Politics or Administration Issues: A glimpse into the current state of Zimbabwe


Once a breadbasket of Africa has become a bagging basket due to policy inconsistencies and political polarization. In my view, Zimbabwe has tremendous potential, with rich natural resources and one of the most educated populations in Africa. Since the turn of the century, the country has been going through several rounds of an interlocking multi-dimensional crisis characterized by economic collapse, worsening livelihoods, and political polarization. The Zimbabwean economy has continued to experience turbulence, despite weathering a devastating spell of hyperinflation, which peaked in 2008. What remains to date as a thorn in the flesh for ordinary Zimbabweans is the volatile currency. The country has struggled to sustain a stable currency. The Zimbabwean dollar (ZWD) was the official currency of Zimbabwe between 1980 and 2009. In the wake of hyperinflation, in 2009, it was retired, and the country transitioned to a basket currency regime. In early 2019, the multiple currency regime was replaced by a new currency renamed the Zimbabwe dollar by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. 


Many argue that the Zimbabwean crisis is embedded in ZANU PF´s decades of economic mismanagement and state capture. At the same time, Zimbabwe is besotted by a severe crisis of governance that has given birth to political, economic, social, ideological, and humanitarian problems in the country. The colonial legacy also bequeathed severe problems to all post-colonial African states, and Zimbabwe is not exceptional. In Zimbabwe, the merger between ZANU and ZAPU to form the ZANU PF cannot be ignored when discussing the democratic development of the state. Zimbabwe's dominant nationalist ideology that guided the liberation struggle has become bankrupt. It has only succeeded in entrenching reflective thinking about the government and some Zimbabweans, particularly the war veterans, who are devoid of plans and a way forward for the country. The economic salvation of Zimbabwe and other crucial facets of development have been reduced to partisanship.  In this piece, I look at whether the Zimbabwean crisis is a political problem, public administration, or both. 


The politics-administration relationship has been an essential question in public administration since its inception as an acknowledged discipline in the late 1880s. The question of how to position public administration about politics bears important implications for both the intellectual identity and institutional development of public administration. In this piece, l adopt Woodrow Wilson´s politics-administration dichotomy in explaining if the Zimbabwean crisis is either a political problem or an administration. In his seminal article “The Study of Administration,” Woodrow Wilson (1887) noted that the politics-public administration dichotomy is premised on the idea that public administration is somehow distinct from politics, and there is a hierarchical (superior-subordinate) relationship between the two. As construed by the dichotomy, politics is about policy making, a set of activities that involve explicit value choices. On the other hand, public administration is an instrument for translating formulated policies into concrete results through applying specialized knowledge and skillsthat is, bureaucratic expertise. In this distinction, it can be deduced that, although politics sets the task for administration, it should not be suffered to manipulate its offices.

Public administration in Zimbabwe is guided by the interplay between the legislature, judiciary, and executive arms of government. The legislature provides law-making and policy approval roles; the court reviews the legality of all government activities, while the executive provides decision and policy-implementing functions. The legislature’s actions have a direct bearing on national public administration. Legislative approval and authorization are needed before any government policy is implemented. Legislative approval is also required before government funds can be expended. However, to understand all the detriments of this debate, it is crucial to point out that politics essentially answers the “what and when” questions. At the same time, public administration responds to the “how and why” of governance. We can further start the distinction between governmental political and administration functions by looking into the applicability of law and policies in public institutions. 

In the constitution of Zimbabwe (2013), Chapter 9 provides a starting point, and Section 194 sets the principles and values governing public administration. Although the Constitution established the guiding principles, it is critical to note that law is not policy, and policy is not law; policymakers are mandated by the law to do specific duties and responsibilities to ensure good governance. At the same time, the law imposes red lights, which must bind policymakers and implementers. The constitution, the supreme document of the state, is the highest source of signposting and benchmarking green and red lights on politics and administrative activities. 

