December 20, 2005 © The Center for War, Peace and the News Media. All Rights Reserved.

After Mugabe, Zimbabwe Will Need Help

By Todd Moss and Stewart Patrick
Global Beat Syndicate
—After a quarter century of his iron rule, it is hard to imagine life in Zimbabwe without Robert Mugabe. But that day is coming soon, and when it does, the international community will need to respond quickly. Even though Zimbabwe is not at war, international donors should be thinking about Zimbabwe's recovery as if it were.

The southern African country is on the verge of collapse, held together by Mugabe himself, and his regime's days are numbered. Although resilient and cunning, he is also 81-years old. Political tensions are high, the military is nervous, and the government is dead broke.

Led by Mugabe since its independence in 1980, Zimbabwe is now an international pariah. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice lists it with places like Burma and North Korea as an “outpost of tyranny.” It has quit the Commonwealth and is on the brink of expulsion from the International Monetary Fund. Mugabe's rantings, including a recent tirade comparing George Bush and Tony Blair to Hitler and Mussolini, only further his isolation.

Once he is gone, a new government will face the tragic consequences of his misrule. Zimbabwe has suffered so much that it now shows extreme characteristics typical of a society emerging from violent conflict. State security forces and militias have terrorized civilians, committed gross human rights violations, and disrupted political opposition. The economy has shrunk by at least one-third since 2000—a meltdown worse than full-scale civil wars in Congo, Sierra Leone, or Ivory Coast. A few years ago Zimbabwe exported food. Today, up to half the population needs donations to survive. Unsurprisingly, one in three Zimbabweans have voted with their feet and fled the country.

Although it is impossible to predict what the political transition will bring, the United States and its allies must not get caught flat-footed. Mugabe's departure will create a “golden hour,” a brief window of opportunity to help set the country on the right path to sustainable peace and economic recovery. Setting up a plan, starting on the day after Mugabe's fall could be too late; the time to start contingency planning is now.

If the next government in Zimbabwe is sufficiently distanced from Mugabe and his cronies, the international community should launch a coordinated response that is both ample and agile. The main impetus for recovery will, of course, have to come from within Zimbabwe itself. But the major international donors—the World Bank, the IMF, UN agencies, and the British, American, and South African governments—will need to support the locally-owned recovery plans.

Given how far Zimbabwe has fallen, any recovery strategy should draw lessons from post-conflict reconstruction in places like Bosnia, East Timor, and Afghanistan. Because Zimbabwe's troubles are, at the core, political, getting the politics right is a necessary precondition. The international community can help smooth any transition by providing a “contact group” or helping establish a caretaker government. The donors can promote security and the rule of law by supporting reform of the police, military, intelligence services, and the courts. There may also be a need for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission or a war crimes tribunal, both of which could use external backing.

The economy will also have to be rebuilt. The immediate priority will be to provide food to the hungry, shelter to thousands displaced by their own government, and short-term assistance for those returning to start over. Donors can set up a Zimbabwe Reconstruction Trust Fund to coordinate external aid and assist the transitional government in drawing up sensible recovery plans. Pledging early and for a five-year recuperation period would also build momentum and raise the chances for success. Finding ways to raise farm productivity and generate employment will also be essential for both economic and political healing.

To get started, the Bush administration should direct the State Department to start considering options now. A Zimbabwe version of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba might also be useful. We should also begin working with allies, sharing information and strategy to ensure a more nimble and effective response.

There is no reason to keep these efforts secret. Diplomatic etiquette aside, there are benefits to making this an open and consultative exercise. Letting Zimbabwe's people know that they have not been forgotten and that the world stands ready to help once Robert Mugabe is gone could even help to bring about that day a bit sooner.

Todd Moss and Stewart Patrick are research fellows at the independent Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C. Patrick assisted Afghan reconstruction on the State Department’s policy planning staff from 2002-5. This article is based on “The Day After Comrade Bob: Applying Post-Conflict Recovery Lessons to Zimbabwe,” available on

© 2005 The Center for War, Peace and the News Media. All Rights Reserved. The Global Beat Syndicate, a service of The Center for War, Peace, and the News Media, provides editors with commentary and perspective articles on critical global issues from contributors around the world. For more information, check out

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