(Another) Humanitarian Crisis Emerging In Zimbabwe

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(Another) Humanitarian Crisis Emerging In Zimbabwe

Cash shortages leading central bank to print money to finance the budget

Zimbabwe is facing an economic and humanitarian crisis in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic that may make the rest of the world’s problems pale in comparison.The Southern African nation has had its fair share of economic and political crises in the 21st century, with former President and colonial liberator Robert Mugabe running the economy into the ground and making a mockery of the political system. It all began with his seizure of white-owned farms in the early 2000s, followed by the collapse of the Zimbabwean Dollar and subsequent move to use the US Dollar as legal tender over a decade ago.

A new dawn of democracy?

After Mugabe’s sacking in a 2017 coup d’état, Mugabe’s 30-year reign came to an end and the current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, took the reigns. Mnangagwa promised economic reform in the country, reduced corruption and to serve all citizens, while also maintaining Mugabe’s post-2000 land reforms. He has also made calls for the nation to be reintegrated into the international community, having been shunned from several international organisations and subsequently facing sanctions from places such as the United States and European Union.Sadly, a new era for Zimbabwe appeared to turn into business as usual, with Mnangagwa being the subject of an assassination attempt in 2018, following the removal of members of his cabinet, as well as the looting of goods being sold by street vendors who claimed that life was better under Mugabe. In early 2019, fuel protests scoured the country further after the announcement that prices would rise by 130% in order to reduce oil smuggling.

An emerging crisis

Now, more than a year later, with a tumultuous global landscape grabbing all the headlines, many may be fooled by the fact that Zimbabwe is doing comparatively well, because it has only 37 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (according to Johns Hopkins University) and just four deaths to date. However, its healthcare system’s capacity to deal with any outbreak at all is apparently non-existent, with reports circulating that nurses at Zimbabwe’s biggest hospital, Parirenyatwa, are wearing bed sheets as an alternative form of Personal Protective Equipment.And Zimbabwe are neighbours to the worst affected country on the continent, South Africa, who currently have 12,739 confirmed cases. And it probably makes things a lot worse with the South African government allegedly deporting Zimbabwean citizens (including prison inmates) yesterday.
Sadly though, the real story of the Zimbabwean crisis lies in the economic catastrophe that the coronavirus is causing. According the Financial Post, inflation has soared to 676.39% since Mnangagwa’s government made the decision to move back to the Zimbabwean dollar, which resulted in cash shortages. And now the central bank plans to circulate higher denotation bank notes of 10 and 20 Zimbabwean Dollar ($0.80) notes, while the previous highest denotation was the 5 Zimbabwean Dollar note.This breaks the central bank’s promise not to print money to finance the budget, which was the same mistake it made in the early 2000s, leading to the country’s initial economic collapse.And yet, even worse than the economic crisis is the de facto military junta taking place in the country, which more closely resembles Idi Amin’s brutal dictatorship in Uganda than Mugabe’s authoritarian government.
Some may even suggest that this resembles Zimbabwe’s darkest days, defined by cruel political assassinations under the rule of former Prime Minister Ian Smith, when it was still called the state of Rhodesia. The consequence of those actions was the 15 year long Rhodesian Bush War that resulted in over 20,000 civilian casualties.
It is estimated that between three and five million Zimbabweans currently reside in South Africa (which is about a third of Zimbabwe’s 2018 estimate of the entire population residing within its borders), so this crisis could be just as big a crisis for our country as it will be for Zimbabwe itself. And while the entire world is preoccupied with the coronavirus epidemic, we need to turn our attention to what’s going on in Zimbabwe before it’s too late.
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