Zimbabwe Four Years On: Heading in the Right Direction?

The Zimbabwean power sharing agreement of 2008 was hailed as a stepping stone to future improvements in this troubled country. But four years on, changes have occurred in Zimbabwe. Now to Africa and the world, the question that remains is whether the country is heading in the right direction.

Economy: From Disaster to an Unbalanced Growth                                                           

Four years ago Zimbabwe reached the lowest point in its economic disaster, due to international isolation and internal ill-pondered measures. Starting in 2000 Mugabe ordered the seizure of white farmers’ land, justified as reparation for abuses during the Rhodesian-UDI years. Along with human tragedy, this also disrupted production which lead to food shortage and ultimately a famine. Whilst foreign powers introduced sanctions in response to the violence, many Zimbabweans decided to leave the country. As a result, the GDP fell to -17.7% in 2008 and a hyperinflation rendered Zimbabwean Dollar notes useless.

Since 2008, a timid progress has been seen with fall in retail prices starting and US Dollar replacing the defunct currency. There is a new sense of optimism, on the economic level, in Harare: projects are starting, new roads are being built, money is circulating and shops are full of products. The GDP in these four years registered a constant growth, 9% in 2010 and a predicted 5.1% in 2013; inflation is now stabilising to a modest rate of 6.7%. Although the pace is slowing down, due also to international instability and Dollar fluctuations, it is clear that the situation is better than four years ago.

Nevertheless, this growth is widening the gap between rich and poor, and international sanctions are still affecting the economy. Calls for an end are coming not only from the ruling party ZANU-PF officials but also from UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Recently the EU eased some sanctions  on prominent Mugabe supporters  but retained the travel restrictions and the freeze on the assets of President Mugabe.

International Relations: Is There Anybody Out There?

Zimbabwe has had difficult relationships with western powers. During the Rhodesian years, western support to the anti-communist guerrillas of UNITA in Angola and RENAMO in Mozambique was contrasted by ZANU and ZAPU Marxist guerrillas supporting MPLA and FRELIMO, including Austral Africa in the wider scenario of the Cold War. US, UK and France were seen as hostile to progress and independent politics and the end of the Cold War did not improve the relations.

Bush administration named the country as one of the world's six "outposts of tyranny"; the UK and EU adopted strong sanctions. In 2003 Mugabe announced the withdrawal of the country from the Commonwealth after its suspension a year before. In 2008 a US-UK resolution to the UNSC for a military intervention was sunk by the joint Russian-Chinese veto.

Four years later, Zimbabwe disappeared from western media, the power-sharing agreement led to a total abandon, as the US and their allies have shifted their interest to the Middle East and North Africa.

Russia restarted to support Zimbabwe after recovering from the decadence of the 90’s While China has always been a strong supporter; along with political aid, came economic support that ensured Mugabe staying afloat despite western sanctions.

In Africa, Zimbabwe has seen a deterioration of its relations  as compared to four years ago.

Angola and Mozambique which used to be close friends of ZANU-PF, started to foster new relations with the West. Nigeria has been a strong supporter of liberation in Austral Africa but today’s relations are cooling down. Botswana and Zambia became hostile towards Zimbabwe following several disputes in recent years: influx of refugees, accusations by state media of human right abuses against Zimbabweans in Botswana and Zambia and accusation of supporting opposition. Both countries did not deny their desire to see the fall of Mugabe. A strong supporter was Muammar Gaddafi, mainly due to their common anti-western policy and consequently  Zimbabwe does not recognise the new Libyan leadership. Zimbabwe shared with Namibia and South Africa a common struggle against white minority rule and during the political crisis, the ex-president Thabo Mbeki mediated with the MDC and ZANU-PF. However, many disputed the fairness and loyalty of the South African president as he often remained silent on the issues in Zimbabwe. The new leadership of President Zuma has been more pragmatic and chose the same strategy as the West: ignoring the neighbour.

Politics: Is Mugabe’s Era Coming To An End?

