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Zimbabwe: An Opportunity for Reform?
Zimbabwe: An Opportunity for Reform?
Briefing 103 / Africa

Zimbabwe: Waiting for the Future

Zimbabwe’s growing instability is exacerbated by dire economic decline, endemic governance failures, and tensions over ruling party succession; without major political and economic reforms, the country could slide into being a failed state.

I. Overview

The July 2013 election victory of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) failed to secure broad-based legitimacy for President Robert Mugabe, provide a foundation for fixing the economy, or normalise external relations. A year on, the country faces multiple social and economic problems, spawned by endemic governance failures and compounded by a debilitating ruling party succession crisis. Both ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) are embroiled in major internal power struggles that distract from addressing the corrosion of the social and economic fabric. 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 commitment to national as opposed to partisan and personal interests.

Despite visibly waning capacities, 90-year-old Robert Mugabe shows no sign of wanting to leave office. The succession battle within his party is presented as a two-way race between Vice President Joice Mujuru and Justice Minister Emmerson Mna­n­gagwa, but the reality is more complex. Public battles have intensified, with intimidation and violence a disquieting feature. Mugabe’s diminished ability to manage this discord will be severely tested ahead of its December National People’s Congress. The elevation of First Lady Grace Mugabe to head ZANU-PF’s women’s league has complicated succession dynamics further.

Key economic sectors contracted in the past year and the government struggles to pay wages and provide basic services. Without major budgetary support it cannot deliver on election promises. Deals with China to improve infrastructure provide some respite, but will not resolve immediate challenges. International support from both East and West would help to maximise recovery prospects. Options are limited by acute liquidity constraints, policy incoherence, corruption and mismanagement. Vigorous reforms are needed to foster sustainable, inclusive growth.

Neither the government, nor the opposition has a plan the country is willing to rally behind. ZANU-PF’s Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZimAsset) is predicated on populist election promises and wishful thinking. The government has squeezed the beleaguered tax base further, securing limited fiscal remedy and generating resentment. The MDC-T and other opposition parties are sidelined. Their cachet with international players has been severely dented. Prospects for a common opposition agenda are remote, as is any chance of inclusive national dialogue to map the way forward. For the first time since 2007, the MDC-T is suggesting mass protest is a real option, but if past performance is any indicator, ZANU-PF will redeploy security forces when required.

ZANU-PF’s election victory created opportunities for domestic and international rapprochement. International financial institutions are engaging, albeit tentatively, as the government explores financing options. Donors must balance commitments to rebuilding relations with the government, with support for improved governance and tackling democratic deficits. Trust is affected by uncertainties around unimplemented reforms and commitment to the new constitution and the rule of law, concerns about policies, and anxieties around succession. Some in ZANU-PF now admit that a new tack is required. Mugabe took over as chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in August 2014 and will chair the African Union (AU) from early 2015. This offers an unprecedented platform to secure some positive aspects of his legacy, though he is unlikely to use this as an opportunity for rapprochement.

To avoid prolonged uncertainty and possible crisis, ZANU-PF should:

  • decide conclusively at its December congress who will replace President Mugabe were he to be incapacitated or to decide not to seek re-election in 2018;
     
  • seek to rebuild trust and collaborations with domestic and international constituencies by (i) holding an inclusive national dialogue with the opposition and civil society on political, social and economic reforms; and (ii) clarify and act on key policy areas, eg, indigenisation, land reform and the rule of law, as well as anti-corruption initiatives; and
     
  • discipline members who engage in voter intimidation, fraud or other offences.

The political opposition, needing to reestablish its credibility, should:

  • establish a consultative mechanism, in conjunction with civil society, that seeks consensus and dialogue across the political spectrum on priority – in particular economic and governance – reforms; and
     
  • review 2013 election flaws through a forward-looking agenda that addresses major concerns projected for the 2018 polls (ie, voters roll and anomalies in electoral legislative amendments).

The SADC and AU should:

  • encourage Zimbabwe to address election-related concerns identified in their respective 2013 observation mission reports.

China should:

  • encourage Zimbabwe’s government to promote political inclusiveness and policy coherence in efforts to resuscitate the economy.

Countries implementing sanctions and other measures against Zimbabwe
(ie, the EU, U.S. and Australia) should promote a coherent position that:

  • clarifies what measures the government should take to expedite removal of remaining sanctions;
     
  • consolidates re-engagement and development support contingent on progress with economic and governance reforms;
     
  • takes visible steps to strengthen democracy-supporting institutions, including an independent judiciary and human rights and election institutions, as well as support civil society’s capacity to monitor and protect constitutional rights.

Johannesburg/Brussels, 29 September 2014

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.