The economic cost of violence on Zim

Pamela Makanjera

AS Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in commemorating 16 days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, it is an opportune time to reflect on the economic costs of all forms of violence in general. Political violence, domestic violence, ethnic violence, terrorism, genocide, resource conflict violence, among the many types of conflicts.

Violence and conflict have been proven to have negative implications on the broader economy.According to The Institute of Economic and Peace, the economic impact of violence to the global economy in 2017 was a staggering US$14,76 trillion while the economic impact of violence in Sub-Saharan Africa amounted to US$616 billion for the same year. To put the figures in perspective, the Sub-Saharan figure is a staggering 147 times more than the recently announced 2020 budget of Zimbabwe! Simply put, humanity is spending more on violence and conflict more than ever.

Furthermore, the economic impact of violence in the 10 worst affected countries was equivalent to an average 45% of their gross domestic product compared to 11% for the 10 most peaceful countries in the world. Canada, Switzerland and Iceland rank top among the world’s 10 most peaceful countries in the positive peace index and have the lowest economic cost of violence whereas the opposite is true for Syria, South Sudan and Iraq. Their citizens are the most vulnerable in the world.

Zimbabwe has had its own spate of violence and conflict altercations in the past century, some in a bid to redress historical imbalances and others out of personal or institutionalised insatiability. These include the First Chimurenga, Second Chimurenga, Gukurahundi, fast-track land re-distribution, political suppression and violence, machete-wielding Mashurugwi terrorising residents in various gold-rich areas across Zimbabwe, the current government unleashing live bullets on its citizenry and the alarming increase in domestic violence and murders.

What has been the impact of all this on the economy? We might not have exact figures, but the impact goes beyond financial quantification, apart, of course, from the loss of precious human lives.

How much has the private sector in Zimbabwe lost in riots, demonstrations, looting and disturbances that have been on the rise since the famous food riots started in 1998? How much have corporates and informal sector players in the vicinity of opposition MDC headquarters lost due to continuous running battles with the police, leading sometimes to the destruction of valuable property? How many potential investors have been put off by the violence and conflict? Is the situation still manageable and when should we start to worry as a nation?

Apart from the other ills like inflation and currency shortages bedevilling the economy, to what extent is conflict contributing to the haemorrhaging of the economy? The deep rootedness of violence and conflict is psychological and, left to itself, it can easily morph into a culture.

While legislation has been put in place to deal with domestic violence, cases are on the increase with tabloids awash with various reports. Could this be a culture on the rise? Could it be emanating from the general laid-back approach with which the country deals with political violence?

Frankly speaking, there is so much institutionalised political violence in election times and these very perpetrators are part of the broader society. Do they change once elections are over, or continue their violence at domestic level? As many questions are posed on the rising culture of violence in Zimbabwe, we need to think deeply and have frank conversations on the path we are taking as a nation.

Traditionally, our culture, although patriarchal, had family support systems that were used for conflict resolution and dealt with issues without resorting to violence, especially towards women. But with modernisation, migration and other factors, such family and societal systems have disintegrated, exposing the family unit and uprooting the very core of its foundation.

Depending on your angle, Zimbabwe is a generally peaceful country but speaking from a positive peace perspective, there is still a lot of work to be done. Positive peace is the attitudes, structures, systems and institutions that underpin and sustain a peaceful society.

One of the Chapter 12 institutions, the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, is working on establishing strong grassroots peace committees which, apart from redressing past conflicts, can assist in containing potential conflicts. How effective these committees will be is yet to be ascertained. Can these committees contribute impactfully to the positive peace and are they sustainable?

Despite some arguments from various corners on the need to increase military and related expenditure in a bid to secure our sovereignty as a nation, safeguard our hard-won independence, and maintain the peace, there is dire need to put as much energy and vigour in funding military expenditures and productive sectors of the economy.

The government needs to strike a balance so that the cost of violence and conflict does not crowd out the development agenda in Zimbabwe. The ambitious middle-income economy goal by the current government will remain a pipe dream if deliberate efforts are not made to balance these two important rudiments in governance.

As we commemorate 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, let us remain steadfast in addressing all forms of violence as they are in one way or the other intertwined: violence is violence whether domestic or political, and it has a price.

Ultimately, the vulnerable members of our society pay the highest price and these are usually women, people living with disability and minors. Apart form the examples given above of the monetary cost of violence and conflict, there are long-term psychological effects that are even more dangerous as they have a subtle ripple effect which can change the moral fibre of a people permanently, as Cicero, the famous philosopher, rightly puts it “the good of the people is chief law”.

We need men and women who understand the repercussions of all forms of violence and thus act according to the betterment of our motherland, Zimbabwe
Makanjera is an economist, a hustlepreneur and the executive director of JM Busha 54 Races Zimbabwe, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes peace and unity through sports and also engages individuals and institutions to actively promote and pledge for peace and unity.

These weekly New Perspectives articles are co-ordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, immediate past-president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society — kadenge.zes@gmail.com and mobile: +263 772 382 852.

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