TERESA NOGUEIRA PINTO
The economic and political dysfunction that has plagued Zimbabwe for years is unlikely to lift anytime soon, leading to increased emigration and a drift toward Russia and China.
In a nutshell
- Poverty and social dissatisfaction are widespread
- The ruling party has strengthened ties with the military
- Corruption has brought the regime closer to Russia and China
IN 2017, with the end of Robert Mugabe’s decades-long rule in Zimbabwe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa promised a “new dawn” for the country and assured investors the country was “open for business.”
Mnangagwa, formerly a key figure in Mugabe’s regime, was declared the winner of the 2018 elections, but the results were heavily contested by the opposition.
Five years later, the promises of new jobs, compensation for land seizures and a political opening have not been fulfilled. The latest elections in August confirmed that the country remains immersed in a vicious cycle of economic crises and authoritarianism. And, instead of promoting democratic reform, continued Western sanctions have helped push Zimbabwe into the orbit of Russia and China.
Zimbabwe is a testament to the failures and limits of the so-called third wave of democratisation. Since 2018, it has also illustrated – like the cases of Libya or Sudan – that ending a resilient, personalised authoritarian regime does not guarantee a transition to democracy.
The results of the first vote held after the overthrow of Robert Mugabe were contested by the opposition, led by Nelson Chamisa. The post-election period was marked by violence, as protests were repressed by the military. Over the past five years, Zimbabwe’s African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu PF) alliance has deepened its hold on power under the leadership of President Mnangagwa and through legislation such as the recently signed Patriotic Bill, which further constrains activities of the media, opposition parties and civil society.
Repeating a pattern observed in Zimbabwe’s voting history since the early 2000s, the August election was marked by irregularities, including delays in the delivery of ballot papers to opposition strongholds. The outcome has been contested by the opposition and international observers like the European Union. More importantly, the African Union and the Southern Africa Development Community have also questioned the integrity of the process.
In Zimbabwe, the hegemony of the Zanu PF goes hand in hand with an economic policy determined by the logic of neopatrimonialism, under which officials exploit their control over the state and society for their own benefit.
Once among Africa’s most industrialised and diversified economies, Zimbabwe has with brief exceptions suffered consecutive economic and financial crises since the beginning of this century. Among other ills, the economy has never recovered from the effects of the Fast-Track Land Reform implemented in the 2000s, or the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Programme launched in 2008.
After the overthrow of Robert Mugabe, Zanu PF restored its allegiance to the military by appointing former General Constantino Chiwenga to serve as vice-president of both Zimbabwe and Zanu PF. This bond, which for decades sustained the country’s regime and was only briefly interrupted in 2016-2017, remains the main obstacle to political competitiveness.
Neopatrimonialism requires connecting the military, political and economic domains, for those in power to use public resources to dole out financial rewards and other advantages to specific groups, especially within the military.
About the writer: Teresa Nogueira Pinto is an African affairs expert. She earned her PhD in global studies from the department of social and human sciences at Nova University in Lisbon with a thesis entitled “Presidents for Life in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Cases of Zimbabwe and Rwanda.”–GIS Reports Online.