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Events are in tremendous flux in Zimbabwe after the non-coup committed by the military last week and the resignation of President Robert Mugabe on November 21. The immediate focus of negotiators has been on finding a peaceful exit for Mugabe and some kind of inclusive authority to get the country to elections.
Yet, it’s also not too early for the international community to start considering constructive steps to help the country get through the inevitable transition and back on a path to democracy and prosperity. Here are a few ways:
Technical support for a timely and credible election. After losing a referendum in 2000 and the presidential election in 2008, the ruling ZANU-PF has manipulated and distorted the electoral system to the point that it can no longer deliver a fair result. Elections have long been scheduled to be held by August 2018, but the country likely needs time to overhaul its flawed voting system and to align its laws with the 2013 constitution, if it hopes to have a truly free and fair poll. Objective technical support from the outside, including with the voter roll and data systems, could give opposition candidates confidence in the poll and boost the integrity of the outcome.
Set benchmarks for ending sanctions. The United States, Canada, Australia, and the EU all have sanctions in place on targeted individuals who are responsible for undermining democracy and the rule of law in Zimbabwe. The US Treasury currently lists 209 individuals and entities that are subject to US financial sanctions. Once Mugabe is out of power and a transition is genuinely underway, these programs should begin a review of the benchmarks for cancellation.
Debt restructuring. Zimbabwe owes more than $9 billion to international creditors, including more than $1 billion in arrears to the World Bank. Resolving the arrears overhang is a precondition for new lending—and any eventual economic recovery. A bailout plan presented by the authorities in Lima in 2015 was far too premature. But the plan nonetheless provided the skeleton for a roadmap. Clear and careful triggers for arrears clearance and eventual lending (rather than an embarrassing whitewash) could provide momentum for reforms in a manner that the US and other shareholders could get behind.
Private investment. While aid and debt relief will be necessary, the real investment that’s going to drive Zimbabwe’s revival of its farms and factories will come from private capital. Zimbabwe’s allies could help to facilitate diaspora investment back home and use agencies like OPIC and the CDC to catalyze and crowd in private investment. For the US, this is especially relevant in the electricity sector where Zimbabwe will need a major overhaul and the Power Africa tools are ready to contribute.
A land ownership audit. Agriculture is still the backbone of the economy, a source of employment, and the foundation of the banking sector. Land is a highly-charged political issue, but dealing with who-owns-what and issues of fairness and efficiency cannot be avoided if the country hopes to move forward. Some kind of external platform, perhaps hosted by the UN, could start that process with an objective accounting and audit of land ownership.
Support for a formal justice and healing process. Zimbabweans will eventually need some mechanism for dealing with past injustices and atrocities. This might be like South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which offered amnesty in exchange for open testimony, or some other arrangement suited to Zimbabwe’s circumstances.
Zimbabwe’s future is, as it should be, in the hand of its own people. But the country has friends around the world and cannot thrive isolated from the rest of the world. The international community has a crucial part to play in supporting Zimbabweans to recover from their national trauma and realize their own ambitions.