Zimbabwe, once an African garden spot, is now characterized by bad governance, ubiquitous human rights abuses, abrogation of the rule of law, and poverty. These negatives are closely associated with Robert Mugabe, 91, who rules the country with an iron hand and with no apparent succession plan in place. Mugabe’s policies have resulted in humanitarian disaster and waves of refugees, mostly to South Africa.
Ambassador George Ward, ret., a distinguished career diplomat now at the Institute for Defense Analysis, has written a compelling Contingency Planning Memorandum (CPM) with a focus on the potential for violence in Zimbabwe to threaten the interests of the United States in southern Africa, which include support of good governance, increased trade, as well as greater domestic and foreign investment. He also discusses the special challenges that developments in Zimbabwe pose for South Africa and other states in the region.
Ambassador Ward concludes that there is “both time and opportunity” for the United States to reduce the potential for violence in Zimbabwe and to prepare for a transition that could result in improved governance and ensuing economic prosperity. Among other policy prescriptions, he urges the United States to follow a regional approach, to strengthen a partnership with South Africa, and to broaden its consultations with other African countries, the European Union, and China. He also argues for Washington to initiate a high-level dialogue with the current Zimbabwean government using a variety of methods and fora. Among his most important suggestions is that the administration begin regular consultations with Congress on Zimbabwe, initially at the staff level.
Ambassador Ward makes the important point that despite limited U.S. leverage, all is not hopeless with respect to Zimbabwe’s future. But, enhanced Washington engagement is necessary. It is to be hoped that his Contingency Planning Memorandum enjoys a wide readership among U.S. policy makers.
The Council’s Center for Preventative Action (CPA) seeks to help prevent, defuse, or resolve deadly conflicts around the world. With that goal, its Contingency Planning Series seeks to raise awareness of potential crises and generate practical policy options to lessen the likelihood that such crises will occur.