Policy Brief 3: on the Fault Lines of Good Governance Agendas in Zimbabwe

Executive summary

A Zimbabwe with a ZANU PF super-majority in Parliament presents challenges for traditional good governance agendas. The long-term interests of the elite do not lend themselves to implementation of articulations around increased accountability, strengthening the rule of law or ensuring a stronger and more transparent electoral system. These traditional approaches assume too high a level of dispersed power in fragile authoritarian contexts and, in Zimbabwe, such approaches are premised on an over-stated capacity within organised civil society to engage with and drive agendas for reform. An understanding of ZANU PF’s historical weakness in formulating economic policy applied to possible implications of the current economic downturn for the sustained use of patronage as a means of control provides interesting avenues for potential identification and reformulation of strategies to stimulate accountability and transparency in the country.

Context and importance of the problem

Zimbabwe in 2015 is a fragile state.  The nation is no longer ‘in conflict’ but that belies ongoing tensions and the possibility of violent collapse if political and economic factors combine to precipitate changes within ZANU PF. Good governance agendas in this context are thwarted by the concentration of power in the hands of a ZANU PF elite that is not interested, now or even in a succession scenario, in ensuring legislative compliance with the new 2013 Constitution or cleaning up its act to facilitate the flow of economic gains into the national fiscus (rather than party factional ‘war chests’). The social and humanitarian consequences of this strategy could be tragic. This necessitates a policy of engagement with the government but the nature of that engagement is complicated given the party-government-state triumvirate and continued decision-making by that triumvirate to worsen the plight of citizens.

On the political front ZANU PF re-established its hegemony in the 2013 elections (taking 73% of the seats in Parliament and, with the chiefs, 70% of the Senate). This gives them control of Executive, Legislative and Oversight functions within the State through the party whipping system that will dictate issues debated in Parliament and through disregard for laws and due process that are an established feature of ZANU PF governance. The party has been weakened by the late 2014 public in-fighting and the expulsion of then Vice-President Joice Mujuru and linked members of her faction known as the ‘Gamatox’ – with the reorganisation of the party at its appointive 2014 Congress. However, the factional fights within the MDCs have lessened the impact of ZANU factionalism not least through the expulsion of 21 legislators from the MDC-T and that party’s decision to boycott subsequent by-elections. This has left ZANU PF stronger, in relative terms, than its largest opposition – the MDC-T.

Potential political scenarios in the next 5 years are now dominated by speculation around ZANU PF from the succession debate through the growth of a dynastic rhetoric in the First Family to the nature and extent of reform embodied in alleged successors. Mujuru’s ZANU People First represents the strongest potential opposition force at present but timing and the impact of a loss of access to state resources will strongly influence any action this break-away group decides to undertake.

Zimbabwe is still struggling with the aftermath of the economic collapse and hyperinflation of the mid to late 2000s. The collapse of agriculture and attendant economic collapse of the economy precipitated by fast-track land reform in the absence of a programme of government support for small-scale farmers continues to undercut growth and economic diversification. The measured recovery of tobacco production is stalling due to poor quality crop, has come attendant with under cultivation of food crops and has failed to underpin reconstruction of the manufacturing sector given the adverse impact of intermittent power supply and the high cost to businesses of regulatory tariffs and corruption. At the same time, the government has been unable to take control of and harness benefits from mining and natural resource reserves in the country. The diamonds discovered in 2006 were subject to elite capture and even access to gold and other minerals is complicated by party patronage politics, land ownership and indigenisation policy vacillation. The absence of a coherent and realistic economic policy compounds these issues and as a result the period of rebound growth on the back of dollarization in 2009 has not translated into sustained economic reconstruction and private as well as public sector entities are closing or transitioning staff on to part time schedules.

The social structure of the country has shifted as a result of the ongoing informalisation of the economy undercutting the ability of opposition groupings to build support bases and conversely facilitating control of a majority poor, rural population by the state.  The growth of a labour-based groundswell of opposition in Zimbabwe began in the late 1980s as trade unionists objected to ZANU’s efforts to establish a one-party state. The protests grew in strength through the economic hardships resulting from economic structural adjustment programmes adopted in the early 1990s but first threatened the party-government-state triumvirate in 2000 when workers and citizens united to vote against a government proposed Constitution. The triumvirate response was harsh and multi-faceted. The violence of fast-track land reform, Operation Murambatsvina, recurrent exercises of control over vendors and most recent discussions around banning the import of second-hand clothes as well as introduction of duty on key input imports are a few examples. The combined result of economic collapse and repressive actions, often including targeted shifting of populations, has been the erosion of any significant middle class in Zimbabwe. There is no longer a link between the politics of survival and the politics of governance – and civil society does not bridge the gap.

The policy implications of the current situation from a good governance perspective are two-fold. The lack of political will for change combined with the ZANU PF super-majority in parliament prejudice possible gains from traditional programming. At the same time, engagement becomes a critical mechanism for identifying entry points and groups of forces within the elite that might support incremental change in areas of equal benefit for sectors of the triumvirate and coalitions from within the population.

Critique of policy option(s)

There are, in the main, two current approaches to development and democracy assistance in Zimbabwe.

The first acknowledges ZANU PF’s de facto status as the majority party in government and involves engagement and support on strategic selected issues – for example; health, education, energy and sanitation. This supply side focus on development and service delivery functions privileges the needs of citizens. While it is likely to meet challenges where government is required to sustain interventions (needing to allocate non-existent budgetary support) or, for example, work on maternal health comes up against broader failures within the health system such as the lack of doctors and nurses – in the main the approach has strengths that derive from how donors and INGOs are framing issues within government-created spaces. The use of ZimASSET as a framework for engagement in this stream of assistance enables discussion of critical issues within a discourse initiated by government.

