Alex Vines: In a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe, just what is to be done?

The international community is preparing to rebuild the nation, and Mbeki's role will be crucial
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The Independent Online

All over for Robert Mugabe, who disappeared from view for five days, or will the master politician yet contrive a way to cling on? In a roller-coaster week of rumour and counter-rumour, there was little doubt what the markets in South Africa hoped. The Johannesburg Stock Exchange reached dizzy heights on reports that Zanu-PF had lost its parliamentary majority in Zimbabwe. The South African rand made sharp gains.

The twists and turns since election day meant a meeting yesterday between the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and South African President, Thabo Mbeki, was first cancelled then hastily rescheduled, after Mugabe finally emerged to make it clear that he was going nowhere fast. An immediate response to deadlock in Zimbabwe was to be thrashed out. But if we can now begin to see past the 28-year Mugabe regime, what, then, is to be done to restore the fortunes of a nation that was once Africa's bread-basket and was set fair for success?

Mbeki, a long-time colleague of Mugabe in the colonial struggle, against the colonial powers, has been criticised for failing to use his sway against Mugabe previously, but he has played a key role through quiet diplomacy in convincing him to compromise on a number of critical issues, including the pinning up of election results outside each polling station. Along with Western donors, his role in determining Zimbabwe's future is crucial.

In the short term, the printing of money must stop. On Friday, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe introduced two new denomination notes for 25 and 50 million Zimbabwean dollars. The Zimbabwean government's high domestic debt has been the main cause of inflation, currently running above 100,000 percent. But it is far from hopeless: the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts that hyper-inflation can be brought under control in a year, allowing the economy to recover. Price and exchange-rate liberalisation would be a condition for such progress.

Devaluation of the Zimbabwean dollar would make it virtually worthless, but debt relief through international donors would offset this. Controlling inflation, raising interest rates and cutting government spending will help to stabilise the economy. International donors should still require clear, achievable governance reforms in return for extra international assistance.

After the presidential impasse is resolved, international donors want a meeting to agree upon an ambitious international emergency aid package of up to £1bn – treble what Zimbabwe receives currently – to revive the country's economic fortunes. The international financial institutions would lead this effort with the EU and the UN. The plan will be discussed at the IMF's spring meeting in Washington this week.

Other key issues that need immediate attention are respect for human rights, cessation of political violence, return to the rule of law and the end of the politicisation of humanitarian assistance. Constitutional reform is also needed to strengthen parliamentary oversight of the executive.

Zimbabwe's most immediate asset is its people. More than three million Zimbabweans have fled their country – about a quarter of the population, many of them highly skilled. According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, 84 per cent of Zimbabweans legally resident in Britain are earning salaries equal to the British average. About a third are healthcare and social work professionals. Their remittances home are vital for their families in Zimbabwe, where 80 per cent are unemployed. Skilled managers, health workers and teachers are needed and scarce. The international financial institutions will need to work with Zimbabwe to shore up health and education. Life expectancy has crashed from 63 years in 1990 to 37.3 years. The UN says that 20 per cent of Zimbabweans between 15 and 49 are HIV/Aids positive.

In time, there will also need to be an audit of mining concessions granted by the government. Gold, platinum and diamonds are benefiting from high world commodity prices. Zimbabwe should consider signing the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which advocates disclosure of taxes and revenues accrued from mining.

Then there are longer-term issues. Agriculture is one of them. A huge issue at independence in 1980 was the fact that 80 per cent of productive land was in the hands of the 5 per cent white minority. Land reform was used to bolster President Mugabe's declining support base inside Zimbabwe. Britain has historic obligations to fulfil here, and although reviving agriculture will touch on sensitive land distribution and tenure issues, it will play an important part of a revived Zimbabwean economy. International donors should support an independent land audit, establish a base-line registry of deeds and titles, and develop a credible arbitration process for dispute resolution.

The second primary issue is the urgent need to depoliticise Zimbabwe's security forces. A small number of Mugabe loyalists at the top of these services will need to be retired and the international community will also need to engage in robust dialogue with a new government about security reform. Professional police and military services are vital and Britain has experience in assisting security sector reform in Sierra Leone and elsewhere to offer.

Finally, Zimbabwe's young people need to be engaged in rebuilding the country: 70 per cent of all Zimbabweans are under 30. With organisations such as Zanu-PF's brutal national youth service disbanded, this generation needs to be reintegrated into society. Post-Mugabe, Zimbabwe will rejoin the Commonwealth which has great, but largely under-recognised expertise in youth empowerment schemes.

South Africa has a major role to play too. Its African Renaissance and International Co-operation Fund should also contribute to any international post-Mugabe recovery effort so as to emphasise that this is truly an international effort.

President Mbeki could demonstrate to impatient British politicians that his quiet diplomacy has contributed to a watershed election in Zimbabwe. The next few weeks will give us an idea of how quick change can be.

Alex Vines is head of the Africa programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House