FOR many years, informed analysts and close observers of the Zimbabwe situation have claimed that when the economy collapses, that’s when President Robert Mugabe’s fossilised regime will fall and change will come in the process.
Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya
Yet by various measures, the economy all but collapsed during the hyperinflation era peaking in 2008, and is currently on a nosedive, but nothing has happened. This shows there is no direct correlation or causal link between economic deterioration and political change, at least in Zimbabwe.
Yet the reverse is easily applicable locally. Political instability is regarded by economists as a serious malaise damaging to economic performance. Instability, especially accompanied by social discontent and unrest, is likely to force leaders to go for myopic populist policies.
It also shortens policymakers’ horizons leading to sub-optimal short-term macro-economic measures. It may also lead to policy flip-flops, creating volatility and thus negatively affecting macro-economic performance and economic growth. Considering its destructive repercussions on economic performance, the extent to which political instability has been allowed to simmer and continue for about 16 years in Zimbabwe is quite surprising.
While most Zimbabweans used to be focused on daily survival struggles rather than the struggle for political change, this seems to be now changing. For sometime now there are practically demonstrations and protests every week across the country since the Beitbridge riots in July over the imports ban.
And today a grouping of political parties, under the auspices of the National Election Reform Agenda and the Coalition of Democrats, is expected to march to demand electoral reforms and change.
The pervasive pessimism, and a sense that there is nothing to be done but haplessly lament Zimbabwe’s deteriorating situation which created much analysis of the populace since 2005, seems to be giving way to new-found social and political activism, and courage by masses of citizens.
Events on Wednesday in Harare this week and prior to that in different places seem to confirm this. It appears fear is now gradually but surely fading into the country’s horrific past and people’s miserable existence, while courage and in some cases bravery is emerging and beginning to grow like a germinating seed, putting out shoots after a period of dormancy.
However, given that the regime in Harare has a vast repressive apparatus — with the military as its pillar of strength — there is still a long way before the balance of forces or power relations shift decisively. Although police seem to be getting overwhelmed or are probably beginning to be reluctant to continue using brute force on a massive scale seeing Mugabe is now on the sunset of his long and controversial political career, the threat of violence remains.
Government is today expected to deploy the military to thwart the opposition groups’ demonstration, a sign that the regime is insecure and getting ready for violent confrontation.
While the army is powerful, no force in the world no matter how powerful can stop an idea whose time has come.
Besides, the military, except a few top commanders who are now part of Mugabe’s patronage network through direct profits from taxpayers’ funds and crony capitalism arrangements, is also affected by the crisis.
While the winds of change may now be blowing, there are serious risks attendant to the protracted transition underway. When authoritarian regimes like the Zimbabwean one collapse, most of the time they don’t leave behind a stable aftermath and a positive reform agenda, but rather violent disorder and chaos in their wake.
Hence, renewed calls for Sadc and the international community to intervene and also prepare for the worst-case scenario, in which a vicious power struggle spills over into turmoil or civil conflict, potentially with powerful factional, regional and ethnic dimensions.
Some want a transitional arrangement, but ultimately Zimbabwe needs an inclusive and transparent process framed in the national interest to secure progressive and sustainable change.