Zimbabwe cannot have economic growth divorced from addressing human rights abuses. Robert Mugabe’s exit from politics is not enough to absolve individual crimes.
President Mnangagwa’s motto is “Zimbabwe is open for business”. The truth is that Zimbabwe has long been open for business but poor governance bottlenecked efforts by investors. President Mnangagwa has said all the right things necessary for a conducive business environment in Zimbabwe.
The real test will be whether he follows through on his promises. Since coming into power he has made few adjustments to unpopular policies including the 2016 Indigenization and Empowerment Act. This amendment should increase investor confidence and woo American investors who had moved away from investing in Zimbabwe.
While the United States faces tough competition from China and Russia in sourcing Zimbabwe’s natural resources, average Zimbabweans I have spoken to over the last three months have a preference for American businesses. Little known is the extensive collaboration between American and Zimbabwean farmers. Increased investment in agriculture will provide much needed food security for both countries as the world faces troubling weather changes.
Zimbabwe’s high literacy rates also create important opportunities for American businesses seeking to expand their market and manufacturing basis. Such partnerships can bolster employment in both countries in exciting and mutually beneficial ways.
While Zimbabwe faces a long and hard road to economic and political recovery the current government and the government that wins the 2018 elections have the opportunity to change the narrative. The new government must implement reforms to open up political space and policies that will increase the ease of doing business and addressing corruption.
A post-Mugabe Zimbabwe will not thrive if the government only focuses on the economy while ignoring the need for political reforms. The United States also has an opportunity to revise some of the conditions of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA). It is beneficial to the United States to provide clarity for American businesses working with Zimbabweans and to also support efforts by Zimbabweans seeking debt relief for their country.
The Zimbabwean government should engage in extensive investigations on human rights abuses before individuals on the targeted list of sanctions have been removed. The quality of the 2018 elections will determine the “new” ZANU PF’s commitment to democracy. It is also clear that the average Zimbabwean is more hopeful than they have ever been and support for civil society organizations will bolster this support for democracy among regular citizens.