THE year 2023 is ending in the same manner it began: inflicting more hardships on the people of Zimbabwe and with no solution in sight.
It has been an annus horribilis of epic proportions. The current end-of-year holidays will yet again provide a stark reminder that, to the average Zimbabwean, there is no Christmas worth talking about.
As most citizens look back on a year characterised by a sharp deterioration in the quality of life, they will wonder whether the country’s prolonged crisis will ever abate.
In the mind of every patriot, there is a constant painful reminder that this country has almost every ingredient for prosperity except one: competent leadership. A country can have all the gold, platinum, diamond, chrome under the sun, but if murderous kleptocrats are in charge, the resource curse can be devastating.
In 2023, Zimbabwe has faced a multitude of challenges that made it a particularly difficult year. These problems ranged from economic woes to political instability and social unrest.
The combination of these factors created a never-ending nightmare whose repercussions can be seen everywhere you look. Economically, the downturn was severe, plunging more people into extreme poverty. The country struggled with chronic high inflation, with prices of goods and services skyrocketing, making it difficult for the average citizen to afford even the most basic necessities.
This economic crisis worsened the living conditions for many Zimbabweans, pushing them deeper into penury and exacerbating inequality. With the professional class decimated, the middle class barely exists. In today’s Zimbabwe, 43 years after Independence, you are either rich or poor — there is no discernable median.
Political instability has added to the woes of the country. Zimbabwe had a history of political turmoil, and in 2023, this continued. Primitive politics, corruption and a lack of effective governance hampered the government’s ability to address the country’s problems.
This instability increased distrust among citizens towards the government and stifled progress in resolving the economic crisis.
The 23 August general election was supposed to be the critical moment that would give the country a glorious opportunity to press the reset button. Instead, the shambolic election was condemned by virtually every election observer.
Remarkably, even the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), notorious for being a club of dictators, was refreshingly forthright this time around, openly describing the election as falling far short of meeting the requirements of Zimbabwe’s constitution, the Electoral Act and Sadc’s Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.
Zanu PF threw a tantrum and made clumsy attempts to intimidate the Sadc observers, but it all came to naught. In the end, the bogus election proved to be yet another squandered opportunity. Emmerson Mnangagwa and his Zanu PF are incapable of reform. But electoral fraud comes with severe consequences. The world is watching.
In the aftermath of the discredited election, the United States government has announced visa restriction sanctions on those in Zimbabwe who stifle democracy, including officials who mastermind electoral fraud. Although the government’s propaganda machinery has sought to create the impression that these new visa restrictions are a non-event, the truth is that the Harare regime is rattled.
Where does that leave Mnangagwa’s much-vaunted international diplomatic re-engagement effort? Well, it has been torn to tatters. Mnangagwa has a legitimacy crisis that refuses to go away. Zimbabwe is paying the price, with the 2024 National Budget clearly showing that international development partners are shutting their purses.
Mnangagwa’s poor economic management — underlined by the rampant corruption which has reduced state-owned enterprises into feeding troughs for the elites and their cronies — has convinced the world that Zimbabwe will remain mired in the quicksand of mediocrity as long as Zanu PF continues rigging elections.
The prolonged economic decline is directly linked to corruption, mismanagement, unworkable policies and the toxic politics perpetuated by unaccountable rulers. Additionally, social unrest reached new levels in 2023.
Dissent has been criminalised; human rights are violated at will; political prisoners like Job Sikhala and Jacob Ngarivhume are victimised; opposition meetings and campaign rallies are routinely banned; civil society is under siege; journalists are intimidated. Nations are not built this way.
Authoritarian rule and its attendant limitations on democratic processes have hindered effective governance, leading to a lack of accountability and transparency.
By all indications, 2024 will be a tougher year. A new raft of cruel and unreasonable taxes will guarantee that reality. Young people will continue voting with their feet. Fasten your seatbelts.