Is Zimbabwe a “Fragile State”?

Speaking at the World Economic Forum, President Mugabe stated that Zimbabwe is not a Fragile State: he argues that such claims can only be made by those that are misguided or ill-informed about the state of development in Zimbabwe. Apparently reacting to Anton du Plessis of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), this assertion of the President may not be shared by Zimbabweans as a whole, and certainly not by Tendai Biti, who disputed Mugabe’s statement in NewsDay.[1]


The President is stuck in the past because that is where his government’s source of legitimacy lies. Zimbabwe is basically a failed little banana republic that cannot pay its workers.”


Similar sentiments were expressed by the MDC-T.[2]


The nation is on edge and President Mugabe’s statements only serve to confirm that the regime has taken permanent residence in cloud cuckoo-land. The denial of the crisis at this level is astounding, to say the least. It appears even the leadership has become fragile too." (Morgan Tsvangirai, through Luke Tamborinyoka)


However, this is an issue that can be decided empirically as well as rhetorically, and the data has been provided by the Fragile States Index, produced for the Fund For Peace. Measuring “fragility” on 12 dimensions, Zimbabwe has moved from being the 5th most fragile state out of 178 countries in the world to 16th in 2015 and 2016, an improvement perhaps, but hardly strong support for the President’s claim. This index is no thumb suck approach, but derived from a rigorous methodology, based on hundreds of sub-indices making up each dimension.


Just look at all the areas that they sample:

  • Demographic Pressures -  Pressures on the population such as disease and natural disasters make it difficult for the government to protect its citizens or demonstrate a lack of capacity or will (includes youth bulges);
  • Refugees and IDPs - Pressures associated with population displacement. This strains public services and has the potential to pose a security threat;
  • Group Grievance - When tension and violence exists between groups, the state’s ability to provide security is undermined and fear and further violence may ensue;
  • Human Flight - When there is little opportunity, people migrate, leaving a vacuum of human capital. Those with resources also often leave before, or just as, conflict erupts;
  • Uneven Development - When there are ethnic, religious, or regional disparities, governments tend to be uneven in their commitment to the social contract;
  • Poverty and Economic Decline - Poverty and economic decline strain the ability of the state to provide for its citizens if they cannot provide for themselves and can create friction between “haves” and “have nots”;
  • Legitimacy of the State - Corruption and lack of representativeness in the government directly undermine social contract;
  • Public Services - The provision of health, education, and sanitation services, among others, are key roles of the state;
  • Human Rights - When human rights are violated or unevenly protected, the state is failing in its ultimate responsibility;
  • Security Apparatus - The security apparatus should have a monopoly on use of legitimate force. The social contract is weakened where affected by competing groups;
  • Factionalized Elites - When local and national leaders engage in deadlock and brinksmanship for political gain, this undermines the social contract;
  • External Intervention - When the state fails to meet its international or domestic obligations, external actors may intervene to provide services or to manipulate internal affairs.


We could bore you with the scores and the details for each of these dimensions, but our guess is that all Zimbabweans could use these dimensions, create their own indicators for each dimension, create their own scoring system, and come to the same conclusions as the Fragile States Index.


However, neither rhetoric nor ad hoc measures can substitute for empirical analysis, and the Fragile State Index cannot be wished away by claims that we have a bumper harvest or loads of minerals. The fact is that Zimbabwe by all objective criteria is “fragile”, becoming more fragile by the day, and this is wholly the fault of the government and its inability to solve its internal problems, develop coherent and consistent policies, and re-establish some form of social contract for the country. Fragility will be solved by a comprehensive political settlement and not an election, no matter what all the political parties say.

Tony Reeler 05.05.17


[1] No crisis in Zim: Mugabe, NewsDay, 5th May, 2017.


[2] See again, No crisis in Zim: Mugabe, NewsDay, 5th May, 2017.

Leave a comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

Subscription To Automatic Updates

To receive updates about new content, Create an Account or Login and subscribe to your favourite feeds!