The year 2010 will be critical for U.S. policy toward Africa, from Sudan to Somalia and the Congo to Zimbabwe. President Barack Obama should use the fast-closing window of opportunity to begin a new era in U.S.-Africa relations characterized by a people-centered development strategy and respect for human rights, the environment, peace and justice.
In 2009, Washington flat-lined funding for HIV/AIDS, resuscitated and empowered the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and tripled the budget for the Military Command for Africa established under President George W. Bush. These policies all contributed to further entrenching poverty, the leading threat to human security, as well as U.S. national security in the region.
The United States has pushed for deregulation, free trade, and structural adjustment programs to poor countries. It has also increasingly militarized foreign policy. As such, the United States is missing a historic opportunity to leverage its enormous economic and political power to lead the international community in a global fight to eliminate poverty, disease, and conflict.
In this new decade, U.S. policy toward Africa must support the full spectrum of human rights on the continent, and it must be inseparably integrated as a pillar of U.S. foreign policy. Human rights are the foundation for political and social stability and economic progress.
Nigerian lawyer Paul I. Adujie wrote in the New Liberian on August 21 that “America’s Africa Command, in conceptual terms and actual implementation, is not intended to serve Africa’s best interests. It just happens that Africa has grown in geopolitical and geo-economic importance to America and her allies. Africa has been there all along.”
The argument that AFRICOM is primarily designed to provide humanitarian support has largely disappeared. Yet the United States still struggles to persuade African people of the benefits of AFRICOM. To most observers, Africa has never been the intended beneficiary of AFRICOM. Based on the historical record, including direct comments from National Security Advisor James Jones, co-founder of AFRICOM, the goal of the new command is to protect U.S. access to oil and to protect U.S. corporate interests in Africa.
In his only major speech in sub-Saharan Africa, Obama reiterated a point AFRICOM has been making since its establishment in October 2007, “Our Africa Command is focused not on establishing a foothold in the continent, but on confronting these common challenges to advance the security of America, Africa and the world.”
Many African countries certainly have serious security concerns. But the behavior of the state and the national military, combined with international economic interests, is often the catalyst for that insecurity. The question is whether the United States supports the forces of democracy and rule of law in Africa or whether, by treating dissent with military force rather than traditional law enforcement techniques, the United States has undermined democratic movements and encouraged extremism and the growth of anti-Americanism.
When it comes to the extractive industry in Africa, which thrives in corrupt and dictatorial environments, the United States and AFRICOM have helped to maintain the status quo. AFRICOM’s leaders have made it clear that they pay particular attention to armed African militants, even if these rebels claim they are protecting their environment and natural resources from exploitative Western corporations and individuals.
In Nigeria, where oil companies have long siphoned off oil profits through sweetheart deals with the government, Niger Delta community leaders like Ken Saro Wiwa appealed for peace and the reinvestment of some oil profits. The government rebuffed these appeals and executed Saro Wiwa. Today, frustrated Niger Delta residents are taking up arms. Since Nigeria is the fifth-largest crude oil exporter to the United States,(by 2010, up to a quarter of U.S. oil imports will come from West Africa) Washington is very concerned and is looking to support Nigerian military efforts to crush the dissidents.
Gabon is another major oil producer, whose long-time dictator Omar Bongo notoriously favored French oil interests over those of the Gabonese. Two months after his death in June, the United States organized its Exercise African Endeavor 2009 to bring together the militaries of 25 African nations to Gabon for maneuvers. One month later, after a controversial election, Bongo’s son and former defense minister Ali Ben Bongo was sworn in as the new president.
In October 2009, the Obama administration announced a new $5 million Counter Terrorism Train and Equip (CTTE) program for Mali. The program is intended to enhance Mali’s ability to control its borders, and transport and communicate with internal security (counterinsurgency) units throughout the country. Mali has been dealing with insurgencies since 1992, as Toureg communities in the northern part of the country fight for greater political power. According to a Malian military official, “the gift from the U.S. and talk of co-operation with other countries in the region may mean the battle [against the insurgents] is about to begin in earnest.”According to the State Department, “We believe that our work with Mali to support more professional units capable of improving the security environment in the country will have future benefits if they are sustained.”
