“So far like the present period”

Very superficially, Zimbabwe and Uganda have a lot in common.  Both (with some politically driven exceptions) are quite close to the UK in cultural and society terms; and both are striving to retain or retrieve a reputation for growth, strength and stability.  Less superficially, they are also forms of a political mono-culture, increasingly built around the personality of either a very small group, or more especially one person.  Both countries are of interest to the UK, and to other – allied – donors and like-minded countries and organisations; and both seek to balance “traditional” donor and investment interests with those of “non-traditional” partners such as China, Malaysia and Turkey.

But clearly the two countries are also very different.  Zimbabwe is a form of pariah where even the non-traditional partners seem amenable to more “western” rhetoric about rule of law and stability (in part because not even they have been able to profit from their investments there).  Uganda apparently enjoys diverse international investment and hosts a range of donors with relatively well funded programmes.

Beneath these apparently different veneers run similar issues, just at different stages of gestation.  In each case, the governance culture (and the benefits it returns to ordinary people and international partners) is arguably in post-peak decline.  And both either face or have made choices which have cemented this downward trajectory.  Both face future choices which offer the chance to either arrest the decline or to embark on a new, more positive, path.  Or not.

“The spring of hope or the winter of despair”

In the case of Zimbabwe (where the decline is marked and advanced), proximate choices over future leadership will set the tone for the near future and ordinary people will be in for a rough ride in the near term.  The options appear to be spiralling off a cliff edge or bumping along the bottom whilst the political classes work towards generational change.

In Uganda (which is still riding relatively high), the choice appears to be between an exclusive and increasingly self-interested political class and managing a transition over time which allows a younger generation to stretch their wings.

“We had everything before us; we had nothing before us.”

In Zimbabwe, a sense of wary fatigue seems to pervade donor counsels.  The next steps are all in the hands of the political elite and they must make their choices and live with the consequences.  There is a need to help ordinary people manage the change which affects them, but donors are not yet planning for this kind of future.  They are likely to do so, but probably too late to be really effective.

In Uganda, where donors are clearly repositioning themselves to work around an immutable political culture, the opportunities are more (but not completely) concrete.  For some donors, the entry point may turn out to be managing local tension in areas (the north and the west) which host significant refugee communities.  Others are seeking much larger and broader programmes of support to the north with a focus on infrastructure and services.  But most acknowledge that governance will be an essential part of any larger package.