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Do not fund our oppression: Patson Dzamara

By Patson Dzamara

Zimbabwe is on the threshold of change. The ruling ZANU PF party, in power for the last 36 years, is crumbling.

Dr Patson Dzamara (Picture by Mail & Guardian
Dr Patson Dzamara (Picture by Mail & Guardian

Abandoned by its friends, out of money, and tearing itself apart through a fierce factional battle over who should succeed President Robert Mugabe when the 92-year old eventually dies, the regime is on the brink of collapse.

Zimbabweans are rising up in their thousands. We are fed up with ZANU PF’s dictatorship which has wiped out our savings and makes a basic living impossible. But just at this crucial juncture, it seems that the international community is about to throw a lifeline to the corrupt and violent regime that has held us captive in our own country for decades.

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Protests are occurring on an almost daily basis across Zimbabwe, as formal unemployment has skyrocketed and the state stifles the informal sector that keeps our desperate brothers and sisters alive. The rise of social media has allowed a strategic, principled, non-violent and non-partisan movement to emerge almost spontaneously.

The mass citizen-led movement has helped to push the splintered opposition towards a forming grand coalition. Last week, 18 opposition political parties joined forces for a demonstration to push for electoral reform.

The regime – which knows only violence and purchased loyalty – dismisses the rising tide of anger as “popcorn protests” even as it marshals the full might of the military to try and suppress them.

Internally, ZANU PF is at war with itself. The denunciation of Mugabe by a group of war veterans who were his most reliable support base has further plunged the party into crisis.

To this point, a facade of unity was perhaps maintained by the threat of an external enemy – the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. But through political manoeuvring, the use of violence, intimidation and patronage it had largely overcome these.

But these tactics are proving inadequate against the new wave of protests.

With the potency of fear weakening across the country, the regime’s only other tool to buy support – patronage and access to resources – is no longer available. The nation’s coffers are empty. The country is bankrupt.

Diamond revenues – which vanished almost as soon as they were created – have now dried up.  The Chinese government has stopped providing condition-free loans. The military has now gone unpaid for months and some soldiers have joined the protests.

This is the weakest the regime has ever been. And this is the closest we have yet come to freeing ourselves from its kleptocratic and violent rule.

And this is why we are deeply concerned about the apparent decision by the international community to facilitate the restructuring of Zimbabwe’s debt to allow new loans to the regime.

The government has racked up almost $7 billion in debt. In 1999, it stopped paying its debts and so cannot borrow any more money. It desperately wants to make a deal that would clear its arrears – some $1.8 billion in total – thus removing the main obstacle preventing new loans from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and African Development Bank. If news reports are correct, the process of clearing the outstanding debt is almost complete and the regime looks likely to receive a major financial boost.

A Cairo-based bank, the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and Lazard, an international asset management and financial advisory firm, have apparently reached a deal to mobilise $1.1 billion in additional loans to repay the outstanding debt to the World Bank.

Once the arrears are cleared, Zimbabwe will be able to borrow from the IMF, the African Development Bank and the World Bank. Reports are that these institutions will be meeting in a month to approve other aspects of the debt payment plan, laying the basis for funds from these institutions to flow once more into the regime’s coffers.

It’s not clear what has suddenly changed and why this has influenced the renewed interest in funding Zimbabwe.

The IMF seems to think that the government has taken steps to “rationalize public expenditures” and to “restore confidence in the financial sector.” The African Development Bank writes in its memo supporting the arrears’ clearance deal that “the government is committed to implementing [human rights] reforms.”

Implausible as these arguments are, it seems on the face of it that the re-engagement is based on a perceived change of heart by the Mugabe regime and a commitment to change. The evidence for this is scant.

This government in the past few months has embarked on a well-documented ruthless campaign of police brutality to shut down non-violent citizen protests. The president spent a reported US$800,000 on his birthday celebrations this year, even as the World Food Programme says that over a third of Zimbabwe’s children are now stunted in growth due to malnutrition and an El Nino induced drought threatens to push millions into starvation.

The deputy president has been living in a five star hotel at a cost of US$400 a night for over a year and a half while vegetable vendors cannot scramble together a few cents to take public transport home and end up sleeping on the streets.

The proposition that the regime is restoring financial sector confidence is simply not true. The disappearance of liquidity has destroyed our financial sector. A new record was broken in July, when the trades on the stock exchange amounted to just US$105 on one day.

The regime’s latest plan to rob citizens in broad daylight through the introduction of illegal “bond notes” has already damaged public confidence in its economic logic, with even more cash disappearing from our financial markets. A similar stunt by the government led to the nation’s crippling economic crisis in 2008.

As citizens, we know we will bear the cost of the new debt being imposed on our country. And so we deserve to know what secret negotiations are being conducted and by what right the regime believes it represents us. This is because our trust in our own government is fundamentally broken.

There has been no meaningful public consultation whatsoever as all this wheeling and dealing has taken place. For the most part, Zimbabweans remain in the dark. Despite earnest ‘reassurance’ from some quarters that there are no new financing programs under discussion, the Minister of Finance and central bank governor have gone on record stating that financing deals are under way.

What are the terms and conditions for the loans? What collateral is the government offering? Where will the funds be transferred? More importantly, how will the lenders ensure that funds aren’t used to purchase arms or politicise distribution of food aid as has happened before?

Why then would these financing institutions want to strike a deal with such an obviously corrupt government?

Perhaps they are concerned that they will have to pick up the tab if Zimbabwe implodes from the ongoing crisis. But they are deeply mistaken if they think that propping up the current regime will bring stability to the country. It will impose an uneasy peace and entrench the corruption, poverty and injustice in which we have been mired for so long.

For some of us the cost of this regime’s brutality is personal.

In October 2014 my brother, the activist Itai Dzamara, began a one-man protest at Harare’s Africa Unity Square. He delivered a petition to Mugabe’s office calling on the nonagenarian president to retire. A few months later, Itai was abducted by suspected state security agents and has been missing ever since.

Local and international pressure to release Itai has been consistently ignored by the regime. This is exactly the type of horrific human rights abuse we can expect to continue if the international community perseveres with its plan to back the regime through the extension of loans to the government. Funding this government will only deepen the regime’s contempt for citizens’ legitimate demands and prolong its well overdue extinction. Maintaining status quo is simply not an option for us.

The onus of bringing freedom to Zimbabwe rests squarely on the shoulders of the Zimbabwean people. This is our struggle to win. But the least we can ask is that you do not prop up our oppressor, and saddle our children with further debt, just as we begin to gain the upper hand.

Hatichada. Hatichatya. We are fed up and we’re no longer afraid. Enough is enough.

Dr Patson Dzamara is a human rights activist living in Zimbabwe.