Country Profile
Tuesday, 04 June 2013 10:47

Country Profile: Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe has been characterised by political unrest and turmoil. The 2013 national elections will hopefully pave the way to a less tumultuous future.

At a glance
•    Location: Borders with South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia and Botswana.
•    Capital: Harare
•    Currency: Zimbabwean dollar
•    Total size: 390 757km2
•    Land: 386 847km2
•    Water: 3 910km2
•    Politics: President Robert Mugabe, leader of ZANU-PF, has been in office since 1980. Following years of political turmoil, he agreed to a historic power-sharing deal with the opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in September 2008. However, the relationship has been troubled.
•    Economy: The economy appears to be stabilising after years of crisis.
•    International relations: Zimbabwe has had a rocky relationship with the Commonwealth. It was suspended after President Mugabe’s controversial re-election in 2002 and later announced that it was pulling out for good. There are hopes that the upcoming election will alleviate international isolation.

Energy mix
•    Production: 7,615-billion kWh (2009 est.).
•    Consumption: 12,54-billion kWh (2009 est.).
•    Exports: 53-million kWh (2009 est.).
•    Imports: 5,497-billion kWh (2009 est.).
•    Installed generating capacity: 2,005-million kW (2009 est.).
•    From fossil fuels: 66,1% of the total installed capacity (2009 est.).
•    From nuclear fuels: 0% of the total installed capacity (2009 est.).
•    From hydro-electric plants: 33,9% of the total installed capacity (2009 est.).
•    From renewable sources: 0% of the total installed capacity (2009 est.).

Refined petroleum products
•    Consumption: 19 030 bbl/day (2011 est.).
•    Imports: 13 140 bbl/day (2008 est.).

Carbon dioxide emissions from consumption of energy
•    8,493-million Mt (2010 est.).

Zimbabwe is home to the Victoria Falls, one of the natural wonders of the world, the stone enclosures of Great Zimbabwe – remnants of a past empire – and to herds of game roaming vast stretches of wilderness. In its glory days, this Southern African country was a major tobacco producer and a potential bread basket for surrounding countries. But this almost idyllic picture has been tainted by years of political unrest and violence.

For more than three decades, Zimbabwe’s fortunes have been tied to President Robert Mugabe. In his heyday, Mugabe was known as a pro-independence campaigner who wrested control from a small white community and became the country’s first black leader. But this has all changed dramatically. Mugabe’s autocratic leadership – backed by a strong contingency of ZANU-PF loyalists and war veterans – paved the way for rampant inflation, “de-industrialisation”, an embargo on media freedom, as well as food and fuel shortages and decreased agricultural production.

For many years, Zimbabwe was effectively a one-party state, ruled by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF. Mugabe had become the enfant terrible of the African continent and the formerly productive country seemed to be imploding.

After a disputed presidential election in 2008, a global political agreement was signed between ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). This raised hopes that Mugabe might be prepared to relinquish some of his powers. The partnership between President Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has been shaky and often acrimonious. However, the coalition has succeeded in agreeing on a new constitution, which was approved by a referendum ahead of fresh elections in 2013.

“One of the resolutions of the agreement called for drafting a new constitution that would ensure the smooth running of national affairs.”

Zimbabwe’s official election body has said that 94,5% of Zimbabweans supported a new constitution, which strengthens human rights and limits presidential powers. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission recently made this announcement in the capital, Harare, Associated Press reported.

Judge Rita Makarau, chairwoman of the commission, stated that over three-million Zimbabweans voted for the draft constitution and 170 489 voted against it. All the main political parties had called on their supporters to cast a “Yes” ballot in the referendum.

The new constitution will curb the extensive powers that Mugabe has enjoyed under his 33-year rule and will prepare the grounds for holding presidential and parliamentary elections. The election date is yet to be determined.

In the meantime, Mugabe presides over a nation with a dwindling economy, where poverty and unemployment are endemic and political strife and repression commonplace, according to

“The upcoming elections will hopefully curtail the power struggles between President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.”

The blame game
Many Zimbabweans survive on grain handouts. Others have voted by feet while thousands of Zimbabweans, including much-needed professionals, have emigrated.

Aid agencies and critics partly blame food shortages on the land reform programme. The government blames a long-running drought, and Mugabe has accused Britain and its allies of sabotaging the economy in revenge for the redistribution programme.

The government’s urban slum demolition drive in 2005 drew more international condemnation. The president said it was an effort to boost law and order and development, but critics accused him of destroying slums housing opposition supporters.

A history of conflict
•    The former Rhodesia has a history of conflict, with white settlers dispossessing the resident population, guerrilla armies forcing the white government to submit to elections and the post-independence leadership committing atrocities in southern areas where it lacked the support of the Matabele people.
•    Control over the land has been a major issue in Zimbabwe. The forced seizure of almost all white-owned commercial farms, with the stated aim of benefiting landless black Zimbabweans, led to sharp falls in production and precipitated the collapse of the agriculture-based economy. The country has endured rampant inflation and critical food and fuel shortages.

Energy mix
The present: biomass
In Zimbabwe biomass accounts for 61% of energy use in the country, a situation that leads to environmental degradation as families encroach on forests in search of firewood. The rural electrification rate is estimated at 13%. Only 5,8% of the rural population has access to modern fuels for cooking and heating, compared to 78,8% in urban households. As such, experts say access to modern energy for thermal applications (cooking and heating) will remain a critical development challenge.

The future: renewable energy
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Zimbabwe’s recently released National Energy Policy (NEP) can play a strategic role in supporting the socio-economic transformation of the economy. It seeks to promote the use of renewable energy sources in the country, such as solar power. The country has not had a clear energy policy since 1980.

“The new policy identifies the key challenges in the exploration, distribution and utilisation of different energy resources, providing a detailed roadmap on how to address them,” states the UNDP.

For decades Zimbabwe’s energy sector has been declining. The sector has been undermined by new investments, poor maintenance, low funding from Treasury and a huge import debt burden, as well as an estimated US$750 million that customers owed to the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA), the country’s power utility.

Chronic power outages are commonplace in Zimbabwe, which has a negative impact on business, industry and household level. Zimbabwe’s Minister of Energy and Power Development (MoEPD), Elton Mangoma, said: “The current power supply in the country is inadequate, leading to load shedding in all sectors.”  

The minister highlighted the need for developing the local power industry, creating partnerships and building local capacities as key to resolving the problem. “We also need to increase the amount of energy we consume from renewable energy sources such as solar and biogas,” he said.

The country’s development partners, including the UNDP, share this sentiment. “The potential of renewable sources of energy such as solar energy has not been fully realised in Zimbabwe,” Martim Maya, acting UNDP country director, remarked at the policy launch.

Partson Mbiriri, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Power Development, said: “The energy crisis is an investment opportunity.” Opportunities for investment in the sector include abundant energy resources such as biomass, coal and solar; the availability of technologies such as coal-to-liquid conversion on the international market; and opportunities for regional cooperation programmes. The government is therefore inviting single/joint ventures and public-private partnerships (PPPs), among other mechanisms, to invest in the country.

Full acknowledgement and thanks are given to The European Union Times,, and for providing the information to write this article.

GIL Africa 2017