Two days before Zimbabwe celebrated 39 years since independence in April, citizens received an unwanted early birthday present: the cost of a loaf of bread doubled. It was yet another sign the country is sinking into an uncontrollable financial crisis that the relatively new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, appears unable to solve.
When Mnangagwa took over in November 2017, ousting his ageing mentor Robert Mugabe, who had been there from the very beginning in 1980, he sought to show that he would do things differently, particularly in relation to the long-stricken economy.
“Zimbabwe,” he said, “is open for business.” When elections were held last year, Mnangagwa sought endorsements from the white farmers who Mugabe always rallied his base against to reaffirm his grip on power. Mnangagwa sought better relations, too, with some sections of the business community who expected the post-Mugabe administration to adopt a more liberal economics.
Instead, 18 months later, critics say it’s been more of the same—more of Mugabe’s perilous, ideology-first approach on farming and commerce, combined with a brutal crackdown when the crisis leads to protests. In January, when demonstrators railed against the government’s 150 per cent fuel price hike, security forces, including the army, went door to door, raiding homes and, in some instances, assaulting those suspected of looting shops. Courts were packed with activists charged with subversion and hundreds of citizens accused of petty crimes, among them children and the elderly.
But even January’s crackdown hasn’t stopped the grumblings of discontent. Anger against the rise of basic prices is simmering. Civil servant unions recently negotiated a 29 per cent raise relieving the government, the country’s largest employer, of the threat of a mass strike. But as the government raised salaries, inflation also rose. In March year-on-year inflation surged to 66.8 per cent, up from 59.4 per cent the previous month.
Inevitably, this stirred social tensions putting the government at odds with businesses and hard-hit citizens. Vice-president Constantino Chiwenga, the general who led the army’s toppling of Mugabe, issued a chilling warning against price hikes accusing businesses of practicing “financial terrorism.” Instead of the government addressing the core economic issues, it holds up commercial bakers as financial saboteurs seeking to undermine its will.
The bakers see things differently. According to the Bakers Association of Zimbabwe,…