The International Role in Promoting Democratic Governance and Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe
The International Role in Promoting Democratic Governance and Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe
Revolt and Repression in Zimbabwe
Revolt and Repression in Zimbabwe
Speech / Africa

The International Role in Promoting Democratic Governance and Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe

Testimony for House of Commons International Development Committee by Donald Steinberg, Deputy President, International Crisis Group, 26 January 2010.

Mr. Chairman:

Thank you for the opportunity to address the International Development Committee on the challenges facing the international community in supporting democratic transformation and economic recovery in Zimbabwe.  As an international non-governmental organization committed to preventing and ending deadly conflict, Crisis Group welcomes the committee’s travel next week to Zimbabwe to highlight the challenges ahead for the British government in this effort.  We believe that Zimbabwe now has its best chance in a decade to put behind it the divisions, abuses, and self-implosion that has plagued the country.  The combination of an inclusive government; a re-emerging civil society; an educated population and work force; manufacturing, agricultural and mining sectors primed for recovery; and the good will of countries in its region and beyond can help Zimbabwe open the door to post-conflict recovery.  This would benefit both its long-suffering people and the broader southern African region.  

Nonetheless, major threats could still derail the process, including the resistance of intransigent senior security officials; fractious political in-fighting, especially within the with Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU-PF); a growing gap between the political class and civil society; a battered economy unable to address a 90 percent unemployment rate and meet the immediate expectations for a peace dividend; and the capricious and ever-dangerous whims of President Robert Mugabe.

MDC's Entry into Government

When Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party formed a unity government with ZANU-PF a year ago under the Global Political Accord, skeptics gave the new formation little chance of success and predicted that Tsvangirai and the MDC would fall prey to Mugabe's "divide, rule, co-opt and destroy" strategy.  While even some within the MDC shared this views, others believed there was no option.  Mugabe and his hard-line allies and security forces held a monopoly on force, was prepared to repress and abuse its political opponents, and had the obsequious support of most regional leaders, charged by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to negotiate a solution to the long-standing electoral and political crisis. The MDC calculated that its capacity to affect change would be greater within government than outside it.

The new government started out reasonably well.  Schools and hospitals re-opened.  Civil servants were paid a small stipend and returned to work.  As the Zimbabwe dollar was shelved, goods returned to empty store shelves.  A cholera epidemic was brought under control; and a bipartisan parliamentary committee was formed to reform the constitution. Human rights activists reported a significant drop in government abuses.  An ambitious yet pragmatic reconstruction program – the Short-Term Economic Recovery Programme – called for about $8.5 billion in resources, including foreign assistance and investment, and was generally well-received by foreign donors and the Bretton Woods institutions.  Prime Minister Tsvangirai, Finance Minister Tendai Biti and the MDC received much of the credit for these developments – even from the rank-and-file army – and new hope returned to Zimbabwe.

But from early on, there were ample signs of concern.  Farm seizures continued virtually unabated. While human rights abuses declined, hardline security forces continued to arrest and detain activists and MDC parliamentarians.   ZANU-PF partisans Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono and the Attorney General Johannes Tomana were unduly reappointed, top generals boycotted the new national security establishments and showed public disdain for Tsvangirai, and ZANU-PF delayed or ignored key commitments under the GPA.  The constitutional reform process stalled as ZANU-PF insisted that the so-called Kariba draft serve as the basis for a new constitution.  Some old regime elements, especially hard-line generals and other Mugabe loyalists, actively thwarted the new government, and undermined it by refusing to implement its decisions.

The Formal Challenges Ahead

Looking ahead, Zimbabwe faces several challenges, including completing the GPA, fashioning a new constitution, and moving toward new elections.  On the GPA, there has been some positive movement since the temporary suspension of the MDC’s participation in the unity government last fall and the subsequent SADC re-engagement at and since the Maputo Summit..  Among these steps are the formation of national councils to address issues of the media, human rights, and forthcoming elections.  The land audit may soon commence, which would not just be a surveying exercise but an attempt to lay the groundwork for addressing the most sensitive issue of land reform and ownership.  Regrettably, the agriculture minister has reportedly said that it is “too soon” to proceed with this vital exercise, which is intended to flush out multiple land owners, find and allocate idle land, and determine the need for assistance to new farmers -- There has been a decline in arbitrary and politically motivated detentions and arrests, but such actions must cease entirely and the onerous public order act (POSA) must be amended soon.  The appointment of governors, the installation of Roy Bennett as Deputy Agriculture Minister, and the regular functioning of the National Security Council in place of the infamous Joint Operations Command must take place as well.

