Understandingly, it has become important to analyze the spread of coronavirus and its impact on the economy of small islands especially Cape Verde, Mauritius, Maldives, Seychelles, Vanuatu and the Union of Comoros. These islands, which are favorite tourist posts and foreign investors, have also closely diverse geopolitical relationship with the world.
It comes into spectacular focus for this research study, although in general, the islands seem to have the lowest cases of the pandemic, and efforts taken in preparedness against the disease, and the possible effects on their economies and sociocultural lives of the population. Part of the research and monitoring is presented here in three headings as follows: (i) The Islands and Coronavirus: An Overview, (ii) Economic Impact of Coronavirus on these Islands and (iii) Current Scenarios and Lessons for the Future.
The Islands and Coronavirus: An Overview
The coronavirus disease appeared first in 2019 in Wuhan city in China. The disease was, first identified in Wuhan and Hubei, both in China early December 2019. The original cause still unknown but its symptoms include high body temperature with persistent dry cough and acute respiratory syndrome. Some medical researchers say it is a pneumonia-related disease.
Late December 2019, Chinese officials notified the World Health Organization (WHO) about the outbreak of the disease in the city of Wuhan in China. Since then, cases of the novel coronavirus – named COVID-19 by the WHO – have spread around the world. WHO declared the outbreak to be an international health concern only on 30 January, and then recognized it as a “pandemic” on 11 March 2020.
The basic transmission mechanisms of the coronavirus are the same worldwide. But the speed and pattern of spread definitely varies from country to country, urban to rural and place to place. It depends on cultural practices, traditional customs and social lifestyles. A densely populated township can have a different trajectory to a middle-class suburb or a village. The epidemic can spread differently and among nomadic peoples.
There have been claims that this coronavirus may not likely survive in hot countries due to the tropical climate in these regions, yet cases of this virus are already confirmed in these tropical countries. There are officially confirmed coronavirus cases on the islands of Cape Verde, Mauritius, Maldives and Seychelles.
On the Cape Verde, about 300 miles (483 kilometers) off the west coast of Senegal, consists of 10 islands and five islets, all but three of which are mountainous. The island has a total of 55 reported cases among its half a million population, according to the Cape Verde’s Public Health National Institute.
Mauritius is a very small island far away from China – and yet greatly affected by the coronavirus. Mauritius is a country reliant on tourism. The sector accounts for roughly a quarter of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Since the first three case investigated and confirmed on 18 March, Mauritius now has 324, including 65 recoveries and 9 death, according to the Health Ministry.
On 15 April 2020, no new cases were reported, three patients who recovered from the coronavirus agreed to donate their blood through Plasmapheresis, according to the official website of the Health Ministry.
Maldives, officially referred to as the Republic of Maldives, is a small island in South Asia, located in the Arabian Sea of the Indian Ocean. Its population, one of the most geographically dispersed, is nearly 400,000 and the island attracts many foreign tourists throughout the year.
The disease got to Maldives on 7 March 2020 from an Italian tourist who had returned to Italy after spending holidays in Kuredu Resort & Spa. Thereafter, the Health Protection Agency of the Maldives confirmed two more cases in the Maldives, both employees of the resort. Following this, the hotel was closed down, several tourists stranded on the island.
On 27 March, the government announced the first confirmed case of a Maldivian citizen with COVID-19, a passenger who had returned from the United Kingdom. And that brought the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 16; there are other 15 foreign citizens. Thus, in April the figured climbed to 28 cases.
Seychelles, located in the Indian Ocean, reported its first two cases on 14 March. The two cases were people who were in contact with someone in Italy who tested positive. On 15 March, a third case arriving from The Netherlands was confirmed, and the next day, there were four confirmed cases, visitors from The Netherlands. As at 20 April, there are only 11 confirmed cases and two patients quickly recovered and have been released.
Vanuatu is a Pacific island country located in the South Pacific Ocean. It is east of northern Australia, nearer to New Guinea, Solomon and Fiji islands. Vanuatu has a population of approximately 250,000. All these islands’ mainstays of the economy are agriculture and tourism. They attract tourists throughout the year. As of 3 April 2020, it has no coronavirus but still vulnerable, if strict measures are not adopted. It, however, continues its surveillance.
