The news trickling out of Zimbabwe is shocking, but hardly surprising. Over the past week, thousands have taken to the streets to protest rising fuel prices, astronomical inflation and a government seemingly unwilling or unable to fix the economy of one of Africa’s poorest countries.
Making matters worse, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa blocked social media as the protest intensified. In the resulting blackout, hundreds have been arrested and further unknown numbers injured and killed.
Speaking with the government-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper this week, a spokesman for the President vowed that government action thus far was a “foretaste of things to come.”
The wave of violence comes on the heels of a massive fuel-price hike and resulting national strike. Zimbabwe’s economy has taken a recent turn for the worse as the government has in essence run out of money. Inflation is at levels – roughly 40% – not seen since the government was forced to abandon its own currency in favor of the US dollar 10 years ago.
While the government has blamed “terrorists” and members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change for the violence, few see any constructive way out. Indeed, a review of the European and American press on the crisis paints a similar picture. They have generally bemoaned the violence but have done little to place the events in a larger picture of African economic health and possible openings for change.
Perhaps this is due to fatigue over yet another failure story coming from one of Africa’s poorest nations. If we compare the coverage of the Internet blockage with the stories out of Egypt in 2011 when then-President Hosni Mubarak cut off the Web in the last days of his rule, the difference is stark.
The world was aghast at Mubarak’s audacity in taking his country offline. In Zimbabwe, however, those reports that exist at all are confined to the bottom of the world section of major media outlets.
There are, however, a couple of places that have kept a keen eye on events in Southern Africa: Beijing and Moscow. Both China and Russia have moved aggressively to court the new Mnangagwa administration. With the promise of desperately needed capital, they have found an eager partner in Zimbabwe’s new leader.
Before reviewing each country’s strategic aims in deepening relations with Mnangagwa, it is useful to consider the state of international involvement in Africa more broadly.
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