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Zimbabwe's descent from a hopeful and emerging economic power into today's disaster is one of Africa's saddest cases. (An excellent oped in today's Washington Post explains the collapse of its medical and sanitation system. I've blogged here about the absurdities of the local currency). This is especially heartbreaking for those of us who have lived in the country before things turned so dire and could see and just feel the potential of such a wonderful country. (I was first in Zim as an exchange student with the School for International Training and returned in the early 1990s to work with an NGO. SIT has of course been forced to shut down its Harare program.)
For policymakers trying to encourage a reasonable solution, Zimbabwe has also been one of the most frustrating. (full disclosure: During my recent stint at State, I worked mainly on West Africa and not directly on the Zim portfolio.) The sheer disregard the government of Zimbabwe has for the welfare of its own people means that no depth is too far to plunge (see: Operation Murambatsvina, the pathetic response to a wholly avoidable cholera outbreak, state-sponsored violence against civil society, and even mass murder). The shameful inaction of the neighbors, particularly South Africa, has only served to enable Robert Mugabe and his cronies to plunder and destroy as they cling to power. Although there is no way to know how much worse the country can get (how many predictions of Mugabe's imminent demise?), there is some reason to think that a robust policy by the Obama administration could pay off. In this memo to The President-elect and key State and NSC officials, I suggest three low-cost but potentially-high-return steps the White House should do in the first 100 days.