HARARE – As the Constitutional Court of Zimbabweprepares to rule on the opposition’s legal challenge to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s election victory, Zimbabweans are hoping that whoever is given the mandate to govern will be able to turn the country’s ailing economy around.
A decade after hyperinflation peaked in Zimbabwe at a rate of up to 500 billion percent, the economy still struggles to fund basic public services, while unemployment and emigration remains rife.
Former longtime president Robert Mugabe managed to survive the country’s economic collapse until he was ousted last year by members of his own ruling ZANU-PF party.
His successor Mnangagwa has promised to revive the economy and overturnZimbabwe’s legacy of hyperinflation.
However, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance, led by Nelson Chamisa, has challenged the results of the July election, leaving the country in doubt as to who will spearhead the daunting task.
Western sanctions criticized by government
Some members of the government claim that sanctions imposed by the US in 2001 and extended by President Donald Trump under the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA) will hamper Zimbabwe’s economic recovery.
“Commerce between [the US and Zimbabwe] remains hampered by non-existent bank to bank relations,” says Foreign Minister Sibusiso Moyo, who has been leading efforts to have the sanctions lifted. “It cannot naively be claimed that ZIDERA is targeted only at a few individuals and does not affect trade between the US and Zimbabwe, as the international media has sometimes painted it.”
The US, the European Union (EU) and a number of Western countries introduced sanctions against Zimbabwe following widespread reports of election rigging and human rights abuses while Mugabe was in power.
In 2002, the EU imposed targeted sanctions on Mugabe and his ZANU-PF ruling elite over violence against the opposition and the expulsion of EU observers. Mugabe blamed the sanctions for Zimbabwe’s rapid economic decline.
Domestic policies to blame?
However, critics of Mugabe say his populist policies, including rapid land reform, were to blame for the economic crisis.
Alec Chandiwana, who used to work for a furniture shop before it closed, says whoever is declared the winner of the election by the Constitutional Court must focus on the root causes of Zimbabwe’s economic woes.
“I know people always talk about sanctions, but I don’t think it’s actually sanctions,” he told DW. “I hope and suggest that the ruling government and the opposition work together. What we want is the economy to rise.”
Chandiwana still makes his living in the upholstery business, which he was able to enter due to the Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Act introduced by Mugabe. It gives black Zimbabweans a 51 percent stake in all foreign owned companies. Chandiwana acknowledges how the policy may have made things more difficult for the country in the long run — on both sides.
“The economy is not good, it’s killing us on our side of indigenization,” he told DW. “If the government can upgrade the civil servants, if industries start flowing like how they used to some time back, I think that will help us.”
But, regardless of the path which is taken, it will be a long road to recovery. For nearly three years now, Zimbabweans have been sleeping in bank queues hoping to withdraw cash. The unemployment rate remains high, with some estimates putting it at around 85 percent — not counting informal employment. More businesses are closing as vendors increasingly dominate the retail sector.
Daniel Dhlela, an economist at Zimconsult, says despite their claims to fix Zimbabwe’s economy, both Mnangagwa and Chamisa in the lead up to this year’s election promised to increase government expenditures if they won. If they stick to this promise, the country may face even more difficult years ahead.
“The government for a long time has been spending what they don’t have,” he told DW. “What are the social sectors going to be funded with, other than [through] borrowing? We are heading for [more] hyperinflation after the elections because there is no way you can actually [make promises] when you are spending over the revenue that is being collected by the state.”
Dhlela believes that whoever takes office must first address the issue of increasing investor confidence — particularly in neglected sectors such including tourism, mining and construction — by creating friendly laws which will encourage more capital flows into the country.