In Somalia, the United States is currently conducting unilateral military attacks against alleged al-Qaeda operatives. In 2009, a senior State Department official revealed that the Obama administration had initiated a program of indirect military support for the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia. The program provided $200 million to the TFG to finance weapons purchases and make the U.S. base in Djibouti available to Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, and France to deploy troops and provide military training. However, the TFG still does not have a significant foothold in Somalia and cannot claim to represent Somali interests. A major focus of U.S. security concerns are the “pirates” off the coast of Somalia. Yet many of these privateers are contesting foreigners’ illegal dumping and fishing, not to mention responding to the poverty and internal displacement resulting from the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion in 2005. A simple military response to this complex issue is inadequate.
Accused of ignoring or de-emphasizing human rights, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton strongly defended the Obama administration’s preference for private diplomacy with certain countries. However, several key U.S. military satellite countries in Africa openly mock human rights and democracy. Consider these examples: Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi berating a U.S. government human rights official, Gambia’s presidential declaration to kill human rights activists, the Kenyan government’s refusal to accept any accountability for post-election violence, the Congo’s threat to expel its UN mission, and Rwanda’s role in financing incursions into the eastern Congo along with new proposed efforts to criminalize homosexuality.
Clearly, none of these governments worries that repressive acts and human rights violations could result in losing vital U.S. military support. The AFRICOM website does not mention any of these developments.
Whether it’s in Somalia, Sudan, Nigeria or a number of other African nations, the private military industry continues to gain significant profits from AFRICOM. According to the International Peace Operations Association, an organization created to support the private military industry, defense firms continue to hold a number of events on key issues, including AFRICOM, humanitarian security and Sudan. During one such convention Chris Taylor, a former Blackwater executive, said, “Everybody’s always been interested in Africa…it represents a huge opportunity for business.” However, given that there is little to no congressional oversight of private military contractors (PMCs), coupled with the already well-known history of defense contractors in other areas of the world, it isn’t surprising that African civil society has strongly opposed the idea that PMCs can create lasting, positive peace. In addition, the promised review of U.S. policy in the Obama administration regarding the use of PMCs has not been forthcoming, and to date the same PMCs that were used during Bush years continue to receive major contracts to the United States.
Meles Zenawi has been in power as prime minister of Ethiopia since August 23, 1995. He has forged very strong military ties to the United States, and his loyalty has resulted in billions of dollars in U.S. military support and aid.
Ethiopia’s controversial election five years ago resulted in a military crackdown, with over 200 deaths and thousands imprisoned or exiled. Furthermore, because the United States needed support from the government of Ethiopia to lead an invasion of Somalia, it turned a blind eye to numerous human rights violations and all but endorsed Zenawi.
In May 2010, Ethiopia is scheduled to have new elections. The incumbent party is the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) headed by Zenawi. At the beginning of November 2009, after two months of comprehensive negotiations, the ruling EPRDF and three opposition political parties signed a historic joint agreement on an electoral code of conduct and implementation guidelines. The code was designed to affirm basic constitutional rights and ensure free and fair elections in 2010. However, it excluded other leading opposition political parties.
Medrek, a forum for eight political parties, walked out of the negotiations after accusing the ruling party of imprisoning 450 of its members and candidates “to stop them [from] running as candidates in national elections.” One Medrek member in prison is Birtukan Mideksa, a charismatic young former judge. After her party won more than a third of the legislative seats in the 2005 election, government forces arrested and sentenced her to life imprisonment for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.” A storm of international protest from human rights activists ensued, and the government pardoned her in 2007. Touted as a potent force in the 2010 vote, Birtukan was re-arrested in 2008 and remains imprisoned today.
Since September 10, 2009, security forces have arrested dozens of politicians and opposition supporters, accusing them of plotting against the government. Melaku Teferra, another prominent associate of Birtukan’s party, was among 40 people arrested and accused in October 2009 of participating in a coup plot allegedly directed by Berhanu Nega, the former mayor of Addis Ababa. On November 19, the government accused 27 additional opposition leaders of conspiring to overthrow Prime Minister Zenawi. Despite the pretense of democracy, Ethiopia remains a police state under the firm control of Meles Zenawi, not the people of Ethiopia.
Dozens of Democratic and Republican members of Congress have urged the Obama administration .to end the war in northern Uganda. A previous U.S.-supported operation dubbed Lightning Thunder failed to achieve this objective. The Northern Uganda Recovery and Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Disarmament Act of 2009 (S.1067), authorizes substantial funding for long-term reconstruction efforts and transitional justice. However, it also opens the door for AFRICOM support of another military intervention aimed at the LRA.
