Southern African News Features                                           SANF 09 No 06, February 2009
Zimbabwe Looks Forward
by Phyllis Johnson

2009 has started well for Zimbabwe and although a tough year of turnaround is predicted, there have been several positive developments, both politically and economically. The parliament, comprising the House of Assembly and Senate, passed landmark legislation when they approved Amendment 19 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe on 5 February.

The decision by the required two-thirds majority of both houses was unanimous by those present and on schedule with the date agreed by the government and two opposition parties in negotiations facilitated by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Although the absentees were seen as a protest by some opposition members signalling their dissatisfaction with both the agreement and the amendment, their numbers did not affect the passage, with 184 of 210 MPs present and 72 out of 93 Senators.

They now have a legal framework for the establishment of an inclusive government in terms of the Global Political Agreement signed on 15 September 2008.

The next target dates are the swearing in of the Prime Minister-designate (Morgan Tsvangirai) and two deputies on 11 February, with a new cabinet to be sworn in on 13 February.

SADC has urged the Zimbabwean political parties to "expedite the formation of an all-inclusive government and thereby enable the country to deal with the challenges facing its people."

The process got a boost from African leaders who met for their African Union Summit from 2-4 February in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and, among other things, welcomed the timelines for the formation of an inclusive government and called on all Member States and partners to lend their full support.

According to an official press release issued at the close of the 12th Ordinary Summit of African Union Heads of State and Government, "The Assembly further called for the immediate lifting of the sanctions on Zimbabwe to ease the economic and humanitarian situation in the country."

This drew a response from the State Department in the United States on 3 February that represented an easing of policy toward Zimbabwe by the new administration of President Barack Obama.

The statement called for "credible and inclusive power sharing" and continued scrutiny by the international community to ensure adherence to the letter and spirit of the agreement, and urged SADC to "fulfil its obligation to guarantee" a new path toward reconciliation and genuine partnership.

The State Department said the US would continue to provide humanitarian assistance but "will only consider new development assistance and easing of targeted sanctions when we have seen evidence of true power-sharing as well as inclusive and effective governance."

Despite the sharp language still directed at the government of President Robert Mugabe, the statement represents a shift in policy from the hard-line approach adopted by the previous US administration that had refused to accept the agreement reached by the parties, or to recognize the inclusive government so long as Mugabe remains at the helm.

With clear direction from southern African leaders and the African Union, as well as a telephone conversation between Obama and the SADC Chairperson, the South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, the new US administration kept its promise to be open to dialogue, and listened to Africa speaking.

These developments came on the heels of two exceptionally important financial statements from the Zimbabwe government, through the acting Finance Minister and the Governor of the Reserve Bank, that set the economy on a firm course to recovery.

The national budget presented on 29 January offered a balanced income and expenditure of just under US$2 billion, demarcated in US dollars as well as the local currency.

Income generation estimates are drawn primarily from widening the revenue base and attracting back into the formal economy by various means those who had been trading illegally, especially in the mining sector.

Toll roads and innovative forms of income-generation are proposed, and water distribution has been returned to the local authorities, after the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) was largely blamed for the bureaucracy and inefficiency that facilitated the spread of the cholera outbreak.

The monetary policy, presented four days later by the Governor of the Reserve Bank, liberalised and deregulated the use of foreign exchange, allowing the use of hard currencies and floating the rate of exchange of the local currency. All shops and vendors can buy and sell in various currencies but must apply for a license to do so.

The two statements contained specific incentives for investment, and represented a separation of fiscal and monetary policy, as well as a return to the normal functions of the central bank.

On his return from the African Union Summit, Mugabe made pointed reference to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, stressing that Zimbabwe remains a member of both institutions and eligible for loans, credit and balance of payments support, and charging that this support had been illegally barred by powerful members of both institutions, a reference to the governments of the previous US administration of George Bush and the United Kingdom under the former Prime Minister Tony Blair and now Gordon Brown.

In December, SADC launched an international campaign to mobilise financial and material resources for Zimbabwe to address recent challenges, including an outbreak of water-borne diseases such as cholera.

The SADC Chairperson said this decision by Heads of State is consistent with the SADC Treaty, which calls for a determination "to ensure, through common action, the progress and well-being of the people of Southern Africa."

Most SADC Member States responded immediately with contributions delivered directly to the government while others were administered through the Zimbabwe Humanitarian and Development Assistance Framework established to manage SADCís assistance.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban-Ki Moon, addressing the African Union Summit in early February, pledged to send a delegation soon to assess the needs for humanitarian assistance.

Southern African News Features offers a reliable source of regional information and analysis on the Southern African Development Community, and is provided as a service to the SADC region.

This article may be reproduced with credit to the author and publisher.

SANF is produced by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), which has monitored regional developments since 1985

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