I don't expect them to be completely peaceful or totally fair, but I am hopeful that they will be much freer than last time. There is potential that they will be the best elections so far. The legal environment has improved. We will have better election laws this time around. Also, one of the key benefits of being in the same room with our opponents for three years is that they treat us with diminished hostility.
Some analysts predict that the power-sharing agreement will continue after the elections. Is that a likely scenario?
It is certainly a possibility. One scenario that I can envisage is collaboration between the moderate wing of the ZANU-PF and the MDC. The benefit of this arrangement would be to pacify the military and prevent a coup d'etat [by forces loyal to Mugabe] after an expected MDC win. That would benefit the MDC, while allow the moderates within ZANU-PF to have a stake in the future.
What can the international community do to help in a peaceful transfer of power from the ZANU-PF to the MDC?
I think that the West should be more proactive. Some countries have largely disengaged from Zimbabwe and that has played into the hands of the hardliners in the ZANU-PF. If the Western countries reengage, ordinary Zimbabweans will be more confident that the process of democratization will go on and succeed in the end. Ordinary Zimbabweans will see that there are tangible benefits to an alliance with the West and to democracy. Moderates in the ZANU-PF also need to be reengaged -- they have the power to keep the military in their barracks.
Having shrunk 40 percent following Robert Mugabe's expropriation of commercial farmers, Zimbabwe's economy is growing again. What are the main drivers of growth?
The main drivers of growth are primarily mining (platinum, gold, and diamonds), tourism, and aspects of agriculture (tobacco and cotton). Industry has also picked up, but industrial capacity utilization is still very low.
Some economists believe that growth is driven by extractive industries, while the rest of the economy -- such as manufacturing -- suffers due to the lack of the rule of law, indigenization policies, etc. Zimbabwe remains one of the least economically free countries in the world. What, if anything, is the government doing to improve the business environment?
This is a highly controversial area, because of a fundamental disagreement between the two parties. The ZANU-PF is pushing for indigenization -- or redistribution of 51 percent of shares in businesses to African hands. Ostensibly, this measure is to benefit ordinary Zimbabweans, but in reality it will only benefit senior ZANU-PF leaders. There is, consequently, a lot of hostile rhetoric that deters domestic and foreign investment. The MDC recognizes the need for empowerment of ordinary Zimbabweans, but also the need for a good business environment, including low tariffs and low taxes. We want to move beyond relying on extractive industries and "grow the cake." As the cake grows, more Zimbabweans will benefit. The ZANU-PF wants to redistribute the current cake, especially to its cronies. The ZANU-PF is not ignorant of the requirements of competing in a global economy, but they are self-interested and greedy. They see indigenization as electorally popular and they like a discretionary business environment that allows them to collect rents and bribes.
What is the role of the Chinese in the Zimbabwean economy and also in terms of propping up Robert Mugabe?
The Chinese role in the economy is increasing. China is a source of cheap imports: clothes and food. That is not a bad thing per se, but our business environment is so bad that it does not allow our domestic firms to compete with the Chinese. They have received huge infrastructure contracts -- like rebuilding the Victoria Falls Airport -- and contracts to build roads. Most of the work is performed by the Chinese, not Zimbabweans. The Chinese are also heavily involved in the mining sector, especially in the mining of diamonds. There is precious little transparency and we see almost no revenue from the diamond mines. Where is all that money going? Is it going to the military or to ZANU-PF? I fear that may be the case. The Chinese are also constructing a huge military intelligence training center worth some $70 million for the ZANU-PF- controlled Ministry of Defense. So, there is plenty to be concerned about.
Tens of thousands of highly educated people have left Zimbabwe, but many would like to return to their homeland one day. What would you say to them, regarding their current and future prospects for making a decent living?
At present, it is very difficult to attract Zimbabweans back to Zimbabwe. We have very few jobs for professional and skilled people. We need them, but we cannot promise much to them at present. They have to come home with their eyes wide open. Much will depend on the outcome of the next election. Zimbabweans abroad must perceive changes in Zimbabwe as fundamental and irreversible. But without the return of these skilled Zimbabweans, future economic growth will be stunted.
Zimbabweans like to say "We make a plan," which underlines their resolve in the face of crises. What is the general morale of the country these days, since hyperinflation has been tamed? Do people feel like the worst is behind them, or is there a widespread cynicism regarding people's ability to pursue their livelihoods?
It is a mix. People's lives have improved. We now have a currency (the U.S. dollar) that retains its value, and shops and pharmacies are full. Development indicators are improving. But many Zimbabweans fear that the hardliners in the military will take the country back to 2008. There is also a growing cynicism over politicians of all stripes, including some in the MDC. People see a huge difference in wealth between the political class and the rest, and they do not like it. The challenge for the MDC is to show people that it will fundamentally change politics in Zimbabwe. People do not want to see a change of faces at the top with no change in their lifestyles.