Zimbabwe SSR Background Note


Key Statistics

Location: Southern Africa

Population: 16 million, with 52% women and 48% men (World Bank, 2016)

Capital: Harare, with 1.5 million (UN, 2015

Area: 390,757 km2

Mineral wealth: Platinum, gold, asbestos, coal, nickel, iron, copper, lithium, emeralds, diamonds.

Local authorities: 31 urban authorities comprising cities, municipalities, town councils and town boards and 60 rural district authorities (UN 2012)

Languages:  English (Official), Shona, Sindebele (major) and around 13 others. 

Constitution: Constitution of Zimbabwe 22 May 2013.

Political System: Republic 

GDP Growth Rate: 2.7% (World Bank, 2017) 

GDP per Capita: 1333 USD (World Bank, 2017)

Most Productive Sectors: Agriculture, Mining, Financial Services and Telecommunications.

Poverty Headcount Ratio at National Poverty Line: 72.3% (World Bank 2011)

Literacy Rate, Adult Total Age 15 and Above:  91.3% (UN 2013)

External Debt: 8.9 Billion USD (UN 2013)

Ibrahim Index for African Governance 39/54 (2018)

Freedom House Index Not Free (2018)

Corruption Index 160/180 (Transparency International 2018)

Human Development Index  156/188 (Human Development Report 2018)

Table of contents

  1. Introduction and General Background
  2. Political Overview
  3. Current Political Context
  4. Security Sector Overview
  5. Security Sector Reform - Sectoral Overview
  6. Donor Relations 

1. Introduction and General Background

a) Cultural and Geographic Background

Zimbabwe’s capital is Harare. Located in southern Africa, Zimbabwe, formerly known as Southern Rhodesia and officially known as the Republic of Zimbabwe, is landlocked and bordered by Zambia, Botswana, South Africa and Mozambique. The country covers 390,759 km2 across ten provinces: Harare, Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland West, Mashonaland East, Manicaland, Masvingo, Midlands, Bulawayo, Matebeleland South, and Matebeland North.

Of the 14 million people residing in Zimbabwe, almost 98% are related to the two major Bantu-speaking groups: the Shona (about 82% of the population) and the Ndebele (about 14%). There are 16 official languages, and English is also widely spoken.

b) Economic Background

Zimbabwe has struggled with budget deficit and a weak economy since the late 1980s despite its generous endowment of natural resources, an existing stock of public infrastructure, and comparatively well-skilled human resources. In 1991 the implementation of a structural adjustment programme by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) resulted in high unemployment, which in turn favoured the creation of a politicised trade union, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 1999.

In 2001 Mugabe signed a Presidential decree “permitting expropriation of all White-owned farms without compensation.” This was a violent chapter in Zimbabwe’s recent history and had considerable impact on its economic, financial and foreign policy situation. By October 2003, Human Rights Watch reported that half of the country's population were food insecure, lacking enough food to meet basic needs. More than 2 million people are estimated to need food aid in 2019 as a result of the rising cost of living and drought. 

The World Bank considers Zimbabwe to be a Low Income Country with approximately 72 percent of the country’s population living in chronic poverty. Zimbabwe’s GDP reached 3.4% in 2017 mainly on the back of improved performance of the agricultural sector as a result of weather improvement (Ministry of Finance, 2017; World Bank, 2017). Hyperinflation plagues all potential economic stability of the country adding to the mounting challenges due to the mismanagement of funds, natural resources and national infrastructure.

2. Political Overview

Pre-colonial Zimbabwe comprised a multi-ethnic society in the context of huge Southern Africa empires engaging in cattle-keeping, mining and both regional and long distance trade.

Zimbabwe, referred as Southern Rhodesia, remained a British colony from the 1880s to 1964 although it became a self-governing British colony in 1923. After WWII and due to shifting international political dynamics Southern Rhodesia’s white Prime Minister, Ian Smith, declared independence unilaterally in 1965. Neither the British nor the international community officially recognised the Unilateral Declaration of Independence. Domestically, the declaration was strongly opposed by the two-wing African nationalist movements, the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), formed in 1961 and 1963 respectively. This paved the way for a liberation war. The main actors of the armed conflict consisted of the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) of the ZANU party, the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) of the ZAPU party, and the security forces of Ian Smith’s regime.