Last year, armies from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi each deployed approximately 100 soldiers to join 550 U.S. military personnel in northern Uganda in one of the largest U.S. military exercises in Africa to date. Last October the United States initiated the exercise known as Natural Fire 10, with live ammunition, in Kitgum, a small area that has witnessed civil unrest since the early 1980s. And while Major Gen. William B. Garrett III insisted that the exercise focused on training for humanitarian and civic assistance, disaster relief, and regional security, the U.S. Army commander added that the forces would be ready to respond to any security threat that might arise in the Kitgum region. According to civil society groups on the ground, the U.S. military does not appear to be coordinating with humanitarian organizations that have long operated in the area.
From 2004 through 2008, Uganda received a total of $1.2 billion in President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) money. Days after the Kitgum exercise, Uganda received $285 million more in aid. The money is the largest single amount given to Uganda directly from another government.
At the same time, the Ugandan parliament is considering the proposed “anti-homosexuality bill” that could make homosexuality punishable by a life prison sentence and, in some cases, by death. Although homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, the proposed bill’s sharper teeth allow the government to go after civil society groups that support the human rights of homosexuals. This bill is coming up conveniently before legislative elections in March, when Museveni hopes to maintain his 24-year hold on Uganda. Thanks to civil society activists in the United States and in Africa, the White House issued a statement that “the President strongly opposes efforts, such as the draft law pending in Uganda that would criminalize homosexuality and move against the tide of history.” This statement has little leverage, however, if the United States doesn’t back up its rhetoric with specific actions.
Foreign Aid Reform
The United States will likely unveil a revised U.S. foreign aid act this year. The National Security Administration, the State Department, the Senate, and the House of Representatives are each advancing foreign aid reform measures, including updating the Foreign Assistance Act of 1960. These aid initiatives must be tied to bold poverty reduction targets and measurable improvements in the lives of poor people.
Like all countries heavily invested in African resources, the United States has crafted its foreign assistance as an extension of its economic and security interests. But poverty reduction is actually in the U.S. interest. Poverty not only limits the market for U.S. goods but also overwhelms government attempts to reduce dependence on foreign assistance. To counter this dependency, an economy must be able to produce an adequate supply of fair-paying jobs with capital flowing through community hands. Foreign assistance is wasted when used tosupport elites, for it only strengthens failed systems and entrenches poverty, which in turn undermines stated aid goals. Allowing greater participation by local governments and civil society in development strategies will help meet the country’s poverty-reduction goals in ways that respect local conditions and cultures.
In order to reduce poverty, the United States must develop a strategy both for immediate humanitarian assistance and long-term development that reaches poor and marginalized communities. The United States has proven to be very successful at disaster relief but less so at making lasting improvements. We must also be more efficient with our money and provide a better account to the American people of how much aid we are really providing. The most recent evidence suggests that at least 60 percent of aid never leaves the United States but is instead spent on overhead, travel, and procurement of American-made cars, computers, and equipment, as well as the salaries and benefit packages for U.S. consultants.
Economic Policy, Debt
People in the Global South—in particular women and workers—continue to face falling commodity prices and rising unemployment. As countries have been severely affected by the global economic crisis, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has significantly increased its total committed lending from about $3.5 billion in August 2008 to about $170.4 billion in August 2009.
Africa bore the brunt of the financial crisis in 2009, and its effects will very likely continue through 2010. Although Africa accounts for 30 percent of the world’s mineral resources, including 40 percent of gold, 60 percent of cobalt, 90 percent of platinum, 72 percent of chromium, and approximately 65 percent of diamonds, 87 percent of Africans still live on $2 a day and do not benefit from the continent’s vast natural resources.
Africa’s $200 billion debt continues to be the biggest obstacle to the continent’s development. It is not an issue confined to economic and financial spheres. Economic liberalization and privatization of agricultural marketing have not been successful. In fact, despite a shift in rhetoric on its structural adjustment policies, the IMF’s lending policies remain by and large unchanged.
In order to help strengthen and stabilize the economies of poor countries, the IMF must make a fundamental institutional shift toward providing poor countries with greater voting shares and representation in the decision-making bodies.