There are five public hospitals, and one private hospital with 27 health centers located across the islands and more than 200 aid posts in more remote areas. The two major referral hospitals are located in Port Vila and Luganville in the country.
The Union of Comoros, an island nation to the east is Mozambique and northwest is Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, gained independence from France on 6 July 1975. In mid-2017, Comoros joined the Southern African Development Community (SADC) with 15 other regional member states. The Comoros share mostly African-Arab origins. It economic activities are the same as other ocean islands.
On 17 April, Chief Epidemiologist, Dr. Izzy Gerstenbluth, indicated that 269 people have been tested so far, 106 men and 163 women. The number of confirmed cases is still at 14 as the official counted figure. One has died, one is still in the hospital, 10 are safe and three are active. 18 are being actively monitored and 12 are still in quarantine because they returned to the island after the measures were announced
The Medical & Health Affairs Department (G & Gz) of the Ministry of Health, Environment and Nature (GMN) keeps a close eye on how the new coronavirus spreads and behaves worldwide. The G & Gz team is in direct contact with Curaçao Airport Partners (CAP), Curaçao Tourist Board (CTB), Curaçao Hospitality and Tourism Association (CHATA), the Analytical Diagnostic Center (ADC), Curaçao Medical Center (CMC) and Department of Immigration.
Here are the aforementioned coronavirus figures: Cape Verde (55), Mauritius (324), Maldives (28), Seychelles (11), Vanuatu (0) and the Union of Comoros (14), it would be erroneous to attribute tourism as the key reason for comparatively high numbers of cases in Mauritius. Of course, more Chinese are attracted there so as South Africans. There is propensity that the figures may not rise as the island governments have also taken strict control measures.
Economic Impact of Coronavirus on these Islands
The already weak capacity of health care system on these four islands – Cape Verde, Mauritius, Maldives, Seychelles, Vanuatu and the Union of Comoros – is likely to exacerbate the pandemic and its impact on their economies. These islands’ coronavirus disease burden is not so different from each other. But in each case, the key factor is the economic models and what these mean for this circumstance.
As an example, Maldives took an admirable step in the health sector. The Maldivian government turned the resort island of Villivaru in the Kaafu Atoll into a quarantine facility, described as “the world’s first coronavirus resort”, where patients would enjoy a luxurious stay and free medical care. According to Minister of Tourism, Ali Waheed, the Maldives had 2,288 beds available for quarantine as of late March 2020.
Obviously, other economic implications of the coronavirus are detrimental not only to public health systems but to trade and travel industry. On all the islands, small-scale agriculture that includes fishing, local industries as well as retail markets are largely affected. More than 80% of people in rural areas depend on subsistence farming for survival; however, restrictions on market activities would limit market access.
It is worth to say that both agriculture and fishing in these islands are conducted at subsistence level and for small-scale exports. Seafood is very popular and resultantly export of seafood is curtailed. The Maldives’ economy is dependent on tourism, which dropped severely due to travel restrictions amid the pandemic. Experts warned of an economic contraction and possible difficulties paying back foreign debt, especially to China.
Specifically, it is estimated that the shutdown implemented to control the pandemic costs the Mauritian economy about 5% of the country’s GDP for the full 15-day lockdown announced by government on 20 March. Later, there was sanitary curfew started on 23 March and was extended up to 15 April 2020. Now, the lockdown was again extended till 4 May to further contain the spread of the COVID-19 in Mauritius.
As already known, Cape Verde, Mauritius, Maldives, Seychelles, Vanuatu and the Union of Comoros depend mostly on the travel industry. Due to the outbreak of this coronavirus, all these governments have imposed restrictions on travel to the islands that have the best climate and attractive beaches. Travel restriction imposed, thus paralyzing tourism industry in all the four islands.
The Government of Maldives and the Tourism Ministry of the Maldives with the guidance of the Health Protection Agency of the Maldives (HPA) placed a temporary travel restriction for the following countries to control new cases. Since then, there are no passengers (traffic) originating from, transiting to or with a travel history of said country/province is to be permitted into the Maldives. Maldivians and spouses of Maldivians who are foreign nationals are allowed in, but subject to observe quarantine measures.
The Cape Verdean authorities have closed all sea borders and stopped internal flights between the islands. Travelers are required to comply with any additional screening measures put in place by the authorities. As a further step, the government has declared a state of emergency for the whole country until 17 April, the details of which can be found here (in Portuguese). This has activated a series of measures including significant restrictions on movement nationally and internationally.
However, all citizens have been instructed to remain at home unless they needed to carry out the following activities. These are: (i) to buy food or other essential items, (ii) to go to work if unable to work from home, (iii) to go to hospital or health centers, (iv) to carry out caring or similar duties or in case of real need, and (v) to walk pets. Cape Verde’s Public Health National Institute pledged to help in cases of emergency.
Since the beginning of March, the Mauritian authorities have been conducting ‘Contact Tracing’: people who have been in contact with infected patients have been placed under quarantine, including doctors, nurses and police officers.
Seychelles banned any person from Seychelles from travelling to China, South Korea, Italy and Iran. These countries have high cases. An exception is made for returning residents, under similar rules taken by Cape Verde, Mauritius and Vanuatu.
The most significant remittances to Cape Verde, Mauritius, Maldives, Seychelles, Vanuatu and the Union of Comoros as a source of financial stability come from the islanders who work as temporary laborers around the world, disappeared. The Union of Comoros depends heavily on remittances. For instance, there are between 200,000 and 350,000 Comorians in France. Official statistics are hard to find especially most of the government sources and international organizations become inaccessible for required information.
There have been a steady development or facelift in the cities over the past years. A substantial process of urbanization is still unfolding in Cape Verde, especially to the cities of Praia and Mindelo. The same trend development and expansion in Mauritius, Maldives, Seychelles, Vanuatu and the Union of Comoros.
Beyond all the points raised above, Dr Antipas Massawe, a former lecturer from the Department of Chemical and Mining Engineering, University of Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, East Africa, strongly insisted that “the scale of the challenges facing the health sector is tremendous, it requires extensive investment of resources and governments have to direct focus on the sustainable solutions.”
Charles Prempeh, a lecturer in Africana Studies at the African University College of Communications (AUCC), and a doctoral candidate at University of Cambridge, also explains in an email that there are deficiencies – ranging from poor health policies through inadequate funding of health infrastructure to training and research – that have characterized the health sector in Africa. Ocean islands have similar pitfalls or problems.
Amid the fast spreading coronavirus in some regions, it is simply providential that the African continent has not recorded high numbers, compared to the so-called western countries. But it is also true that even with the relatively smaller number of cases that most countries in Africa have recorded, there are deep-seated doubts that the health system can match squarely with the debilitating effect of the virus, as they have come under disproportionate strain, according to him.
“The current situation is serious setback,” both academics acknowledged. But further suggested that small island governments draw a long term development plan, make consistent efforts at mobilizing resources for realizing – support for education, health and employment generating sectors, – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Current Scenarios and Lessons for the Future
It is time for solidarity, to fight the end the global health mess. The key lessons for epidemic response are to act fast but act locally. That is exactly what Cape Verde, Mauritius, Maldives, Seychelles, Vanuatu and the Union of Comoros are focusing on now.
But as the international response gains momentum, some financial assistance may be extended to these islands. The islands hospitals need testing kits, basic materials for hygiene, personal protective equipment for the professional health workers, and equipment for assisted breathing. There is a global shortage of all of these and a shameful scramble among developed countries to get their own supplies – relegating Cape Verde, Mauritius, Maldives, Seychelles, Vanuatu and the Union of Comoros to the backyard.
The islands absolutely have no pharmaceutical companies to produce the needed medicaments. The medical supplies, equipment and whatever have to be imported from the United States and Canada, Europe, Asian countries such China and India.
Media reports said Mauritius and Seychelles had received a few tons of medicine including thousands of hydroxychloroquine tablets from India to help in their fight against COVID-19. Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malarial drug being used by some doctors to treat COVID-19 patients, though its efficacy is still being tested. Mauritius and Seychelles are favorite tourist posts, and have long-time close geopolitical relationship with India.
The COVID-19 epidemic is currently forcing governments to cut agricultural expenses and prioritize health-related expenditures. This will heavily affect the economy in the future if the restrictions continue, and further expected to bring additional economic hardship in the nearest future to these poor ocean islands. More than 80% of people in rural areas depend on subsistence farming for survival, restrictions on market activities would limit market access.
Repeat: Most of these people derive their livelihoods from the informal economy, small-scale farming, open market trading, livestock keeping and fishing. Workers in the formal sector have low incomes. Only a few of them have social security, and some may not even have saving accounts. This means with the lockdown, they are likely and adversely affected.
The above scenarios complicate the situation for poor people, who have little resources or insurance to cushion the social and economic impact of the pandemic. These small islands are, indeed, in a quagmire both, at the state level and the individual. While much depends on post-pandemic internal policies directed at transforming the economy, strategies to expand practical collaboration with foreign partners, the islands still have to keep good diplomatic relationship with the world. Nevertheless, global leaders have called for a comprehensive approach to mobilizing support for least developed countries, and so it is time to show absolute solidarity with Cape Verde, Mauritius, Maldives, Seychelles, Vanuatu and the Union of Comoros.
Used vehicles get a second life in Africa – but at what cost?
John Mwangi’s 22-year-old car is his lifeline. His run-down Toyota saloon not only ferries him around the streets of the traffic-congested Kenyan capital, Nairobi, but is also his main source of revenue.
Resting against its open boot, surrounded by fresh pumpkins, sweet potatoes and other vegetables, a smiling Mwangi, 34, explained how it has transformed his life. Thanks to this unlikely saviour, he is now a trader, shopkeeper and entrepreneur.
“I have changed to a career as a businessman. I use my car to sell foodstuffs. I go to the village, buy food and then I come here and sell it,” he said, gesturing around a market in Nairobi.
Mwangi is not alone. Across Africa, and much of the developing world, used cars, minibuses and vans imported from abroad are changing people’s lives. But they come with a high and growing global price tag.
Entitled Used Vehicles and the Environment: A Global Overview of Used Light-Duty Vehicles – Flow, Scale and Regulation, the report details how the global fleet of light-duty vehicles will double by 2050. Some 90 per cent of this growth will take place in low- and middle-income countries. Of the 146 countries studied in the UNEP report, about two-thirds have “weak” or “very weak” policies regulating the import of used vehicles. Many of the imported vehicles would not be allowed to circulate on the roads of exporting countries.
“Countries have to stop exporting vehicles that are no longer roadworthy, and fail environment and safety inspections while importing countries must adopt up-to-date regulations,” said Rob de Jong, report author and Head of Transport at UNEP.
Vehicle emissions are a prime source of small particulates and nitrogen oxides, which cause urban air pollution. Globally, vehicles are responsible for 25 per cent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.
UNEP is calling on both exporting and importing countries to regulate the trade and eliminate a range of abuses. It stresses that a regulated trade can have several positive impacts, improving the lives of many people and boosting prosperity.
Landmark new rules
UNEP’s report comes after 15 African countries announced strict new rules for vehicle emissions and fuel efficiency. The directives, issued by the Economic Community of West African States, with UNEP support, bar the import of light-duty vehicles more than five years old and aim to double the efficiency of cars by 2030.
The rules are a milestone in slashing greenhouse gas emissions in a region that is home to about 400 million people, where many vehicles are past their prime. The Gambia, for example, imports vehicles on average 18.8 years old, while a quarter of those imported by Nigeria are nearly 20 years old.
Africa is the ultimate destination for some 40 per cent of used light-duty vehicles, like the one owned by Peter Karanja Njuguna. He ferries passengers around Nairobi in an old 14-seat Nissan minibus pumping out exhaust fumes from dawn to dusk. He says he does not know the exact age of his vehicle but reckons it is between 10 and 15 years old. It cost $3,000 and anything newer would have been outside his budget. He says the catalytic converter, which contains platinum, was removed before it was exported.
“They remove those things that are not necessary for the way we use them here. They just leave the basic stuff,” he explained. “It is cheapish to buy but expensive to maintain. But it pays for itself within two years and gives me an income.”
Poor quality used vehicles can lead to more road accidents, which kill an estimated 1.25 million people each year. Africa has the world’s highest road traffic fatality rates with 246,000 deaths occurring annually, a number projected to rise to 514,000 in 2030, according to the World Health Organization.
Improvements down the road
The issue of faulty vehicles is catching the attention of exporting countries. The Netherlands – one of the largest used vehicle exporters to Africa – studied used European vehicles being exported through their ports and found that many vehicles, mainly destined for West Africa, were between 16 and 20 years old, fell below European Union emission standards and did not have a valid roadworthiness certificate at the time of export. The Netherlands is developing policies to improve the quality of used vehicles while addressing the issue with other European countries.
UNEP’s report also showed that countries, such as Morocco and Mauritius, that had implemented far-sighted policies gained access to high-tech vehicles, like hybrid and electric cars, at affordable prices.
It is time to end the illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe
At the UN General Assembly (UNGA), African Leaders signalled to the West that it is high time to end the illegal sanctions that have been crippling Zimbabwe for over two decades.
The current Chairman of the African Union, South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, led the call which was subsequently echoed and strongly endorsed by the Heads of State of Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and others in their respective addresses to the General Assembly.
I am immensely grateful for this support. Indeed, it could not be more timely. Our African partners understand that a better Africa equals a better world. But, the continent is facing unprecedented challenges. Coronavirus has significantly exacerbated already existing health, economic and food-security challenges on a scale not seen for more than one hundred years. Sadly, for African nations, coronavirus is just one additional burden to be borne: on top of devastating droughts, locust infestations of biblical magnitude and relentless floods.
The West often expects so much from our nations, and world leaders often analyse us through the lens of their own success. But, in doing so they are only adding to the suffering of millions of Africans.
When President Emmerson Mnangagwa won the election in 2018, he pledged to bring about change, to forge a new relationship with the citizens of Zimbabwe and with the nations of the world.
In the face of endless criticism, we have made and we continue to make significant progress. Most recently, we achieved closure on the long-outstanding issue of compensation to farmers whose land was acquired during the Land Reform Programme of the late 90’s and early 00’s. The sum of US$ 3,5 billion, for improvements effected to the land prior to its acquisition, was agreed-upon by way of negotiations between government and the farmers.
Elsewhere, we repealed two antiquated laws (AIPPA and POSA). We passed a new Freedom of Information Act, and draft legislation to address the Constitutional requirement for an Independent Complaints Mechanism will shortly be tabled before Parliament. Other constitutional amendments designed to further modernise and open up government are already before Parliament.
The reformed Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission has received global plaudits, with some notable and important arrests, including two sitting cabinet ministers. The “audit of the rich”, currently being undertaken, is expected to yield further fruits of transparency and accountability.
We have also initiated the most ambitious set of privatisations in the history of Zimbabwe, with 43 of Zimbabwe’s 107 state-owned enterprises earmarked for reform.
We know these reforms are essential if we are to show the world that we are changing our nation’s trajectory. We want to be more open, to grow our economy, to strengthen our public services, to improve the lives of our citizens and we want to play a positive part in the globalised world.
We acknowledge that we still have a long way to go but we are resolute in our determination to modernise Zimbabwe. Even in the midst of the shattering economic impact of COVID-19, we are committed to the path of reform.
I believe the new Zimbabwe has shown sincerity in its willingness to compromise with the West. However, rather than less criticism and an easing of sanctions, we have in fact faced more pressure from the United States. Those who believe these so-called ‘targeted’ measures only hurt the rich and powerful, are profoundly mistaken. The UN recognises that economic sanctions have worsened existing inequalities. They have crippled our banking sector and have negatively impacted upon the performance of businesses both large and small. Our exclusion from lucrative trade benefits afforded under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), in particular, is holding back our entrepreneurial potential.
Sanctions, and the enhanced country-risk factor they generate, have also made it close to impossible to attract meaningful foreign investors from the West. And a lack of foreign exchange continues to impinge on the very basics of economic life, from raw materials to life-saving drugs.
