The Active Pariah: Zimbabwe’s ‘Look East’ Policy

In 2012, Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace ranked Zimbabwe the fifth most likely country to fail -- putting it in greater danger than Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti. World leaders frequently describe Zimbabwe under the leadership of President Robert Mugabe as a pariah state. The United States, the European Union and Australia have all imposed sanctions against the Zimbabwean government for not respecting democracy and human rights, and the United Nations has proposed sanctions against Zimbabwe repeatedly. The country has lost many of its onetime allies and has found itself shunned by many in the international community.

Despite all of these challenges, Zimbabwe has not collapsed, and Mugabe continues to maintain his grip on power. With elections expected during 2013, all indications suggest that Mugabe will run for re-election and win. How is a country whose government is seemingly so isolated from the rest of the world able not just to survive, but to prosper?

The fact is, Zimbabwe isn’t as isolated as it may seem. Yes, travel embargoes and asset freezes may keep prominent officials in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) political party from visiting the Netherlands or doing business in the United States, but those are not the only avenues for diplomatic engagement in the world. Mugabe and his allies have cultivated an alternative diplomatic alliance by presenting Zimbabwe as the victim of Western neocolonialism and economic exploitation. The leadership has developed a network of support that allows it to engage with the rest of the world. At the same time, Mugabe has offered his experience as a cautionary tale to his allies: Zimbabwe’s experience with the West is emblematic of the latter’s desire to recolonize the rest of the world, and Mugabe is a bulwark against such exploitation; therefore, supporting Zimbabwe is the same as rejecting Western exploitation and neocolonialism.

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