29 May 2023
The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition has taken note of the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) efforts to facilitate dialogue between the Government of Zimbabwe and key international creditors towards resolving Zimbabwe’s debt crisis under the auspices of the Structured Dialogue Platform.
According to the AfDB, Zimbabwe’s total public debt is around $11.1 billion (53.9% of GDP), of which 95.6% is external including $6.4 billion in arrears to international financial institutions, bilateral, and private creditors. Zimbabwe has been in default since 2000. About 50% of Zimbabwe's external debt is in arrears and subject to penalties. It is this debt overhang which has contributed to the prolonged economic challenges that Zimbabwe has faced, especially post-2000.
The Structured Dialogue Platform has three sector working groups on economic reforms, governance reforms and land tenure reforms. Part of the AfDB’s immediate plan according to the bank's president Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, is coming up with innovative financial instruments and structures that can be used to front-load the mobilization of the US$3.5 billion for compensation to white farmers who had their farms expropriated without compensation in the wake of the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP).
In his remarks during the latest round of talks in May 2023, Dr. Adesina rightly notes that “Zimbabwe cannot run up the hill of economic recovery carrying a backpack of debt on its back.”
It is also commendable that Dr, Adesina does concede that extricating Zimbabwe out of its current economic challenges will require more than just concessions on debt, but must “… also involve governance, rule of law, human rights, freedom of speech, political level playing field, electoral reforms that will assure free and fair elections; as well as fairness, equity and justice for the commercial farmers and other businesses who were dispossessed of their lands, for which there is a clear need for restitution and compensation.”
The AfDB move is welcome but must not be superficial.
The efforts towards facilitating dialogue by the AfDB are very welcome and are the latest affirmative signal that Zimbabwe’s challenges cannot be resolved outside a framework of dialogue.
Importantly, it is commendable that this dialogue process has brought together the Government of Zimbabwe and the many international protagonists, some of whom it has become accustomed to slander using many ‘hate’ names and superlatives. Also commendable is the involvement of the SADC region through the indulgence and involvement of Mozambique.
We are however concerned that the AfDB’s Structured Dialogue Platform in its current format, and given the current state of play in the country, may not be sufficient to address the underlying issues that have gotten Zimbabwe into the current ‘crisis’ in the first place.
We humbly submit that the current process is exclusionary, elitist and seems a ‘cosmetic’ appeasement of international creditors, rather than a genuine process to extricate the country and its citizens out of the current state of economic decay, stalling development and authoritarian entrenchment. The dialogue is likely to go the way of previous elitist pacts and settlements, which have failed to sustainably address the underlying causes of the ‘crisis in Zimbabwe’.
Through this statement, we want to emphasize the following:
A. Dialogue remains key to address the underlying governance crisis
For the record, we have stood firm on our assertion that Zimbabwe suffers from a ‘crisis of governance’, where governance is considered across three key facets:
governance as state-society relations;
governance as economic relations; and
governance as public service delivery.
The genesis of Zimbabwe’s economic challenges are to be found in the sum of these governance deficits. The depth of these underlying governance deficits do not need any overemphasis.
It is important to re-state and re-affirm our belief that dialogue remains the country’s best avenue towards returning Zimbabwe on a genuine developmental path. However, it is important to emphasize two important issues:
Dialogue is not an end in itself but a means to arrive at a desired and shared destination – a national vision.
Any dialogue process must be inclusive and holistic, both in terms of stakeholders as well as the issues underpinning dialogue. It is from this second point that we are rather disappointed with the framing around the issue of compensation for farmers whose farms were expropriated without compensation during the FTLRP. While this is a correct step in re-entrenching the primacy of property rights to the functioning of the economy and its reintegration into the global financial system, it is rather disingenuous that the talk of compensation leaves out the many former farm workers and black farmers who were equally victims of the FTLRP.
Yet, the Global Compensation Deed around which compensation has been agreed, is silent about those of ‘colour’ who lost out as a result of the FTLRP. The AfDB process seems to omit these victims of the FTLRP, which is very worrying.
B. Trust and confidence are key.
Our belief remains that Zimbabwe’s current challenges stem from a broken social contract and the buck stops with the political leadership. Confidence and trust levels between the citizens and the leaders are very low and the causes of this are clear.
The biggest factor undermining trust and confidence between the government and citizens remains the serial disregard of the constitution by the Government of Zimbabwe.
This has eroded norm compliance in acceptable governance practices, rule of law, human rights, freedom of speech, political level playing field, electoral reforms that will assure free and fair elections – all factors which Dr. Adesina rightly notes as key to making dialogue on debt work.
Zimbabwe has a serial history of great policies and plans, and even a new Constitution - but the implementation of such is often framed within a matrix of power retention rather than sustainable development. We have a ruling elite that has become renewed for ‘talking left, and walking right’.
The country is due to hold harmonised election in August 2023 and true to its form, the Government of Zimbabwe is making every effort to ensure the electoral playing field is tilted in favour of the ruling ZANU PF party, showing utter disdain for the very same reforms it is committing to as part of the dialogue process.
