Former US ambassador to Zimbabwe urges Washington to work with whoever wins coming elections


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If we truly want to see Zimbabwe develop to its potential, we must be prepared to work with the winner of a credible, nonviolent election, regardless of the political party. Even if the election is credible and nonviolent, any new government is almost certain to contain officials who bring a lot of historical baggage with them to the positions they occupy. I firmly believe, however, that we should, in such a situation, put the past behind us and focus on the policy statement in the introduction of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001; ‘it is the policy of the United States to support the people of Zimbabwe in their struggle to effect peaceful, democratic change, achieve broad-based and equitable economic growth, and restore the rule of law.”

I leave development of the precise modalities of our actions to the policy makers and the professionals in the Foreign and Civil services of our foreign affairs agencies, primarily State and USAID, but I would offer a few suggestions on the way forward.

First, we should instruct our embassy in Harare to establish contact with Mnangagwa and his current government to reiterate our policy regarding sanctions, and to inform him that, if upcoming elections are credible and nonviolent, we are prepared to recognize and work with the new government. While we should continue to monitor the human rights situation, our initial focus should be on actions to reinvigorate the country’s economy and empower the private sector to revitalize the agricultural sector, and rebuild stagnant industries, with a view to creating meaningful employment and broad economic security. We should encourage the new government to develop an investor-friendly climate, and take steps to curb corruption, while at the same time, encouraging American business to explore opportunities to increase two-way trade and investment.

During my time as ambassador, we experimented with a local economic development program modeled on an Asian village financing scheme. Women in a few poor rural villages were taught to organize local savings clubs, in which deposits were loaned out to members at low interest rates for income-producing ventures. These programs, though known to the government, were outside government control, and within months of establishment, totally self-reliant. Consideration should be given to implementing such a program in rural and suburban

communities country-wide. People who are economically self-sufficient are less vulnerable to political exploitation.

The elephant in the room, which can’t be entirely ignored, is the Zimbabwean military. Existing laws and regulations will limit what we can do with the military, but for the long term, peaceful development of Zimbabwe, at some point we will have to figure out a way to work with this institution. Initially, I believe the primary focus should be on inculcating in the military establishment an ethos of service to the nation as a whole rather than identification with a specific political party. In my limited contact with senior military officials when I was ambassador, I was convinced that there exists within the military establishment a cadre of people who would like to professionalize and depoliticize the institution. The challenge will be to identify those individuals, and develop effective ways of working with them. One possibility might be to establish a working relationship with the SADC Peacekeeping Academy, which is located in Harare, and allowing Zimbabwean military participation in courses of instruction on military professionalism. I leave it to State and Defense, working with the congress, to determine just how such a program would be implemented.

While I have, in making these recommendations, assumed that elections will be held in July 2018, and that they will be credible and nonviolent, I must make clear at this point that I am not making a prediction. I do believe that if everyone approaches the coming months with an earnest desire to see Zimbabwe pull itself out of the doldrums and take its rightful place in the region and the world, it can happen. If it does happen, if everyone then puts the past behind them and focuses on the future, a new and more vibrant Zimbabwe can arise Phoenix-like from the ashes.

 

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The Insider

The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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