Zimbabwe’s Government of National Unity (GNU) was formed on 13 February 2009. In April, the GNU launched its hundred day plan for Zimbabwe’s stabilisation. The GNU and its hundred day benchmark have been both praised and pilloried. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has declared that it will take a long time to stabilise the country, and the government should not be hostage to the hundred day calculus. The three month assessment is certainly an arbitrary convention but it is long enough to tell if the government is moving Zimbabwe in the right direction. The scorecard suggests that the GNU is doing much better than expected. The ‘coalition of the unwilling’ is indeed ushering in Zimbabwe’s renaissance.
Improved Confidence in the Economy
In December 2008, Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation peaked; prices of goods doubled, on average, every twelve hours. Basic commodities were unavailable or exorbitantly priced. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) was frantically printing worthless money, whilst the anarchistic economy was dominated by street traders.
Currently, the threat of economic collapse has receded. Food, although expensive, is widely available. The Zimbabwe dollar has been replaced by the South African rand and the US dollar. Hospitals and schools have re-opened, and fuel is more widely available. There are four main reasons for this improvement.
First, ZANU-PF has ceded stewardship of the economy to the MDC. Previously, annual budget presentations would be preceded by a supplementary budget – a sure sign that the state was following, not leading, the economy. Although power struggles continue, it is clear that the finance ministry has taken charge, bringing clarity about who is actually managing national finances.
Second, the new Finance Minister, Tendai Biti, announced a flurry of new fiscal initiatives within weeks of taking office. Confidence was revived by the speed and content of these measures, which were intended to clear the accumulated detritus of a decade of economic decline. The currency has been dollarised, as have salaries. A new national budget was produced; and the quasi-fiscal operations of the Reserve Bank have been drastically curtailed. Many bloated state institutions will soon be privatised, and the mining sector too is reviving.
Third, there has been an increase in critical humanitarian aid and smaller scale private investment. South Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have injected pump–priming funds into Zimbabwe’s economy. Private investors are re-engaging, and the IMF and World Bank are considering Zimbabwe’s case for loans. The United Nations, in partnership with other donors, is beginning to rehabilitate critical infrastructure. These are first steps yet there is now a sense of guarded optimism in, and about, Zimbabwe.
Fourth, the GNU has produced a road map, benchmarks and timelines for economic stabilisation. The Short Term Emergency Recovery Plan (STERP) of April 2009 has included amendments to Zimbabwe’s exchange control; a relaxation of import controls; a new, pragmatic budget; and cuts in government expenditure. These measures have dramatically reduced inflation, and reined in the profiteers who had pillaged the economy. In addition there is a Hundred Day Plan to stabilise the economy and to re-engage with the global system, which groups ministries into ‘clusters’, each with performance benchmarks. For the first time in a decade, government performance is being appraised by an economic, rather than a political, yardstick. It is highly significant because it brings Zimbabwe back into an economy based on global standards.
But Zimbabwe’s economic recovery is not a given. Crucially, the international development ‘dividend’ has yet to materialise. The IMF, World Bank, EU and America continue to pour humanitarian aid into Zimbabwe but they have insisted that they will not inject comprehensive development aid until the GNU meets governance benchmarks. This leaves the GNU impoverished and possibly unable to pay government salaries beyond mid-year. Civil servants are already threatening a fresh wave of strikes. Local industry and manufacturing still show little sign of revival; and the land problem is unresolved. Integrating donor aid with local business is vital for economic reconstruction. Rebuilding the middle class is also crucial to creating a revenue base for the state. Comprehensive development aid is the key to Zimbabwe’s sustainable recovery.
A Shaky Coalition
The GNU is a site of political power struggles. As ever when there are two or more centres in the political environment, there have been contradictory policy pronouncements. This was inevitable: the two main parties, ZANU-PF and the MDC-T, are reluctant bedfellows. Each side is eager to retain or expand its political territory. ZANU-PF is particularly keen to prevent the MDC appropriating the Reserve Bank, which had become the party’s private bank and financier – hence the ongoing struggles between the two parties over the removal of RBZ Governor, Gideon Gono. The MDC also want pro-ZANU-PF Attorney General Johannes Tomana removed.
The coalition has also magnified intra-party struggles. Within ZANU-PF, the presidential succession struggle remains an issue. But ZANU-PF’s biggest problem is not the succession question or whether President Mugabe contests the next elections. The real issues for ZANU-PF are how to manage the next generation of the Youth League and articulate a national vision. The MDC groups also have internal schisms; more radical MDC–T supporters were alienated by what they see as the party ‘selling out’ to ZANU-PF and the MDC-civil society alliance is fraying. The Movement for Democratic Change-Mutambara (MDC-M), which recently suffered an exodus of its executive and councillors, has the smallest political base of the three parties and is the most vulnerable.
Poring over the political entrails of the GNU obscures the most important point: namely that Zimbabwe has entered the post-liberation era. ZANU-PF’s liberationist ethos, with its appeal to racial memory and black empowerment, will continue to find supporters, but it is a dying ideology. ZANU-PF’s political space is diminishing as Zimbabweans weave a post-liberationist counter-narrative. Parliament and non-state political actors have been empowered and a new constitution is being drafted. Zimbabwe’s politics are becoming increasingly multi-polar, and have moved beyond the ZANU-PF versus MDC dichotomy. It is too early to delineate the future political landscape, but one thing is clear: liberationism is dead – it is entering the democracy of ghosts. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s GNU dances badly but it is still on its feet. The fragile coalition will probably last its allotted time span for three reasons: firstly, because the political stakeholders have more to gain from being inside the tent than being outside. Secondly, because many of the inter-party civil service disputes over governorships, ambassadors and permanent secretaries have been resolved. Thirdly, the inter-party government bureaucracy is working together relatively well.
