JOHANNESBURG – It’s only the third week of 2019, and instead of a January of hope for Zimbabwe – with a country open for business after an economically depressed 2018 – every day there is more bad news, with the latest being the fuel price protests. And Zimbabwe is again hogging the limelight, and for all the wrong reasons.
But who is surprised that Zimbabweans – ordinary people in the street – have been forced to shut-down the country, spill on to the streets and protest. I mean, R45 for a litre of petrol?
The crisis came as no surprise.
Newspapers, radio stations, the TV stations and social media have been awash with reportage on the crisis, which intensified late last year.
For the thousands of Zimbabweans working in South Africa and driving to Zimbabwe for the December holidays – the butt of the common joke was over how many litres in jerry cans of diesel or petrol that one was going to carry for the annual break and holiday.
That is, if you did not want to spend two weeks or more stuck with your car, sleeping in the queues at the petrol stations, waiting for bulk suppliers to deliver to the pumps.
It’s a ridiculous situation, by any measure, to find oneself in, you and your family stuck in a fuel queue.
The question is whether the trade unions and the opposition politicians have the power and stamina to sustain the current protests, as it is unclear if this is a spontaneous uprising by angry masses.
Will the protests force immediate solutions and concessions from the ruling Zanu-PF government?
Is there a united organisational structure organising the anger of the Zimbabweans – and for which the government has already accused the mysterious third force of fanning the violence on the streets?
Genuine dialogue between all parties is desperately needed.
The country’s image has taken another beating.
If you are a Zimbabwean ambassador for investment, how does an investor take you seriously to promote tourism, industrialisation, transport and logistics, among others if there is no fuel to power the wheels of the economy?
Apart from basic things like diesel and petrol, Zimbabwe suffers from shortages – all the time. Cooking oil, mealie meal, bread, soap, sugar, stationery, basic groceries are extremely difficult to find, as the shops are empty.
There is no medicine in the hospitals, the roads are full of potholes, municipalities collapsed years ago, sewage systems are blocked, there is no water in the taps, Harare and Bulawayo can go for months without water or electricity.
Life in Zimbabwe is like that. No Coca-Cola, no beer, no Christmas cheer.
So fuel alone is just one story.
At least 90 percent of Zimbabweans are unemployed, the economy itself is largely an informal economy.
But the biggest problem with Zimbabwe today is the shortage of one thing that makes everything work. Money.
In all its forms, money does make things happen. There is no money in the banks and people have been sleeping in bank queues for months on end. It is normal in Zimbabwe to speak about, and agree that the country is broke, and move on to another subject.
This without even trying to elaborate on issues such as currency reserves, supply and demand, taxation, revenues, sectoral economics and so on, including global forces.
Zimbabwe does not have its own currency and the experiment with the multi-currency system has failed spectacularly.
Every newspaper in Zimbabwe had a laugh last week when vice-president (former) General Constantino Chiwenga told pesky journalists off, bluntly saying that “Zimbabwe does not manufacture US dollars…”
The long-term solutions to Zimbabweans economic dilemma is not immediately clear, but increasing the price of fuel was always going to backfire.
Previously, many of the debates of the exact causes of the economic, political and social problems always ended up placing the problem – and the blame – at the policies of former president Robert Mugabe.
But it is now 14 months since Mugabe was toppled, and in came President Emmerson Mnangagwa with “the ease of doing business in Zimbabwe” and the much-publicised “Zimbabwe is open for business” slogan.
It is now very clear that Zimbabwe is not open for business.
The schools are closed, the banks are closed, the transport system has collapsed, everyone has shut shop and ordinary Zimbabweans are on the streets, protesting that things are at their all time worst.
What Zimbabwe today signifies is a far cry from what was once the bread basket of the sub-region, growing enough grain and producing enough meat, not only to feed itself, but for export.
Instead of Zimbabwe today, 38 years after independence from colonial rule, leading the African discussion of global affairs and futuristic developments, it is gasping for international relief and looking to the Russians for help.
Mnangagwa’s trip to Russia, which began on Monday, was planned before the protests erupted.
He’s also scheduled to visit Kazakhstan, Belarus and Azerbaijan before flying to Davos, Switzerland, in an effort to raise investment for the economically blighted nation.
How is he going to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders of the free markets at Davos that Zimbabwe is open for business, when all that we see on television is closed businesses, a broken society, and where basic freedoms like internet and communication can be switched on and off by military securocrats?
Zimbabwe to this day and age is stuck, arguing about simple and basic survival issues like providing bread and butter to the tables of Zimbabweans.
Jobs, security, a functional economy, food and hope for the future are nothing short of pipe dreams.
If you cannot get your basic economics right, how does one hope to attract foreign investment to one’s country?
Despite all these woes, hopefully Mnangagwa can convince the world to invest in Zimbabwe and much publicised mega deals do materialise, which are not just hot air and empty promises.
Kenneth Chikanga is with the Independent Media Solutions. He is editor and publisher of