The constitutional reform process must be given greater impetus as well.  There is a growing recognition that this process cannot be the exclusive reserve of the executive and legislative committees, but must be a national exercise with full participation of civil society.  This is essential especially to the MDC, since some worry that the party is losing contact with its popular base as civil society activists and unions have complained that this process is being driven by political elites for their own purposes.  Equally positive, it is increasingly accepted that the Kariba draft cannot serve as a reference for the new constitution, as it incorporates a number of anti-democratic principles and further entrenches executive powers.  The constitutional reform process seems destined to produce an acceptable draft by the end of 2010.

Finally, there must be preparations for new elections.  Many in Zimbabwe are discussing a delay of such elections for several years, perhaps until 2013, in order to take politics out of the equation as the country faces massive economic and social requirements.   Politically, many in the MDC believe that the party still has not built up enough of a record in government, and are also concerned over the military reaction to a potential MDC victory.  By contrast, many ZANU-PF stalwarts worry that their party would be swept aside in new elections, with popular support now judged very low in recent polls.  While it is still possible that Mugabe will dissolve the government in an attempt to catch the opposition off-guard and proceed to another undemocratic election accompanied by repression and fraud that secures his ”victory,” such an approach seems increasingly less likely, given increased international scrutiny, resolve and engagement.

Political, Security and Economic Challenges

Even if Zimbabwe can complete GPA, adopt a new democratic constitution and address electoral processes, however, the transition will face broader challenges.

First, there must be a maturation of the political system to ensure that the ZANU-PF and the MDC engage as both competitors in the political arena and partners in the unity government.  This will be difficult to achieve, especially under the divisive Mugabe, but other ZANU-PF leaders, including a faction led by Vice President Joice Mujuru, know that their party is reeling, has lost much of its popular support, and needs a generational shift to rejuvenate its leadership.  Meanwhile, the MDC knows that it must still demonstrate to the country that it is a viable custodian of the state, showing itself to be competent, clean, and capable of preserving social change since independence.  It is responding seriously  – as it must – to recent allegations of untoward practices by some regional councils and recent entrants into government.  It must also keep faith with its broad following by ensuring that civil society – including trade unions, human rights groups, and women’s organizations – are fully engaged in the process of governance.

Equally challenging are security issues.  Many observers fear that a dozen or so so-called “securocrats” hold de facto veto power over transition.  This topic was so sensitive that it was not even addressed in the GPA negotiations.  These generals and other senior security officials are motivated by differing factors: fear of a loss of power and its financial benefits; possible prosecution for their crimes, including Matabeleland killings in the 1980s; hatred of Tsvangirai and the MDC; and a belief that they are the guardians of the country's liberation.  Many Zimbabweans believe it is necessary to achieve their retirement, even at the cost of a “soft landing” allowing them to keep their assets and gain domestic impunity from possible prosecution.  Similarly, the living conditions and salaries of the rank and file military must be improved, and security sector reform must ensure an apolitical military and police force respectful of human rights.

The devastated economy is an equally daunting challenge. While Finance Minister Biti has won good marks for helping restore confidence and stability to the economy, the prospects for rapid recovery are weak, given years of agricultural decline, infrastructure neglect, anti-business policies, and a weak international economy that rules out large new aid or investment packages.  There is a broad consensus among labour and business leaders to reverse the negative impact of an “indigenisation” policy, formally adopt a stable foreign currency to permanently replaced the Zimbabwe dollar, ensure foreign donors that the Multi-Donor Trust Fund will be a clean and transparent mechanism for aiding the country, and secure the departure of reserve bank governor Gideon Gono, whose record of biased and tainted practices have discouraged new donors and investors.  Not only were so-called “quasi-fiscal” measures used to divert government resources into pet projects benefitting the politically connected in the past, but as recently as this year, the IMF has reported that up to $16 million was transferred from statutory reserves into such areas as funding presidential scholarships, Air Zimbabwe, and diplomatic missions.

