CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS W eb
Zimb abw e Update
Specialist i n International Relations
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and T r ade Division
Zimbabwe is faci ng triple digi t i nflation, shortages o f cash and fuel, and an adult
HIV i nfection rate o f 33.7%. The commercial farm s ector has b een severely damaged
by land seiz ures, and both food production and tobacco ex po r t s are declining. The
government of President R obert Mugabe, now 79, has t aken som e m easures t o deal wi t h
eco n o m i c problem s, but thes e have not proven effective. Meanwhile, t he political
si t u at i o n rem ai ns st al em at ed despi t e report s of possi bl e t al ks bet ween t h e rul i n g p art y
and t he opposition. Opposition l eader Morgan Tsvangirai is facing treason charges, and
h u m an r i ghts groups continue to report violence against opposition s upporters. T h e
U n i t ed S t at es has i m posed sanct i ons on Zi m b abwe l eaders i n an effort t o p r o m o t e
change. In J uly 2003, President Bush s aid t hat P resident Mbeki o f S outh Africa, who
has b een non-confrontational with Mugabe, i s t he “point man” on Zimbabwe. Analysts
di ffer o n w het h er Mbeki ’s approach can achi eve an earl y resol u t i o n o f t he Zi m b abwe
problem. This update on Zimbabwe reviews the current situation t here and assesses
prospects for change. For background, see CRS Report R L31229, Zim babwe
Backgrounder and CRS Report R S21161, Zimbabwe Election C hronology.
Zimbabwe is faci ng a s eries of grave economic, s ocial, and political problem s, and
many analys ts fear a general social breakdown m arked b y rising v iolence and suffering
in the m onths ahead.1 Others, however, hope that indica tions that formal talks m ay soon
occur b etween the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-P atriotic Front (ZANU-P F)
and t he opposition M ovement for Democratic Change (MDC) portend an improvement
in the country’s fortunes.
Economi c Si tuati on
The d eterioration o f Zimbabwe’s economy i s p erhaps the m ost s triking feature o f t he
country’s current situation. In a s tatement issued on J u l y 2 8 , 2 003, the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) noted that
1 Economist Intelligence Unit, “Country Report on Zimbabwe,” August 1, 2003.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
T he Zimbabwean economy has deteriorated progressively over the past f our ye a r s.
Real output has dropped by one-t hird, i nflation r eached 269 percent i n t he year
t hrough April 2003, and s ocial conditions are deteriorating. Severe food sho r t a ge s
have necessitated massive food imports and donor assistance , a s t w o -t hirds of t he
population r equired f ood aid i n 2002/2003 (Apr il-March). T he balance of payments
h a s been under s evere pressure since 1999, when Zi mbabwe bega n t o accumulat e
payments arrears. T here i s little productive i nvestment i n t he economy, and t here are2
reports of significant capital f light and emi gr ation of skilled l abor.
By mid-2003, reports indicated
Zi mbabw e in Brieft h at t h e o ffi ci al i n f l a t i o n r at e h ad
P o pul at i o n: (2001) 12.8 millionreached 365%, and many observersbeli eved t h at real i n fl at i on, i n cl udi ng
Li f e expectancy at birth: 40 years ( 2000); 56
years ( 1985)the soaring cost of goods on the
Si ze : slightly larger than Montanablack ma r k et, was between 500%
Gr oss National I ncome per capita: $480 (2001)and 700%. The Zimbabwe dollar
Re al GDP P e r Capi t a Ch a n ge : -14.5% (2002,was t rading at 4,000 to the U.S.
