Vicious and Virtuous Cycles: Development and Freedom in Zimbabwe.
Does freedom lead to development? This notion, strongly argued by Amartya Sen two decades ago, built on the idea that democracy was gaining ground across the world, an idea that seems no longer as evident as it was then. John Gay tested Sen’s theory in 2003, and concluded that the belief in democracy was a “virtuous” cycle for those experiencing the benefits of democracy, whilst those not benefiting were more likely to be part of a “vicious” cycle, and leaning towards support for anti-democratic rule.
We tested this finding for Zimbabwe using the Afrobarometer data for 2017. Developing an equivalent measure of Gay’s “Sen Score”, we examined whether Zimbabweans still believed in democracy and were not in favour of autocracy, but also whether they still had political trust in the state, worried about corruption, were socially and politically active, and affected by political fear.
We found some support for Gay’s thesis, but the major factor differentiating Zimbabweans is whether they are rural or urban. Paradoxically, rural Zimbabweans are more likely to be those in the “virtuous” cycle, and this is most likely because they have been and are the major beneficiaries of government largesse. This raises the question about how deeply democratic are rural Zimbabweans, and would removing the immense patronage of the state shift them into a “vicious” cycle?