Zimbabwe crisis continues to deepen

The Zimbabwean 2008 Presidential election results were finally announced on May 2, 2008 – 33 days after the election date. The outcome gave Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)’s Morgan Tsvangirai a 4.7% lead over President Robert Mugabe of the Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) who has ruled the country since independence 28 years ago. With none of the candidates garnering a majority win, defined as 50% plus one vote, the stage is now set for a run-off, which the Zimbabwe Elections Commission (ZEC) announced today (15/05/08) will now be held within 90 and not 21 days as expressly provided for in Zimbabwean laws- that means that the runoff could be held any time up to July 31, 2008. This is same Act provides for an extension with the ‘approval of the Minister of Legal and Parliamentary affairs’. In the unique case of Zimbabwe today where Parliament and Cabinet were dissolved on April 28, 2008 such an approval by a ‘former Minister’ who is also actively campaigning for one of the contesting parties- ZANU-PF becomes highly suspect. Meanwhile MDC has, after the initial reluctance, now indicated that it will contest but on condition that there are guarantees of free and fair elections with international observers accredited to observe the elections. ZANU PF has since dismissed such calls indicating that no new demands can be made on an election process that has already started. In their view that would be changing the rules of the game mid stream.  

The delay in announcing the election date is particularly worrying given the increasing reports of politically motivated violence amidst accusations and counter accusations between the rival parties. There is increasingly a possibility for thugs to take advantage of the situation to attack innocent citizens using the names of one party or the other. Regardless of the perpetrators of the violence, it is largely the ordinary people who are already living in poverty that are victims and that must be condemned.  

ZANU PF seems to have started its Presidential runoff campaign even before the results were officially announced. The public media is awash with documentaries about the war of liberation as well as interviews with different figures such as the late Father Zimbabwe, Dr Joshua Nkomo. The Chief Executive Officer of the public television station was relieved of his duties on May 14, 2008 on allegations that he failed to manage the campaign media strategy in the harmonized elections. The message is clearly that the victory of President Mugabe would be defense for hard won sovereignty. The campaign message is however void of any strategies to comprehensively address the current multi faceted crises except to it all on the ‘sanctions.’ 

In the meantime the economic and social crises have continued to worsen and would be the main challenge for whoever will emerge the new president of the Republic of Zimbabwe. In his Monetary Policy statement at the end of April 2008, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe liberalized the exchange rate which had been fixed at ridiculously low rates for over a year. Overnight the official value of Zimbabwean dollar moved from Z$30 000 to Z$160 million to US$1, two weeks down the line the rate has softened to over Z$220 million. Reading between the lines, the main objective seems to be the desire to mobilize foreign exchange reserves to settle the huge debts that the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (and the government) has amassed ‘forced’ borrowings from the exporters, Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) and other holders of free funds. These groups have since January 2008 been struggling to access own funds kept by the central bank with the Commercial banks only showing ‘mirror balances’. The Reserve Bank is offering the following options for affected clients sell their foreign exchange balances to the Reserve Bank at the market determined interbank rate or for free fund holders maintain the balances for as long as they wish.

The main motivation is for foreign currency holders to opt to receive the Zimbabwean dollar equivalents- which can be easily printed as higher and higher denominations of bearer cheques. The highest today is a $500 million note with up to Z$50 billion special bearer cheques for the Agricultural sector. The government has also suspended import duty on essential commodities to encourage individual imports to compliment national efforts. While welcome, the negative direct and immediate implications of these policies are a surge in inflation that is currently beyond 200 000%. The majority of Zimbabweans without access to the foreign currency are on the receiving end when all prices are now indexed on the United States dollar and revised accordingly as the rates soften. The below average harvest for the 2007/8 agricultural year will further worsen the situation as the country has less than a third of its food requirements. It is also being assumed that the devaluation will result in a massive inflow of foreign currency resources into the official coffers but this may not be necessarily true. There is a strong possibility that the new liberalized rates may not be sustainable for Zimbabwe which is a net importer of a range of critical products ranging from food, energy, essential medical supplies to productive implements.

On the social front the public service delivery system is fast collapsing. The schools that were officially opened for the second term on April 29, 2008 are seriously under staffed due to a combination of factors. Teachers have resigned en mass due to the difficult working conditions. In some areas there are allegations that the teachers who were involved in the monitoring of harmonized March elections are primary targets of politically motivated violence and they have left their stations. The same can be said of the health delivery system and government administrative departments. The private sector on the other hand has responded by increasing user fees to remain afloat pushing their services beyond the reach of majority poor.

For the generality of the people of Zimbabwe their main wish is the resolution of the Presidency question. Change is inevitable but the wait is causing untold anxiety. Moreover it is a fact that united MDC forms the majority in both Houses (Parliament & Senate) and should ZANU PF win the Presidency it would have a mammoth task to govern as an opposition party. On the other hand should MDC win the Presidency it too would have to contend with a strong, more experienced opposition party in its governance?  Whatever the final outcome, the Zimbabwean electorate is hoping for better economic, social and political prospects that would over time restore Zimbabwe’s fundamentals.

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