The Risks of International Disengagement

During his visit to London, other European capitals and Washington last summer, Tsvangirai was met with luke-warm encouragement, much skepticism, and little cash.  In addition to donors’ reluctance to support a government including Mugabe, Zimbabwe's timing is awful.  It is seeking massive foreign aid and private investment at a time when donors are cutting aid budgets and foreign investors are seeking safe havens in the stormy global economy.  Tellingly, no one called for a "Marshall Plan” for Zimbabwe.

In fact, this stance risks thwarting the very changes the international community is seeking, both by weakening the hand of the MDC and moderates in ZANU-PF, and by undercutting popular support for the reform process. The humanitarian situation remains dire, with reluctant donors hard-pressed to address the demands to ward off disease and hunger. The UN and non-governmental organizations have warned of a potential new cholera outbreak ahead of the rainy season.  Moreover, doctors and teachers have gone on strike off-and-on to demand real pay.

While the primary tasks ahead rest with Zimbabweans themselves, the international community has a vital role to play.  SADC must take its role as guarantor of the GPA seriously, as it did during its meeting in Maputo in early November.  In particular, the advent of South African President Jacob Zuma and his pledge to stay on top of the brief must convey the message that the region will abide no alternative to the current process.  President Zuma’s appointment of three of his most respected and trusted advisers to monitor the Zimbabwe account was a welcome indication that he will press a tougher stance vis-à-vis Mugabe on outstanding GPA obligations, respect for rule of law, and cessation of repressive actions by the security forces under his control.

The broader international community, especially the UK, U.S., the EU and China, should support and complement SADC’s efforts by a careful calibration of trade, aid, and investment to encourage progress, and maintenance of sanctions on the intransigent parties.  The outside world should provide new recovery and development assistance only through “clean” and official mechanisms, and new engagement from the IMF, World Bank and African Development Bank.

Targeted Sanctions; Targeted Assistance

The international community should stand firmly against those thwarting democratic transformation in Zimbabwe.  Tough targeted sanctions against such individuals and the companies they control should remain in place to secure the commitment of the recalcitrant parties to their commitments under the GPA.  At the same time, the international community must recognize and encourage changes now occurring.  One tangible step would be to consider lifting sanctions of certain entities, such as the Agricultural Bank of Zimbabwe, that help revitalize key sectors of the economy without overly benefitting the intransigent parties.  The U.K. and EU should make clear to Zimbabwe the specific steps it needs to see in order to lift these and other sanctions.

Further, targeted reconstruction and development assistance – channeled through fully transparent, credible and accountable mechanisms and institutions – is essential now.  Such mechanisms exist, such as the Multi-Donor Trust Fund.  The International Monetary Fund has ensured responsible use of the one-time expansion of special drawing rights to Zimbabwe equivalent to a $500 million loan for the purpose of building and repairing schools, hospitals, roads, railways and communication networks.

International donors should assist revival of education, agriculture, water, health and sanitation, including support for the Government Works Program.  Particular attention should be given to assisting women, including reproductive health care and girls' education.  Donors should also help empower a functioning civil service and legislature, and help reform politicized government institutions, including the judiciary.  Civil society must be strengthened, given that groups of women, academics, journalists, lawyers, farmers, and others were fractured and polarized in recent years by Mugabe's tactics.  Finally, innovative programs should encourage new trade and foreign investment in Zimbabwe to address the country's massive unemployment rate and promote the return of millions Zimbabwean migrants who are increasingly the target of xenophobic attacks in South Africa and elsewhere in the region.

British Interests in Zimbabwe's Recovery

At a time when more urgent and higher-profile crises fill the in-boxes of British policy-makers, it would be easy to move the slow-simmering crisis in Zimbabwe to the back-burner.  Neither the MDC nor ZANU-PF consorts with global terrorists, and collapse of the unity government will not lead to jihadi training camps in rural areas.  Zimbabwe neither supplies nor traffics in illegal drugs, arms or persons.  Its refugees are not flooding into the UK.  Zimbabwe has no oil, and many of its minerals face weak global demand.  No exotic diseases threaten pandemic: Zimbabwe suffers from "just" cholera, malaria and HIV/AIDS.  The country straddles no sea lanes and has no pirates.

