Zimbabwe: A Rising Economic Powerhouse in Southern Africa

The Integrated Country Strategy for Zimbabwe (ICS Zimbabwe) highlights Zimbabwe’s strategic importance to the US as a potential growth hub for southern Africa. However, this is a surprising conclusion given Zimbabwe’s current ranking near the bottom of the DHL Global Connectedness Index. The ICS Zimbabwe fails to provide any explanation for why Zimbabwe could become a growth hub or why this would be in the US government’s national interest.

One recommendation is to amend the ICS Zimbabwe to further develop the concept of Zimbabwe as a growth hub for Southern Africa. The ICS Zimbabwe refers to Zimbabwe as a “potential growth hub for southern Africa,” but it does not show why this outcome would be important to Washington. Zimbabwe is currently ranked 160 out of 171 countries on DHL’s Global Connectedness Index 2022, placing it below its neighbors and impoverished Sub-Saharan African countries.

Network theorists and the World Bank define hubs as interconnected nodes, while economic growth refers to the increase in the value of goods and services over time. The US Embassy Harare should borrow these concepts to conceptualize the “growth hub for southern Africa” as an SADC member state that is highly interconnected with other SADC member states through linkages that drive positive change in output or real expenditure or income of their populations.

The ICS Zimbabwe should provide a detailed explanation of the conditions for Zimbabwe to become a growth hub for Southern Africa, considering its strong relationships with major-power competitors and China’s expansion of influence. The Zimbabwean economy is currently dominated by a select few, including the president, his family, military officials, and a select group of ruling party and private sector actors.

Zimbabwe’s transformation into a Southern Africa growth hub could boost local job creation, economic development, citizen empowerment, gender equality, climate-smart solutions, and improved labor and environmental standards. However, it is crucial to identify the conditions under which the transformation would support the administration’s policy of focusing on transnational aspects of corruption. The transformation of Zimbabwe into a regional growth hub could potentially fuel the spread of corruption and widen existing inequities.

The US Embassy Harare should partner with the Zimbabwean government to develop a strategic roadmap for transforming Zimbabwe into a growth hub for Southern Africa, advancing US national security and foreign policy interests while promoting economic prosperity and opportunity in Southern Africa. This roadmap should clearly describe resources, activities, outputs, short-term objectives, and long-term goals to advance a shared vision of a better, more sustainable, healthier, and more prosperous future through Zimbabwe’s transformation.

The State Department should implement risk management strategies to transform Zimbabwe into a Southern African growth hub aligned with US national security and foreign policy interests. The transformation would be a long-term, resource-intensive endeavor that would require political and budgetary support over a period likely exceeding the life span of a single ICS. To secure congressional support, the State Department should involve relevant committees in the early planning stages.

Congress is likely to be open to innovative partnerships with Zimbabwe, given its large deposits of rare earth metals used in electronics, batteries, and magnets. However, they may be sensitive to the costs and risks associated with a government hostile to US interests. The State Department should involve relevant committees in the planning process to ensure a robust pursuit of this policy goal.

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