By James Mott
Roughly 2,000 protesters took to the streets of Harare in protest against Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, the first protest in several years. Earlier that week, a judge on Zimbabwe’s High Court ruled that police “should not interfere” with the planned march, led by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The protests come after worsening inflation, scores of lost jobs, and accusations of Mugabe’s government siphoning 15 billion dollars of state funds into personal accounts. The protests are being led by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the primary opposition party to Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), which dominates both houses of parliament.
The march comes as a surprise, as previous public marches have been denied by the High Court, presumably under pressure from Mugabe’s executive. However, many Zimbabweans have begun to turn against the government as economic pressure begins to impact the middle-class. MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu quipped that he wouldn’t be “surprised if some disgruntled and unhappy members of [ZANU] who are disgruntled by the way the economy is being mismanaged join us [in protesting]”.
An upcoming deadline for the “indigenization” of Zimbabwe’s economy could spark more protests in the future. Under the plan, all foreign firms must meet a 51 percent benchmark of local ownership, or have their assets seized. Such a move would drive foreign direct investment out of Zimbabwe and into the nearby states of Botswana and Zambia, both with economies massively outperforming Harare’s closely controlled economy. With Zimbabwe’s economy still in a deep recession since 2013, it is foreseeable that protests could increase in attendance and frequency as the economy worsens.
An interesting dynamic to the protests is the role of remittances and the Zimbabwean diaspora. It is estimated that over a billion in USD is sent to Zimbabwean citizens, and so far have failed to produce any noticeable changes in their economy. The role of remittances could both prolong and quell protests – if families are able to survive on weakened wages bolstered by remittances, many won’t risk their jobs to protest. However, if remittances fail to provide an effective enough supplement to most individuals’income, then there will be sufficient motivation for individuals to protest.