In August 2016, amidst anti-government protest, President Robert Gabriel Mugabe made it inescapably clear that there will be no Arab Spring in Zimbabwe. The 92-year-old president has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980, a time when he was told he had “ the jewel of Africa” in his hands by Presidents Machel and Nyerere of Mozambique, and Tanzania, respectively.

Thirty-six years later, Zimbabwe now resembles an ordinary rock rather than the much-coveted jewel it once was. There is no denying it, for better or worse, Zimbabwe’s politico-economic sphere has been dominated by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front) since independence. The party has led the country down the path of hyperinflation, laughable corruption and political insecurity due to a lack of good economic and political reforms.

Only after the sharp economic decline from 2000-08 did a strong opposition; The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) emerge. Consequently, the emergence of a strong opposition resulted in the country’s first-ever coalition government in 2009. And due to the coalition government, from 2009-13, there were improved economic policies resulting in a healthy growth for the country. Sadly and predictably, this was short-lived. The MDC were once again in opposition after the highly controversial elections of 2013 that saw ZANU increase its margins. With increased civil unrest, and protests, by any forecast, it would now seem that Zimbabwe is steering full steam ahead towards an iceberg with no signs of stopping, and at the helm is Mugabe. Compounded by internal power struggles within the party, the uncertain leadership succession is likely to result in an unpredictable and violent political transition. The question many political pundits are now asking is what Zimbabwe will look like during, and after this impending interregnum.

Mugabenomics

Much of the protest in Zimbabwe is against the bad economic policies of the regime which have resulted in egregiously high unemployment, unpaid civil and public servants, put simply, the government has no money. The portmanteau word: Mugabenomics, is not a celebration of his economic astuteness, but rather a clear warning against poor economic planning, corruption and over zealous monetary easing. Unlike Abenomics, which sought to stimulate the stagnant Japanese economy through fiscal stimulus, monetary easing (QE) and structural reform; Mugabenomics only had one policy, Quantitative Easing, which inevitably led to devaluation and hyperinflation. Controversially, the cash-strapped government is now in a process of printing yet again more money, but this time a surrogate currency: Bond Notes. These notes are said to hold a 1:1 value as the US dollar, however, this move has been unwelcomed by many zimbabweans as the Bond Notes are practically worthless outside Zimbabwe. Economics Professor, Steve Hanke (Johns Hopkins University) warned the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, explaining that "...bond notes would create chaos”.

We must note that Zimbabwe was not always in this economic state. After gaining independence, the Zimbabwe dollar was more valuable than the US dollar at the exchange rates. Throughout the 1980s, Zimbabwe enjoyed the positive economic growth of 5% GDP growth per year, in the 90s, 4.3%, however, the new millennium saw a decline in GDP. In 2000, there was a sharp decline of 5% in GDP, then 8% in 2001, 12% in 2002 and 18% in 2003. The Mugabe administration continued its policy of printing money in an attempt to revive the dying economy resulting in hyperinflation and mass unemployment. At the height of inflation (2008-09), the inflation rate was an estimated at 79.6 billion% in November, 2008. By 2009, the Zimbabwean dollar was quickly abandoned, and replaced by the US dollar. As a result of hyperinflation, there has not been any substantial Foreign Direct investment (FDI) in the country, only receiving $ 2billionin FDI, barely doing better than war-torn Somalia’s $1.7billion.

The causes of such economic degradation can be traced to three main factors; namely war, land reform and corruption. Firstly, in 1997, in an effort to buy political support from the Independence war veterans, the government announced that it would pay bonuses to the veterans equivalent to 3% of the GDP. This, of course, translated into an electoral victory in 2000 where Mugabe won with 48.6% of the votes, compared to MDCs 47%. Moreover, Zimbabwe’s unnecessary involvement in the Second Congo War from 1998 to 2002 badly drained the economy, further weakening an economy that was going through a drought. As a result, Zimbabwe could not pay off its debt to the IMF, World Bank, African Development Bank and other Western states, and thus defaulted on its debts. Secondly, Land Reform policy played a major role in destabilising Zimbabwe. In short, it was the effort to equality redistribute land between black farmers and white Zimbabweans, who at that time made up 5% of the population but owned 70% of the most fertile land. It’s crucial to note that the Land reform was part of the Lancaster House Agreement 1979 and that white farmers were being compensated for their land. The agreement stipulated a 10-year wait before Mugabe's government could institute land reform, which it did. From 1979-1997 the principle of “willing buyer, willing seller” was applied with Britain providing £44 million to the government for land reform. However, Blair’s Minister for International Development, Ms Clare Short, stated that the “UK did not accept that Britain had a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe” thus the Blair administration ended all payments.