The end of hostilities was finally achieved in 1979, after key mediation by the British under a Commonwealth mandate. The Lancaster House Agreement transitioned the country towards the independent Republic of Zimbabwe in 1980.  The new independence Constitution provided clauses to remove the white minority's monopoly of control over various government sectors – including the military (Chitiyo 2009).

In February 1980, the first general elections post-independence were held and ZANU won the majority of seats (57/100). As a result Robert Mugabe became independent Zimbabwe’s first Prime Minister. However tensions remained between ZANU’s ZANLA and ZAPU’s ZIPRA. Perceived threats and resistance to Mugabe’s leadership led to a state-led operation aimed at clamping down dissent. Thousands of civilians (some estimates are as high as 20,000) were killed in Matabeleland during a series of massacres between 1983 and 1987 called the “Gukurahundi”.

On 22 December 1987 a unity pact was signed, ending the violence and forming the current Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front, ZANU-PF (Zakeyo, 2012) through merging ZANU and ZAPU.  The ZANU-PF became the ruling party since then, led by Robert Mugabe, first executive President of Zimbabwe since 1987 acting as Head of State, Head of Government and Commander in Chief of Armed Forces.

Years 1998-2000 were a turning point for Zimbabwe. The 2000 elections, which were criticised widely for being fraudulent and for widespread violence, were run by 16 parties. However, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was the most successful and became quickly the main political actor of the opposition in Zimbabwe, and the only real competition for ZANU-PF. The election results denied ZANU-PF a Parliamentary majority for the first time since 1980. The MDC won 57 of the 120 elected seats, with 47% of the popular vote, and ZANU-PF won 63 seats carrying 43% of popular vote.

The 2008 elections marked the end of ZANU-PF’s one-party rule. Morgan Tsvangirai, MDC-T President) secured more votes than Mugabe in the first round of the presidential race, triggering the highest level of political violence since a decade. The results of the run-off secured President Mugabe’s rule, but the tension and unrest did not subside. South Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) mediated a power-sharing agreement between the ZANU-PF and the MDC. The outcome was the signing of a Global Political Agreement (GPA) between the parties, and the creation of Zimbabwe’s Government of National Unity (GNU) on 15 February 2009 (Human Rights Watch, 2013). 

3. Current Political Context 

Despite resistance from the state security sector, the National Unity Government was able to achieve some important advances. A National Security Bill was passed in March 2009, establishing a National Security Council. Also that year, the coalition approved the Short Term Economic Recovery Programme (STERP), which set out a road map for stabilising and reconstructing Zimbabwe’s key agricultural, mining, manufacturing and tourism sectors. Furthermore, a referendum held in March 2013 approved a new Constitution that was implemented in May 2013.  It contained provisions for constitutional change including a wider bill of rights with socio-economic rights, mandatory sharing of executive powers between the cabinet and the president, guidelines outlining the conduct of security services, and a series of provisions for internal control and external oversight over state institutions. The approval of the new Constitution was key to providing entry-points for upcoming reforms.

On 31 July 2013, elections were held and the country was commended for a “broadly peaceful election day”. However, results were postponed, and international pressure had to be applied for their earlier release (Ban, 2013). Mugabe was re-instated as President, ZANU-PF won a two-thirds majority in the parliament, and the power-sharing agreement came to an end, amidst speculation about the legitimacy of electoral results.

On 14 November 2017, units from the Zimbabwe Defence Forces deployed onto the streets of Harare, seizing control of key locations. Although the military leadership denied it was a coup, President Robert Mugabe was placed under house arrest, and subsequently a number of his key associated political and security figures were detained. On 19 November, Mugabe was formally removed by the party as ZANU-PF leader, and, under pressure, resigned as President on 21 November. Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former Vice-President whom Mugabe had fired in the previous days leading up to the transition, was sworn in as President on 24 November.

Mnangagwa’s presidency was legitimated through winning the general elections of August 2018. These were the first elections in 16 years whereby the Government accepted the EU, Commonwealth and US election observers. Results were highly contested by the opposition and led to a clampdown of protestors by the army.

