Sink or Swim Together

An overview of the history of southern Africa clearly shows how integrated our economies are and how interdependent we have always been. This is not altogether supported by the statistics but that does not take account of informal sector activity as well as transport and communications.

But increasingly we are now also connected by politics. The new world order, within which we all have to operate and live, demands that individual States must conform to certain standards that are increasingly being accepted as international norms. We are required to follow democratic principles in how we choose our leadership. We are expected to limit our budget deficit to somewhere around 3 per cent of GDP. We must accept the new rules for trade within the global village - free trade and competitive markets are the sine qua non of business. We are expected to observe and respect all basic human and political rights.

Fail in any of these areas and countries immediately face sanctions of one kind or the other. Not mandatory UN sanctions such as were imposed on the Rhodesian government after 1965, but more subtle forms of sanctions. Zimbabwe is a prime example of the latter - when we started to really break the rules in the mid 90's we were faced with restricted access to the world' s multilateral banking system. The ADB, the WB and the IMF all gradually suspended any activity to support what they saw as a delinquent system of fiscal and political governance.

The international community (the rich members that is) also gradually froze us out of their system of recognition and support. Foreign aid declined and in many cases was simply suspended until defined problems were corrected. This has not happened and we are now almost completely denied foreign aid and assistance by richer countries and regions like the EU. As these early sanctions took effect and did not work, the international community ratchets up the pressure. Delegations are made unwelcome at international meetings. This can be quite subtle - no invitations to dinners, no formal recognition and even denial of visa's and other forms of political sanction. We are well into this phase - our representatives have disrupted relations between the EU and the ACP States and are also proving to be problematical in other forums.

Eventually the only places on earth that such rogue States find succor are those connected to the UN system and with other rogue States who share our status as a global polecat. Someone sent me the latest rankings of the polecat States and said that he was surprised to see that we were at number 15 from the bottom. I replied that it did not really matter as the muck at the bottom of this particular hole was pretty deep and we were all in the same grunge.

When South Africa was the "Apartheid State" and a polecat in its own league, we were always glad to have access to the Beira and Maputo harbors and for the barrier provided by the Limpopo River and its crocodiles. These things protected us from the side effects of having a neighbor who was persona non grata in the global community. That position is now reversed and with a vengeance. We do not have the economy or the regional status that South Africa had when it was grappling with the question of its status and in some ways we are almost more isolated today, than South Africa was in those days - sure we are still in the UN system, but only just.

But we are small - just 3 per cent of the GDP of South Africa, a real minnow in the regional and global picture. Does this question of our political and economic status matter? Sure it does because like it or not we sink or swim together. That is exactly what President Mbeki said after the recent SADC summit in Gaborone. Every country in the SADC except Zimbabwe is recording rapid economic and social progress, even the strife torn ones like the Congo. We are really the rotten apple in this barrel and we are holding back the entire region and might even threaten the fragile security and stability we now enjoy. Why?

Perhaps the key is in South Africa itself. There the coalition that brought South Africa through the turbulent days of the post apartheid transition to democracy is falling apart. The State President, Thabo Mbeki who looked so good a few months ago, faces an open revolt over his decision to prosecute his previous deputy for corruption and abuse of power. This struggle for power inside the ANC is tearing it apart and if it is not addressed and resolved it could weaken Mr. Mbeki precisely at the time when he has to deal with the rogue State on his borders in the north. Mugabe knows this and like any mischief-maker, he will exploit this conflict and thereby make things that much worse.

Capital flight from South Africa has been a problem for years; initially it took the form of South Africans investing abroad to spread their risks. Then it took the form of trying to move resources out of what was seen as a volatile and uncertain place and just as it is starting to turn, the very institution that was generating this newfound confidence in South Africa starts to fall apart. South Africa has always had a radical left and it is this element that now wishes to assert its independence and demand what it sees as its rightful place in the exercise of power in South Africa.

This is a delicate moment and it is no time for brinkmanship. The global community has a stake in southern Africa and indeed in Africa itself as a continent. South Africa is just too important an element in that equation to allow a minnow like Zimbabwe to exacerbate the situation and threaten the stability of South Africa. It really is time that this pipsqueak country called Zimbabwe was sorted out - and fast, so that instead of being part of the problem we can help strengthen regional stability and growth.

It is not possible for the local political opposition to effect change by itself. If change is going to happen it requires a catalyst - some factor inserted from the outside. Such a catalyst was agreed at the G8 summit and both China and India committed themselves to the deal. Mbeki was given the responsibility of following it through on the ground - the powers that be must revise their thinking in that respect and ask if he is any longer in a position to exercise that role. Perhaps he has his hands full and it is time for someone like Nigeria to step up to the plate. I learned back in the immediate post independence era in Zimbabwe that the super powers have huge interventionist capacity. Perhaps it is time to use a little on this corner of the world for the sake of the region as a whole.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 7th September 2005.