MICHAEL WALSH & CHARLES RAY | Time for US to revise its strategy for Zimbabwe

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By Michael Walsh and Charles Ray

The United States’ Integrated Country Strategy (ICS) for Zimbabwe opens with, “Zimbabwe presents a more challenging environment for US interests today than it did three years ago.”

In the 18 months since the ICS was published, the situation has not improved. It has, in fact, got worse.

This is not surprising given the failure to rethink the interaction of the strategy’s foreign policy choices and the competitive context that exists on the national, regional and global levels.

In the run-up to the Zimbabwean elections, the US government needed to identify an appropriate desired outcome in US-Zimbabwe relations that fit those competitive contexts.

That in turn would have triggered the selection of a new logic that would have been based on a radically different set of foreign policy choices than the ones pursued in the past.

A close examination of the ICS for Zimbabwe fails to reveal any indication of such a strategic rethink. Instead, it represents a status quo approach. That is not good enough.

The focus in preparing this important strategic plan should have been on understanding why historical choices have failed to achieve desired outcomes in Zimbabwe. That should have started with a deeper understanding of the people, the environment, the cooperators, and the competitors.

This requires a consideration of the single-party dominance of Zanu-PF, the tremendous harm wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the corrosive influence of China. But it is a mistake to try to analyse these factors all together. They are not the same.

A reading of the ICS, however, suggests the US embassy in Harare has done just that. There is no evidence that the necessary advance work was done to choose the right policies for advancing US interests.

Consider the second paragraph. It focuses the competition lens singularly on China. This is a mistake with serious consequences. It is impossible to select the right foreign policy choices for advancing US interests in US-Zimbabwe relations without taking into consideration a much larger set of actors who are located at different positions along the co-operation-competition spectrum.

At a bare minimum, these actors should include:

  • sovereign states such as China, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates and UK;
  • political parties like the ANC, EFF, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and United Russia; and
  • intergovernmental organisations such as the AU, EU and Sadc.

The failure to map the full actor set suggests that the Country Team did not have a good grasp of the multilevel ecosystem in which they were enmeshed. It is therefore not surprising that they failed to identify innovative ways to affect the systems-level changes needed to advance US interests.

• Michael Walsh is a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research InstituteAmbassador (Retired) Charles Ray served as US ambassador to Zimbabwe