4. Security Sector Overview

The formal security sector of Zimbabwe consists of several actors, including:

  • Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF),
  • Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP)
  • Zimbabwe Prison Service (ZPS)
  • Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), an agency directly underneath the Office of the President, and currently still outside the legislative framework.

In addition to the above, Zimbabwe has active

  • Private security companies
  • Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA)
  • ZANU-PF Youth League

The formal security sector of Zimbabwe consists of several actors, including:

  • Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF),
  • Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP)
  • Zimbabwe Prison Service (ZPS)
  • Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), an agency directly underneath the Office of the President, and currently still outside the legislative framework.

In addition to the above, Zimbabwe has active

  • Private security companies
  • Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA)
  • ZANU-PF Youth League


Since 2000, the security sector has contributed to a generally hostile political landscape and to the insecurity of citizens especially during pre-election stages. The partisanship of the leadership of the security forces’ permeates the entire security apparatus and manifests itself inter alia in the use of violence against opposition supporters and the criminalisation of those actors. Throughout the last decade, the Joint Operations Command (JOC) that includes the CIO, leaders of the ZDF and the ZPS, and other high-ranking ZANU-PF members have been known to engage in violent campaigns to suppress opposition, and CSO voices, so as to “guarantee ZANU-PF success” proceeding elections (Human Rights Watch, 2013). Impunity for crimes committed by members of the security forces is common, and there seems to be a lack of internal disciplinary action, coupled with an absence of effective external oversight, which impedes the prevention of further violence (Chitiyo, 2009; Noyes, 2013; Human Rights Watch, 2013). 

The Global Political Agreement barely addressed issues of security and justice reforms. However, the ruling phase of the Government of National Unity provided a space, for the first time, for dialogue to emerge around potential pillars for future Security Sector Transformation (SST).  Entry-points for such process could possibly be found in the National Security Bill approved in March 2009, which established the NSC to oversee the security forces. In addition, with the approval of the new Constitution, some ground has been gained in creating a legal framework that can potentially keep checks and balances on the different security actors.

Despite this, a National Security Strategy and a National Defence Policy are not known, and if in existence, require revision to strengthen oversight and transparency, as well as to ensure that the country focuses primarily on human security in lieu of state security (Mwanaka, 2015). In addition, the regional security environment has changed over the years, and therefore an update of these policies would also contribute to improving performance and professionalisation of the defence and security forces.

Zimbabwe has a unique security sector context given the fusion of three different rival armies (Rhodesian army, ZANLA and ZIPRA) into a unified armed force following independence. Whilst this was an entry-point for SSR in the post-Lancaster House Agreement period, provisions for restructuring were not institutionalised in a way that committed the new state to longer-term reform. For example, the lack of integrated policies tackling disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) favoured the reinforcement of a militarised mind-set in society. In addition, it strengthened interconnectedness and operational linkages between the security forces and the ruling party representing the state (Lalá, 2009). From the liberation war to the present, Zimbabwe’s security sector has swung between professionalism and politicisation. ZANU-PF’s rule was anchored in the liberation struggle, where a key principle prevailed that political ideology had to drive military action, although over time this principle suffered erosion. In addition, since independence ZANU-PF implemented a de facto one-party rule, which favoured the entrenchment of the symbiosis between the state, the party, and the security forces. 

5. Security Sector Reform – Sectoral Overview

Following the 2017 military assisted transition and the 2018 elections, prospects for reform of the security sector appear mixed. While the change of power generated some ground for optimism, President Mnangagwa’s background – a key ally of Mugabe deeply entwined in politics and with the security apparatus over several decades – leaves many observers doubtful. Furthermore, Mnangagwa’s December 2017 State of the Nation address did not reference any specific security sector reforms to be undertaken beyond a general pledge to fight corruption and increase transparency. Given the symbiotic relationship between the Zimbabwean military, ZANU-PF and wider Zimbabwean government, reforming the security sector will be a key entry point for improving governance and human rights compliance in Zimbabwe.

a) Governance and Oversight

Improving governance in Zimbabwe has been a consistent challenge since independence. In 2018, Zimbabwe was rated with 44.7 out of 100 in the Ibrahim Index of African Governance displaying a trend of slowing improvement. The country was ranked 160th of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in 2018, down from 157th rank in the previous year. A number of frameworks are in place but lack implementation and independent oversight to ensure that laws are respected.  

