FIVE days after the presidential and parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe, its people still do not know who will lead their country.
By its own account, Robert Mugabeâ€™s Zanu PF lost the parliamentary election to the MDC. And in the contest for the presidency, even despite the possibility of large scale voting fraud, it seems that Mugabe has not secured victory.
But as Mugabe contemplates his immediate future, it is clear that no course of action can make his rule infinite. There will be a day after Mugabe. His political demise could come swiftly or still be some way off, but the status quo has now been upset.
So while keeping up the pressure on the regime now, in the form of targeted EU sanctions and tough diplomacy, our strategy must comprehend the possibility of a dramatic change in Zimbabweâ€™s domestic politics.
The international community has a duty to prepare for that moment, to ensure that we can assist in the countryâ€™s difficult transition from authoritarian rule and economic and social collapse.
While in theory at peace, Zimbabwe is a country at war with itself. It may therefore need the same level of support as a country emerging from military conflict.
Zimbabwe today exhibits many of the scars and characteristics of a post-conflict state: massive population displacement â€” around three million in South Africa and Mozambique, depleted infrastructure, the breakdown of basic services, social trauma, a lack of justice, and a shattered economy. It is the country that has the lowest life expectancy in Africa; worldâ€™s highest inflation rate and instances of political torture.
Incredibly, several other African countries which experienced full scale civil wars have emerged with stronger economies than Zimbabwe, ravaged instead by two decades of misrule and Robert Mugabeâ€™s inexorable destruction of the country.
As in any other post-conflict situations, Mugabeâ€™s departure will create a â€œgolden hourâ€; a short window of time when peopleâ€™s expectations are high and the political situation is fluid. In Iraq, as we have learnt to our cost, this golden hour was squandered.
We have gained hard-won experience in rebuilding broken societies: in Bosnia, Sierra Leone and East Timor. These lessons need to be applied now, to ensure that we are poised to help Zimbabwe onto a path of social, economic and political recovery.
In this vein the international community ought to be prepared to take the following steps:
lDevelop a clear package of assistance, based on the World Bank and the UN assessment of the countryâ€™s needs in the post-Mugabe era. This would follow as soon as either a caretaker administration in Zimbabwe makes it clear that it will implement democratic reforms, or a new leadership emerges.
lPrepare to call a donorsâ€˜ conference hosted jointly by the African Union and the European Union. Set up a â€œcontact group,â€ backed by the weight and resources of the UN, to engage closely with regional partners, such as South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana and Malawi.
lSuch a body was successful in overseeing Bosniaâ€™s recovery, and would be able to pool international efforts on Zimbabwe, manage the inflow of assistance, advance the political process, and pave the way for normalising Zimbabweâ€™s relations with the international community. Sound recovery and reconstruction planning will ensure that the people of Zimbabwe are helped in rebuilding their country and avoid the worst case scenario of complete state collapse and regional destabilisation.
lOnce Mugabe has gone, successors committed to democracy should be offered help in moving from a culture of violence to one of the rule of law. We should support a thorough reform of the security sector, including the restructuring of the Zimbabwe National Army and the Zimbabwe Republic Police, the disbanding of paramilitary groups, and training for officials in civilian policing and human rights.
lUrgent steps will be necessary to promote economic recovery, starting at the most fundamental level of ensuring protection, food and shelter for internally displaced people and restoring livelihoods, right the way up to restoring basic infrastructure and institution-building. We should also be prepared to help enable the orderly return and reintegration of those living outside Zimbabwe. Zimbabweâ€™s human capital is the greatest assets the country has and the realisation of its potential imperative.
lIn the event of a major deterioration in security we ought to be ready for an international observer mission or over the horizon humanitarian force under the auspices of the African Union and backed by the major powers.
There is no time to waste in developing a multilateral framework to respond to the inevitable in Harare. Nor is there a reason to be shy about preparing for the moment. If anything our active preparation for the day after Mugabe should send a signal to the Zimbabweâ€™s people that they have not been forgotten, that the world stands ready to help once
Mugabe is gone, and if his party and others are prepared to make a decisive break with the past.
Zimbabwe used to be among the most prosperous and promising states in sub-Saharan Africa. Once Mugabe has departed, its human capital and natural resources will form the basis for its recovery. To succeed Zimbabwe will need a rapid help from its neighbours, international organisations and its friends. Today they must all stand ready to help.
lRt Hague is an MP, UK Shadow Foreign Secretary and Mitchell is an MP, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development in the United Kingdom.
By William Hague and Andrew Mitchell