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Council Report Urges U.S. to Prepare for Post-Mugabe Zimbabwe

Author: Michelle D. Gavin, Adjunct Fellow for Africa
November 7, 2007
Council on Foreign Relations

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November 7, 2007 – Economic mismanagement, endemic corruption, and violent repression of political opposition under President Robert Mugabe’s long reign have left Zimbabwe with hyperinflation, an 80% unemployment rate, and severe food, fuel, and power shortages.  With upcoming elections in March 2008, a new Council Special Report Planning for Post-Mugabe Zimbabwe says that now is the time to redirect policy toward Zimbabwe.

“The human rights and humanitarian consequences of these developments have attracted the attention of the United States and others in the international community,” prompting an opportunity for action, asserts the report.  “Sound recovery and reconstruction planning can…help the United States and others to prevent the worst-case scenarios of civil conflict, state collapse, and regional destabilization from taking hold during attempted political transition,” says the report.

Report author Michelle D. Gavin, international affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that focusing on the future can change the calculus of important Zimbabwean players in the present and possibly hasten Mugabe’s exit.  “Having been unable to stop Zimbabwe’s slide into crisis, the United States has a much better chance of being effective in helping to point to a way forward for the country—one that might galvanize influential Zimbabweans into action by making plain that there will be tangible benefits associated with reform.”

But effecting change requires a multilateral approach as there are limits to U.S. interests and influence in Zimbabwe.  “By working multilaterally to build consensus around governance-related conditions for reengagement, and by marshaling significant reconstruction resources in an international trust fund for Zimbabwe, the United States can help establish clear incentives for potential successors to Mugabe to embrace vital reforms,” says the report.

Although “Zimbabweans …will be the drivers for any foreseeable change,” the report maintains that the benefits of a new strategy might extend beyond Zimbabwe.  “The United States can seize on the opportunity presented by change in Zimbabwe to enter a new phase of cooperation with southern Africa, and particularly to improve a somewhat strained relationship with South Africa…. South Africa’s influence as a leader in the global south and importance as a partner in counterterrorism efforts, make the U.S.-South Africa relationship among the most important in the region,” says the report. 

The report, produced by the Council’s Center for Preventive Action, stresses three vital elements in any multilateral reconstruction effort. 

  • Agriculture: “Agriculture was at the heart of Zimbabwe’s economy before the current crisis crippled the country, and it is inextricably linked to the historical grievances relating to land tenure that have explosive political potency… The United States should support efforts to establish conditions for rural development that will boost food production and provide small peasant farmers with opportunities to succeed while also clearing away obstacles to the private investment that will help drive the sector’s recovery.”
  • Security: “Today the Zimbabwean security services are a powerful presence throughout the government and economy… But aside from a small group of those closest to Mugabe, most military officers are thought to be loyal to their institution, not to any one person in the presidency. This group…should be energetically engaged by the international community in a dialogue about security sector reform in the wake of political change.”
  • Youth: “More than 70 percent of all Zimbabweans today are under thirty years old. Zimbabwe’s demographic profile and stratospheric unemployment rates create the perfect storm of conditions to fuel youth frustration—not the most stable basis for a nationwide economic recovery... The United States and others should support programs aimed at improving access to training and education, jobs, and housing for young people.”

“Zimbabwe, with its tremendous national potential and current compelling roster of civil society leaders who have worked tirelessly and at great personal risk to resist oppression, lends itself to the American desire to see success stories emerge in Africa that are grounded in democratic governance and respect for the rule of law,” concludes the report.

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