Zimbabwe gathering pace on rocky road to perdition
Little change one year on from President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s inauguration
Demonstrators take to Harare streets earlier in August. The country’s main opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change, called for protests against President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his government’s management of the economy. Photograph: Getty
As Zimbabwe marks the anniversary on Monday of Emmerson Mnangagwa’s first year as its elected president, recent developments in the troubled nation suggest it is on the road to disaster rather than recovery.
The southern African country’s first leader since former president Robert Mugabe was forced from office in 2017 had promised his compatriots a “brighter future” following his disputed victory in the 2018 general election.
New economic policies that open the country up to foreign investment would be vigorously pursued and democracy would be deepened under his Zanu-PF-led administration, he said, at his swearing-in ceremony in Harare on August 26th last year.
“The Zimbabwe we want is a shared one that transcends party lines,” he insisted.
However, few people could have imagined his promise to strengthen citizens’ participation in the affairs of the state would involve banning anti-government protests, which his administration did this month in the cities of Harare, Bulawayo and Gweru.
After the Gweru protest was outlawed on August 16th, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) vice president Tendai Biti tweeted the regime’s actions were “effectively banning the MDC and suspending the constitution”.
The MDC also claimed that dozens of activists had been rounded up and beaten by security forces ahead of each of the planned protests.
The crackdown on activism also prompted the EU’s ambassador to Zimbabwe, Timo Olkkonen, to warn Mnangagwa that the union’s continued support to the country hinged on his government upholding the rule of law.
“Zimbabwe must genuinely show it has clearly broken from the past,” he said in reference to the dictatorial rule deployed by Mugabe during his near four-decade reign.
The anti-government protests were being organised to highlight living conditions in the country, which have dramatically worsened over the past 12 months despite Mnangagwa’s efforts to stabilise the moribund economy.
For instance, in June the government scrapped the use of foreign currencies as legal tender to encourage a wider take-up of its recently launched local money, the zollar, the value of which was officially pegged to the US dollar.
“While the multicurrency regime helped stabilise the economy,” Mnangagwa said at the time, “it did not give us control of monetary policy and left us at the mercy of US dollar pricing which has been a root cause of inflation”.
But the move only served to spark panic among Zimbabweans who feared the new currency would not hold its value, and this led to massive price increases.
Unemployment remains sky high, essential items like oil and medicines are scarce as local production remains low
In June inflation soared to 175 per cent, the highest rate the country has seen since it abandon its currency in 2009 over excessive money printing and hyperinflation.
To make matters worse for ordinary citizens, the government introduced widespread austerity measures at the behest of international financial institutions from which it wants to get financial assistance.
In addition, unemployment remains sky high, essential items like oil and medicines are scarce as local production remains low, and there are regular rolling power cuts that can last up to 18-hours.
Indeed, so ineffectual has Mnangagwa’s interventions been, in the short term at least, that the International Monetary Fund expects Zimbabwe’s economy to contract in 2019 for the first time since 2008.
MDC deputy spokesman Luke Tamborinyoka said it was hard to draw any positives from the government’s recent efforts to revive the economy, which he described as “a disaster”.
Dewa Mavhinga, the southern Africa director for rights NGO Human Rights Watch, also said he was hard pressed to think of any positive economic or political interventions in Zimbabwe over the past year that could be attributed to Mnangagwa’s administration.
“Few of the reforms his government has introduced suggest it has turned over a new leaf. The new Bill that was introduced to replace the oppressive Public Order and Security Act is even worse than that legislation,” he said.
The new security Bill that was introduced in April gives the president rather the country’s defence minister sole authority to deploy soldiers for civilian policing.
Since Mnangwaga was inaugurated the military has been deployed twice to quell public protests against his regime, and on both occasions the soldiers have shot and killed civilians.
“My sense is that Zimbabwe is fast descending into anarchy. There has been a massive increase in the abuse of human rights defenders and none of those responsible have been held to account, which suggests there is collusion by the state,” he said.
Soon they will not listen to the courts that ban the protests
Tamborinyoka argues the regime’s current approach of banning anti-government protests to protect it from dissent could in fact lead to its downfall.
“It will become very dangerous for the government if they continue to stop people from expressing their unhappiness. People need to vent their frustrations. Soon they will not listen to the courts that ban the protests; they won’t ask the police [if they can protest]. They will just take to the streets,” he concluded.