Zimbabwe: At The Crossroads
Zimbabwe's 24-25 June 2000 parliamentary election resulted in President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU (PF) party retaining power. However, the nine month old opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), made an impressive showing, winning 57 of the 120 contested seats. This represents a significant democratic advance in a country which, since independence in 1980, has been essentially a one party state.
With the elections over, Zimbabwe faces many immediate challenges. The first is whether the new ZANU (PF) government will take note of the massive shift in voter sentiment and reconstitute itself as an effective, responsible government capable of addressing the very serious problems facing the country, or simply be a continuation of the last government, which demonstrably failed to deliver on a broad range of issues.
Among the issues the new government must address immediately are whether to restore and reaffirm the rule of law which has been willfully violated over the period March-June in the run-up to the election; and whether to credibly address the declining economy which is in critical free fall with the prospect of a 10-20 per cent drop in 2000 GDP with all the attendant social and possibly political consequences.
In the absence of an effective new government committed to take the tough but necessary steps to turn the economy around, Zimbabwe will face continued increases in inflation, unemployment, and interest rates (all three well over 50 per cent). As of the election, international and investor confidence in Zimbabwe was virtually nil and Zimbabwe's programs with the World Bank and IMF had both been suspended because of arrears and failure to meet previously agreed conditionalities. Without prompt, demonstrable, positive action on the economic front, it is entirely possible that Zimbabwe will face food, fuel, electricity and other shortages that could lead to civil unrest by the end of 2000.
What happens in Zimbabwe also has major implications for its Southern African neighbouring states, particularly in relation to investor confidence, tourism, exchange rates, and possible refugee flows.
Many people in Zimbabwe, both in government and in the private sector, understand that Zimbabwe will need substantial outside financial assistance to reverse the economic decline. They have high, perhaps too high, expectations for such support. Having lost the confidence of the international community and would-be investors, Zimbabwe must now take concrete actions to win it back.
The biggest question mark hanging over Zimbabwe is President Robert Mugabe. He has selfishly and single-handily sacrificed his country's economy and once positive international image to his all consuming obsession to retain power. Will he change after the election? Is he capable of changing and leading his country forward? The initial signs are not encouraging but it may be that the momentum for change with or without Mugabe - not only coming from the opposition but from within ZANU (PF) itself - proves irresistible.
It is vitally important that the international community - and in particular all those governments and international organisations that have some capacity to offer or withdraw economic or other forms of support from Zimbabwe - not lose interest in the country now that the election is over.
The best way that the international community can help is by accepting nothing less than positive, concrete steps in return for its support. It must remain especially wary of taking at face value what President Mugabe says, and not, as has often been the case in the past, give him the benefit of the doubt.
For the government of Zimbabwe
- Restore the rule of law. This would include enforcement of outstanding court orders with respect to the land invasions by the so-called War Veterans, and the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for the pre-election violence that claimed the lives of over 30 Zimbabweans of all races.
- Do not victimise the MDC opposition, and work cooperatively with it.
- Address immediately the ballooning budget deficit on the current account.
- Re-engage immediately with the World Bank, the IMF, and other potential sources of outside assistance.
- Take serious steps to establish a partnership with the private sector to address the most serious economic and social issues facing the country.
- Address the land reform issue in a transparent, non political manner that takes into account interests of all those involved, perhaps through the establishment of an independent land commission.
- Withdraw the Zimbabwe armed forces deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
For the international community
- Continue programs that promote democracy and human rights and those that respond to genuine humanitarian needs.
- If the new government takes concrete steps to address the agenda of recommendations described above, re-engage with it on a carefully calibrated basis, responding to performance, not promises.
- If the government continues along previous lines, continuing to flout acceptable international norms and ignoring the demonstrated will of the people as reflected in the election results:
- Limit or downgrade diplomatic relations: in the case of the Commonwealth, by moving to suspend membership, and in the case of the EU by considering suspension of Zimbabwe's privileged trade access.
- Isolate senior government and ZANU (PF) leaders by declining to receive them abroad: stop visa issuance to senior officials.
- Continue the near universal suspension of foreign assistance programs.
- Make it clear, both publicly and privately, that until such time as Zimbabwe measures up to acceptable international standards on the rule of law, human rights, and general good governance there will be no return to "business as usual".