But there are strong motivations for broad British engagement. Just because the global effects of Zimbabwe's implosion have so far been modest, this could change rapidly. Transnational threats incubate in unexpected ways in the hothouse of instability and weak governance. What if the H1N1 virus had emerged in Harare and swept through a country where the health infrastructure had been ravaged?

Zimbabwe's recovery is of major regional importance.  If Zimbabwe is a smallish country of 12 million people, the southern African region – with a market of 200 million, growing oil production, peacekeepers throughout Africa, and a location along key shipping lanes – is by contrast of great strategic, commercial and political importance to the UK.  A prosperous Zimbabwe could be an engine of growth for the region, providing key links to regional communications, transport and electricity grids.  Zimbabwe has long been considered a potential breadbasket for the region, based on what used to be efficient agriculture, albeit needing serious and responsible land reform and new capital inputs.

By contrast, instability in Zimbabwe is profoundly destabilizing to its neighbors.  Zimbabweans fleeing economic hardship and political abuses have flooded across borders, overwhelming the social services and the good will of South Africa, Botswana, and other neighbors.  Notwithstanding its stellar record for stability and human rights, Botswana has built an electrified fence and resorted to detention and expulsions to keep desperate Zimbabweans out.

Some worry that a strategy of engagement would prematurely reward Mugabe and his hard-line supporters, or somehow reduce the pressure on them to cooperate with the reform process.  In truth, political engagement and targeted assistance through credible and transparent channels would strengthen the hands of moderates and make it more difficult for the extremists to again seize power.

Put simply: to sideline those who are thwarting the democratic transformation in Zimbabwe, the world should embrace the unity government now.

Angry protesters barricade the main route to Zimbabwe's capital Harare from Epworth township after the government announced a hike in fuel prices, on 14 January 2019. AFP/Jekesai Njikizana
Q&A / Africa

Revolt and Repression in Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwean government’s decision to hike fuel prices has sparked fierce opposition. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Senior Consultant Piers Pigou explains how economic hardship is driving ordinary citizens to unprecedented acts of resistance.

What triggered this explosion of unrest?

On 12 January, in response to persistent fuel shortages compounded by manipulation and mismanagement of a currency crisis, President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced a fuel price hike of over 200 per cent to $3.31 per litre – making the country’s petrol price the highest in the world. It is unclear how this move would address the shortages, outside of pricing fuel out of the reach of many; already, the knock-on effects of transport and commodity price increases are adding evident stress to ordinary Zimbabweans’ lives.

The massive rise sparked a general strike, along with widespread protests, which in many areas was characterised by violence and considerable destruction of property. Those behind the strike did not call for demonstrations, but thousands, especially young people, took to the streets, with many looting shops and burning cars or buildings. Protests were concentrated in and around the main opposition strongholds, the capital Harare and Bulawayo, but also appeared in cities elsewhere across the country. In turn the government ordered a vicious clampdown – deploying soldiers as well as police.

At the end of the second day of protests on 15 January, Zimbabwe’s Doctors for Human Rights released a statement saying “hundreds shot, tens estimated dead in rampant rights violations across Zimbabwe”. Their assessment included reports of 107 patients treated for gunshot and blunt trauma wounds. For days after that, it was hard to obtain updated casualty figures. The government blocked internet services, both at the outset of the unrest and again on 18 January, severely disrupting the flow of information and contributing to widespread confusion.

The scale of violence is the worst the country has witnessed in some time.

On 18 January, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum was able to publish consolidated statistics counting 844 human rights violations during the general strike. These numbers include: at least twelve killings; at least 78 gunshot injuries; at least 242 cases of assault, torture or inhumane and degrading treatment, including dog bites; 466 arbitrary arrests and detentions; and many displacements (with the number being verified). Other violations are invasion of privacy, obstruction of movement, and limitation of media freedoms and access to information. 

Protesters have also engaged in intimidation, violence, vandalism and looting. The government confirmed that they stoned one police officer to death; there are several unconfirmed reports of fatalities and injuries among the security forces. The extent of the property damage has yet to be determined, though human rights groups have documented at least 46 instances. The country’s main cities are at a standstill.

The government and media have accused the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), trade unions and civil society groups backed by foreign funders (the U.S. and Germany were named) of orchestrating the protests as part of a campaign to undermine the government and elevate the MDC’s leader, Nelson Chamisa, into office. Such accusations are par for the course when the government faces protests; based on past experience, it seems unlikely it will supply compelling evidence to support these claims.