Zimbabwe’s elections have always been bloody, a sharp contrast to others in Southern Africa. The Government of Zimbabwe has always received advice from various election observer missions, but ignores them all.
The most recent Motlanthe Commission recommendations of 2018 tried to soothe the nation back into normalcy from the coup of 2017 and violence of 2018, but still, five years later, there has been no traction. Recommendations from successive SADC Election Observer Missions are ignored time and again, all because for the ruling elites, it is just about power retention.
Citizens, including political leaders are arrested, detained and jailed for exercising their constitutional rights, in what is a clear trend of ‘persecution by prosecution’. Opposition leader, Jacob Ngarivhume, President of the Transform Zimbabwe party was jailed for four years for simply speaking out against corruption. The cases of Fadzayi Mahere and Job Sikhala also affirm this assertion.
The citizens of Zimbabwe suffered a genocide which targeted mostly the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces in the 1980s; to this day, survivors and families of victims still call out for reparations, peace, healing, justice and reconciliation but are constantly blocked and even harassed and arrested by the same government.
The Government of Zimbabwe does not brook any reprimand, is averse to being held to account and seems not to believe in the primacy of the citizens in the governance matrix and is why often times, it resorts to rule by force and manipulation.
Its character has emerged as that of a predatory state whose interest is amassing obscene monetary wealth and hiding it abroad; buying luxury cars and houses whilst ordinary citizens wallow in poverty.
As a result and to put it simply, the majority of citizens have no trust and confidence in the Government because of its tendencies of relegating citizens to spectators in the running of the affairs of the country.
As Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, we advance the point that ordinary Zimbabweans must not be loaded with debt obligations through a process which does not involve them. Carrying out an opaque dialogue process, shrouded in secrecy under the guise of resolving a national debt crisis will not help get this much needed confidence and trust from the citizens.
The current framing of the Structured Dialogue Platform seems to entrench the very undemocratic idea of relegating citizens to spectators in processes that seek to determine their future and the future of their country.
To succeed, the AfDB needs to seriously consider these historical realities and work towards getting the confidence and trust of citizens. This will not happen if compensation cherry-picks some and leaves out others.
Another worrying question then revolves around what enforcement mechanisms the Structured Dialogue Platform has to ensure the Zimbabwean government abides by its agreements. The lessons from the previous Lima Plan of 2015 and its eventual demise must never be lost.
C. What therefore must be done?
As we have previously highlighted in our Civil Society Framework on the Resolution of the Zimbabwe Crisis, the region and the international community have a duty to assist Zimbabwe return to full norm compliance in modern statecraft. To do this, the Zimbabwe Government must be assisted to:
Implement comprehensive electoral, social, economic and political reforms. Such reforms must be undergirded by a firm commitment on the part of the Government of Zimbabwe to return to political legitimacy and the restoration of constitutionalism.
Ensure a functional devolved constitutional state where the declaration of rights should be the cornerstone of economic, social and political development with a political system built on a free and fair electoral system and a competitive multi-party system to strengthen the social contract and Governmental legitimacy. Legitimacy is a cornerstone of national rehabilitation and reconstruction in Zimbabwe.
To carry out meaningful dialogue and ensure that it results in a sustainable resolution of the country’s challenges, it is only apparent that the Government of Zimbabwe must commit to creating a conducive environment that will allow stakeholders to freely share ideas on transitional alternatives.
A conducive environment is a crucial confidence and trust building step in the national dialogue and effectively means that Zimbabwe must immediately undertake to:
End torture, abductions and enforced disappearances, murder, rape and maiming civilians by the military, state security agents and vigilante groups.
Decriminalize the work of civic society and end the continued persecution and arbitrary arrests of civic society leaders, trade unionists and political opposition leaders. It is also critical that the Government ensures the release of all political prisoners.
Ensure that peace and human security prevail to allow for all stakeholders to freely express their views on the national dialogue process.
Stop attempts at weakening the Constitution through amendments meant to further interests of individuals.
Promote fair media coverage for all stakeholders and allow divergent views to be shared on all media platforms; this is especially critical for the state-controlled media.
The dialogue process itself must have the following benchmarks:
Involve all stakeholders; relegating dialogue to a few political and international elites risks producing an elite pact that is in dissonance with the citizen’s interests.
It must involve a national visioning process that has all stakeholders - civil society, government, political parties, business, religious groups and labour unions among other critical stakeholders. In this regard, we call for full consultation of all stakeholders rather than cosmetic elite processes.
The process should produce a clearly timed roadmap, with clear milestones; it must also involve the demilitarisation of civilian political processes and the restoration of normalcy by focusing on key political, economic and social reforms.
We reiterate our clarion call for the government to uphold a legal system that protects the fundamental liberties, equality before the law, respect of property rights and the rule of law and the curbing of patronage and corruption. In line with this, is to create a national value system based on Ubuntu. Politicians and bureaucrats must be subjected to a high standard of professionalism, accountability and the law. Without upholding a constitutional democracy and the rule of law, any efforts at resolving the Zimbabwe crisis are bound to fail, especially within the context of Southern Africa’s evolving geo-politics in the 21st century.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition