Viewpoint: Zimbabwe: a failed State that functions?

Is Zimbabwe a failed State that functions? The country has no smooth-running government to speak of and it is violence scarred and chaotic but, here is the surprise, it works remarkably well.

Crippling bureaucracy has, unfortunately, become embedded in the country’s soul. And crippling layers of bureaucracy invite corruption from people desperate to navigate the system or to get something done.

And corruption opens the door to organised crime and is it political violence?

There is a small, relatively quiet organised violent group that controls things in Harare, and Mbare in particular, and I find this fascinating. Everyone knows about it, but nothing is done about it.

Superficially and by reputation, Zimbabwe is a quintessential failed State.

Closer inspection of Zimbabwe’s born-again economy however, reveals a unique determination to survive and the universal resilience of the entrepreneur.

More recently it has had to face the added challenge of political violence in Harare and the countryside, invasion of Parliament by Zanu PF apparatchiks during the public hearing on the Human Rights Commission Bill and endless political disputes in the inclusive government. But, as a nation, it still works better than many of its peers in Africa and the world is wondering why.

The idea of Zimbabwe being a failed State likely would have been scoffed at several years ago.

Now, however, with political violence fuelled by long-running political disagreements in the GNU and serious economic problems, the idea is being seriously presented.

Once labelled an outpost of tyranny by the US, alongside Iran and other despotic nations, the West has recommended that Zimbabwe should be monitored alongside erstwhile friends Libya and Iran as a “weak and failing” State that could crumble swiftly under relentless assault by political violence.

As things stand at the moment, the GNU is not confronting dangerous criminality — instead it is fighting for its survival against violent party apparatchiks and could lose effective control over large swaths in the countryside.

It’s an intriguing argument.

Central government is so weak or ineffective that it has little practical control over much of its territory; non-provision of public services; widespread corruption and criminality; refugees and involuntary movement of populations; and sharp economic decline.

On the 2008 “Failed States Index” published by Fund for Peace, Zimbabwe was ranked third with the number one slot being held by Somalia, followed by Sudan.

This year, it has slipped to position 6.

Despite the power-sharing agreement between Zanu PF and the MDCs, Zimbabwe remains a highly unstable country, suffering from government repression, disputed elections, and poor economic performance.

The power-sharing agreement has been undermined by arrests and intimidation of political leaders from other parties.

The failure to fully implement the power-sharing agreement, and satisfactorily devolving power to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC, has severely undermined the government’s credibility.

Zanu PF has been accused of continuing to use Zimbabwe’s State security apparatus as a political tool to intimidate and harass their political opponents, and the former ruling party is actively working to reconsolidate control, despite the existing power-sharing deal.

As a result, the GNU has failed to create a friendlier business environment, capable of luring émigrés home and attracting foreign investment necessary to help improve the economy.

Corruption and human rights abuses have become widespread throughout Zimbabwe, and alleged human rights abusers continue to enjoy impunity from justice because of who is it they support — politically.

However, there is no doubt the consummation of the inclusive government brought about signs of improvement, according to Fund for Peace.

Zimbabwe’s legitimacy of the State improved for the second year in a row, reflecting the MDC parties’ continued presence in government, says the Fund for Peace.

But, the Human Rights score decreased, as the Kimberley Process cleared Zimbabwe for diamond exports, and the score remains high due to reported continuing repression and human rights abuses.

Factionalised elites score worsened, indicating the intense power struggle between Zanu PF and MDC-T while Zimbabwe’s External Intervention score increased due to dependence on foreign aid and the need for external diplomatic pressure to enforce the power-sharing agreement.

Zimbabwe’s population is extremely poor, though recent economic improvements have marginally improved food security.

The country has one of the highest HIV/Aids prevalence rates in the world, along with a significant population of Aids orphans.

Zimbabwe also suffers from a substantial population of refugees and internally-displaced persons as a result of internal and external conflicts.

Yet, political leaders continue to fight at the feeding trough without due regard to what is affecting the majority!


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