Zimbabwe’s trouble ahead as socio-economic crisis deepens

By Michelle Gavin I cfr.org

The living conditions of Zimbabweans continue to go from bad to worse. Three-digit inflation shows no signs of slowing down. More than half of the country lives in poverty. His corrupt government goes from disregard for the pain of the people to rosy projections of growth based on sheer fantasies to clumsy interventions like the recent short-lived edict banning banks from lending.

Politically, the merger of the ruling party and the senior military leadership has long been complete and they have become inseparable from the state itself. But because Zimbabweans, in the form of independent journalists, opposition politicians and grassroots activists, refuse to give up their efforts to hold the government to account, the campaigns of repression and political violence sponsored by the state continue.

In an effort to give bullying a veneer of legality, the country’s leaders are now moving to dismantle civil society, pursuing draconian legislation targeting private voluntary organizations which, in the words of a network of human rights defenders, mainly African human rights, give the government “unrestricted power to debar, target and harass PVOs deemed critical of the government”.

Embracing irony, the same government that thrives on illicit transnational cartels justifies its efforts by claiming they are necessary to meet the demands of the Financial Action Task Force. The brazenness is unsurprising, but the PVO legislation is another strong indicator that there will be nothing remotely resembling a level playing field heading into the 2023 election.

All of these developments, compounded by the economic and social consequences of the COVID-19 lockdowns and the global disruptions resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have hurt the youth of Zimbabwe.

Finding themselves in the midst of extreme poverty and extraordinarily high unemployment rates, they also have to contend with the fact that migrating in search of opportunity looks riskier than ever as xenophobia gains strength in South Africa, where young people face their own pressures and where some leaders aim to increase their popularity by scapegoating immigrants.

Youth drug use has skyrocketed, seemingly driven by nihilistic desperation, and their government lacks the policy framework, resources, and will to provide adequate drug and recovery services.

As Zimbabwe’s problems deepen and multiply, its neighbors take on more and more risk. Southern Africa’s trajectory is becoming increasingly uncertain. Visions of a dynamic, well-integrated and prosperous sub-region must confront not only the instability in Mozambique and the economic malaise of the South African regional giant, but also the realities of Zimbabwe, its continuing downward spiral, as well only to the health and future of its young people, who represent the majority of the country’s population.

There is nothing neighborly about pretending that all is well in Zimbabwe and inviting the same. True solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe requires acknowledging the abuses and excesses of its elites, helping those in desperate need, and finding ways to support those who continue to push for meaningful change.

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