Zimbabwe is on the threshold of change. The ruling ZANU PF party, in power for the last 36 years, is crumbling. Abandoned by its friends, unsupported by the region and unable to create a decisive succession process once the 92-year-old Mugabe dies, the regime is on the brink of collapse. Zimbabweans are rising up in their thousands. We are fed up of ZANU PF’s dictatorship.
Protests are occurring on an almost daily basis across Zimbabwe. The rise of social media – in part through cheaper data deals – has allowed a strategic, principled non-violent movement to emerge almost spontaneously.
The regime, which knows only violence and purchased loyalty, dismisses the rising tide of anger as “popcorn protests” even as it marshals the full might of the military to try and suppress them.
Internally, ZANU PF is at war with itself. The denunciation of Mugabe by a group of war veterans who were his most reliable support base has further plunged the party into crisis. To this point, a facade of unity was maintained by the threat of an external enemy – the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. But through political maneuvering, the use of violence, intimidation and patronage it had largely overcome these.
These tactics are inadequate against the new wave of protests.
With scare tactics becoming less effective, the regime is cornered. It can no longer buy people’s support because the nation’s coffers are empty. The country is bankrupt. Diamond revenues – which vanished almost as soon as they were created – have now dried up. The Chinese government has stopped providing condition-free loans. The military has gone unpaid for months and many soldiers have joined the protests.
This is the weakest the regime has ever been. And this is the closest we have yet come to freeing ourselves from its kleptomaniac and violent rule which has held us captive in our own country for decades.
So this is why the apparent decision by the international community is about to throw a lifeline to this regime is a major concern.
A Cairo-based bank, the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and Lazard, an international asset management and financial advisory firm, have apparently reached a deal to mobilise $1.1-billion in additional loans to repay the outstanding debt to the World Bank.
Once the arrears are cleared, Zimbabwe will be able to borrow from the IMF, the African Development Bank and the World Bank. Reports are that these institutions will be meeting this month to approve other aspects of the debt payment plan, laying the basis for funds from these institutions to flow once more into the regime’s coffers.
It’s not clear what has suddenly changed and why this has influenced the renewed interest in funding Zimbabwe. The IMF seems to think that the government has taken steps to “rationalise public expenditures” and to “restore confidence in the financial sector.” The African Development Bank writes in its memo supporting the arrears’ clearance deal that “the government is committed to implementing [human rights] reforms.”
As citizens, we know we will bear the cost of the new debt being imposed on our country and deserve to know what secret negotiations are being conducted in our name. Implausible as these arguments are, it seems that the re-engagement is based on a perceived “change of heart” by the Mugabe regime.
There has been no meaningful public consultation whatsoever as all this wheeling and dealing has taken place. For the most part, Zimbabweans remain in the dark. Despite earnest “reassurance” from some quarters that there are no new financing programs under discussion, [both] the minister of finance and central bank governor have gone on record stating that financing deals are under way.
What are the terms and conditions for the loans? What collateral is the government offering? Where will the funds be transferred? More importantly, how will the lenders ensure that funds aren’t used to purchase arms or politicise distribution of food aid as has happened before? And what evidence do financial institutions have that our government will stick to its end of any deal?
This government in the past few months has embarked on a well-documented brutal campaign of police brutality to shut down non-violent citizen protests. The president spent a reported US$800 000 on his birthday celebrations this year, even as the World Food Programme says that over a third of Zimbabwe’s children are now stunted in growth due to malnutrition.
The deputy president has been living in a five star hotel at a cost of US$400 a night for over a year and a half while vegetable vendors cannot scramble together a few cents to take public transport home and end up sleeping on the streets. An El Nino induced drought threatens to push millions into starvation.
The suggestion that this regime will suddenly change its stripes is difficult to believe.
The suggestion that the regime is “restoring financial sector confidence” is also untrue. The disappearance of liquidity has destroyed our financial sector, with a meagre US$105 trading on a single day in July this year on Zimbabwe’s stock exchange. The regime’s latest plan to rob citizens in broad daylight through the introduction of illegal “bond notes” has already damaged our confidence in the government’s economic logic. A similar stunt by the government led to the nation’s crippling economic crisis in 2008.
Why then would these financing institutions would want to strike a deal with such an obviously corrupt government?
Perhaps they are concerned that they will have to bear the costs if Zimbabwe implodes from the ongoing crisis. But they are mistaken if they think that propping up the current regime will bring stability to the country. Funding this government won’t “level off human rights abuses” as the World Bank claims. It will allow a dishonest, brutal and corrupt ZANU PF to regroup, re-arm and stifle our struggle.
For some of us the cost of this regime’s brutality is personal. In October 2014 my brother, the activist Itai Dzamara, began a one-man protest at Harare’s Africa Unity Square. He delivered a petition to the president’s office calling on the 92-year old Mugabe to retire. A few months later, Itai was abducted by suspected state security agents and has been missing ever since. Local and international pressure to release Itai has been consistently ignored by the regime.
This is exactly the type of horrific human rights abuse we can expect to continue if the international community perseveres with its plan to back the regime through the extension of loans to the government. Funding this government will only deepen the regime’s contempt for citizens’ legitimate demands and prolong its well overdue extinction. Maintaining status quo is simply not an option for us.
The onus of bringing freedom to Zimbabwe rests squarely on the shoulders of the Zimbabwean people. This is our struggle to win. But the least we can ask is that you do not prop up our oppressor, and saddle our children with further debt, just as we begin to gain the upper hand.
Hatichada. Hatichatya. We are fed up and we’re no longer afraid. Enough is enough.
Dr Patson Dzamara is a human rights activist living in Zimbabwe.