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Can Zimbabwe re-engage with the global economy on its own terms?

Some 70 heads of state are expected to attend the Swiss meeting. Mnangagwa may get a chance to meet the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, and many others. As revealed by his FT interview, with his predecessor, he definitely approves of female British leaders, including the Queen, so prospects of rejoining the Commonwealth are raised, for whatever benefits that might bring.

Mnangagwa may also bump into some other leaders too. There will also be a scattering of the leading authoritarian populists there, including Trump and Modi, who will be offering perspectives on new nationalist and populist versions of global capitalist relations from the US and India.

But a return to a neoliberal framework for the Zimbabwean economy would be a disaster, as would an attempt to veer towards an isolationist, nationalist populism. We all know how the supplication to the conditionalities of the international finance institutions, through structural adjustment, destroyed state capacity and undermined a diversified economy from the early 1990s. Many of the problems of today derive from this period. This was exacerbated of course by Mugabe’s populism: an economically naïve ‘Zimbabwe first’ position just does not work in a connected world.

Can Mnangagwa steer a different course? Committed to redistribution, economic justice and inclusive development, while encouraging investment from different sources – both east and west – but regulated on Zimbabwe’s terms?

It may mean doing less well on the World Bank's now discredited, ideologically-motivated 'doing business' rankings exposed this week, but it may be better for Zimbabwe. He has little room for manoeuvre, and having announced ‘free and fair’, internationally-observed elections for May or June, also not much time to turn things round – but this must be on Zimbabwe’s terms.

This article by Ian Scoones was first published by Zimbabweland


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