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2018 from a Zimbabwean Citizen’s Lenses

2018 begun with a lot of hope, the Zimbabwean citizens expected a change of the Zimbabwean situation which has multifaceted challenges for over a decade since the mid-1990s. This was based on the dubbed “Watershed Election” which tipped two new arrivals on the political front. Nelson Chamisa of the MDC Alliance who came in after the passing on of Morgan Tsvangirai and Emmerson Mnangagwa of ZANU PF who had been ushered in November 2017 at the fall of Robert Mugabe through military intervention.

The period prior to the election was calmer than ever before, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission was more engaging than before, the BVR was implemented- the system was fair in terms of raising hopes, there were no explicit violations of human rights- though the structural and systemic intimidation remained intact, foreign and international observers were invited to observe the elections making a big step from the usual Mugabe era where foreign observers were barred from coming on observer missions unless you were sympathetic to the system and likely to give favourable reports on the elections.

This departure from stifling the election environment experienced in previous elections gave the Zimbabwean citizen hope that the elections were going to be different and usher in the change that would give Zimbabweans relief from the prolonged economic turmoil which is closely related to the political decay. The youth, urban poor, women and the ordinary citizen of Zimbabwe has a renewed dream of a united, prosperous Zimbabwe in 2018.

The election came on 30 July 2018 and as previous elections they were contested ending up in the Constitutional Court where ED was declared the winner of the 30 July elections. Despite the ConCourt seemingly settling the matter in a legalist way, the legitimacy question remained hanging on the President-elect and the much reported groundwork he seemed to have begun since his inauguration in November 2018 on the economic front crumbled before him and the citizens of Zimbabwe’s found themselves on the sharp edge of the crisis.

On the economic front, major shifts, pronouncements and rapid international re-engagements were witnessed. For the first time Emmerson Mnangagwa went to Davos for the World Economic Forum, fronting the “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra. The government made many foreign trips to entice the international community to invest in Zimbabwe. The state media was awash with news on mega deals being sealed by the new government running in excess of USD15billion. In line with the appetite for Foreign Direct Investment, Zimbabwe was marketed as the destination of choice through amplifying policies such as the ease of doing business, relaxing the indigenisation policy both at policy and institutional level.

Agenda 2030 was launched poising Zimbabwe on a trajectory of being an upper middle income country by 2030. This was premised on the advancement of a neoliberal agenda in Zimbabwe- a market and private sector led economy including such critical sectors such as agriculture. Civil society organisations such as ZIMCODD, LEDRIZ, and PRFT raised concerns, highlighting the paradoxes found in nearby Middle Income Countries such as Botswana, South Africa, and Namibia among others where deep rooted inequalities are preeminent. The citizens aspirations pointed more to an Agenda that is more focused on alleviating and eradicating poverty rather than on macro-economic projections that do not tell the story of the lived experience of a Zimbabwean citizen in the rural area, slum or high density suburb where poverty levels are beyond imaginable.

The economy literally degenerated to the 2008 levels with shortages in basic commodities being witnessed, currency shortages worsened and citizens panicking to the extent of hoarding basic commodities as they relived 2008. The multi-tier pricing system made it worse and the government bickering on addressing the currency situation made the crisis even worse. The citizens’ incomes were eroded leaving them worse off and in converse to 2008 shops stocked up but the citizens’ pocket emptied. Inflation rose to unofficial figures of over 50% based on the black market rating of commodities.

The Minister of Finance launched the TSP hinged on the Zimbabwe is open of business and the Agenda 2030 with stringent austerity measures to arrest the situation. The national budget was also presented and the end of the year and consolidated the steps towards authority which is believed to bring prosperity. The introduction of the 2% tax on transactions was a hard blow on the citizens and was outrightly rejected by the citizens though the government went ahead to force it on the citizens.

