Threading the needle

Robert Mugabe Slowly but surely, Zimbabwe is showing signs of life. A unity government that married the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF was finally created earlier this year. And though a bitter and crippling power struggle continues, often publicly, there is one profound difference that gives hope: Individuals in positions of authority are now actively trying to help the people of this shattered country. The MDC leader-turned-prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, seems keenly aware that he is in a race against time. But as he put it during May Day rallies, "This government is broke," and it's increasingly clear that without serious reform, help may not be on the way.
This is bad news for everyone, particularly Tsvangirai and his MDC. If these newcomers do not improve matters relatively quickly, they risk being seen as parties to Mugabe's misrule. Frantic to find funds, Tsvangirai and other MDC ministers have begun a world donor tour asking for help. Zimbabwe's finance minister, Tendai Biti, says the country will need $45 billion over the next five years to bring down hyperinflation, keep up emergency food assistance, reopen schools and hospitals, pay civil servants, and rebuild a tattered infrastructure.
There's just one problem: After years of despotic rule and thuggery, no one wants Mugabe to get his hands on the handouts. Western donors do not trust Mugabe or his cronies in Zanu-PF, and they are not yet convinced by the power-sharing agreement. Sending aid through nongovernmental organizations (thereby bypassing the government entirely) is only a band-aid solution.And though South Africa and Botswana, and a few other African states, have announced credit lines of $400 million, these lifelines are a far cry from the $5 billion pledged. Worse, the region's promised aid seems to rely almost entirely upon Western donors' willingness to foot the bill. The European Union and the United States have stated clearly that they will not step forward until there are irreversible signs of democratic and economic reform. In fact, neither will lift the targeted economic and travel sanctions imposed against Mugabe and his cronies. Multilateral donors such as the World Bank are sticking close to the same script, as its president, Robert Zoellick, made clear in March in the run-up to the bank's spring meetings.
Still, some 2,800 miles northwest, one African country could offer some hope and, more importantly, advice. In 2005, Liberia was a devastated country emerging from a brutal civil conflict. International donors were eager to help, but were fearful that the transitional government would misuse -- or even pocket -- aid money. (Such fears were not poorly founded: Then president Gyude Bryant was later accused of stealing $1.3 million from the state.) In response, officials within the U.S. State Department -- including the lead author of this article -- worked with the country to create the Liberian Governance and Economic Management Assistance Program (GEMAP).
Under GEMAP, revenue from Liberia's abundant diamonds and timber resources, as well as from taxes from ship registries, were collected at the Central Bank of Liberia, where they were overseen by a new chief administrator, an international expert recommended by the International Monetary Fund. Previously, these revenues had been collected in multiple banks both within and outside Liberia and had long been plagued by private- and public-sector "leakages" in which government officials and industry magnates kept many of the revenues for themselves.
GEMAP also launched reforms of Liberia's budget and expenditure reporting, designed to make more information on government contracts and tenders public. Internationally recruited accounting advisors from reputable firms were placed in key ministries and were required to cosign with Liberian officials on major transactions. Privately funded "fellows" were recruited to advise cabinet officials.
Encouraged by these new accountability mechanisms, the U.S. government loosened its aid spigot, pouring more than $750 million into the country, with all major socioeconomic indicators, notably health, improving steadily ever since.
A Zimbabwean version of GEMAP would not only demonstrate a commitment to break from the corruption and cronyism of the past -- it would provide the technical expertise and outside accountability to do so. Under "ZEMAP," such abuses as Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono's "borrowing" of $1 billion from private bank deposits would not be possible; Zimbabwe's 71 ministers and deputy ministers would be less able to leverage their new roles for personal gain.
ZEMAP could begin by working only in MDC-run ministries: Finance, Economic Planning, Education, and Labor. Targeted donor assistance in these places could go a long way in helping Zimbabwe's poor and struggling population -- all without the perils of working through Mugabe. Given the program's potential impact, finding political will also seems possible. The World Bank was instrumental in developing Liberia's GEMAP, and it is likely to support a similar approach for Zimbabwe.
That is not to say that a program of checks and balances on revenue streams and government expenditures would be a quick fix. Popular opinion might be one of the first obstacles. In Liberia, critics of GEMAP argued that the program usurped the country's sovereignty. Mugabe's government has long justified its existence through anti-Western rhetoric, and making the MDC dependent on Western donors could allow Zanu-PF to smear it as a puppet of the West (as it has already begun to do). Nevertheless, an international framework such as ZEMAP could provide donors an avenue for reengagement with Zimbabwe and help make the country less dependent upon Mugabe-era concessions to the likes of Russia and China.
Ideally, Zimbabwe's imperfect power-sharing arrangement will be a temporary solution to a profoundly unstable political and humanitarian situation. While that situation is being resolved, however, ZEMAP can help the unity government -- and everyday Zimbabweans -- get back on their feet. And most importantly, it can ensure that things don't get worse for a state now on the brink of collapse. Tom Woods is a senior associate fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former deputy assistant secretary of state for Africa. Roger Bate is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. First appeared in Foreign Policy


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