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Zimbabwe will not thrive if government only focuses on economy

Over the last two decades as Zimbabwe faced severe economic and political crises, the relationship has been strained, but the United States has remained committed to providing support for democracy and alleviating poverty. The United States remains the biggest donor and has given nearly USD$1 billion dollars in foreign assistance since 2001.

In 2001, the United States Congress passed the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA), commonly referred to as sanctions in Zimbabwe. Mugabe and his government blamed many of the countries’ economic woes on these sanctions.

Debates on sanctions are complex, and there is a lot of academic evidence that suggests sanctions negatively affect the poorest and most vulnerable. At the same time, targeted sanctions also constrain the behavior of rogue politicians who would otherwise have free access to resources around the world while denying their own citizens the same opportunities. 

It is my goal in this testimony to provide a broader political and economic context of Zimbabwe post-Mugabe and give some suggestions on future engagement that will bolster political stability and democratic consolidation.

It is unlikely that the new ZANU PF government will usher in a democratic system that alleviates poverty and respects civil liberties. It is also unlikely following the death of key opposition figure Morgan Tsvangirai that the opposition will spur democratic growth.

At the heart of Zimbabwe’s democratic challenges in the post-Mugabe era is debilitating poverty. In the absence of rigorous efforts to address high unemployment rates, poor health care and violence, Zimbabwe’s democratic future remains grim. 

Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980 after almost two decades of protracted war between black nationalists and a white minority government. At independence, Robert Mugabe who was then Prime Minister made a public promise to uphold democracy.

President Mugabe’s 37-year tenure was complex: while his government made significant improvements in welfare provision and universal access to education, his authoritarian rule also resulted in much suffering, notably the 1983 genocide in Matabeleland and targeted violence against the opposition led by the recently deceased Mr. Tsvangirai. In the early 2000s, the economy went into rapid decline, in part because of failed governance, a poorly executed land reform policy, sanctions and state sponsored violence on citizens and the opposition.  

 The declining economic and political conditions in Zimbabwe led to a massive exodus of an estimated 2-4 million Zimbabweans who sought refuge abroad. An estimated 80 000 Zimbabweans found refuge in the United States.

The Zimbabwean immigrant population is highly skilled and makes significant contributions to the United States economy, many of them having been educated at top universities including The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard and Yale. Zimbabwean-Americans have also made their mark in the arts, including, for example, the brilliant Black Panther actress Danai Gurira.  

Zimbabwe is headed towards elections in a few months. President Mnangagwa who succeeded Robert Mugabe is eager to move past elections and has hinted at an early election, likely in July.  Zimbabwe is going through a delicate transition following the military-assisted removal of Robert Mugabe from office by then Vice President Mnangagwa in November 2017.

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