Zimbabwe | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017



Freedom Status: 
Partly Free

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Net Freedom Status: 
Partly Free

President Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) have dominated Zimbabwean politics since independence in 1980, in part by carrying out severe and often violent crackdowns against the political opposition, critical media, and other dissenters. A fragile power-sharing arrangement helped the country recover somewhat in the years after a 2008 political and economic crisis. However, in recent years the ZANU-PF has been fragmenting as politicians jockey for position to succeed the aging Mugabe. Meanwhile, the country has seen burgeoning protests over issues including rampant corruption and the deteriorating economy. 

Key Developments: 
  • Protest actions initiated by hashtag campaigns, such as #ThisFlag and #Tajamuka, began in June, including a July 6 strike that paralyzed much of the country. Police violently dispersed many demonstrations, and hundreds of protesters remained in detention at year’s end.
  • Factional fighting within the ZANU-PF over who will succeed 92-year-old president Mugabe intensified during the year, and in July, the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), previously a key ally of Mugabe, publicly withdrew its support.
  • A cash crisis had dire effects on the economy, as public-sector workers saw their salaries repeatedly delayed, and banks imposed limits on withdrawals.
  • In November, the introduction of deeply unpopular bond notes raised concerns about a return to the hyperinflation experienced about a decade earlier.
Executive Summary: 

In 2016, factional wars within the ruling ZANU-PF party intensified, contributing to a further crisis of governance within Zimbabwe. Politicians—including President Mugabe’s wife Grace Mugabe and Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa—jockeyed for position amid widespread speculation about the state of Mugabe’s health. In a surprising turn, leaders of the ZNLWVA—who had backed Mugabe since the struggle for independence—withdrew their support in July, calling Mugabe “dictatorial” and blaming him for strife across the country. Although the opposition remains weak and divided, at year’s end it came together to demand electoral reforms ahead of the 2018 elections. In December, ZANU-PF elected Mugabe as its presidential candidate for 2018.

Meanwhile, a cash crisis paralyzed the Zimbabwean economy. The crisis left the government unable to pay civil servants—who make up a significant portion of the country’s workforce—for long periods of time, and forced banks to place strict limits on cash withdrawals.

The effects of the economic crisis and other grievances prompted a wave of protests led by social movements including This Flag and Tajamuka. In response to the protests, authorities violently disbursed gatherings and arrested hundreds of people, many of whom remained in detention at year’s end. Zimbabwean activists reported that state security forces carried out threats, abductions, and torture of social-movement leaders.

In an attempt to fix the economy, the government introduced so-called bond notes in November. The unpopular move was widely regarded as a means of reintroducing the Zimbabwean dollar, which was abandoned in 2009 after the inflation rate had reached 13 billion percent the previous year. In the meantime, rampant corruption—including an unaccounted-for $15 billion in diamond revenue—as well as repercussions of land-reform policies and an unclear indigenization policy, continued to hamper economic recovery.

Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 
Political Rights: 
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