The two main points of the power sharing agreement, a new constitution and elections to create a stable government, are both in delay – due to President Mugabe and ZANU-PF.

The party and its leader are continuously postponing the final draft of the new constitution under the pretext that it does not satisfy their views or is simply not acceptable. The elections, which were scheduled for this year, have now been postponed to next year. The elections are widely seen as a crucial test to Zimbabwe’s political stability. At the same time, it is both desired and feared by the population – on one hand there is hope to move forward and on the other fear of violence as in 2008 exists. In either case a question is arising: is Mugabe’s era coming to an end?

When Tsvangirai was sworn in as Prime Minister in February 2009 he pledged to end the human rights abuses, political violence and to do all in his power to help alleviate the suffering of Zimbabweans. But in the past four years the MDC and Tsvangirai have lost some support and impetuous that conquered Zimbabweans. Four years in shared power have had their effect, with rumours of corruption involving members of the party and scandals involving the PM’s personal life. Some MDC party officials are enjoying the new social status deriving from the recovery and the distance with the poor is increasing. The agreement that was seen as a “marriage of convenience” is for many a “pact with the devil” that ultimately destroys ones soul. Nevertheless, MDC is still seen as preferable to another Mugabe reign of terror, but Zimbabweans are starting to question whether Tsvangirai is still the right candidate.

Another element undermining MDC strength is the control over police/armed forces by ZANU-PF. Before the power sharing agreement Tsvangirai had faced intimidation, treason charges, and physical assault and at one stage was charged with plotting to kill Mugabe. He was cleared from these accusations, but the intimidation and violence against MDC supporters have  not disappeared. There are still opposition members in prison and 29 of them have been jailed recently, allegedly for having murdered a policeman.

The ruling party also maintains a strong control over the media. All broadcasters, radio included, transmitting from Zimbabwe, are controlled by the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC). Private radios, especially those transmitting from outside the country, are subject to deliberate interference.

Four years after the power sharing agreement, Robert Mugabe is not the same leader he was in the past; he is now 88 years old, his appearances in public are shorter and less frequent, speeches are cut and his figure appears fragile. However, ZANU-PF still controls key sectors such the army, police, electoral commission, justice courts and media. Mugabe, to say the least, is not over yet, but it is also true that he is not alone. Although Zimbabweans see an old and tired leader, they also know that the real players are the generals and officials standing beside him on any public occasion. The optimism embraced in economic matters  is completely absent when talking to Zimbabweans about politics and elections.

When Mugabe ensured his control over the army four years ago, the act was seen as power consolidation and control over ruthless and turbulent figures. They still hold, as ZANU-PF officials, a control over economy and privileges that unlikely will be shared or abandoned. Four years later, the relation between Mugabe and the Army has changed to something different where the military are at the window, uneasy and nervous about the future. They are aware that Mugabe leadership is reaching the end, and even a re-election will soon put forward the question of succession; worst of all, a victory of MDC will strip power and privileges from a cast that used to dominate for 32 years.

With ZANU-PF and MDC both not strong enough to strike a decisive punch, many Zimbabweans believe that even if a new constitution is approved, and election held, the military will never renounce their power. MDC will have to act diplomatically in case of victory as a frontal impact with the military will lead to a civil war, whilst an appeasement like the sort seen in post-military rule Argentina, Chile or Nigeria will create dissatisfaction among the population and radical opposition.

Zimbabwe’s political future appears to be linked to the military establishment, thus bringing the country back to the usual and common African political malaise: interventionism. Depending on electoral results, the military will try to pressure the parties for a more incisive role in politics, and in Africa this has always happened in two ways: by force or by military officials wearing civilian clothes.

Paradoxically the power sharing weakened both parties and unchanged the military strength.

To best describe the armed forces role it is worth mentioning one of the first military officials who put into practice the doctrine of interventionism and, although not being Zimbabwean, his words very aptly summarise their role in politics. Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu, following the  military coup in Nigeria in 1966 , said: “We would stay behind them (politicians and civilians) with our fingers on our trigger”. 

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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