The current conflict situation in Zimbabwe

The current conflict situation in Zimbabwe

“I have lost all hope in our nation as things have just been getting worse.”

“It is not sustainable, that is how I see the future.”

(Collins Chirume and Joseph Bizeki from Harare, Zimbabwe)

 

In such a way, young people from Zimbabwe desperately speak about the future of the landlocked state in southern Africa – and about their own future in their homeland. Among the 16.5 million inhabitants mistrust towards the government continues to grow.

The British colony of Rhodesia, named after Cecil Rhodes, was founded in 1893. In 1911 it had been divided into northern Rhodesia (today’s Zambia) and southern Rhodesia (today’s Zimbabwe). On November 11, 1965 the unilateral declaration of independence as “Rhodesia” took place. It was not until April 18, 1980 that the state achieved internationally recognized independence as “Zimbabwe” with Canaan Banana as the president and Robert Mugabe as the Prime Minister. In 1987 Zimbabwe became a presidential republic with far-reaching powers of the “new” president Robert Mugabe, who since then has had sole power such as the control of the military.

For many years Zimbabwe was on a steady course of growth and regarded as a model for a successful and peaceful post-colonial development. The expansion of the health and education sectors and several government programs led to a steady improvement in social and economic indicators.

Towards the end of the 1990s, however, protests by the opposition and civil society against Robert Mugabe’s regime increased. The government brutally suppressed the questioning of Mugabe’s power and finally carried out the long-awaited “land reform” by force in 2000. As a result, some eleven million hectares of white farmers’ land were expropriated and officially distributed to about 300,000 small farmers. The farmers were to be compensated, but many were plundered and expelled instead or fled immediately. Many farms went to politicians of the ruling party without paying any compensation, although they had no interest in an adequate cultivation of the farmland. As a result, Zimbabwe suffered famine and malnutrition. This sudden and unexpected method had an extremely negative impact on the overall economic development of the country. Consequently, Zimbabwe is still dependent on food imports as it can no longer feed its population itself. By 2015, nearly 45 percent of the population was malnourished – one of the highest rates in the world.

Then again, there was Robert Mugabe’s increasing desire for ever greater control. In November 2017, the political crisis escalated when Robert Mugabe dismissed his Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa. On November 14, the military – until then the government’s sole means of oppressing the population – took power. For the first time, the soldiers demonstrated side by side with the population for Robert Mugabe’s resignation. The enormous pressure finally led to Mugabe’s resignation on November 21, after which the military appointed Emmerson Mnangagwa as interim president on November 24. He was confirmed as president in the presidential elections on July 30, 2018. However, those who had hoped for a non-partisan transitional government after the sensational demonstrations were disappointed when Emmerson Mnangagwa appointed certain members of the Mugabe regime to join his new cabinet

Although Emmerson Mnangagwa has already announced a few long overdue reforms, some of which have already been initiated, the population is still skeptical when it comes to the new president. These include, above all, the reforms of the civil service and the police, the limitation of the Indigenization Act and legislative adjustments to the new constitution of 2013 with more political freedoms. Within the population, no one can forget that he had been involved with the manipulation of elections and the repression of opposition members in the past. Despite the first signs of an administrative and economic opening of the state, a real opening towards more political freedom seems distant.

Although Zimbabwe was one of the economically strongest states in Sub-Saharan Africa in 1997, it is now in a massive economic crisis and one of the poorest states in the world. After 1998, the economic output fell by half within ten years. At the same time, the inflation rate, which had been largely below 30 percent in the 1990s, rose too many times. In 2001 the rate was in the three-digit range for the first time, by 2006 it had risen to 1,000 percent and in January 2008 it reached 100,000 percent. From December 2007 to January 2009, Zimbabwe experienced a devastating hyperinflation, which eventually rose to 231 million per cent in July 2008 – the last official figure. Such a high monthly devaluation translates into an average price increase of 11.1 percent per day. In response, the government tried to impose price maintenance. Instead of success, however, this in turn led to numerous business closures and long queues in front of the shops.

Even before January 29, 2009, foreign currencies such as the United States Dollar (USD) and the South African Rand (ZAR) were used as means of payment. But it was not until then that these currencies were officially accepted as means of payment. As a result, the Zimbabwe Dollar, which had long become meaningless, was suspended and later even officially eradicated.

Until November 2017, Zimbabwe stagnated both politically and economically. This was due to steadily rising prices, an ongoing liquidity crisis, a budget deficit of around 2.2 billion USD in 2017, uncovered banknotes of 4.4 billion USD and similar levels of foreign debt, underutilization of the industry by less than 50 percent and one of the world’s highest informal economic sectors (over 60 percent). The state lacks foreign currency, so that it can no longer guarantee the supply of its population’s essential needs with food, drinking water, medicinal products and petrol.

Due to the lack of banknotes, the central bank introduced promissory notes as a parallel currency in October 2016 with the aim of stabilizing the economy. In February 2019, these notes were replaced by the new currency – the RTGS Dollar. Although this was officially introduced at a ratio of 1:1 to the USD, in reality it constantly continues to lose value and has already been traded at a ratio of almost 5:1 (on the black market) in May 2019. While the foreign currency is still considered much more stable by the population, the new currency has not brought any stability. The prices of goods and services continue to rise, as a result of which there are fewer and fewer goods and, in particular, a shortage of medicinal products and petrol.

In January 2019, the generally very critical situation escalated into violent protests against the expensive gasoline, especially in the capital Harare and other major cities. The government reacted with torture, bodily harm and killings of insurgents executed by the military. At the same time, the government shut down the internet on the spurious ground that insurgents were using the internet to organize their activities. Also, outsiders were not able to follow the violent suppression of the protests and the killings any longer. After six days, however, the government was forced by foreign countries to release the internet again. Until today, no one knows what happened within the country during those six days. The government also failed to take into account the fact that it itself could no longer reach the population when Emmerson Mnangagwa tried to reassure the population and the protesters via Facebook and Twitter.

Overall, the Zimbabwean population faces a terrible déjà vu. People do not trust the new currency – a consequence of the mistrust towards the banks and the government. Although the situation is less violent at the moment than it was in January, the economic situation is much worse; and if it continues to deteriorate to such an extent, the likelihood of new violent protests is extremely high.

 

References

Alexander, Jocelyn; McGregor, JoAnn; Tendi, Miles-Blessing (2014): Politics, Patronage and the State. Harare: Weaver Press.

Bratton, Michael (2014): Power Politics in Zimbabwe. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Masunungure, Eldred; Shumba, Jabusile M. (eds.) (2012): Zimbabwe mired in Transition. Institute for a Democratic Alternative for Zimbabwe (IDAZIM), Weaver Press: Harare.

Mlambo, Alois (2014): A History of Zimbabwe. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Raftopoulous, Brian; Mlambo, Alois (eds.) (2009): Becoming Zimbabwe: A history from the pre-colonial period to 2008, Harare: Weaver Press.

Sachikonye, Lloyd (2011): When a state turns on its citizens. 60 years of institutionalized violence and political culture, Auckland Park: Jacana Media.

Schlee, Beatrice (2007): Zimbabwe: die Überlebenskünstler – eine Lektion in Sachen Machterhalt, in: Molt, Peter (eds.): Kulturen und Konflikte im Vergleich: Comparing Cultures and Conflicts. Festschrift für Theodor Hanf, Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft, pp. 562-576.

Tendi, Miles-Blessing (2016): State Intelligence and the Politics of Zimbabwe’s Presidential Succession, in: African Affairs, Vol. 115, pp. 1-22.

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