IMF estimate)d o l l ar o n t he unoffi ci al m arket , as
GDP : $7.1 billion ( 2001)co m p ared wi t h an offi ci al rat e of
Re al GDP Gr o w t h: -12.8% (2002, IM F e stimate)824:1; and l ocal currenc y w as in
F oreign debt: $5 billion ( 2001)ex tremely s hort s upply, l eading t o
HIV i nf ection rate ( adul ts): 33.7% (2001)protests at banks by angry
AIDS orphans : 780,000 (2001)depositors. Fuel s hortages res ulting
Et hni c g roups: Shona 82%; Ndebele 14%; white,from t he shortage of h ard currency
less than 1%were hamperin g commerce as wel l
Religion: Christian, 25%; i ndige nous, 24%;as am bul ance servi ce, garbage
syncretic, 50%; Muslim and other, 1%
collection, and t he delivery o f food
Sources: World B ank, United N atio ns J o int P r o gr am o nai d. 3 Hunger is a m ounting concern,
HIV /AI DS; I nternational M onetary Fund ; U.S. Centraland an estimat e d 5.5 million people
I ntelligence Agency, Wo rld Factbook, 2003.in Zimbab we will require food ai d i n
the n ex t 1 2 m onths. 4
Analys ts cite a number o f reasons for Zimbabwe’s economic problems, including
recurrent drought, d ifficulties encountered in implementing an economic reform program
from 1990-1997, and competition for Zimbabwe’s i n d u stry from comparatively cheap
South African imports. 5 An estimated 33.7 % o f Zimbabwe’s adults are HIV positive6 –
the s econd high es t rat e o f i nfection i n t he world – and AIDS illnes s among farmers i s
2 “IMF Concludes 2003 Article IV Consultation with Zi mbabwe,” Public Information Notice No.
3 Ibid., see a lso “ Fuel Shortage s Hit Food Aid Distribution,” Dai l y Ne ws (Zimbabwe), August 4,
4 U.N. Office for t he Coordination of Humanitari an Affairs, “Zi mb a b w e: Consolidated Inter-
Agency Appeal, J uly 2003-J une 2004,” J uly 29, 2003.
5 T e ddy Brett a nd Simon W inter, “Origi ns of the Zimbabwe Crisis,” Focus (Helen S u zman
Foundation), J une 2003.
6 United Nations J oint Progr am on AIDS, Report o n t he Global HIF/ AIDS Epidemic, 2002.
contributing t o t he drop in food production.7 At the sam e time, a n a lysts place major
responsibility for Zimbabwe’s problems o n t he policies adopted and actions taken b y t he
government of President R obert Mugabe fro m 1997 until the p resent. These include an
inflationary payo u t t o w a r v eterans i n 1997, intervention b y Zimbabwe troops in the
D e m o c r a tic Republic of the C ongo from 1998 through m ost o f 2002, ex change rate
manipulation, and efforts t o p revent a free and fair vote i n J une 2000 parliamentary
el ect i on. 8 The violence and intimidation s urrounding the M arch 2002 pres i d ential
e l e c t i o n were widely reported and widely condemned by international observer s ,
although African observers tended t o accep t t he vote as essentially free and fair.
Land Seizures. Disruptions to the commercial agriculture sect or as a res ult of t he
so-called “fast track” t akeover of commercial farms, l argely owned by w h i t e s , for
redi st ri but i o n t o Afri cans, i s al so seen as a l eadi n g s ource of Zi m b a b w e ’ s current
econom i c woes. 9 The fast t rack program was instituted i n 2000, w h en the government
broke with a donor-supported p lan for a m ore gradual l and redistribution. Although t he
regime declared an end t o fast t rack takeovers in Au gu s t 2002, land seiz ures and l and
invasions by prospective s ettlers have continued. Estimates of t he num b e r o f white
commercial farmers still active range from 400 to 1,000 – d o w n from 4,000 to 4,50010
when the l a n d i n v a s i ons and t akeovers began. Sharp d rops are b eing reported i n t he
production o f t obacco and b eef, m ajor fore i g n ex change earners; and of maiz e for
domestic consumption. An estimated 200,000 African smallholders have moved o n t o t he
seized land,11 but shortages o f s kills and agricultural i nputs m ay hamper their ability to
contribute t o an agricultural recovery for s ome time to come. Another 15,000 to 20,000
larger farms i ntended t o b e p art o f t he commercial s ector have been gi ven out, i ncluding
many farms given to government officials and others with ties t o t he regime. M uch o f t his
land is reportedly not being activel y farmed.12
Gove rnment Response. The M ugabe regi m e ha s t a k en som e m easures t o
alleviate t he country’s economic situation, announcing, for ex ample, t hat t he importation
of petroleum would be privatized so that it would no l onger depend on the availability of
foreign ex change t o t he government. Large denomination travelers checks are to be
issued to ease t he currency s hortage, and in J u ly 2003, the government issued an
emergency appeal for food aid and other human i t ari an assi st ance, i n cl udi ng m edi ci nes.