Our request to the West is very simple: end these sanctions, allow us to respond more comprehensively to the coronavirus pandemic and support us on our journey towards a new Zimbabwe. The desire to squeeze us into a corner serves only to maintain unjustified isolation from the West, to foster negative sentiment towards those who punish us and, most importantly, to perpetuate the suffering and privation endured by our already hard-pressed people.
A better Zimbabwe results in a better Africa and a better world.
It is time to end the illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe.
SADC, Zimbabwe and Sanctions
Reports suggest the South Africa Development Community (SADC) is growing increasingly impatient with President Mnangagwa’s willingness to impose repressive measures. The speculation emerged in part because President Chakwera, the incoming SADC chair had left Zimbabwe after two days, even though he was meant to spend three days in the country. The suggestions were that SADC was considering sanctions on Zimbabwe. Conversely, there are reports that the SADC countries are pushing for the easing of Western sanctions. In 2001, the US and the EU have imposed sanctions on 141 individuals and around 60 companies. The sanctions relate to allegations of gross human rights abuses.
The Zimbabwean government claims the sanctions are hurting Zimbabwe and ordinary people, limiting its ability to gain lines of credit from international monetary institutions or attract foreign investments. The US-Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA), for example, prohibits American companies from working with companies and individuals on the sanction list. Failure to abide by the legislation has led to financial penalties as seen with the US government’s decision in April 2019 to fine Standard Chartered bank $18 million for dealing with a sanctioned country.
The SADC and the Zimbabwean government assert that removing the sanctions would allow Zimbabwe to revamp its economy, as the country could attract foreign direct investment, which in turn would help the region by reducing the number of Zimbabweans searching for work but also encouraging greater economic development. One should not forget that for decades, Zimbabwe served as the region’s breadbasket, something the Mnangagwa administration is keen to resurrect.
The push to remove the sanctions comes despite growing authoritarianism in Zimbabwe. The government has introduced a host of policies to limit protests and demonstrations and punish those opposing it. It has also adopted measures aimed at countering increasing tensions within ZANU-PF.
In September, the government introduced the Patriot Act. The measure is meant to respond to a ZANU-PF claim that groups within Zimbabwe, primarily the MDC-Alliance, are not only reaching out to foreign governments but are concocting stories about factionalism within ZANU-PF. State Security Minister Owen Ncube has also spoken of attempts to smuggle guns into the country and establish violent militia groups aimed at destabilising the country and bring forth foreign intervention.
The Act speaks of “conduct aimed at undermining the country” under which Zimbabweans speaking to foreign governments without the express permission of the regime itself will face criminal sanctions. Conduct includes private correspondence and making false statements influencing foreign governments. The Act is likely to impact the opposition and human rights groups who often look to get support from a foreign government.
More of a concern to President Mnangagwa is internal tensions with ZANU-PF. For example, following the chaos in the Kwekwe Central constituency during primary elections on October 3, President Mnangagwa convened a special meeting with provincial executive members. There were youths, women, and war veterans’ representatives. The President warned leaders against manipulating the ZANU-PF constitution by imposing preferred candidates through vote-buying. He also warned against attempts to use the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission voters’ roll in conducting primary and district coordinating committees’ elections. Important leaders in ZANU-PF have been expelled Cleveria Chizema and Tendai Savanhu, claiming they were causing divisions and factionalism in the party and province. The party also expelledKiller Zivhu because he called for a dialogue between First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa and MDC-Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa’s wife Sithokozile. It seems President Mnangagwa favours this method of asserting his will on the party, like those that show contrition are allowed to rejoin.
An additional concern for President Mnangagwa is unhappiness from the veterans regarding his plan to compensate white farmers for the 2000-2001 land reform program. President Mnangagwa’s overture towards the white farmers involves either revoking the offer letters given to black farmers, resettled on the land formerly belonging to white farmers and if restitution proves impractical, the intention is to white farmers land elsewhere. Included in the package is $3.5bn in compensation “for infrastructure on the farms they lost”. In September, a group of former fighters filed an application with the High Court against the measure.