A bipartisan group of congressional leaders—including Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), and Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL)—introduced the Jubilee Act of 2009 (HR 4405) in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill calls on the U.S. Treasury Department to negotiate a multilateral agreement on debt cancellation for up to 22 additional poor countries so they can meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and seeks to reform current IMF/World Bank policies and other global lending practices. Another key piece of legislation—The Stop VULTURE Funds Act, H.R.2932, introduced by Representatives Maxine Waters and Spencer Bachus on June 18—would prohibit sovereign debt profiteering from poor countries and require greater levels of transparency by creditors suing those poor countries.
This year HIV/AIDS will be the number-one killer of women of reproductive age worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. The disease has subjected poor people, in particular women, to extreme poverty and limited their access to food, water, housing, and personal and community security. AIDS also carries a huge economic cost in loss of labor and productivity, which is especially acute in the current economic crisis.
Africa continues to be the region most heavily affected by HIV, accounting for over two-thirds (67 percent) of all people living with HIV and nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of AIDS-related deaths in 2008.
Despite these statistics, AIDS rates are beginning to show signs of real, but fragile progress. The UN’s most recent AIDS Epidemic Update reveals that AIDS funding has resulted in significant progress. In Kenya, AIDS-related deaths have fallen 29 percent since 2002 and HIV mortality rates have decreased in sub-Saharan Africa by 18 percent since 2004.
The most recent PEPFAR five-year strategy plan aims to strengthen health care systems and reduce gender-based violence through a women-centered approach. Unfortunately, there is a serious risk that the United States will backtrack on its commitment to tackling global AIDS. Appropriations under this administration have provided minimal increases in fiscal year (FY) 2010 over FY 2009 levels. Without fully funding PEPFAR, the United States will not effectively implement the five-year strategy.
The U.S. government budgeting process for FY 2011 is expected to be unveiled February 1st. However, after tallying the total costs of a war escalation in Afghanistan and U.S. unemployment rates, it’s likely that the U.S. will scale back their foreign assistance programs.
The administration’s reluctance to fulfill its commitments on bold, measurable targets and timelines has already undercut the progress made on HIV/AIDS globally. Millions of people have been denied life-saving antiretroviral therapy or have developed resistance to existing antiretroviral drugs. The infection rates are outstripping treatment rates. In many African nations, clinics have begun to refuse new patients or accept them only after a current patient dies.
The United States must address the AIDS pandemic not just as a health issue, but also as a global equity issue. Unequal access to medical care and treatment—by men and women, by rich and poor—is fueling the pandemic. A comprehensive health policy should take into consideration social and economic conditions.
This year, climate change will continue to have a destructive impact on Africa. Those who will suffer the most from climate change, according to the most recent analysis, are among the poorest people in the world. Malaria, cholera, and dengue fever will increase, and dramatic declines in rainfall will augment the likelihood of famine, also leading to increased migration and conflict over scarce resources.
Weak leadership from the international community spoiled the opportunity for change at the 2009 Copenhagen United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15). Rather than a new global accord on climate change to protect those most vulnerable, 115 world leaders debated over eight draft texts and failed in the end to agree to a viable accord. Unhappy that rich nations reduced their commitments to cutting greenhouse gases, African delegates staged a partial boycott of the talks. Many African nations held out for deeper emission cuts that would hold the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius this century. However, negotiators removed all references to the 1.5-degree target at the last minute, and also dropped the earlier 2050 goal of reducing global CO2 emissions by 80 percent. Furthermore, richer countries made no assurances that the $100 billion they proposed to offer poor countries to adapt to climate change will come on top of existing aid commitments.
The next UN climate talks will take place in Mexico in December. But by then an estimated 150,000 people will have died and a further one million displaced as a result of climate change.
In addition to the scramble for Africa’s oil and mineral resources, land-grabbing in Africa is increasing at an alarming rate. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, 115,624 square miles in several African countries are “up for grabs.” Since 2004 Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Mali, and Sudan have leased nearly 10,000 square miles of land to overseas investors. This comes at a time of a worsening global food crisis, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
Agriculture employs 70 percent of the labor force in Africa, and is responsible for over 25 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and 20 percent of agribusinesses in most countries. The UN estimates that Africa contains approximately 2.8 million square miles of arable land. However, out of the total land area in Africa, only a fraction is being used for farming.
