WITH the ouster of Zimbabwe’s former autocratic president Robert Mugabe, whose isolationist policies had taken the country backwards by decades, an unlikely window of opportunity for diplomatic renewal was briefly and slightly opened.
The goodwill that followed was unlikely because Mugabe got replaced by his henchmen, who had been his enforcer for his entire disastrous rule, but the international community had wearied of the Zimbabwean crisis and were ready for a small excuse to engage.
Now just a little over a year later, the window of opportunity has all but closed, with no meaningful distance covered, in the re-engagement process.
Central to the window of opportunity for re-engagement was the imminence of elections in 2018, the possibility of respect for international norms of human rights, good governance and democracy, and the hoped-for possibility of an internal political agreement.
The 2018 polls had the possibility of restoring electoral legitimacy, but that chance was squandered as the elections were held in a way that failed to meet the democratic test. All these pillars of a truly new dispensation have been abandoned in a mind-bending fashion, which was unthinkable 15 months ago.
The problem is that the re-engagement was never planned, but opportunistic and without method. Zimbabwe appears to be reviving its old misunderstanding and tiff with the British, over the Commonwealth bid for readmission and its standoff with the US over its human rights record and restrictive measures, and, after the national shut-down protests, drew the unfavourable comment of the United Nations (UN) over the government’s brutal crackdown on citizens.
In fact, the country risks generally reassuming its soiled name as an intolerant administration, where it comes to citizen dissent and democratic norms.
There is an inherent inconsistency in how the re-engagement itself is being pursued.
As the country is spending scarce dollars on private jets for foreign engagement trips, to countries of negligible geopolitical and diplomatic importance, it is deporting labour leaders such as International Trade Union Confederation’s (ITUC) secretary for Africa, Kwasi Adu Amankwah.
While the attempt by the government has been to separate these issues of political and civil rights and economic development, the reality is that globalisation has resulted in the interconnectedness of such issues, which do determine the country’s overall investment attractiveness.
The Zimbabwe administration would want to soothe itself in the regional countries’ so-called stance of solidarity, including within the Sadc framework, but the real appraisal of Zimbabwe by these countries is in their refusal to extend any financial assistance.
For instance, South Africa’s foreign policy after Apartheid has been guided by its economic interests, which, at the expense of sounding politically incorrect, may be served by a weaker and less economically competitive Zimbabwe, and also would not be promoted by lending money to a junk status country.
It is no secret that corporates have migrated their key offices and assets south of the Limpopo, with Zimbabwe basically becoming an extended market for South African goods and source of cheap skilled and unskilled labour. So such realities as I have explained above, where economic interests in one country primarily dictate its diplomatic relations, this can easily be veiled in political concepts such as liberation movement solidarity and quiet diplomacy.