The appeal blamed food shortages o n d rought. P resident Mugabe has s ought to combat
7 J ohn Nyamu , “Southern Africa Reels from a T win Onslaught,” Africa Recovery (United
Nations), May 2003.
8 See, for example, International Crisis Group, Zimbabwe: the Politics of National Liberation and
International Division , Africa Report No. 52, Harare and Brussels, October 17, 2002.
9 IM F , Zimbabwe: Selected Issues and Statistical A p pendix , Country Report No. 03-225, J uly
10 “No Relief f or Zi mbabwe Farms,” Daily Telegraph (London), August 7, 2003; “Zimbabwe
Gov’ t. Seizes More Farms from W hites,” Panafrican News Agency, August 7, 2003; “Zimbabwe
Farm Production Has Dropped Dramatically, Charge White Farmers,” Voi c e of Ameri ca, August
11 IM F , Zimbabwe: Selected Issues, 25.
12 “Many Seize d Zimbabwe Farms Lying Idle: Reports,” Agence France-Press e , J anuary 17,
findings of corruption i n t he land redistribution program by limiting s enior offici al s t o one
seized commercial farm and ordering th em to surrender any additional farms. 13 To date,
however, i t does not appear that such measures are s temming t he economic crisis.
President M ugabe, now 79, has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980. Reports appear from
time to time suggesting t hat Mugabe i s contem plating retirem ent, or that Zanu-PF leaders
are o rchestrating a succession. To date, however, M ugabe h ad det erm i n edl y h e l d ont o
power. The opposition M DC launched n ational s trikes and p rotests i n M arch and J une
2003, but failed t o d rive the regime from power. Demonstrations accompanyi ng the
strikes were v iolently suppressed b y s ecurity forces backed by youth militia loyal t o t he
regime. 14 MDC l eader Morgan Tsvangi rai , w ho has b een peri odi cal l y j ai l ed, faces t w o
t reason charges carryi n g t he deat h p enal t y, and ot her M DC l eaders h ave faced arrest as
well. The Zimbabwe Human R ights NGO Forum continues t o r eport ex t rajudici al
killings , rape, and o ther violence directed against M DC supporters. 15 J ournalists in
Zimbabwe operate under s evere restrictions, and in May 2003, Andrew Meldrum, a U.S.
journalist reporting for the Guardian in London, was arrested and forcibly d eported from
Zimbab we despite a court o rder for h is releas e. Meldrum h ad worked in Zimbab we for
Talks? Despite Zimbabwe’s political tensions, r ep orts suggest that talks m ay be
possible b etween the M DC and ZANU-PF on a resolut i o n o f t h e country’s political
problems. Tsvangirai has d enied t hat s uch t alks, s ought by Zimbabwe church leaders and
South African mediators, may already b e underway, but he acknowledges that there h ave
been ex ploratory i nitiatives. However, h e h a s r efused t o m eet a reported ZANU-PF
condition for talks – halting a court action challenging the legitimacy of Mugabe’s
election i n M arch 2002. On A u gu st 11, 2003, Mugabe said that the opposition were
“enem i es” and h ad t o “repent ” before t al k s coul d o ccur.17
U.S. policym akers grew i ncreasingl y concerned about Zimbabwe in the l ater 1990s,
as reports of human righ ts violations accumulated and Zimbabwe’s economy d eclined.
In 2001, Congress passed t he Zimbabwe Democracy and E conomic Recovery Act (P.L.
13 “One Man, One Farm – Says President,” The Herald (Zimbabwe), J uly 31, 2003. Howeve r,
an earlier code of conduct f o r o f ficials was reportedly not a s uccess. Martin Meredith, Our
Votes, Our Guns: Robert Mugabe and the Tragedy of Zimbabwe, Public Affairs, 2002, 81.
14 Human Rights Watch, “Un d e r a Shadow: Civil and Political Ri ghts in Zi mbabwe,” Br iefing
Paper, J une 6, 2003; “T svangi rai Held a s Protests Fizzl e Out,” Financial Times , J une 7, 2003.