Dozens of countries, from Saudi Arabia and Sweden to China and India, have already laid claim to at least 7.4 million acres. Foreign militaries have taken note as well. For example, Pakistan has already announced plans to deploy 100,000 members of its security forces to protect the grabbed land in foreign-owned fields. U.S. hedge-fund managers and agriculture industry executives are planning to invest millions of dollars to buy African farmland at a fraction of the cost of U.S. land with the promise of 20-30 percent profits.
In Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in the world with 70 percent of its people living on less than $2 a day, former President Marc Ravalomanana negotiated an agreement with the now-bankrupt South Korean company Daewoo Logistics to lease 3.2 million acres of arable land from Madagascar at $12 an acre. The people of Madagascar, intensely attached to their ancestral land, were outraged.
Proponents of these land deals argue that new technologies and capital influx would increase agricultural yield by tenfold in some places. Taxation will increase public revenues, and some investors promise to build schools and roads. In addition, successful farms could employ thousands of poor farmers. However, the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. Often only the head of state knows the details of these land deals. Some agreements contain no environmental standards or job-creation requirements. Long-term land leases, often 50 to 99 years, lock in bad deals for future generations of Africans to come.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), peace and prosperity remain elusive. Over the last decade, the death toll from the various conflicts inside the country is estimated at 5.4 million, the largest casualty count since World War II. There are an estimated two million internally displaced people in the DRC and 300,000 Congolese refugees in neighboring countries. Although some rebels have been integrated into the national army (FARDC), insurgents continue to wage war in the eastern half over access to resources with civilians as their primary targets.
The UN mission in the DRC, known by its French acronym MONUC, is the largest peacekeeping mission in the world, and yet it has failed to contain rebels or protect civilians. Over the last year, the mission’s credibility has suffered severely because of its joint military operations with the Congolese national army, which has deliberately targeted civilians in attacks. According to the latest Human Rights Watch report, the UN may be complicit in crimes against humanity due to these joint operations.
In the northeastern Orientale province, Ugandan rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been seizing territory, murdering civilians, burning homes, and abducting children. In the western province of Equateur, violence broke out over access to land and fishing rights resulting in 50,000 people fleeing their homes. Meanwhile, in other areas of the country such as Katanga province, U.S. and multinational corporations mine for copper and other minerals, and clear-cut the rainforest without fairly compensating the local populations.
The DRC’s vast mineral wealth continues to be at the center of conflict. Corporations, foreign governments, and local elites continue to use instability as a cover to plunder the country’s natural resources. Many U.S.-based companies, both military and non-military, rely on minerals and other resources from the DRC. Although the potential benefits of exporting the DRC’s resources are huge for U.S. businesses, U.S. consumers, and for the Congo as well, the Congolese people currently do not see the benefits that flow from exporting their resources. Often the resources they depend on for their livelihoods are depleted in the process.
AFRICOM is currently providing the Congolese armed forces with training, advising, and capacity building, though no U.S. troops are currently stationed there. In the summer of 2010, AFRICOM plans to conduct a major medical exercise with Congolese troops and their medical staff that would focus on reinforcing medical skills. Working in any capacity with FARDC is complicated by the fact that the army kills civilians, rapes women, and illegally exports minerals, often in the exact same way as the rebel groups they are fighting. The U.S. military training and support of FARDC involves no mechanisms for protecting civilian populations. U.S. military support of the Rwandan army pursuing the LRA in the Orientale province has already harmed civilians in the DRC this year. Rwandan troops (and the U.S. support team) allegedly failed to plan for the retaliatory attacks by the LRA against civilians.
American instructors have been training the Rwandan army for almost a decade. According to U.S. military officials, “many of [the Rwandans] will serve as peacekeepers in places such as Sudan.” Actually, the training of the Rwandan armed forces by the United States and its NATO allies has less to do with Darfur than it does with devastated Congo. In November 2008 the UN reported that “Rwandan forces fired tank shells and other heavy artillery across the border at Congolese troops during fighting,” which began when former Congolese general Laurent Nkunda staged an armed rebellion in the east of the country. Washington either approved this attack or ignored it, as the Rwandan army has suffered no subsequent repercussions.
Peace can be achieved through inclusive peace negotiations that bring all parties together including rebel leaders, government officials from all involved countries, and civil society groups, including groups representing women. Through its strong diplomatic relationships, the United States should work to ensure that Rwanda and Uganda play a peaceable rather than destructive role in the DRC.
