Common wisdom holds that the first mover has the advantage. But for international debt relief, this may not necessarily be the case. When many of its peers were receiving unprecedented support from the international community in the early 1990s, Zimbabwe was left in limbo. The IMF and World Bank avoided a definitive decision on the country’s eligibility for debt relief under the heavily indebted poor countries initiative (HIPC). Any meaningful engagement with the Bretton Woods institutions was precluded by global and domestic politics, including the position of former president Robert Mugabe, who rejected the so-called stigma that HIPC might cast upon the country and its policies. The conditions that would come with a debt relief programme were viewed as imposing an unwanted restraint on the policy makers. In a strange twist of fate, the failure to receive debt relief 15 years ago might be to Zimbabwe’s advantage as it allows the country to avoid the pitfalls experienced by other HI...

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