Zimbabwe’s economy ‘was already in intensive care’ and then corona

Not only does the coronavirus lead to many sick and dead worldwide, it also leads to hunger. The United Nations estimates that there will be more than 80 to 130 million more people this year, who do not have enough to eat.

Countries where there were already many problems were hit extra hard. People work there as day labourers in construction, as cleaners or market vendors. One of the countries where that problem is already visible is Zimbabwe.

The country in Southern Africa was already in a deep economic crisis for corona, inflation was sky-high. “We were already in intensive care,” says Zimbabwean economist Gift Mugano. “Our country is not productive and the government has no money to help companies now. The government is badly running the country, as if it sees the economy as an experiment.”

Economically ruined

Zimbabwean Dorothy Banda didn’t think her life could get any harder. Her country has been economically ruined by the government in recent decades. She struggled to survive as a market vendor. Then came corona.

On the market she earns a fraction of her pre-crisis salary:

Together with her husband and five children she lives in Mbare, a poor neighborhood in the capital Harare. She opens her refrigerator. “For corona, I could give my children peanut butter on bread,” she says. “Now that’s a luxury.” Before corona and after corona, she mentions it almost in every sentence. For corona, she could buy meat a few times a week. After corona, once a week at the most.

Because for corona she earned 40 to 50 euros a day in her high season. And that is a lot for someone who works in the informal economy in Zimbabwe. But after corona that’s only 4 euros.

Every morning she puts up her market stall around the corner of her house. She sells bags to store grain in. Her most important customers are farmers from out of town, but they are no longer allowed in the city because of coronavirus measures. As a result, her income has plummeted.

Borders closed

After corruption and mismanagement under former dictator Robert Mugabe, current president Emmerson Mnangagwa has been calling for years for the country to be open for business. But it’s old wine in new bags. The corruption continues.

Mnangagwa doesn’t know how to attract investment. His government reintroduced its own currency, the RTGS dollar, last summer, but the population has no confidence in it. Zimbabweans are still trying to get their hands on as much foreign stable currency as possible.

They get them from neighbouring South Africa, among other countries. In addition to the American dollar, the South African rand is also in demand. Many Zimbabweans work in South-Africa and bring home or transfer these edges. But also in South-Africa the income is lower because of corona, and so there is less money flowing home. Moreover, because of corona the borders are still closed.

Physical money can no longer cross the border. The same goes for groceries. For corona there was a lively trade of Zimbabweans who drove up and down from South Africa to Zimbabwe with food that is much cheaper in the neighbouring country. But that lifeline was cut off.

Food uninsured

“At the end of this year we estimate that 8.6 million people in Zimbabwe are food insecure. That’s 60 percent of the population,” says Niels Balzer of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Zimbabwe. Food insecurity means that people have insufficient access to nutritious food.

The UN organization has been working in Zimbabwe for a long time. In addition to economic mismanagement, the country has also been hit hard by drought in recent years, causing harvests to fail. The WFP saw more and more hunger in rural areas. But now Balzer also sees the figures in the cities rising faster.

There is not enough money to help all Zimbabweans. WFP hopes to reach about four million of the most vulnerable people this year, and has asked the international community for more than 200 million euros so that it can offer more help.

Market vendor Dorothy Banda is just about to make it, she says. Her family still eats vegetables and lots of soy. But shopping at the local supermarket is more and more an agony. With less income and rising prices she is afraid that her fridge will only become army and military.