Nyasha A Chidembo Correspondent
Political change in any system – whether domestic, regional, or international – implies a paradigm shift in terms of policy making since new minds will be in the corridors of power.
George Bernard Shaw once said progress was impossible without change, and those who could not change their minds could not change anything.
One cannot change the direction of the wind, but one can adjust the sails to reach his/her own destination.
If one is to look at Zimbabwe’s foreign policy since 1980, it is clear that there is a causal relationship between what the administration is doing abroad and the general state of affairs in domestic politics.
Since 1980, Zimbabwe has been in a constant endeavour to be integrated into the community of nations.
This has been done through bilateral and multilateral relations with various states.
The Head of State has been pivotal in the formulation of foreign policy in partnership with various stakeholders and institutions.
During the Mugabe era, 1980-2017 foreign policy was centralised and the President was the chief articulator of foreign policy as argued by Patel (2005).
Relations between Zimbabwe and the world were warm due to its stance of non-alignment adopted by the foreign policy architects.
In the 1990s, Zimbabwe was in good international economic relations with the World Bank and IMF as evidenced by the implementation of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes, which one can describe as a pie baked in the Global North and consumed in the South, which in turn caused serious (health) economic problems which are still felt even today.
Early in the new millennium, Zimbabwe’s relations with the West became tense after disagreements over the land question and there were economic sanctions imposed by the European Union and United States of America on Zimbabwe.
As an alternative, Zimbabwe changed its focus to the East and that decision came to be known as the Look East Policy, which sustained Zimbabwe until November 2017, when the then President Mugabe resigned from the office.
The period of the GNU (2009-2013) was not much different since Mugabe remained the chief articulator of foreign policy. The new dispensation, post-November 2017, has adjusted the foreign policy sails to navigate the whole of the global village, not just the East.
New foreign policy?
According to an article in The Sunday Mail of April 4, 2018, President Mnangagwa informed the British Government of that position.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr SB Moyo and his officials are making efforts to implement the new foreign policy.
The President’s pronouncements are an embodiment of the principles guiding the foreign policy and the practical aspect of it is implemented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
An American delegation led by Senator Flake and Chris Coons came to Zimbabwe to discuss the conditions for the removal of Zdera (Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001) sanctions against Zimbabwe.
Furthermore, the general direction being taken by the new dispensation in conjunction with the Ministry of Affairs in foreign policy formulation and implementation will have a great impact on human development in Zimbabwe.
According to the United Nations Human Development Report in 1990, human development is defined as the process of enlarging people’s freedoms and opportunities and improving their well-being.
Being fully integrated and accepted into the whole community of nations entails job creation, good housing conditions, better earnings and many other issues to be addressed.
One comes to the above conclusion through a comparative analysis of other African countries such as Rwanda, Botswana, Zambia, and South Africa, which are engaging the East, the West as well as South-South relations.
Zimbabwe was at a disadvantage because of its Look East foreign policy, while its Eastern partners were looking West and the rest of the world.
Moreover, Zimbabwe’s re-engagement with the IMF also entails positive trajectory in implementation of Government projects, plans and policies.
FDI is a very important factor in financing development. Various infrastructural projects need foreign currency to be realised.
Re-engagement efforts being pursued at the international level will also ensure that dreams will turn into reality due to availability of funds.
The new administration has made efforts to clear international debt in order to be eligible for international borrowing.
IMF and World Bank seem to be interested in working with Zimbabwe again due to the goodwill being exhibited by the current Government.
The November 17 march against Mugabe in the streets of Harare attracted international media and analysis, and Zimbabweans of all colour and different political affiliations were portrayed as peace-loving and patriotic.
This changed the mindset of the international community.
Zimbabwe as a tourist destination regained its favour in the eyes of international visitors as evidenced by the soaring number of tourist arrivals in 2018.
The citizens of the international community arriving in Zimbabwe will benefit the tourism sector which contributes much to the GDP. Therefore, re-engagement as a focus of the new Government is beneficial to Zimbabwe.
Challenges and recommendations
It is, however, an academic injustice to ignore the challenges which come with engagement with the international community. Kwame Nkrumah, as an African evangelist of total Independence and emancipation, warned post-colonial Africa of the dangers of having an umbilical cord attached to the former colonial masters.
Fanon, Gunder Frank, Cardoso and other Marxist writers in the 1960s warned the Global South of the tragedies associated with interactions with capitalist countries.
Neocolonialism is a reality and some of the world powers will be seeking to use economic power to influence policy to their own benefit in their international relations.
Historical facts have taught us that foreign help does not really translate into meaningful development.
Therefore, the foreign policy makers in Zimbabwe must be cautious of dependency, but rather emphasise mutually beneficial relationships (inter-dependency).
There is a danger of re engagement degenerating into dependency. The leadership should not take foreign advice without assessing feasibility and compatibility with the material conditions on the ground to avoid disasters such as the 1990’s liberal economic policy disaster.
In a nutshell, one would say that the fall of great empires has been attributed to the failure to change and embrace the inevitable.
Zimbabwe as a country must engage in meaningful foreign policy in pursuit of realising its national interest as enshrined in the national Constitution.
While the current political narrative and efforts to re-engage might not yet produce the much-anticipated results, it is a foundation for Zimbabwe to retake its position at the international and domestic levels.