Zimbabwe: No Quick Solutions, No Easy Answers

Regime change may not be the best thing for Zimbabwe either.


Economic distortions continue today, mining, manufacturing, and most industry remains in the hands of externally-based companies, the white minority, or a small African elite. In addition, South African businesses are taking advantage of Zimbabwe’s weaker national economy and have begun to establish a foothold in the country.

Many analysts point to Zimbabwe’s Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP), which began in 1991, as the source of the current economic difficulties. Despite Zimbabwe’s economic progress of the 1980’s, during which the economy grew at 4 percent from 1986 – 1990, the country accumulated massive debt, as well as high defense costs resulting from apartheid South Africa’s war against the Southern Africa region. ESAP, as has been the case in many other countries, “undermined the country’s industrial base.” The imposition of tariffs on manufacturing inputs, trade liberalization–which exposed manufacturing companies to foreign competition–decreasing productivity, privatization, imposition of user fees for education and health, decline in wages and employment were all the main outcomes of the program. ESAP’s “overall impact was deindustrializing, with foreign competition increasing dramatically,” and a weakened economy.

The government’s decision to provide a Z4.5Bn financial payout to militant war veterans in 1997 further increased the budget deficit and inflation. Moreover the military costs of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1998 – 2003) and a steep decline in agricultural production following the land redistribution have added to the country’s economic woe.

Today, the country teeters on the brink of economic collapse. Unemployment in the formal sector stands at 85 percent. Government estimates of the inflation rate are incomprehensible; suffice it to say that the most Zimbabweans live on less than $2 per day and this month the cost of a few liters of cooking oil is $2.50. “Overall GDP growth has cumulatively declined by 33.5 percent between 2000 and 2006 and the economy is projected to further decline….” Fuel is “acutely scarce,” electricity erratic, external debt “continues to mount, and “the country has witnessed a deterioration of all major infrastructures.”

Sources within the Administration emphatically state that Zimbabwe’s economic isolation will continue until there is a political transition in the country.

Pro-democracy supporters in the region and in Zimbabwe, however, are not united in a single message. Some regional actors express extreme dismay over human rights abuses, and call for an end to the hostile rhetoric of the west, expressing concerns over the possibility that continued destabilization could impact the entire region. Additionally, some analysts fears that the rhetoric has only emboldened Mugabe and in fact prolonged his stay, one Zambian human rights activist opined “the US and the UK have created a monster” and that “Mugabe would have left several years ago” if the west had not publicly sought to isolate the regime.

Further complicating the search for a sustainable way forward is the impact of very potent African nationalism. Pressure, in the form of rhetorical condemnation against Zimbabwe, from the U.S. and the United Kingdom is too reminiscent of the Western destabilization of several African governments in the post-colonial period, including Nkrumah’s Ghana and Lumumba in the Congo. And, the United States’ Cold War manipulations have given this nation a questionable track record in Africa, and Africans have not forgotten.

Africans look at the debacle in Iraq and assess that Westerners pushing for regime change are simply not to be believed. The West is not prepared for the fallout of regime change. They are not prepared to address possible regional destabilization, the loss of life, or the impact of refugees.

Whatever the outcome of the election process, as flawed as it will likely be, increased diplomacy, support for the country’s internal actors and for Southern African attempts to create and implement workable frameworks for problem solving, must be central to the U.S. policy making process.

Nicole Lee is a regular contributor to The Root.