The second approach involves a struggle to both maintain and drive innovation within traditional governance, democracy and human rights assistance programming. The challenge with a policy premised on the role and power of civil society organisations is that this sector within Zimbabwe has stagnated and is weaker than is often understood in the wake of agenda-creep issues and repressive repercussions derivative of the ‘Zimbabwe Crisis (2000-2009)’. As a result, it is difficult to identify organisations with a strong enough national mandate or a realistic evidence-based grasp on the constraints of the context and, to work with those groupings to map key stakeholders and begin to build engagement strategies and cross-sectoral bridges that bring power to bear on the issues confronted by citizens.

The challenge is how to link the democracy-building agenda with the developmental agenda.  How do you build accountability by strengthening parliament in a situation where an authoritarian regime controls the House and issues raised within it? The same regime has a history of applying the rule of law on an ad-hoc pursuance of party interests basis which undercuts the oversight role of both Parliament and the Judiciary. A final stream of programming might look to build capacity and transparency in the electoral system. This will be difficult when the legislative basis for such reform sits with a loaded parliament and the necessary fiscal and operational independence of the electoral management body are determined by key Ministries rather than a constitutional order that operates in a de jure manner.

Policy recommendations

The work of strengthening and establishing frameworks to underpin good governance in any fragile setting is a long term project.  In many cases, the impetus to begin to look at win-win situations is an unpredictable combination of winds of change and the culmination of many forms of work to build bridges across and between groups and, with those who have power.  In the case of Zimbabwe work could begin on both fronts through conscious efforts to understand and frame assistance within the politics of the day. A key shift in the situation in 2015 is the rapid deflationary downturn of the economy. There is now a greater supply of goods (less and less of which are produced in Zimbabwe) than there is demand for goods and the knock-on effects of the inflated public service wage bill threaten the gains, legitimate or otherwise, of 2013 for the ZANU PF elite. What could this mean in terms of policy shifts?

On the supply side, the economy remains an entry point simply because it continues to shrink ZimASSET – fable-like though it is as a policy – is an increasingly strong point of traction. It will be important to understand and explore possible short-term localised areas for gain in terms of job creation, service delivery and the rhetoric of empowerment. At the same time, it will be important for international donors and the international financial institutions to hold the government to milestones for support and debt relief in order to lock in gains while finding avenues through which to support work between government and sectors within society.

On the demand side, work to build the capacity of organised civil society and citizens to articulate and frame the links between civil, political and socio-economic rights will highlight the connections between groups and sectors.  This work should be supported by capacity development on analysis, stakeholder mapping and how to build bridges between groups on issues that affect all stakeholders. It is important for democracy assistance to foster the thinking behind, articulation of and process flows that encourage alternative routes to social, political and economic progress. The small gains in trust or economic benefit derived from thinking and acting together can be used as building blocks for further engagement if donors and citizens recognise the importance of work across sectors, in particular the role for business as a potential power broker.


The poverty of politics in fragile contexts brings economic issues to the fore. This is always the case for citizens and is often the case for governments. Zimbabwe, and in particular the ruling party-government-state triumvirate, is on a slippery economic slope in mid-2015 that will only be exacerbated by a predicted drought in the 2015/16 agricultural season. This situation opens up entry points for engagement on issues and areas that can be used to build win-win scenarios that contribute to sustainable social change pathways.

Recommended Reading

African Development Bank, Zimbabwe Economic Outlook: 2015

Bratton, Michael and Eldred Masunungure. “The Anatomy of Political Predation: Leaders, Elites and Coalitions in Zimbabwe, 1980-2010”. Development Leadership Program, Research Paper No 9, January 2011

Christopher Clapham. Past legacies and the challenge of transition in Africa: From Liberation Movement to Government. The Brenthurst Foundation (2012)

International Crisis Group. Zimbabwe: Waiting for the Future. Africa Briefing No 103. 29 September 2014. Available here,

Kanyenze G: The Zimbabwean Economy: Public lecture at SAPES, 22 July 2014

Research and Advocacy Unit. Report on the conditions for the 2013 Harmonised Elections Derek Matyszak & Tony Reeler Senior Researchers. August 2013 available here.

Zimbabwe Democracy Institute’ Civil Society Reflection Process – Conference Report’ by Innocent Chirisa. March 2015

Zimbabwe’s Shifting Social Base: Colossal Challenge for Civil Society. Pact Brief No. 2014/2 – 16 May 2014

Global Witness. Financing a Parallel Government? The involvement of the secret police and military in Zimbabwe’s diamond, cotton and property sectors. June 2012. Available here.

Murisa, T. Prospects for Political Mobilisation in Present-day Zimbabwe. September 2014.

Raftopoulos, Brian. Zimbabwean Politics in the Post 2013 Elections Period: The Constraints of ‘Victory’. Solidarity Peace Trust, June 2014.
ZimASSET – Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-economic Transformation – available here.

Alexander is an independent development professional and political analyst. A Zimbabwean Rhodes Scholar with an MPhil in Development Studies from Oxford and an undergraduate degree from Harvard University, her areas of specialisation include democratisation, governance, and conflict management.

Alexander has moved from work on Transitional Justice in central and east Africa through managing Idasa's States in Transition Observatory to leading Idasa's Measuring and Monitoring Democracy strategic team. She recently managed the Web Index for the World Wide Web Foundation, and has co-edited the books A Fine Balance: Assessing the Quality of Governance in Botswana and Peace in the Balance: The Crisis in Sudan.

To read publications by Karin Alexander on our website please click here.

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