2019 has kicked off on a rather uncertain and uninspiring note to say the least. Zimbabwe’s economic troubles look insurmountable now more than ever. Shortages of basic foodstuffs, fuel and medication have haunted us from last year. A fuel price increase of about 150% coincided with what was supposed to be a peaceful stay away, but, that turned violent, leaving shops looted and destroyed. Citizens were also killed and some were injured. This, as the President of the country was out pleading for external support. To add insult to injury, Friday marked the expiry of a 14-day notice given by civil servants to go on strike. Barring any miracle over the past weekend, that strike commences on today. The question on many’s lips right now is, are we going to walk this tough journey alone as a nation? Over the years, similar happenings have left us feeling let down by our friends in SADC and the African Union (AU). We take a look at what looks like a positive shift from the outside world in this article.
Our neighbour, South Africa, which is our biggest trading partner alongside China has broken the silence. The ruling party, the African National Congress has released a statement voicing their concern on the goings on in Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo. “In the wake of recent announcements on fuel price hikes, citizens have protested, with tragic loss of life. The fuel prices understandably have dire impact on the cost of living of ordinary Zimbabweans. This is a matter of serious concern to the African National Congress…It is therefore incumbent upon the ANC and the South African government to assist the people and leaders of the DRC and Zimbabwe do everything in their power to bring political stability and peace on their countries, so they can deal with the economic challenges they are facing”, read part of the statement. The ANC goes further to note that problems in Zimbabwe will lead to an increase in political and economic refugees flocking to South Africa. This is true. Already, of the estimated 4 million Zimbabweans living and working abroad, most are in South Africa. The statement is a huge shift from the seemingly quiet diplomacy which we had grown accustomed to from our neighbours.
UK, EU and USA
Further afield, the United Kingdom (UK) has also expressed concern on the situation in Zimbabwe. Ironically, the UK is also host to many economic and political refugees from Zimbabwe. On Tuesday, Harriet Baldwin who is the UK’s Foreign Office Deputy Minister held a meeting with the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Smail Chergui on the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe. The British Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Melanie Robinson also tweeted this week that her team was following events in Zimbabwe closely. She also castigated violence. The EU and USA have added their voices to the growing concerns as well. The message is similar. Unleashing violence against each other is not a way to solve any problem. While the aftermath of last week’s protests have taken a political turn with government blaming opposition parties for masterminding the chaos, the economic repercussions are immense. Although the country’s relationship with its western counterparts is not at its very best, there had been considerable indications that the West were beginning to warm up to Zimbabwe after the demise of the Mugabe regime. And, President Mnangagwa has tried to reach out to them, to his credit. Unfortunately the money, in the form of loans, won’t come yet as conditions they set have not yet been met to their satisfaction.
Hopes from Davos
While the house is in turmoil, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Professor Mthuli Ncube is attempting to pull the rabbit out of the hat in Davos. Thrust into the deep end after President Mnangagwa was forced to abort the trip on the eleventh hour, Professor Ncube has his work cut out. With regards to Zimbabwe’s search for a bailout loan, Professor Ncube says, “We are looking everywhere – East, West, wherever we think we can get it.” He also says, “I’m hoping to approach three private sector credit providers who are very keen to work with us especially in providing fuel, in giving us credit lines up to the tune of $500 million.” In terms of external debt, Zimbabwe needs to raise US$1.2 billion this year alone towards what it owes the World Bank and the African Development Bank among others. The Finance Minister says, “The first step is to clear what we owe to the World Bank and the African Development Bank who are our preferred creditors in a way. We are working on that.” Paying off our previous debt will unlock future funding. Closer to home, the country is reported to have tried to borrow more than US$1 billion from South Africa but our southern neighbours have indicated that this may be too much to ask. A much lower deal is believed to be under consideration. Our Finance Minister will probably be able to shed light on that as the World Economic Forum wraps up. Unfortunately, he is fighting a tough battle, developments back home give the impression of a country in turmoil and such a scenario scares away investors and creditors.
Sadly, the only thing that we have agreed on since the year started is the fact that our late music giant, Oliver Mtukudzi deserves national hero status. Other than that, chaos and mistrust rage on. Nothing else seems to be going correct. A bail out package would be a very welcome relief but would it be enough?