15 [ h t t p ://www.hrforumzim.com]. See also t he Zi mbabwe entry i n U.S. Department of State ,
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2003.
16 “Expulsion Another Blow t o Press in Zi mbabwe,” Washington Post , M ay 25, 2003. On press
restrictions, see also letter of Ann Cooper, Executive Director, Committee t o Protect J ournalists,
to President Robert Mugabe, J une 17, 2003 [http:// www.cpj .org] .
17 “Mugabe’s Legitimacy an Issue, Says MDC,” Business Day (South Africa), August 6, 2003;
“Mugabe T ells Opposition t o ‘ Repent,’” Agence France-Presse, August 11, 2003.
107-99), which noted “economic mismanagement , undemocratic practices, and the costly
deployment of troops to the Democra t i c R e p ublic of the C ongo.” Among other
provisions, t he Act s tated t he sense o f C ongress tha t t h e U nited S tates s hould b egin
consultations with other governments o n imposing t ravel and economic sanctions against
“in d i v i d u als responsible for t he deliberate b reakdown o f t he rule of law, politically
motivated violence, and i ntimidation i n Zimbabwe.” On March 4 , 2002, after widespread
pre-el ect i o n v i o l ence i n Zi m b abwe, P resi dent Bush i ssued a p rocl am at i o n b anni ng t ravel
to the United S tates b y s enior m embers of the Zimbabwe government and t heir spouses
(Proclamation 7524). On M arch 13, after t he Zimbabwe vote, Secretary o f S tate Powell
i ssued a statement highly critical of the elections and affirmed that the United S tates
would consult with other governments o n “appropriate responses to this major s etback to
democracy.” However, it was not until nearly a year later t hat P resident Bu sh issued an
ex ecut i v e o rder freez i n g t he U.S . hel d asset s of P resi d ent M ugabe a n d 76 ot her t op
Zimbabweans. (Ex ecutive Order 13288, dated M arch 6, 2003 and released on March 7.)
The del ay drew some criticism, but was ex plained by offici al s as t he result of the need
for i nter-agency consultations and t he technical difficulties of drafting t he terms of t he
U.S . offi ci al s d escri b e t he t ravel ban and asset s freez e as “sm art s anct i ons,” desi gn ed
to punish those responsible for Zi m b a b w e ’s situation while not harming t he people of
Zimbabwe. M eanwhile, t h e United S tates continues t o provide economic assistance in
Zimbabwe to meet three objectives : preventing a further det erioration i n t he political and
economic situation, strengthening civil soci et y and democratic institutions, and
responding to the HIV/AIDS p andemic.18 An estimated $16.1 million i s b eing provided
in economic assistance in FY2003 and $20.6 million h as been requested for FY2004. In
addition, the United S tates i s providing food ai d and o t h e r em ergency hum ani t ari an
assistance in response t o t he food security crisis.19
Ac tions by Other Countrie s . U . S. sanctions against Zimbabwe have been
coordinated with the European Union (EU), whi ch h a s i m posed an arm s sal es b an on
Zi m b abwe, as w el l as a t ravel ban and an asset s freez e o n Zi m b abwean l eaders. The E U
granted a one-time ex ception t o t he travel ban s o t hat P resident Mugabe could accept an
invitation from France’s P resident J acques C hirac t o attend a Franco-African summit in
Paris i n February 2003. Chirac argu ed that it was b etter t o en g a g e M ugabe rather t han20
isol at e him, although s ome pointed out that Mugabe is hardly isolated in view of the
recogn ition and support h e continues t o receive in Africa. Chirac also faced the reality
t h at m a n y African leaders would have refused to attend the summit if Mugabe had n o t
been invited. The likelihood of an African boycott over a refusal t o i nvite Mugabe led t o
the cancellation o f European-African summit slated for Lisbon in April 2003.
Observers s peculate that Mugabe enjoys the s ym pathy and support o f m any i n Africa
and o t h er part s o f t he devel opi ng worl d b ecause he i s seen as st andi ng up t o pressure from
18 U.S. Agency for International Development ( USAID) , Budget J ustifica t ion t o t he Congress,
Fiscal Y e ar 2004 , 303.
