Last Wednesday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that the departure of President Robert Mugabe from the political scene in Zimbabwe "would be in the best interests of everyone." While undeniably true, coordinated international planning for such a contingency does not presently exist.
In a country with a 45-year life expectancy, the end of the reign of the 85-year-old Mugabe is welcomed and long overdue. Though the power-sharing government formed in February has allowed the octogenarian autocrat and his coterie to remain in office, he will soon be out of power--either through national elections scheduled for 2011, a brokered political agreement, or when he passes away.
While continuing to ostracize and pressure Mugabe, the international community must reach consensus on how to help resolve a range of enduring and complex problems that Zimbabwe will face in the post-pariah era, including a dismal economy, the return of millions of citizens, a second-rate security sector, and historical grievances. The best forum to confront these issues is through a multilateral Zimbabwe Contact Group.
The first thing the group should work toward is to repair an economy that is among the world's worst. Despite some limited recent progress, Zimbabwe's economy remains a toxic mixture of runaway hyperinflation--officially listed at 231 million percent, 90 percent unemployment, and annual negative growth rates. The unity government has attempted to entice international assistance and aid, requesting an 8-10 billion dollar lifeline at the G-20 meeting, and securing an agreement from the IMF to partially lift a ban on technical assistance.
This money and assistance should be provided under rigorous and conditional oversight, but real progress will not occur until Mugabe and his recalcitrant associates are out of the picture. As such, the contact group should draw up plans to assist a post-pariah state in implementing earnest economic and political reforms needed to absorb aid--so it is not lost to corruption or inflation--as well reviving the shattered agricultural sector, creating jobs, and forgiving some of Zimbabwe's five billion dollars in foreign debt.
Second, the group should work with Zimbabwe's neighbors to begin the resettlement of the close to four million citizens--one-quarter of the population--who fled in the past two decades. This mass exodus has been fueled by the recent cholera epidemic and violent political repression. In a country that once possessed a vibrant professional class, reversing the brain-drain of human capital and skilled workers to South Africa and other countries will be instrumental to Zimbabwe's recovery.
Third, the security services need to be reconstituted solely around the principles of professionalism and territorial defense, and not loyalty to the ruling party. While senior military and intelligence officials have enriched themselves by overseeing economic decision-making, average soldiers have poor morale and attendance as a consequence of their low pay, lack of basic supplies, and inadequate professional training. The contact group could collect intelligence and documentation to assure the worst human rights abusers among the Mugabe-appointed generals are purged, and soldiers adequately paid.
Finally, coming to terms with its post-independence past is important to Zimbabwe's long-term recovery. While Zimbabweans will decide the appropriate procedural venue to deal with accountability for past political crimes, a South African-style reconciliation and truth commission is one viable option. The contact group would be integral to promoting and assisting such a commission by providing financial, legal, and administrative support. As Mugabe's cronies will continue to play a role in Zimbabwean politics far into the future, balancing accountability and immunity will be a particular challenge.
To begin to resolve these problems, a contact group should be formed under the auspices of the African Union. The group would be comprised of neighboring countries, regional organizations and financial institutions, the UN, international donors, and countries with vested interests--such as the United Kingdom with its Diaspora community and China with its myriad foreign investments. Robust South African and U.S. backing would be critical to ensure the group received sufficient diplomatic and financial resources.
Unlike other multilateral groups, such as the short-lived and ineffectual Zimbabwe "reference group" and the "fishmongers group," which focuses on implementation of the power-sharing agreement, the contact group's primary goal would be to undertake the contingency planning necessary for the recovery of Zimbabwe after Mugabe.
Calls for Mugabe to step aside are welcome, but must be buttressed by a sensible and coordinated plan of action. Once Mugabe exits the political landscape circumstances will change quickly and drastically. Multilateral planning for this scenario should be institutionalized within a Zimbabwe Contact Group to assist in a full and sustainable recovery after Mugabe's long and calamitous rule comes to an end.
Alexander Noyes is a Research Associate in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.