South Africa, SADC and the Africa Development Bank have given credit facilities and substantial grants. They have also served as legitimators of the GNU, giving it the impetus for global recognition. South Africa has recalibrated its Zimbabwe policy: both Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe were invited to the inauguration of South African President, Jacob Zuma, and visa requirements for Zimbabweans have been withdrawn. The ANC now bases its Zimbabwe policy on economic pragmatism rather than ideology. Zimbabwe’s stability is vital for South Africa, both to secure its own investments (and to safeguard the 2010 football World Cup) and to avoid a catastrophe on its doorstep. Thus, Jacob Zuma called for free and fair elections in Zimbabwe in his state of the nation address.
Seeking the West
Most striking has been Zimbabwe’s return to the West. For the past decade, Zimbabwe has embarked on a ‘look East’ policy of economic and military partnerships with China, Malaysia, India and others. These continue; but the GNU has taken a ‘go West’ approach to funding. With an average of $200 million annually, the EU and the US remain Zimbabwe’s largest humanitarian donors, but they have stalled on development aid: Western governance benchmarks remain the sticking point. Nevertheless, political change in Zimbabwe and the West mean that the question is not whether to engage with the GNU, but how best to do so. Many have urged variable engagement: an incremental approach (increased investment proportional to the decrease in authoritarianism) and a selective one towards MDC elements in the GNU. This is unsurprising – but comprehensive engagement which includes ZANU-PF as well as the MDC may be more sustainable. Working with ZANU-PF and its heavy ‘baggage’ is admittedly counter-intuitive, but the fact remains that ZANU-PF will remain a significant actor in Zimbabwean politics, and deliberately marginalising it could well end up ‘punishing’ the MDC.
Sanctions continue to contaminate intra-GNU relations, and interaction between the GNU and the West. ZANU-PF has long claimed that ‘targeted’ sanctions are a camouflage for comprehensive sanctions against all Zimbabweans, and has peddled the fiction of a joint MDC-Western conspiracy to destroy Zimbabwe. But the West also has its own sanctions mythology. It is true that targeted sanctions are aimed at the ZANU-PF and military elite. But the collateral economic damage of Western disinvestment and demonisation of Zimbabwe has been high. Also, the 2001 US Zimbabwe Democracy and Recovery Act (ZIDERA) prevented international financial institutions from funding Zimbabwe. It should be repealed; and in fact the US Congress is currently debating this.
Despite the tensions, Zimbabwe’s relations with the West – and with the UK in particular – have improved. It is entirely feasible that Zimbabwe could be readmitted to the Commonwealth within the next two years. The UK High Commission in Harare now enjoys cordial relations with the government; Finance Minister Tendai Biti visited London recently and Morgan Tsvangirai is at the time of writing visiting Western capitals. One issue is the question of Zimbabwean refugees: Britain has the largest concentration of Zimbabweans outside southern Africa. Not all Zimbabweans in the UK are refugees, but many are registered as such. For years, Zimbabweans were subject to arbitrary deportation from the UK (this was stopped by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal Country Guidance ruling of January 2008, which ruled that Zimbabweans were at risk if sent back). In 2009, there have been a number of deportations and there is currently great uncertainty among Zimbabwean refugees in the UK. The policy needs to be clarified.
Fewer Zimbabweans are leaving, but there is no ‘tide’ of return migration yet. This may be no bad thing; the cash-strapped economy cannot currently absorb a wave of permanent returnees. There is no doubt that the Zimbabwean disapora has a major role to play in rebuilding the country, but it is more useful for now for Zimbabwean professionals to be incrementally ‘re-immersed’ into the economy. Many Zimbabweans have made their careers outside the country and cannot quickly be uprooted. Unpaid or sponsored ‘short returns’ are a more practical immediate step, and this is already happening. As Zimbabwe stabilises, more and more Zimbabweans will return home permanently, but there also needs to be a plan for engaging with, and integrating, Zimbabwe’s diaspora.
Security Sector Reform
The security sector remains ZANU-PF’s most formidable redoubt, but the Joint Operations Command (JOC – now operating as the Social Revolutionary Council) is a potential spoiler. The former JOC is a parallel nexus of power and has maintained loyalty to Mugabe (who is also the Commander in Chief of the Defence Forces). Opposition activists continue to be arrested, and farm invasions by war veterans, youth and police continue. There have been no prosecutions of the military and political leaders who ordered and committed the human rights abuses of the 1980s and post-2000 years. There will not be any major trials anytime soon; the GNU and the MDC in particular would be fatally undermined by the military cabal if it tried to trade peace for justice.
Still, the military grandees do not have the power they wielded in 2008, when the JOC became the de facto government. The military’s pre-eminence subverted ZANU-PF itself, and party moderates are not keen to have the party once again subsumed by the soldiers. The MDC shares the Home Affairs ministry with ZANU-PF. This ministry, which includes the police, has given the MDC groups a vital entrée into the security sector. Many middle and lower ranking personnel have called for a return to professional values through peacekeeping operations, and for the military to stay out of politics. Perhaps most importantly, the MDC, through its control of salaries, has been able to gain significant support of the soldiers by addressing ‘bread and butter’ issues such as pay and accommodation. Nevertheless, the security sector remains a powder keg, and there will need to be serious reform.
No one can have illusions about Zimbabwe’s fraught transition, and that is actually an asset for the GNU. The GNU was expected to fail; they have instead used the lowered expectations as an impetus for success. The challenges are immense and elections in 2010 will be the acid test of Zimbabwe’s recovery. But right now, after a decade as a symbol of Afro-pessimism, Zimbabwe is becoming the little engine that could.
Head, Africa Programme