The MDC-Alliance is facing several key challenges. First, since the death of Morgan Tsvangirai in 2018 from colon cancer, the group has been unable to challenge the ZANU-PF. Second, the opposition must be circumspect in criticising what is taking place in Zimbabwe as such action would sustain the sanction regime thus harming ordinary Zimbabwean. Consequently, the opposition must balance its actions: encourage demonstrations and opposition to the government while making sure ordinary Zimbabweans are not too affected further by the sanctions.
In 2018, the Zimbabwean government introduced the Transitional Stabilisation Programme, which included the re-introduction and stabilisation of the Zimbabwe dollar, rationalisation of the civil service to contain wages, and the foreign currency auction system. Interfuse within this program was controlling Zimbabwe’s runaway inflation.
In September, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Zimbabwe (SECZ) issued a licence for the Victoria Falls Stock Exchange Limited. VFEX is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange. The purpose behind VFEX is to facilitate the inflow of hard currency to Zimbabwe. VFEX is currently finalising the listing and membership requirements, setting up of the trading and depository systems, modalities on the clearing and settlement of transactions. There are also discussions as to the listing bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, depending on the digital asset issuers getting “regulatory approval.” The SCEZ has yet to determine what are cryptocurrencies; they may follow the Nigerian example and classify cryptocurrencies as securities. Notably, over the last two years, the Zimbabwean Central Bank has shifted its position on cryptocurrencies. For example, in 2018 it banned Golix, Zimbabwe’s largest cryptocurrency exchange to noting the value of digital currencies. The Bank may be seeing the potential for bitcoin mining in Zimbabwe, an endeavour that demands a tremendous amount of energy as seen in Ghana which opened Africa’s first mining facility Ghana Dot Com.
The US/EU Aspect
Brian A. Nichols, the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, who has had an interesting relationship with the Mnangagwa administration who at one point labelled him a thug, has spoken on how to improve US-Zimbabwean relations. This change could be related to rumours that the United States is hoping that Zimbabwe could help Mozambique deal with the Islamist insurgency raging in Cabo Delgado. The US Agency for International Development (USAid) will provide approximately US$60 million to the World Food Programme’s Lean Season Food Assistance programme in Zimbabwe. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention currently has several experts working with the Zimbabwean authorities on healthcare issues.
The EU is less likely to publicly change its position on the sanctions, however, due to the persistent humanitarian crisis, the EU is unlikely to weaken its support for the country. The EU is in the midst of devising a new humanitarian budget as the 2014-2020 budget needs revision (the next budget is due in 2021). The EU would like to see more engagement from regional actors such as the SADC. Nevertheless, despite the imposition of sanctions, the EU’s European Development Fund has continued to support Zimbabweans in three main areas: health, agriculture, and institution-building. This type of support is likely to do continue especially as the EU is showing greater interest in Mozambique due to the huge liquid gas field find and the insurgence in Cabo Delgado.
Zimbabwe is on the precipice of major changes, some of which are in its hands whereas others depend on the region and the world.
President Mnangagwa has introduced some structural reforms aimed at improving the state of the economy, which have slowed down the economic collapse, although the country is affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and the sanction regime.
It is presumptuous to assume President Mnangagwa is politically safe. He is facing pressure from within ZANU-PF. There is opposition within ZZANU-PF to some of his policies. He is also contending with pressure from a disorganised opposition, which is why he has introduced several new measures all aimed to secure his reign. These measures include weeding out potential threats from within the party and further weaken the opposition.
President Mnangagwa does enjoy some support from his neighbours whose priority is a stable Zimbabwe. There are concerns across the region about growing authoritarianism (including unhappiness with gross human rights violations) in Zimbabwe and a return to Mugabe-style rule. However, the key to many in the region is economics. In other words, there is a belief that by ending Zimbabwe’s economic woes, stability and democracy would take hold. This is why there seems to be regional support for the easing, ideally lifting of sanctions. It is likely the SADC is likely to explore. The SADC may find receptive ears in Washington and Brussels who see great value in Zimbabwe, as both are concerned with the increased Chinese presence in Southern Africa.
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