“To Remain Silent Is a Position”: A Look into the #ThisFlag citizen’s movement in Zimbabwe
From its inception in mid-April 2016, the #ThisFlag citizens’ movement has been challenging the government of Zimbabwe through social media, making demands related to the dire socioeconomic situation facing the people.
Hardships confront the majority of the country’s citizens, especially the economically active among the population who cannot afford to provide the basic necessities for their families due to unemployment, a liquidity crisis, and the maladministration of state resources.Worse still, the scant earnings of many are likely to be lost if the government goes through with a plan to introduce bond notes to cushion the financial crisis. This is a valueless medium of exchange that has previously caused many families to lose their savings and contributed to the deaths of some citizens from stress-related medical complications.
On July 4, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa was asked by the BBC whether the government was going to try to investigate the US$15 billion reportedly missing from the diamond fields, which never reached the coffers of the country’s reserve bank. He responded that the government simply considered it an economic loss. Such pronouncements by public figures give grounds for many Zimbabweans to be disappointed in their government and to join forces in demonstrating against its lack of concern in addressing corruption that is costing the country billions.
On July 6, local Zimbabweans staged a peaceful protest, organized through social media (mainly WhatApp, Facebook, and Twitter) by the #Thisflag citizen’s movement, as a means of making their voices heard by the government. The government tried to disrupt the circulation of information about the protest by blocking social media platforms and issuing a harsh warning against people who spread the word. It later disrupted the protests themselves, arresting the leader of #ThisFlag, Pastor Evan Mawarire, on July 12 on allegations of inciting violence and attempting to overthrow the current government.
Many citizens were dismayed that the government would expend great effort on disrupting the protests while failing to pay similar attention to the socioeconomic hardships resulting from its poor governance. In correspondence with the author, one protester explained his participation:
Minister Chinamasa lied on global television that Zimbabweans are happy. l took part in the stay away because I am not happy with the socio-economic situation in Zimbabwe. The government needs to refrain from shifting blame on the economic sanctions imposed by Britain and its allies. It is high time our leaders acknowledged their role in downgrading our standard of living. Are they also going to blame the missing US$15 billion on economic sanctions while the thieves continue to walk scot free and hold public office?
Zimbabweans are feeling desperate, and they badly need their government to engage with them. The hardships facing many are no longer bearable, and people wish for the government either to put its house in order or step down. Whereas the government believes the current crisis has been solely engineered by some countries in the Global North, many Zimbabweans are of the view that the collapse of the country is largely due to the draconian policies it has adopted since 2000. It has been well documented, for instance, that the Operation Clean Up program implemented in 2005 disempowered a lot of people. Overnight, hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless, and millions lost a source of income.
Similar social dislocation is likely to occur as a result of new import restrictions implemented on July 1 that largely affect the smooth operation of informal businesses, a sector that has been providing income to cushion many households from soaring unemployment and the country’s poor economic performance. The government has maintained it will not remove the restrictions because they are part of its short- to medium-term strategy to boost domestic industry, while opponents are convinced the economy of Zimbabwe will not improve by closing the border. They maintain that the government needs instead to revise restrictive policies, such as its indigenization policy, which continues to chase away foreign investors.
Good governance for the poverty-stricken citizens of Zimbabwe today lies with the ability of the government to revive the economy, attract investors, create employment, reform the security sector, ensure the accountability of public officials who exploit state resources, create a valuable currency, and provide functioning public service sectors.
Meanwhile, the situation in Zimbabwe remains very volatile, having been made worse by the government, which, instead of engaging with the people, has resorted to excessive force to disperse protestors. Many citizens are angry and frustrated with the deterioration of the country’s political and economic conditions. As one correspondent declared:
To keep quiet is to die to yourself and to fight it in the street is a risk worth taking. I know that the government security agents are likely to punish me for protesting but it is worth trying because it will potentially deliver my offspring from the poverty and socioeconomic crisis the government has plunged this country into. I am standing in solidarity with my brothers and sisters in the citizen’s movement to say #enoughisenough. We can no longer tolerate the inadequacies of our government.
The above statement provides an insight into the conversations many local Zimbabweans are engaging in as they demand for policies that can lead towards a better future. While political independence was attained in 1980, after many years of liberation struggle involving ZANU-PF and PF-ZAPU, the current movement is largely driven by the quest for progress with the nation and state-building process. It is unfortunate that conversations about the desires of the citizens regarding the Zimbabwe they wish to see in the post-independence era are constantly suppressed. It is crucial that the sense of entitlement to power by liberation-movements-turned-governments in Africa be moderated by an equally important sense of engagement with the demands of ordinary people for inclusive political and socio-economic participation to guarantee national development, unity and stability.