This week I had the honor of testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Zimbabwe, along with representatives from the State Department, USAID, the Treasury Department and several think tanks. As the sole representative of an international humanitarian organization, I focused my remarks on how to advance recovery and reconstruction efforts in the country.
We have an important opportunity to help support the nascent progress of a country that has spiraled into collapse over the last decade. The changes that we have witnessed in Zimbabwe since the advent of the Unity Government in February of this year have been important — improvements to the economy, a vastly improved working environment for non-governmental organizations and a real grassroots desire for positive change. During my trip this summer to Zimbabwe, I saw growing glimmers of hope and increased optimism in the communities I visited.
Most important has been the stabilization of an economy that at one point reached a daily inflation rate of more that 100,000 percent! As one man expressed to me, “You have no idea what it is like to wake up with some money, enough to buy bread for your children, but then you can’t find the bread. The shops are not able to stock their shelves due to inflation. Finally, at the end of the day you find the bread, but you can no longer afford it as the price has tripled.”
Zimbabweans experienced vital relief when the economy was dollarized in February 2009, enabling shops to stock goods. As a result, life for many — although not all — is returning to greater normalcy.
Food shortages, food insecurity, cholera — these are humanitarian crises in Zimbabwe that will return without a more concerted effort to address the systemic failures. As I told the Senators, the challenge today is to move beyond the series of humanitarian band-aids we have been applying and begin supporting the early recovery and reconstruction of Zimbabwe.
There was remarkable consensus among my think tank co-panelists that now is the time to re-engage with Zimbabwe. Make the bet on the best option available right now for Zimbabweans. Help them move in the right direction and help them avoid the ravages of the recent humanitarian disasters.
I applaud Senator Feingold and Senator Isakson for holding this important hearing and strongly hope the United States will push forward with important, incremental assistance. The courageous people of Zimbabwe deserve this chance.
You can read my full testimony to the Senate here.