Zimbabwe's Monetary Death Spiral

Riot police watch a man with a Zimbabwean flag over his shoulders saluting during a protest in Harare.

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President Mnangagwa’s pledge that Zimbabwe is “open for business” rings hollow. Indeed, many businesses in Zimbabwe are shuttered. An increase in government-controlled fuel prices over the weekend has ignited simmering fury over what is, in fact, a currency crisis. In response, Zimbabwe’s security forces have launched a violent crackdown on protestors and opposition politicians. The crackdown has been done under the cover of a social media blackout. Yes, the internet is shuttered, too.

In a sense, the only thing new in this uprising is President Mnangagwa himself. Recall that it was he who organized a coup that removed the long-serving, strongman Robert Mugabe from power in 2017. This was followed by what many claims was a rigged election by the Mugabe-Mnangagwa ruling ZANU-PF party. Rigged or not, the election gave Mnangagwa’s Presidency the patina of legitimacy.

Now, a new dawn has arrived. Zimbabweans realize that Mnangagwa is simply Mugabe in a new suit and with new rhetoric. The reality is one in which the economy is controlled by what in essence is an organized criminal syndicate: the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party—the same syndicate that has run Zimbabwe into the ground for over 35 years. Zimbabweans also know through the brutal experience of two recent hyperinflations, the ZANU-PF governments are stunningly incompetent when it comes to Zimbabwe’s fiscal and monetary affairs.

During Mugabe’s 37-year reign, Zimbabwe’s economy sank. But, the decline was punctuated by several notable events and episodes. One of these was the Fast-Track Land Reform Program of 2000, under which land was seized from white farmers.

Land confiscations had been taking place since 1980, but under this particular program, the farms were taken without compensation. Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court declared the program unconstitutional, but Mugabe’s government ignored that ruling.

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