Church Key to Zimbabwe’s Reform Agenda

Zimbabwe’s new dispensation agenda to institute political reforms is underpinned by the role of the church to facilitate dialogue among parties, diplomatic and governance experts say.

In a study conducted by the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), on Zimbabwe’s reform and international reengagement efforts, experts says ultimately Zimbabweans have to dialogue for sustainable economic solutions before ending isolation from Western states.

SAIIA says this role is best suited for the church, according to a report of a study which sought ‘to provide a better understanding of the dynamics and impediments to improving Zimbabwean relations with other states, including those in the West’.

In the report independent analysts say Zimbabwe’s reintegration is hampered by trust and confidence deficits of the current regime, undermining international good will which was abundant after the ouster of Robert Mugabe.

“Interviewees were pessimistic about prospects under President Emmerson Mnangagwa, and agreed that the mood and morale of the country was low. Although the new administration enjoyed some initial goodwill at home and abroad, this has largely dissipated owing to a lack of significant progress in economic and political reforms.

“…reform and re-engagement are taking place in a low-trust environment. International and domestic confidence in the government is fraying, and planned reforms need to be turned from rhetoric into action to rebuild this confidence.

“Critics suggest this approach may have enabled ZANU PF to play the theatre of reform without in fact addressing the fundamental problems related to its political dominance of the state, the systemic challenges of corruption and patronage politics,” read part of the report.

“…the major solutions proposed to Zimbabwe’s crises are for far-reaching, deep dialogue among all the key role players.

“The Church potentially has a fundamental role to play in bringing the parties together to develop viable solutions. Ultimately, Zimbabweans need to talk to one another to shape their future. If this process is demonstrably sincere, South Africa, SADC and the international community will support these efforts.

“The major solutions proposed to Zimbabwe’s crises are for far-reaching, deep dialogue among all the key role players,” says SAIIA.

SAIIA, quoting Chatham House analysts which urge Harare to adopt a long-term frame of reference for reform, also make recommendations for Zimbabwe to overcome the current political and economic impasse through re-engagement.

“The government in Harare should recognize that it has an opportunity to normalize its international partnerships and rebuild its regional economic relevance for the long term, rather than viewing re-engagement with the West and the IFIs [International Financial Institutions] as principally a short-term fundraising project to save ZANU PF.

SAIIA quotes Piers Pigou, project director for southern Africa of International Crisis Group summing up a common view of the current Mnangagwa government as old wine in a new bottle.

“The administration is akin to a new driver in an old taxi. Many see the government simply as a reconfiguration of the ZANU PF, now freed from Mugabe but dominated by security-sector interests and factions aligned to the new president.’ In line with a widely held perception heard during the fieldwork,

Pigou adds: ‘Half-hearted commitments leave many believing the reform agenda is in many respects a charade and that limited progress to date reflects a lack of genuine commitment from the government.”

The report further states that despite valiant efforts, risk aversion, political history, competition from other investment destinations and a dearth of confidence mean that ‘open for business’ is a somewhat empty slogan.

SAIA says for Zimbabwe to prosper, it needs to overcome both economic and political crises, which feed off each other, build trust and push for politicians put the country first before narrow political or patronage interests.

“Saying that ‘Zimbabwe is open for business’ is one thing; giving potential investors policy certainty and confidence that they will be able to repatriate profits is entirely another.

“The World Bank and World Economic Forum have pointed out the major barriers to doing business in Zimbabwe, including political instability, foreign currency regulations, corruption, electricity supply and inefficient bureaucracy. It also needs to better manage the informal sector and respond to the effects of drought and food insecurity.

“These are aspects that Zimbabwe must get right, and quickly,” says SAIIA.

SAIIA researchers visited Harare, in July and August 2019, conducting interviews with stakeholders, including representatives of both major political parties, government officials, journalists, civil society activists, economists, and Western and non-Western diplomats.

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