Did the unrest come out of the blue?

Anger at the government has been building for some time. On my last visit to the capital Harare in December 2018, the country’s economic woes were plain to see. Prices in shops were soaring, retailers were closing down and queues for petrol were lengthening as the country struggled to juggle payments for competing import priorities. Control over the country’s fuel supply is in the hands of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), and the huge financial benefits that come with it are reportedly causing factional rivalry. There is widespread public speculation that the shortages are caused by inter-elite squabbles or even deliberately engineered.

People in Harare complain that the administration is akin to a new driver in an old taxi.

The price hike thus ignited the already dry tinder on the ground. On 13 January, one day after the announcement, civil society groups backed a call by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions for a three-day “stayaway”, or general strike.

Underlying the skyrocketing prices of fuel, food and other goods is a currency crisis that has been worsening through much of 2018. In 2009, facing similar hyper-inflation, the government abandoned the national currency, and switched the economy over completely to the U.S. dollar. After an election in 2013 in which it ran on a platform of job creation and economic recovery, the ZANU-PF government demonstrated astonishing levels of financial delinquency. It “financed” its own systematic over-expenditure with massive borrowing. Domestic debt, which stood at just $442 million in 2013, surged to $10.5 billion by February 2018 and has climbed further over the last year. In 2016, as more and more dollars drained out of the economy, the government introduced a new “bond note” currency, nominally at parity with the dollar, in an attempt to make up for cash shortages, as well as direct electronic payments into bank accounts for goods and services. These payments included the salaries of civil servants, the last bastion of formal employment. It was the equivalent of printing money over and above the value of the reserves in the central bank.

The government continues to claim parity between the bond note, electronic balances and the dollar. With most financial transactions being cashless, this mythology of official parity was maintained, although the bond notes and electronic reserves were trading at a lower rate. But both the latter quasi-currencies have rapidly depreciated since the government introduced fiscal and monetary reforms in October, leading prices for goods and services to spike across the board. The runaway inflation in turn has prompted panic buying and widespread shortages of critical goods such as medicines. It has cut the value of ordinary citizens’ earnings and savings by more than half, further impoverishing an already struggling populace.

In the weeks following the fiscal reforms, as purchasing power evaporated, the entire public-sector work force began organising to confront the government. Since early December, Zimbabwean doctors have been at loggerheads with the government, crippling central parts of an already degraded health care system. On 8 January, the Apex Council, an umbrella body representing civil servants, issued the government the statutory two-week notice that it would call a general strike to protest the government’s refusal to pay civil servants in hard currency, namely U.S. dollars.

Is there precedent for this level of violence accompanying protests in Zimbabwe?

The scale of violence is the worst the country has witnessed in some time. Before 1 August 2018, when the military shot dead six civilians in Harare, Zimbabwe’s security forces did not use live ammunition in crowd control. Now they seem to rely on it.

In another escalation, the government has deployed the military to suppress protests and make arrests, highlighting the ineffectiveness of the police or, as some believe, that the government does not trust the police to crack down on protests with sufficient fervour. The response also reflects an embedded military influence in government decision making and could usher in a new phase of repression in Zimbabwe.

Nor has the country seen a comparable level of violence, looting and destruction by ordinary Zimbabweans. Some of it is undoubtedly orchestrated, but most appears to be spontaneous. More than ever, young people are willing to confront the government in the streets, reflecting desperation and their deep-seated frustration. Anecdotes are surfacing of huge sections of road being shut down and railway carriages being dragged off the rails and into the streets, signaling new levels of revolt. Such actions suggest a growing number of Zimbabweans are less risk averse in terms of a confrontational approach, adding a highly dangerous new element into the mix.

Just fifteen months ago, a coup forced strongman Robert Mugabe from office. Wasn’t Zimbabwe full of hope then?

The optimism that accompanied the ouster of long-time President Robert Mugabe in November 2017 has evaporated. For a time, many Zimbabweans thought his replacement, Mnangagwa, might be a reformer, though he had long been a ruling-party stalwart who was Mugabe’s vice president. The international community, including a number of critics, were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. Now, however, cynicism is growing in many quarters, albeit for diverse reasons. There are signs of discontent even among ZANU-PF loyalists and members of the security forces, who are also bearing the brunt of economic decay.

