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Zimbabwe: A nation humbled
Stephen Chan
May 03, 2007

Three great foreign policy relationships will need to be addressed after Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. The first concerns the West and is of prime economic importance. The second is the burgeoning rapport between Harare and the Chinese. The third is the delicate question of how to manage the irrevocable influence of South Africa.

South African President Thabo Mbeki had placed great hopes on the region. His hope was that five key economic players -- South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia -- would cooperate in a rebalancing of economic power in Southern Africa. The meltdown in Zimbabwe ruined that dream, causing great embarrassment to the region. The New Partnership for Africa's Development, on which Mbeki has staked much, has risked falling into disrepute. Any new Zimbabwean government will be indebted to South Africa.

The first consequence is that Pretoria will attempt to set certain conditions in exchange for its support for a post-Mugabe regime. These will be designed to prevent a repeat of the problems experienced by its northern neighbour. Foreign policy will also need to distinguish between bilateral economic ties between Zimbabwe and the Chinese state and the private Chinese business people who see opportunities in Africa. Encouragement of the former and conditions placed on the latter will require diplomatic skill.

There are not many Chinese speakers in Zimbabwe, and very few places where Chinese can be learnt. This is a problem for every African country. Sympathetic and profitable links with China will be beneficial, but private investors are less concerned about racial sensitivities and racial equality. For the foreseeable future, the West is still far more powerful than China -- militarily, economically and politically. Mugabe’s assumption that Zimbabwe does not need the West is wrong.

The Chinese court the West assiduously, and China could trade much of its expansion into Africa for greater point of entry and cooperation with the European Union. Zimbabwe has been in isolation for the past few years, absorbed with its own problems. But outside perspectives on what is right, wrong and just have changed dramatically since Mugabe came into power in 1980.

Today we have a host of international judicial bodies, such as the International Criminal Court, that have introduced new ideas on what constitutes human rights and fair and transparent governance. Much of this has been ignored in Zimbabwe. As this new reality sinks into the minds of Mugabe’s successors, the arrogance that has come to be associated with the last years of Mugabe’s reign will yield to a new sense of humility. Rebuilding links with the West will take time and patience.

Many diplomatic protocols will have to be learned afresh. But hopes of recovery are likely to depend on foreign aid and investment. That means more, not less, dependence -- on South Africa, the West and China.

*Stephen Chan is a professor of international relations at the University of London and dean of law and social sciences at the School of Oriental and African Studies. He is the author of Robert Mugabe: A Life of Power and Violence and Grasping Africa: A Tale of Tragedy and Achievement

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