19 USAID, “Southern Africa – Complex Food Secur ity Cr isis,” Situation Report #9, March 18,
20 “Chirac Defends Invitation t o M ugabe f or Franco-African Summit,” Agence France-Presse,
the United S tates and other powerful countries and righting t he wrongs o f t he colonial era.
Moreover, some may feel he deserves con tinuing support beca u s e o f h is role in the
Afri can l i b era t i o n s t ruggl e. A m ore cyn i cal vi ew i s t h at l eaders o f aut hori t ari an and
co rrupt regimes m ay see wes tern pressure for reforms in Zimbab we as portending threat s
t o t h ei r o wn hol d o n power. In a n y e v e n t , Mugabe has s cored a num ber o f recent
diplomatic successes, including selection as deputy chair for s outhern Africa at the J uly
2003 meeting o f t h e African Union. In March, the s ummit of the C ommon M arket o f
Eastern and Southern Afric a , meeting i n S udan, called for sanctions against Zimbabwe
to be lifted. Mugabe was warmly received at t he Non-Aligned M ovement Summit in
Malays i a i n Feb ruary, and at the W orld Summit on Sustai nable Devel opment i n S outh
Africa in September 2002. The C ommonwea l t h of Nations suspended Zimbabwe in
March 2002, but African pressure to end t he suspension is mounting.
P resi d ent Bush, aft er m eet i n g i n S out h Afri ca wi t h P resi d ent T habo Mbeki o n J ul y
9, 2003, said that Mbeki b elieved h e was “making good progress”on Zimbabwe and was
t h e “ p o i n t man”on the i ssue, with the s upport o f t he United S tates. 21 The P resident’s
rem a rks s et off a flurry of speculation t hat t he United S tates was shifting t oward a l e s s
confrontational s tance on Zimbabwe, s ince Mbeki i s noted for his reluct ance to criticize
Mugabe openly.22 J u st t w o w eeks b efore, S ecret ary o f S t at e C o l i n P o wel l had publ i s hed
an Op Ed colu m n stating t hat M ugabe’s “time has come and gone” and urgi ng South
Africa t o “play a stronger and m ore s ustained role” i n ending the Zimbabwe crisis.23
Some reports speculated, however, t hat M beki had o ffered assurances to President Bush
that he was working behind the s cenes to bring about Mugabe’s retirement, possibly b y
Decem ber. From t h i s perspect i v e, Bush’s rem arks refl ect ed a n ew “uni t y of purpose” 24
with South Africa and a willingnes s t o give S outh Africa time to demonstrat e t hat African
leaders can resolve t he Zimbabwe probl em. Nonetheless, many observers doubt that
Mugabe has any intention of s tepping as ide; and i f he fails to do so, s ome will urge that
the United S tates t ake s tronger action, perhaps by imposing s tronger sanctions, s eeking
United Nations involvement, o r u rging S outh Africa to take direct action, such as cutting
off Zi m b abwe’s el ect ri ci t y suppl i es, t o force M ugabe from power. Ot h ers m ay cont i nue
to urge that a policy of engagem ent with Mugabe is more likel y t o l ead to his retirem ent.
Even should M ugabe l eave o ffice, however, a long and potentially costly p r o c e s s of
reconciliation and reconstruction will likel y be required before Zimbabwe can return to
the economic and political stability it once enj o yed. W hether such a process would be
l aunched and whet her i t coul d s ucceed rem ai n t o be seen.
21 White House, Office of the Press Secretary, “Presi dent Bush Discusses U.S.-Africa Partnership
from South Africa,” ( Press Availability), J uly 9, 2003.
22 “Harare Sees Support f or T a lks as ‘ Loud Climbdown’ by Bush,” Washington Times , J uly 11,
23 Colin L. Powell, “Freeing a Na t i o n f r o m a Tyrant’s Gr ip,” Ne w Y or k T i me s , J une 24, 2003.
T he Secretary wrote that Pius Ncube, t he Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, had told him
that “there is too much f ear in the c ountry; f ear of the unknown a nd fea r o f t h e known
consequences if we act or speak out.”
24 J ohn Prendergast, “Leaders of Africa Must Act Now to Save Zi mbabwe,” Business Day (South
Africa), August 6, 2003.