The debt burden was not holistically addressed with the Minister of Finance engaging with creditors, particularly the International Financial Institutions in Indonesia, Bali. A road map which was not shared back home was shared with the creditors who were reported in the media to have accepted it and willing to work with Zimbabwe to address the debt crisis. In 2018 the debt stock stood at close to USD18billion and the government unreservedly admitted to violating the laws of the land both in term of loan contraction at the domestic and external levels. Despite the huge debt stock in unsustainable levels and violation of the law- including the supreme law of the land, the constitution, the citizens of Zimbabwe who are the tax payers and ultimately the financiers of debt repayment have no clue as to how Zimbabwe got to such levels of debt as there is nothing to show for it in the economy and infrastructural levels.

From all the developments of 2018, the economic reform agenda by government, the international re-engagement, processed, the fiscal and financial measures put in place, the contested elections and all the chaos that ensued for the rest of the year point to the fact that 2018 was NOT the year of the citizens in as much as citizens arose in different quarters to challenge injustices, they remained at the periphery, excluded and sometimes thwarted in their efforts to be part of the reform agenda.

While the citizens of Zimbabwe were riling on the government’s failures to address the fundamentals and engines of the economy, the government continued to make cosmetic actions to try and arrest corruption by public officials by arresting and releasing public officials alleged to have been involved in swindling state resources, inconclusively address Illicit Financial Flows by giving moratorium to “externalisers” while resources continues to bleed outside the formal system as reported by ZIMRA which could only attain about 30% in tax compliance from corporates.

The citizens of Zimbabwe suffered the whole of 2018 from political and economic indecisions by the government. The international community did not make it easier at the same time. The binary narrative from the two major political parties continued to inform international community engagement with Zimbabwe. The citizens’ voice was dwarfed on the re-engagement table. Issues of the citizen were “at” the table but not “on” the table hence citizens- led solutions were ignored contributing to the perpetuation of the crisis even to the end of the year and into 2019.

In a nutshell, 2018 was an “ANTI-CITIZEN” year by all definitions and at all levels. This situation cannot continue if we are to have healing of the fractured Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is a fractured nation socially, economically and politically. There is an urgent need to build cohesion; integration and a triangular narrative to move from where we are to a better Zimbabwe. This can only be achieved by declaring 2019 the year of the CITIZENS- the Citizens Cabinet has captured this well. This means that going forward in 2019; Zimbabwe must build on the social capital of its citizenry engage more and have deeper conversations locally in an open, triangular national dialogue to map a better and prosperous Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe can take a shorter route to achieve a people centred economy and society at large by involving the citizens who bear the brunt and the many traumas from previous and current shocks. Zimbabweans need to harness its energy, brains and zeal to work and transform Zimbabwe- the diaspora have a role too beyond the normal ranting witnessed during election.

The government of Zimbabwe must make “ Zimbabwe is Open for its Citizens” its mantra and open the spaces for national, non-partisan dialogue and ensure that 2019 is the year of the citizen in both letter and practice and shift the mindset of seeking solutions from elsewhere. The social, economic and political doldrums are fixable- only if Zimbabwe is not sold just as a piece of a market but as a nationhood with citizens who are independent and rights holders, holding accountable its leaders to democratic and good governance ethos.

In line with the Zimbabwe is Open for its Citizens mantra, in 2019 the government must therefore;

  • Focus on strengthening the citizens’ voice and ensuring it matters in policy making- in every mechanism put in place to address the current crisis the citizens must be on the table!
  • Enforce transparency mechanisms in public resources management- as committed in the national budget statement to adopt the EITI, so must the government do in all other sectors- incomes and government expenditure must be open to public scrutiny.
  • Empowering Parliament to execute its oversight role- this will take working with the parliamentary portfolio committees and also targeting working with individual MPs to build a progressive critical mass in Parliament to fully represent he aspirations of the citizens and not only their personal interests!
  • Transform the international re-engagement processes- focusing on inward looking, transforming the Zimbabwe trajectory towards self-sustainance and people centred oriented.

Written by Janet Zhou- an avid human rights activist inclined towards social and economic justice in Zimbabwe and the SADC Region.

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