As Zimbabwe draws closer to complete collapse under the weight of a deepening economic crisis, the International Crisis Group says a regional initiative for a negotiated political solution offers the only realistic escape from a situation that threatens to destabilize southern Africa.
The International Crisis Group report paints a grim picture of Zimbabwe, inflation between 7,000 and 13,000 percent. Four out of five of the country's 12 million people living below the poverty line, and an estimated 3 million Zimbabweans have fled. A military-led campaign to slash prices has produced acute food and fuel shortages, and conducting business is becoming almost impossible.
Crisis Group spokesperson Andebrhan Giorgis says the Southern African Development Community and mediation by South Africa President Thabo Mbeki can help bring about a negotiated solution to the country's woes.
"The situation is very difficult and it is compounded by the prevailing political stalemate," he said. "That is why we see a window of opportunity in the SADC initiative and the of mediation of President Mbeki first to engage political dialogue between ZANU-PF and the MDC, and hopefully there will be a negotiated agreement on a package of economic, political, and constitutional and security reforms that will pave the way for the holding of free and fair elections."
The report calls for the international community to support Mr. Mbeki's mediation between Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and his main opposition the Movement for Democratic Change.
The report also recommends reforms, including the repeal of repressive laws that have made opposition political activity impossible and severely restricted the independent media.
The International Crisis Group hopes a guarantee that Mr. Mugabe will not be brought to trial for his alleged misdeeds will provide an incentive for him to accept the reforms and to retire in 2008.
"In the event that President Mugabe retires, then we are also recommending immunity from prosecution, any kind of prosecution, domestic or international as well as security for his family, for his financial assets, etc," added Giorgis. "So I think these are also powerful incentives that would maybe persuade him to reconsider."
Giorgis says the recommended changes are not about regime change, but more about fueling an economic turnaround and an opportunity for the people of Zimbabwe to freely elect a government of their choice.