HomeAnalysisPolitical economy: Brief overview of current Zim

Political economy: Brief overview of current Zim

As events unfold in Zimbabwe, the Research and Advocacy Unit (Rau) continues its scrutiny of the situation to provide analysis of the continuous causes of instability in Zimbabwe. This analysis builds on a recent Rau report.

Researcher and Lawyer Derek Matyszak

The report, Conflict or Collapse? Zimbabwe in 2016, was produced in June and was made publicly available, as well as being serialised in the Zimbabwe Independent and is also available on the Rau website.

This briefing paper draws on this report, as well as drawing on the more recent developments. As was pointed out in December, there are a number of continuous causes of instability in Zimbabwe:

Elections are highly manipulated and almost always accompanied by spikes in violence against citizens.

Land reform continues to shape Zimbabwe’s economic recovery, poverty and its relations with international actors.

A lack of political participation by citizens and civil society has emerged in Zimbabwe following decades of human rights abuses and impunity, shaping a risk averse and fearful citizenry.

The socio-economic challenges facing Zimbabwe are huge — for example, long-term economic stagnation, unemployment, inflation, food insecurity, poverty, HIV and Aids prevalence, limited provision of basic services, power outages, droughts, lack of clean water, etc. Despite the huge negative impacts on Zim-babweans, citizens have so far not mobilised protests against the government that compare to those in 1998.

Migration, remittances and demographics are key insecurity dynamics. An estimated three million migrants have left Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, statistical analysis of youth bulges and civil unrest suggests Zimbabwe is at risk.

All of these factors identified in the report still apply and some with even greater salience for stability. In particular, the socio-economic challenges are now dominating every aspect of life in Zimbabwe and seem to be the motivation behind recent disturbances.


As always, describing the likely scenarios in Zimbabwe is a dubious process, given that some factors, such as the position of the security sector, are wholly opaque. Thus, the most useful scenarios are those that are empirically-based and rely less upon public speculation.

Rau sees several main scenarios as probable, drawing here on both our own work and a recent analysis by Ibbo Mandaza in The Political Economy of the State in Zimbabwe: The Rise and Fall of the Securocrat State:
The continuance of Robert Mugabe as president until elections in 2018. This is increasingly improbable due to his age (and infirmity), the vicious succession battle within Zanu PF, and the socio-economic collapse of the state;
The death, retirement, or removal from office of Mugabe. This can be straightforward, but succession politics may result in Zanu PF being unable to appoint a successor. The problems inherent in succession have been covered in detail in a number of Rau reports, for example, Coup de Grace? Plots and Purges: Mugabe and Zanu PF’s 6th National People’s Congress, and it is evident that any of the three eventualities above can result in a constitutional crisis with a power vacuum and state collapse. Suggestions that the military might step in are discounted as coups are now frowned upon in Sadc and the AU, and the notion that the military might act as “kingmakers” in Zanu PF may also be dubious as there are many indications that the military are also fractured in the succession struggle.

However, this scenario could precipitate serious factional violence.

State collapse as a result of the socio-economic decline. This was improbable some months ago, but now is increasingly plausible, and more so with the disruptions at Beitbridge, Epworth and the recent mass stay-away of July 6. It is evident to all that the government has no reserves, and now, as a result of the severe liquidity crisis, is unable to pay the civil service and may have to make decisions very soon about which state employees to actually pay. Obviously, the security sector will get first priority, but the strike indicates that the citizenry at large will not take this lying down. Here it is also suggested that the paralysis of the party is resulting in paralysis throughout the government and that there may be no ability to respond to economic meltdown and citizen action. Again this scenario could result in significant violence.

Of course, there are many twists for each of these scenarios and each may operate in series, but it is not evident which will begin the sequence.

The above mentioned stay-away, initially called for by civil servants, was supported by a diverse group of emergent players — kombi operators, Tajamuka-Sesijikile, #ThisFlag, National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe, whose call for some form of action conflated into collective citizen action in the form of a national stayaway.

The stay-away came at a time when citizens are at their wits’ end about the socio-economic state of the country and hence it’s massive success. It is important to note that this wave of change in Zimbabwe is not being led by a political party but by citizens, youthful and educated citizens under the age of 40 who have been hit the most by government policies over the last 16 years, resulting in this crisis.

A set of demands were spelt out after the stay-away; these included saying no to bond notes, paying civil servants on time, removal of excessive roadblocks and dealing with corruption, more specifically government ministers involved in corrupt practices.

There were pockets of violence in certain parts of the country, creating battles between the people and the police: over 100 people have been arrested and there are videos circulating of police beating up protestors. These videos formed the basis of the reason for the stay-away called for the following week; a protest against police brutality. There is another group #Tajamuka-Sesijikile (we have protested) which is going a step further by calling for and holding peaceful protests.

Pastor Evan Mawarire — the face behind the #ThisFlag campaign — started with a video about the state of the country. The video went viral and together with his Twitter and Facebook campaign has put him in the spotlight nationally and internationally as the architect of the stay-away. While his role may be disputed, the campaign which was dismissed as elitist at first, has gathered momentum as the cash crisis, corruption and general discontent increase.

The #ThisFlag campaign is non-violent and it has called for citizens to stay at home and not engage in destruction of property, but it may flounder in the absence of a clear political direction: protesting about what people don’t want is not the same as protesting for some clear and achievable political goal.

There are two obvious responses to the crisis, one desirable and the other not. The undesirable scenario is the calling of a government of national unity (GNU) again and the coming together of the parliamentary parties in such an arrangement, as was the case in 2008. This will satisfy those positing “stability” as the best solution and here this seems the view of the European Union and would undoubtedly find support in Sadc and the AU. This is undesirable for the simple reason that the previous GNU maintained Zanu PF in the driving seat, in charge of all important organs and produced no reform of state institutions.

Another GNU would, in all likelihood, produce the same and result in another flawed election as was the case in 2013. This perspective is based on the very obvious reason that Zanu PF has not, and will not accept losing political power. This response may produce temporary socio-economic stability, but will not create a political settlement of any lasting nature, as was pointed out in a recent Rau opinion. However, it must be said that this option is likely to have the support of all Zimbabwean political parties, the region and the EU.

The desirable response is to follow the advice of senior commentators and to move for a national transitional authority (NTA). This idea has some traction with MDC-T calling for this and describing a process similar to the South African TEC process, with a parallel body to government overseeing the process.

PDP has also called for a transitional arrangement, described as a Technical Transitional Authority (TTA). However, there is clearly much more work to be done in deciding what form of NTA or TTA is necessary, how this might be brought about and what the powers of such a body might be.

However, only two things can be said to be certain at the present time in Zimbabwe. The first is that Zanu PF, with or without Mugabe, has no intention of ceding political power and will only do this in conditions of extreme duress. The second is that Zanu PF has very little possibility of being able to solve the socio-economic crisis: it will not be able to adhere to the conditionalities of any possible economic bail-out since these will require political reforms that are inimical to its hold on political power. These two realities are due to collide in the very near future.

Matsyzak is senior researcher and lawyer with Rau.

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