Analyst in African Affairs
The U.S. government, which has expressed concerns regarding the rule of law in Zimbabwe for over a decade and which has long been critical of President Robert Mugabe, has been cautious in its engagement with the country’s three-year-old power-sharing government. That government, which includes members of the former opposition, has improved economic and humanitarian conditions during its ongoing transitional rule. However, significant concerns about the country’s political future remain. Zimbabwe’s March 2008 elections resulted in the party of long-serving President Mugabe losing its parliamentary majority for the first time since independence. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai received more votes than Mugabe in the presidential race, but fell short of the needed margin for victory. Tsvangirai later withdrew his name from the ballot days before the required runoff, amid widespread political violence. Mugabe was thus declared the winner. In September 2008, after weeks of negotiations, Tsvangirai and Mugabe reached an agreement to form a unity government, with Mugabe remaining head of state. Tsvangirai became prime minister and cabinet and gubernatorial positions were divided among the parties. Disputes delayed implementation of the agreement until February 2009, when members of the opposition were sworn in alongside former rivals as ministers in a new government.
The parties to the power-sharing agreement have faced significant challenges in working together to promote political reconciliation and in addressing serious economic and humanitarian needs. The high level of political violence and repression that followed the 2008 elections has subsided, but serious human rights abuses continue. The nascent recovery of the economy, which effectively collapsed in 2008, is tenuous. Zimbabwe is in debt distress, and the official unemployment rate remains over 90%. Humanitarian conditions have improved in the past three years, but localized food insecurity and high chronic malnutrition rates persist. Poor water and sanitation conditions led in 2008 to a nationwide cholera outbreak that killed over 4,000 people, and despite improvements, one-third of rural Zimbabweans still lack clean drinking water. Deteriorating conditions in the country over the past decade led many Zimbabweans to immigrate to neighboring countries, and these economic and political migrants continue to place a substantial burden on the region.
International donors welcomed the power sharing agreement, but have been cautious in reengaging the government. They have predicated a resumption of significant donor aid on additional political reforms. Many remain skeptical that true power sharing exists in the government, which includes several officials from the previous administration. Some question the commitment of the former ruling party, seen as autocratic and repressive by critics, to reform. Foreign investors also remain wary, amid uncertainty regarding the timetable for new elections, tentatively expected in 2012. Substantial movement on outstanding reforms is unlikely at least until after the elections are held.
The U.S. government has been critical of Mugabe and members of his former regime for their lack of respect for human rights and the rule of law, and has enforced targeted sanctions against top government officials and associates since 2002. The United States has, at the same time, provided substantial humanitarian assistance to Zimbabwe. Congress articulated its opposition to the Mugabe government’s undemocratic policies in the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 (ZDERA; P.L. 107-99) and subsequent legislation. Some in Congress have proposed policy changes in recent years, suggesting that U.S. sanctions be modified to reflect Zimbabwe’s current political construct, while others remain unconvinced that sufficient reform has occurred. Debate on the future of U.S. relations with Zimbabwe is ongoing.
Date of Report: October 27, 2011
Number of Pages: 34
Order Number: RL34509
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