What followed next was a reaction to the failures to uphold the commitments of Lancaster House, which was the introduction of the “Fast-track Land Reform Programme 2000”; a programme that gained notoriety due to the violent evictions of white Zimbabwean farmers. A referendum held in 2000 denied Mugabe increased powers to confiscate white-owned land, without compensation, by 54.7%, however, the Mugabe administration went on with the programme regardless. Instead of redistributing the land into the hands of black farmers, Mugabe gave most of the land to the top echelons of his government, top generals and war veterans, with some receiving as much as 5-10 farms. The international community (IMF, EU, US and the UK) responded with heavy sanctions on Mugabe’s government which had adverse consequences on the economic. The situation was further exacerbated due to the fact that these new “farmers” had no business or farming experience, thus leading to a sharp fall in food production (-45%) and manufacturing (-29%) resulting in price increase, and mass unemployment (-90%). Now these farms are once again being used as political tools to control those whose have fallen out of favour with the party, like Mr Temba Mliswa, whose farm is being confiscated by the state.

To continue, corruption played a huge role in Zimbabwe’s economic state. Like all African states, Zimbabwe is very resource rich i.e., resources like gold, platinum and diamonds are amongst its main exports. However, the revenues from most of those resources are unaccounted for. The Marange diamond fields produced 13% of the world’s rough diamond, an estimated £15 billion in revenues, however, these revenues never made it back to the exchequer instead lined the pockets of Mugabe and his cronies. The sad thing about this situation is that with this one haul alone, Zimbabwe could have paid off its foreign debt worth £6-8 billion, created jobs, reducing unemployment instead of adding to it by cutting a further 25 000 civil service jobs. Sadly enough, with one of the highest literacy rates, both in the world and in Africa, at 90%, the population is one of Zimbabweans greatest assets. However years of corruption and poor economic planning has seen scores of unemployed graduates and profession, further damaging the economy, and the upcoming leadership succession is unlikely to resolve this issue.

House of cards

The party’s dictatorial behaviour stems from its dominance in the political field, aided by the weaknesses of the opposition parties. However, with the vast majority of the public demanding a regime change, the impending interregnum will be the opportune time for Mugabe’s house of cards to fall. An interregnum is generally described as a period where leadership is either unclear or influx leaving the future unknown. In political terms, Mugabe will leave a massive power vacuum with various factions vying for power and control which, if we look at history, tends to end up violent. In a thinly veiled threat Mugabe warned that “our patience has limits” in reference to the dissatisfied protesters who took to the streets to protest, brandishing the Zimbabwean flag, against Mugabe’s failed economic policies, corruption and wanted a regime change. The Zimbabwe Flag Act has made it illegal for the citizenry to produce, sale and use of the national flag without official permission after activists from the #Thisflag movement turned it into a symbol of anti-government protests. In every sense of the word, Zimbabwe is becoming an Orwellian state.

Article 59 of the Zimbabwean Constitution explicitly states that “[E]very person has the right to demonstrate and to present petitions, but these rights must be exercised peacefully”, the government has met the peaceful protesters with brutality, arbitrary imprisonment and fines of up to $200 (when most people live on $2 per day). To make matters worse, when Mugabe recently opened parliament, he introduced a new cybersecurity bill designed to monitor the internet and social media in order to find and arrest “dissidents”, violating the Article 61 of the Constitution (freedom of expression). In an ironic twist and a bid to control the citizenry, Mugabe is both, constraining the freedoms he and the early ZANU-PF so valiantly fought for, and setting up the regime for a violent overthrow.

