Merged in 1953 into a federation with Northern Rhodesia (today Zambia) and Nyasaland (today Malawi), in 1963 Zimbabwe (formerly Southern Rhodesia) left the federation and was renamed Rhodesia. In 1965, to sanction white supremacy and the indigenous origin of the ruling class, the segregationist regime of Ian Smith proclaimed independence from the United Kingdom in a unilateral declaration. The liberation struggle started in 1966 by the black majority and structured in two main liberation movements, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu) – both with ties and support both in the newly independent neighboring countries and in Moscow and Beijing – forced the white minority to take part in the 1979 Lancaster House Conference, organized by the United Kingdom. The agreement, reached in 1980, effectively sanctioned the end of white supremacy and the establishment of a multi-party democracy. However, the white minority was allowed to maintain a prominent position in land ownership and to have a reserved share of parliamentary seats.
According to itypeusa, the country was in fact always governed by the Zanu-Pf (Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front), a party that, at least initially, was of Marxist-Leninist orientation, and by its president Robert Mugabe. The struggle for power, especially in the first years after independence, was characterized by a close and sometimes extremely violent confrontation with Joshua Nkomo’s Zapu and with the Ndebele (or Matabele) ethnic minority. The loss of consensus that Robert Mugabe and Zanu-Pfthey experienced at the end of the nineties, sanctioned in 1999 by the victory of the ‘No’ in the constitutional referendum, interpreted as a vote of no confidence in the government, gave way to a radical agrarian reform, to the persecution of the opposition – starting by the Movement for Democratic Change (Mdc) led by Morgan Tsvangirai – and the president’s use of increasingly heated anti-Western (primarily anti-British) rhetoric. These elements have plunged the country into a spiral of economic crisis, international isolation, internal violence and authoritarian involution.
The launch of a national unity government in February 2009 seemed to have partly reversed the trend, even if many questions remained open that did not yet allow Zimbabwe to be considered out of the impasse. In 2013, Mugabe and Tsvangirai reached an agreement on the new Constitution, allowing elections to take place, which reconfirmed the outgoing president and which were criticized by the MDCand by the international community for allegations of fraud, as well as intimidation and controlled votes, especially in the countryside (a huge number of voters were declared ‘illiterate’ and therefore in need of assistance on the vote). There are therefore signs of political instability that could be violently triggered by a sudden disappearance of the president. Mugabe, born in 1924, is Africa’s oldest leader and one of the longest-lived in power (from 1980 to 1987 as prime minister and from 1987 to today as president). In the absence of a possible (and credible) successor, his departure from the scene could trigger a power struggle and plunge the country into a generalized crisis.
Zimbabwe’s international relations are influenced by what has happened in the last ten years: President Mugabe and some leading figures of the Zanu-Pf have been hit by economic sanctions and the ban on travel to Europe and the United States (although recently many measures against Mugabe ‘s entourage were revoked). The formation of the national unity government had led to an improvement in relations with international donors, again compromised by the irregularities of the last elections. The European Union, the USA, the United Kingdom, the African Union and the SADC countries have had an extremely troubled relationship with the leadership of Harare. Over time, international organizations have fluctuated between the imposition and maintenance of sanctions and a more possible and lukewarm policy, in which sanctions have been lifted in exchange for the commitment to respect certain conditions. This is the most recent position of the European institutions, which signed an agreement with the Mugabe government in February 2015 to finance some socio-economic programs. Over the years, the elderly dictator has skilfully juggled the various international interlocutors, necessary yet uncomfortable, in fact managing to take advantage of the possibilities offered by openings and loosening.
Over time, international isolation has led to a rapprochement with some partners, such as Mu’ammar Gaddafi’s Libya (the rais he had perhaps hypothesized his own exile in Zimbabwe) and Malaysia, which allowed the regime to survive. Relations with China have also become more intense: Beijing has negotiated agreements with Mugabe for the exploitation of the country’s huge mineral wealth (in particular gold and diamonds), ensuring the influx of foreign currency and the supply of weapons, necessary for repression. The country is now the main destination for Chinese investments on the African continent and in the last five years it has received loans from Beijing for a total amount of over one billion dollars. In recent times, relations with Russia have also improved, above all thanks to Moscow’s investments (3 billion dollars) in the mining sector.
Mugabe also pledged to re-establish good relations with international financial institutions, to which Zimbabwe owes $ 1.8 billion. The International Monetary Fund has concluded negotiations for the implementation of a public finance assistance program, which however does not provide for further loans. On the occasion of the first review of this program, the IMF recognized some progress made in the restructuring of state finances.
Relations with the countries of southern Africa and in particular with South Africa are complex. Although many presidents of neighboring countries are linked to the leading members of the Zanu-Pf and directly to Mugabe by a political solidarity that dates back to the era of the liberation struggles and which is difficult to cancel, within the Sadc the condemnation of of the repressive methods used by the Zanu-Pf, the concern about the deterioration of the social and economic situation of the country has become more evident. The solution of the government of national unity was found within the Sadc. The changeover between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma as president of South Africa has resulted in a more decisive stance by Pretoria, on which some of Zimbabwe’s strategic supplies depend. Despite this, the Sadc endorsed the 2013 elections, judging them credible, albeit in the presence of some irregularities. The allegations of fraud, together with the political stalemate around the thorniest issues (debate on agrarian reform, appointment of governors of the M dc, law on indigenization – which provides for the transfer of economic activities to black Zimbabweans without any financial compensation – and internal security) have limited the government of national unity to a political management aimed at ensuring the provision of essential services. These accusations have fueled protest movements that have paralyzed institutional processes, eliminating the possibility that the government would initiate substantial reforms.