The current Zimbabwean crisis is legitimacy, governance, economic decadency, and humanitarian crisis worsened by bankrupt and violent nationalist backlash that now traps the democratic embers. The widening polarization and tension between the ruling ZANU-PF, the “main” opposition, the Citizen Converge for Change (CCC), and civil society demonstrates the crisis bedeviling Zimbabwe. The citizens across all sectors, the teachers, nurses, doctors, domestic workers, and the informal sector, are crying for protection from hunger, disease, and poverty. Indeed Zimbabweans are facing a severe crisis coupled with the current proposed anti-people budget presented by the Minister of Finance, Economic Development, and Investment Promotion. The budget introduced a raft of taxes and it falls short of the Abuja Declaration on Health and the Education for All Initiative Declaration (2000) which requires governments to spend 20% of their budget on education. ZANU-PF’s legitimacy is under intense scrutiny and critique, particularly by members of the CCC, SADC, and the broader civil society


The Zimbabwean nationalism discourse has lost its emancipatory appeal to the people. The threat of state violence has failed to silence the masses’ analysis of the current inflation, human rights abuse, corruption, and bankruptcy of the current government. Essential commodities such as meals, sugar, salt, petrol, bread, and cooking oil have become too expensive in ZimbabweHowever, Zimbabwe´s post-nationalist framework was beaten back by a radical, vindictive, and authoritarian nationalism. In the meantime, the embers of such post-nationalist politics are still burning. The advocates of post-nationalist politics include the opposition movements and other non-state actors who agree that the widespread consensus created by the nationalist movement in the 1960s and 1970s has served its purpose and broken down under the weight of new demands in the twenty-first century. What is needed is a new consensus emanating from civil society, an agreement that is pluralist, democratic, human rights-oriented, people-driven, and centered.


The state of Zimbabwe is caught on severely contested terrain in which a beleaguered state, presiding over an economy in severe crisis, sees ZANU PF retaining a critical mass of rural support through a combination of a populist articulation of the land question and the use of force to break an alternative political presence in the rural areas. The fundamental dimension of the current Zimbabwe crisis relates to the ideological contest between ZANU-PF and CCC in the context of a multi-polar international dispensation. This multi-polar dispensation requires a flexible and pragmatic romantic orientation amenable to the imperatives of globalization and democratization. This shows that the crises in Zimbabwe are political rather than administrative, as the administration itself is a means to an end. Politics is central to determining who gets what, when, and how within the state. The state is trapped in an ideologically muddled situation, which continues to generate an economic crisis, social strife, political conflict, and, more importantly, fostering uncertainty about the future on the part of the Zimbabwean populace in general.


ZANU-PF`s approach to economic development has failed to revive the comatose economy. On the other hand, the CCC, deemed “the alternative”, is trapped in a neo-liberal web and matrix, where it is finding it difficult to reconcile the specific ‘justice-related issues,’ like the land question that powerfully influences politics in former settler colonies, with the demands of neoliberal capitalism and globalization. Worse still, the CCC has not succeeded in projecting a clear, attractive, and pragmatic post-nationalist paradigm capable of rendering ZANU-PF’s exhausted nationalism redundant and, simultaneously, taking the peasants, youth, women, intellectuals, and other social groups on board. Maladministration has continued to be perpetuated by the government, which has gone ahead with its practice of endless amendments to the remaining constitutional structures. This has reduced the current constitution into an instrument of political warfare and a tool to consolidate power by the government. The existing constitution has been a shield for ZANU-PF regime protection and a sword against the main opposition. 


The perpetuation of the Zimbabwean crisis needs several solutions to be implemented by the broader masses of Zimbabwe. First, there is a need to ensure political stability in the country. This is critical given the adverse effects of the political crisis on the country's economy since the turn of the new millennium. A stable and predictable political environment would enable external investors to make meaningful investments in the country, ensuring quick economic recovery and growth. Given the risks, investors are generally unwilling to invest in a politically unstable country. Second and closely connected to the above recommendation, there is need to build trust between the state and economic actors if Zimbabwe's economy is to recover and grow realistically. In this regard, there is a need for some consensus between government and economic actors on how the economy should be run, so they both feel obligated to ensure its success. Finally, Zimbabwe must foster good relations with the international community.