration in Zimbabwe offers an opportunity for much-needed democratic and economic reform after years of stagnation. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018, Crisis Group proposes four key areas on which the EU and its member states should focus its support: the security sector, elections, the economy and national reconciliation.

This commentary on the oppurtunity for reform in Zimbabwe is part of our annual early-warning report Watch List 2018.

Amid a rise in authoritarian tendencies across parts of the continent, Robert Mugabe’s resignation and the November 2017 appointment of his former deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, as president make Zimbabwe a potential exception, carrying fresh prospects for reform and economic recovery. Mnangagwa and his administration have set a different tone, promising to clean up government, reach across political, ethnic and racial lines, strengthen Zimbabwe’s democracy and reform its moribund economy. Re-engaging with Western partners and financial institutions is an integral component of his strategy. Questions remain, however, as to whether Mnangagwa’s administration represents a genuine change or simply a reconfiguration of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), now dominated by security sector interests and factions aligned to the new president. International actors will have an important role in encouraging the reforms that will determine whether the country can recover economically and steer a more open and democratic course.

African and non-African governments alike agree that Zimbabwe’s continued isolation would be counterproductive. Following the lead of the AU and Southern African Development Community (SADC), actors including Western governments and China – most of which were happy to see the back of Mugabe – stopped short of calling the “military-assisted transition” a coup d’état, thus ensuring they could maintain diplomatic relations with and provide assistance to the government. Most also agree that the new government should be given an opportunity to demonstrate it is serious about its commitments. But while encouragement and incentives are important, Zimbabwe’s partners, including the EU, should calibrate support to maintain pressure on the government to enact both political and economic reforms, particularly given ZANU-PF’s long track record of backtracking on its promises.

So far, Mnangagwa has set an encouraging tone, focusing on the need to resuscitate the economy and open the political system. But doubts remain. Questions surround in particular the government’s willingness to address structural economic issues through fiscal discipline, transparency and accountability. They also surround its commitment to a genuinely inclusive political system; in response, the opposition and civil society – although weak and fragmented – have united in calling for a level electoral playing field, enhanced participation, and strengthened institutional checks and balances.

A calibrated framework for EU engagement in Zimbabwe

Although relations have long been strained, the EU resumed direct development cooperation with Harare in November 2014. Since then, with member states, it has engaged in limited senior-level political dialogue. The EU set out a framework for engagement in the National Indicative Program for Zimbabwe 2014-2020, focusing on three sectors: health, agriculture-based economic development, and governance as well as institution-building.

While this framework remains relevant, Mugabe’s ouster provides the EU an opportunity to adjust its approach and offer Zimbabwe the promise of a deeper relationship should certain conditions be met (a promise which is explicit in the 22 January 2018 Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions on Zimbabwe). This would require determining levels of support based on realistic deliverables and deadlines, based partly on timelines set by the new president and government themselves (such as in Mnangagwa’s December presentation to ZANU-PF’s extraordinary Congress, his State of the Nation address and the government’s commitments to deliverables within the first 100 days in office). Specifically, the EU could link its support to reforms in four key areas:

  • Security sector, including initiatives to professionalise the police forces and provide for civilian supervision, improve parliamentary oversight of the defence sector and repeal legislation inconsistent with the 2013 constitution, such as the Public Order and Security Act (which curtails rights such as freedom of assembly) and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (which allows the state to severely control the work of the media and limit free speech).
  • Elections, including guaranteeing greater independence for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and credible voter rolls for Zimbabweans at home and abroad. The EU also should follow up on the president’s recent offer to allow EU observers to monitor the 2018 elections.
  • Economic sector, including organisation of a broad dialogue on the government’s economic reform strategy to be led by an independent committee, including representatives from the opposition, civil society, the churches and important commercial sectors.
  • National reconciliation, notably by bolstering the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission and extending its mandate so as to form a truly independent body able to deal with past government abuses.

In parallel, the EU should step up support for institutions such as the Auditor General, Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission and Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission while continuing to engage civil society organisations, and support their efforts to track government reforms, particularly those related to security, governance, fiscal accountability and anti-corruption.