Independent and credible institutions in Zimbabwe, in particular its main union federation, have a fundamental role to play in any effort to improve the country’s yawning social and economic needs, testified the Solidarity Center’s Imani Countess before a recent U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee hearing.

Countess, Solidarity Center Africa regional program director, served as one of two expert witnesses at the September 12 hearing “The Troubling Path Ahead for U.S.-Zimbabwe Relations,” called by the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations.

On the heels of Zimbabwe’s contested elections, which returned Robert Mugabe to the presidency, the country’s workers and economy face a continued uphill struggle. However, while political intimidation has silenced many, trade unions and their partners have created space for independent action and dialogue—and should be supported.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the largest and most vocal civil-society organizations in the country, has worked to push a pro-poor economic agenda and is best poised to help the country rebuild a foundation for a strong middle class, she said.

“Without a revived jobs base, the government cannot effectively make the investments needed to revive the country’s economic infrastructure or its education system to meet the needs of an economy integrated into the regional or global marketplace,” said Countess, adding that, “Zimbabwe clearly needs an economic plan and a trade plan that prioritizes investment in industrialization and jobs-led growth. Africa’s trade unions have emphasized the need for accelerating industrialization in Africa. They recognize that the current model of growth based largely on the export of raw extractive minerals fosters dependency on Western and Asian markets, which leaves the continent exposed to numerous economic shocks and perpetuates the pattern of jobless growth—leaving Africa less stable and less secure.”

As the newly elected government in Zimbabwe has choices, so too, does the United States, said Countess. “The U.S. government has a variety of tools at its disposal that can be used to support rule of law and human and worker rights in Zimbabwe and to encourage the government of Zimbabwe to do the same. These investments in Zimbabwe’s citizens and their institutions can produce positive outcomes by leveling the playing field in ways that can lead to a more stable economy and one that ultimately provides benefits for all.”

Read her full testimony.

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