The U.S. Senate is considering a bill called the Congo Conflict Minerals Act. Currently in the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, this bill proposes a disclosure system for companies dealing in the trade or sale of the minerals. It would require any company using a flagged mineral to disclose its country of origin, and then disclose the original mine if the country of origin is the DRC. The goal of the legislation is to reduce the trade in conflict minerals coming from the DRC. If passed, the bill would ensure the greater accountability of U.S. businesses operating in the Congo. However, protecting the rainforest in the DRC from U.S. logging interests is also important, and the United States must also ensure that contracts negotiated by U.S. businesses in the DRC are legal and fair to the Congolese people.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement laid the foundation for peace and justice between North and South Sudan, and set a timetable by which Southern Sudan would have a referendum on its independence. But this agreement is still fragile.
After having been postponed for months, Sudan’s presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for April 2010. Already the National Congress Party (NCP) government and its agents are suppressing dissent, and there are indications of voter intimidation. Without an independent and impartial electoral commission, an independent judiciary, and a democratic constitution in Sudan, the elections cannot be deemed free and fair. Bolstering African institutions and pressuring them to uphold their protocols on human rights, elections, and good governance is the best path to democracy.
Violence against women and girls continues unabated in Sudan. Yet in his April 2009 presentation to the UN Security Council, Joint African Union-United Nations Special Representative Rodolphe Adada referred to the conflict in Darfur as now a “low-intensity conflict.”
In October 2009, the administration announced a new policy strategy toward Sudan that aims for a more comprehensive approach. It appears to be results-driven, and contains encouraging rhetoric “on ending the suffering in Darfur, and building a lasting peace.” This includes a call of “accountability for genocide and atrocities [as] necessary for reconciliation and lasting peace.” However, it’s yet to be seen whether or not incentives to move in the direction of peace will be balanced with disincentives that have, in the past, been dropped for the sake of relationships. Obama made the right decision to appoint a full-time special envoy. But his choice, Scott Gration, continues to try to engage the Sudanese government in the same failed fashion as his predecessor.
The formation of the “inclusive government” in Zimbabwe in February 2009 ushered in significant economic and political changes. The capacity of the fragile transitional government to consolidate democratic transformation and economic recovery depends as much on the spirit of cooperation among government partners as it does on key players in the international community, such as the United States and the European Union.
Since coming to office, the Obama administration has maintained the hard-line Bush all-or-nothing approach to Zimbabwe, which now threatens to undermine the delicate transition process. Some in the administration and Congress argue that nothing has changed in Zimbabwe because President Robert Mugabe remains in office. Yet Mugabe has much less power than before. Despite resistance from elements of the former ruling party, much has changed in the country, and this requires a corresponding shift in U.S policy.
The decade-long socioeconomic crisis has eased since the formation of the inclusive government. Hyperinflation, which had shattered world records at over 300 million percent, is a thing of the past now that the country officially operates on a basket of multiple currencies including the U.S. dollar. Zimbabwe is no longer suffering from acute shortages of essential commodities and shops are now brimming with supplies. A combination of imports and increased production from the local industry has significantly driven prices down, sometimes by as much as 10 times. It is important for U.S. policymakers to realize that Zimbabweans across the board are celebrating these changes and don’t want to return to the days of dangerous political strife.
On the political front, while change has been slow, democratic space has significant increased and political violence has decreased. Civil society now has a greater voice. In the past, Mugabe loyalists staffed all government commissions. Now these commissions include progressive players from civil society and the opposition political parties, and thus are crucial to the political process in Zimbabwe.
U.S. policy should acknowledge the changes taking place in Zimbabwe or risk irrelevance or, worse, risk undermining the opportunity for a peaceful transition in Zimbabwe. U.S. policy must also be guided by the voices of Zimbabweans, the majority of whom embrace the inclusive government as a means of fostering reforms that will result in free and fair elections. Accordingly, Washington must replace the policy of broad sanctions as defined under the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act with policies promoting economic recovery and crucial political reforms. A more multilateral U.S. policy must replace the unilateralist approach that proved to be counterproductive in southern Africa. As such, the United States must work alongside the Southern African Development Community, the African Union, and the United Nations in the quest for political transformation in Zimbabwe. In particular, the United States must work with others in the international community to support the constitutional reform and national healing process currently underway in Zimbabwe.