Controversy blighted Zimbabwe’s much anticipated elections on 30 July 2018, even though the courts endorsed the outcome. Many believe that the use of state resources in Mnangagwa’s favour pushed him over the finish line in the presidential contest. Unprecedented spending by the government ahead of the elections contradicted promises of financial prudence. The MDC refuses to recognise Mnangagwa’s government as legitimate, while the government accuses the opposition of being unpatriotic and promoting a nefarious regime change agenda. The country is polarised, attitudes on both sides have hardened and prospects for bridge-building have withered.

Since the elections, the new government has managed to deliver few tangible results. People in Harare complain that the administration is akin to a new driver in an old taxi. Many see the government simply as a reconfiguration of the ZANU-PF, now freed from Mugabe but dominated by security-sector interests and factions aligned to the new president.

Questions are also surfacing over President Mnangagwa’s judgment. He left the country immediately after announcing the fuel price hike, ostensibly to search for trade deals in Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. But such deals are unlikely to resolve the immediate economic issues facing Zimbabwe: while he may drum up some foreign investment in the country, those governments will not provide much needed budgetary support. Nobody believes that Mnangagwa will enjoy anything like the enthusiastic reception he got last year if he goes, as planned, to this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos.

Already in December, one of Zimbabwe’s leading political scientists was telling me that “the light at the end of the tunnel has gone out”. He meant that Mnangagwa’s government, while consolidating its authority politically, would be unable to deliver a sustainable, broad-based economic recovery.

[F]urther unrest in the coming days, weeks or months is a question of when, rather than if.

What could happen next?

For almost two decades, observers of Zimbabwe have warned of pending economic collapse, mass hunger and social implosion. Conditions steadily worsened, but Zimbabweans employed an impressive array of survival strategies, from emigration producing diaspora remittances to work in the informal sector, where “making a plan”, as per a common expression, has become something of an art form. The apparent stability has fed complacency, a sense that Zimbabwe can keep on bumping along the bottom. But evidence on the streets now suggests that may no longer be true.

The security clampdown is continuing. Notwithstanding its chilling effect on some potential protesters, further unrest in the coming days, weeks or months is a question of when, rather than if. Another initiative for a general strike is already in motion; calls for a “Stayaway 2” on 23-25 January are circulating on social media. Key questions are how organised it will be, given the likelihood that many organisers of the initial street actions are detained, and how the state will respond. Already, there is a de facto nationwide shutdown as towns and city centres remain empty. People cannot move freely because transport is too expensive. Many cannot afford to go to work.

Zimbabwe desperately needs reform if the government is to keep the country reasonably stable and preserve its re-engagement with international donors

At the same time, the information gap makes it difficult to judge what is happening. Amid endemic misinformation and fake news, some exaggeration of the country’s disarray is likely in play. But in any case, it is unlikely that the mood of confrontation will dissipate quickly. The government may be able to put a lid on unrest and take activists off the streets, but that will not address the conditions that have brought people out. More confrontational protests seem inevitable even if the crackdown curbs protests for now.

What should outside powers do about Zimbabwe’s crisis?

The biggest challenge at this juncture is to get the government to do something about the unrest besides shoot and arrest protesters. Zimbabwe desperately needs reform if the government is to keep the country reasonably stable and preserve its re-engagement with international donors, a process that started with Mugabe’s ouster. To pull off that reform, it needs broad political consensus, including within both the ruling party and the opposition, but also within other social constituencies. The country is polarised on multiple fronts – ideally the government would commit to supporting the development and implementation of some form of national reconciliation strategy to at least start to heal these divisions. For now, however, such a strategy is not even part of political discourse.

It is unclear, however, who has the leverage to nudge the government from repression to reform – or if anyone wants to do so. In the neighbourhood, the Southern African Development Community did not immediately respond to the unrest. Wider international reaction has been muted. Civil society groups have expressed concern and diaspora groups have marched in Johannesburg. But the South African government, traditionally engaged in Zimbabwean politics, has downplayed the situation. With the prospect of more bloodshed and large-scale refugee flight, the region, and indeed the world, cannot afford to ignore the crisis.

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.