Conflict or Collapse - Zimbabwe in 2016
Violence has been woven through the intricate fabric of Zimbabwe’s political history in various forms which include murder, beatings, rape, death threats, abductions, arbitrary arrests, torture, forced displacement, property damage, harassment, intimidation and terrorisation. It has been used as the weapon of choice by the governments in power since the declaration of UDI in 1966 through to post Independent Zimbabwe as a measure to ensure retention of power at all costs.
This systemic assault has had the desired effect of ensuring the nation is risk averse and as shown in the Afrobarometer surveys citizens are careful about what they say in public and “that civil society, with few exceptions, can be described as “risk averse” (Masunungure,2006), and other commentators point out the apparent passivity of Zimbabweans in challenging the state (Mills, 2014).”
Much of the analysis of “risk aversion” centres on the fear generated by a highly coercive state. For example, Afrobarometer surveys from 1999 show a marked increase in the number of citizens who say that are careful about what they say in public, “often” or “always” – increasing from 59% in 1999 to 89% in 2014. This is further supported by a recent analysis of political risk in Africa, which included Zimbabwe (Bratton and Gyimah-Boadi, 2015).
In this Political and Economic Assessment, the Research and Advocacy Unit in it’s review of landmark events in the country’s political history explores the possibility that deteriorating standards and conditions in the country may be pushing people to take action.
Also highlighted in this PEA is the notion that citizens are less focused on elections, political violence and Constitutionalism and more concentrated on the issues that affect their everyday lives such as the economy, employment, food security, health and even crime and security.
It is probable that the deterioration in Zimbabweans livelihoods is adding to a new assertiveness, as was seen in the response of the vendors to attempts to displace them from the cities (RAU,2015).
A weak adherence to the rule of law and compromised judiciary has had an adverse effect on Zimbabwe’s economy, resulting in socio-economic deprivation for the majority of Zimbabweans.
The country has undergone an extensive period of ineffective economic management resulting in an informalised economy to the extent, that some estimate 90% of employment is petty trade, vending, and artisanal mining. Added to the equation are the collapsing infrastructure and the costs of rotten roads, erratic power, poor sewage and sanitation as cities become hubs for those fleeing rural collapse, especially with current and future impact of climate change and the severe drought.
The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVac) estimates that three million Zimbabweans will be food insecure in 2016-2017.
The state which has been dominated by the immense power centralised in the presidency and Robert Mugabe, is facing internal challenges by way of factionalism within the party. The contentious confrontation between the two factions is spilling into all sectors of society. This is evidenced by which there are conflicting positions on policy by government officials. President Mugabe
A critical issue for both political parties and civil society, but rarely acted upon, is the fact that the passing of the amended constitution into law in 2013 rendered all legislation inoperative and unenforceable that was at base ultra vires the constitution. However, the government and government agencies persist in implementing unconstitutional laws and regulations, apparently under illusion that these laws remain operative until new or amended legislation is put in place.
The recent mass demonstration by the MDC-T in Harare may be an indicator that Zimbabweans are more willing to take risks. Here it is also important to note that this demonstration was also an indicator of the ways in which the new constitution, underpinned by the courts, may be creating new spaces for civic action.
The PEA - Conflict or Collapse - Zimbabwe in 2016 also suggests that there may be a need to shift from “big” to “small” politics as this may provide considerable traction in developing peace and reducing conflict, particularly because the issues in “small” politics rise above narrow political party matters.