Robert Mugabe is most likely to hand-pick his next successor to continue his policies, though, admittedly, none will have his political astuteness. During this uncertain time, one of five events may happen;

1. Business as usual. ZANU-PF has been the only dominant political force in Zimbabwe for decades, winning elections by hook or crook. Also, in rural areas, there is still strong support for ZANU-PF, and considering the president’s age, people may prefer the devil they know as he is entering his twilight. Furthermore, factions within ZANU-PF (Generation 40) are attempting to make Mugabe president-for-life. This scenario will be much welcomed by Mugabe as it will save him from being called up to the Hague for the egregious human rights violations.

2.Infighting. The warring factions of ZANU-PF are sharpening their swords for battle. Already we have seen those who no longer agree with the party, like Mr Agrippah Mutambara, have his farms confiscated. Furthermore, the fiercely loyal War veterans have abandoned Mugabe accusing him of being a dictator, already setting the stage for messy leadership succession. On the other hand, The Zanu-PF Generation 40, (G40) are working hard to ensure Mugabe should be made President for life, and/or that dynastic politics continue with Grace Mugabe taking up the mantle. In direct competition with them, is the so-called Lacoste Faction (due to the T-shirts they wore to an event) whose goal is to crown the VP, Emmerson Mnangagwa, President as he is seen to be a stabilising figure and favourable to the Chinese. The infighting will serve one of two ends, the first being the disbandment of the party as opined by the political scientist, Ibbo Mandaza. The downside to this is that these factions were contained within the party, now have free, political violence is likely to ensue across the country. Second, it will serve to consolidate and concentrate power in the hands of ZANU-PF which will lead to a one party state, in all but name leading to further constraints on civil liberties and violent crackdowns on any opposition.

3.Civil War. Due to Southern Africa, as a whole, being relatively peaceful in comparison to its North or Western counterparts, this is highly unlikely to occur. Furthermore, Zimbabwe's neighbours and trading partners in Southern African Development Community (SADC) will push for a peaceful political transition as, (a) the civil war will be bad for business for the whole region, (b) the resulting displacement of people will put major economic strains and increase xenophobic attacks as seen in South Africa , and (c) the spill from the civil war will result in neighbouring states being inadvertently dragged into the war and used as proxy bases. However, if we look at the Gukurahundi operation (1983-87) in which the army's Fifth Brigade (answerable to the president only) identified and eliminated suspected anti-government elements among the Ndebele community resulting in up to 80 000 deaths, something like this is plausible.

4.Opposition landslide. The upcoming election of 2018, in which the ageing president is standing in, will allow the electorate to vent their frustration against the ruling party. This, in turn, will result in the lifting of some sanctions by the West and the IMF, perhaps debt forgiveness, allowing Zimbabwe to rebuild itself economically and politically. However, if history is anything but a teacher, Mugabe will employ the same tricks he used to win previous elections such as intimidation, electoral fraud and having the dead vote for him. Though this will be the most peaceful event, the election will be highly contested.

A mixture of poor economic planning, corruption and overzealous monetary easing has eroded trust in Zimbabwe’s political and financial systems, at this stage, people just want something new. Consequently, this internal power struggle will end up eating the country exposing deadly fissures, ostracizing old faithful retainers and dividing allegiances. If anything is to be taken way from this, dear reader, is that ZANU-PF is Robert Mugabe and Robert Mugabe is ZANU-PF. In his 36 years in power, he has not received any credible challenge from within the party proving that either (a), as long as the upper echelons of the party receive their cut, they will be quite and obedient, (b) none of them have the political astuteness to overthrow him and successfully run the country, and (c) if they do, they are too scared to challenge someone with seemingly endless power. Despite efforts by the opposition and the protesters, I have a feeling that the upcoming election in 2018 is most likely going to be rigged leading yet to another ZANU victory. Regardless of people’s own personal feeling towards Mr Mugabe, he has come to define and shape Zimbabwean politics for generations to come. The sad conclusion is that history will not absolve Mr Mugabe. History will remember him as a great liberator of a by-gone era, who, like many in his era, stayed in power for too long. An authoritarian dictator who drove the economy and the country into the ground, violated many human rights, and a leader who often mistook his own personal interest to that of the country. His song will not be that of a glorious revolutionary legacy but rather, one of absolute power corrupting, absolutely.

Enock T. Vera

Enock T. Vera, holds a Masters of Science in International Relations from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, UK. Previously he was a Parliamentary Assistant to the Shadow Minister for International Development, Kate Osamor. At present working as a Research Associate in a think tank called Vestra Sententia

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