The CIO has been accused of human rights’ abuses against ZANU-PF’s political opponents, working closely with the riot police and the Police Internal Security Intelligence (PISI) in the ZRP to enforce state security. Many of the 25,000 ZRP have worked outside traditional policing tasks, despite their civil status. A high turnover of personnel being relocated whenever recognised as vocal about the militarisation of the police prevails (Chitiyo, 2009). The National Security Council Act 2009 provides a framework for oversight of national policies on security, defence and law and order, but lacks implementation, and the NSC has been inactive since the end of the National Unity Government.

Despite provisions in the GPA requiring state institutions to “remain non-partisan and impartial” (Article 13), no clause provided for security sector reform, nor for considering its implications in the context of constitutional review. Nevertheless, the 2013 Constitution contains a number of provisions that can be regarded as a significant first step in the creation of a framework for oversight at a higher level (Nyabeze, 2015). For example the 2013 Constitution provides for : a maximum threshold of two terms for Commanders of the Defence Forces or any of their branches; the establishment of an independent mechanism for handling complaints against members of the security services; emphasis on political neutrality of the Central Intelligence Organisation; proscription of the formation of armed militias and paramilitary groups outside the structures of established laws; and the prohibition of members of a security service from obeying an order that is manifestly illegal (Daily News, 2013). However, several years after the Constitution was signed into law, such provisions have continued to be ignored and bypassed regularly. The deficient implementation of the 2013 Constitution is thus illustrative of the significant challenges facing security and justice reforms in Zimbabwe.

In addition, the design and implementation of subsidiary Acts of Parliament to operationalise the new Constitution has been a slow moving process. From 2013 to 2017 the Government stalled the execution of Constitutional provisions, apart from passing two Bills through Parliament, which have not been made into Acts. Furthermore, in contravention to the spirit of the new Constitution, in July 2017 the Zimbabwean Parliament passed a constitutional amendment which granted the President additional powers to directly appoint the Chief Justice, the Deputy Chief Justice and the Judge President of the High Court. An apparent willingness of the Parliament to surrender oversight functions to the executive was a product of politics and a cause for major concern.  However, in Mangagwa’s current dispensation a strong political discourse on anti-corruption has been prominent, favouring the role of oversight institutions, with for example the Parliament Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy summoning high ranking personalities to testify in their enquiry about missing diamond revenue.

Civil Society Organisations

Civil society performs watchdog functions such as following public opinion and trends, monitoring elections, political violence, and corruption. The two entities that act as umbrellas for CSOs are the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations of Zimbabwe and The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.

Since the 2013 elections, CSOs have experienced a more flexible space to navigate in, including opportunities to enter into direct dialogue with the state. This allowed them to build capacity and increase visibility over the last few years, yet they still face issues related to organisational management, transparency and accountability.  Another weakness derives from their financial support being dependent on external donor funding sources, and from being perceived as close allies of the opposition.  Generally there is mutual mistrust between the state and CSOs, and there is a dearth of organisations working within an integrated SSR approach, although several work on compartimentalised human rights, legal reform, gender, justice, corrections and peacebuilding issues. An exception was the Zimbabwe Peace and Security Programme (ZPSP) (2011-2018), which made inroads in creating space for multistakeholder dialogues around Security Sector Transformation.  Such progress relied on the legitimacy and national ownership of the programme, but given lack of funding the ZPSP closed-down in early 2018, paradoxically, in light of the beginning of the transition.

Prior to Mugabe’s exit from power in 2017, CSOs, under the banner of the ‘Platform for Concerned Citizens’ developed a plan for a post-Mugabe democratic transition overseen by a “National Transitional Authority”. The plan was superseded by the military assisted transition that was effective insofar as removal of Mugabe from power through non-violent means, but which left Zimbabwe awkwardly positioned with regard to democratic transition. The military intervention was subsequently declared to be entirely legal by the Zimbabwean High Court in a problematic ruling delivered by a judge who is a retired officer. This compromised earlier Constitutional democratic advances and opened the possibility for further military intervention in the political, economic and social spheres.

The Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust (SAPST) has a technical programme for the Zimbabwean Parliament ,  which aims to enhance the capacity of MPs to enact progressive anti-violence laws and ensure their enforcement as well as to spearhead peace and development in their constituencies through implementation of programmes which promote good governance and accountability.

b) Justice

The justice sector faces numerous key tensions and challenges that currently lie in the discrepancy between adequate legislation and corresponding implementation. Difficulties arise mainly in the inefficient administration of the legislative measures and criminal procedures. For example, 30% of prisoners are pre-trial detainees, indicating a clear marker of the inefficacy of the system, when coupled with unacceptable detention conditions and violation of human rights. Capacity is another challenge with the justice sector suffering from severe funding shortages and high turnover of human resources. A lack of neutrality has been observed in particular in politically related cases, or in those involving high-ranking personalities and this prevails in key justice delivery institutions such as the judiciary, the police, and the Attorney General’s office, with rulings affected by political dynamics hindering the delivery of justice (Chimbga, 2014). Mirroring this, the World Justice Project 2018 ranks Zimbabwe 108th of 113 for rule of law, also entailing with low scores for judicial oversight.

Certain CSOs facilitate capacity building and the delivery of justice and reconciliation services. This is in addition to the prominent role played by traditional chiefs in delivering justice. Much of the population lacks means to access state institutions due to social, geographical or financial constraints. Traditional courts continue to hold a strong position in Zimbabwean society and exist alongside formal state structures. Customary law adapts over time and depending on context. However, the coexistence of formal and informal justice systems poses challenges. An example is where constitutional provisions for general law are not the same as customary law for marriage, where a woman has the right to opt out (Heinrich Böll Foundation, 2014).  A prevailing challenge refers to state institutions capacity to hone in on customary law and traditions, and harness the status and power of traditional chiefs to implement general law that respects international human rights standards over time.

A disputed topic within discussions around justice in Zimbabwe is the issue of accountability and trial for past crimes. Mugabe proposed not to put Rhodesian soldiers who were involved in the massacres of Nyaadzonia and Chimoio under trial. Later, the GNU provided for the creation of the National Organ for Healing and Reconciliation to carry out healing and justice-related initiatives in light of past events, but it was never implemented.  Subsequently the 2013 Constitution provided for the establishment of a National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) to deal with transitional justice. Suggestions have been made that establishing the NPRC would compound agreements made in the past during the early years of the state of Zimbabwe.

Yet, in a positive development in February 2018 the NPRC began working following the appointment of a new Chairperson, and  opened hearings into the Gukurahundi massacres.  However, concerns remain as to the prospects for justice being realised, given the involvement of several high-ranking ZANU-PF officials, currently serving in Government. The legacy of systematic human rights abuses continues to loom large over the society and the justice sector in Zimbabwe, fueling perceptions of an entrenched ‘culture of impunity’ among those in power. The NPRC – in common with several other national commissions: the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and Judicial Services Commission – continues to suffer from underfunding.

c) Police

The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) is one of the key national institutions that impact the lives of the Zimbabwe People on a daily basis. Police reform was discussed during negotiations on the Draft Constitution, including the creation of an anti-corruption police body to effectively help curb this malpractice given the dismal record of Police performance in this area.

According to the Police Act, members of the ZRP are not allowed to take part in politics and act out of partisanship. Ahead of the 2013 general elections, concerns were raised over police reform and police preparedness, given that the police had repeatedly failed to prevent violence escalation in 2008. The African Union Commission’s report recommendations on Zimbabwe’s 2013 elections, made explicit references to the role of the police in facilitating free and fair elections.

The ZRP stated approach to community policing includes the existence of Community Relations Liaison Officers (CRLO) based in all police stations, and responding to a District Community Relations Liaison Officer. The CRLO attend Crime Consultative Committee Meetings (other participants are businessmen, government officials, teachers, school heads, traditional leaders), carry out crime and social awareness campaigns, participate in recruitment and training of Neighbourhood Crime Watch Committees, provide advice on social matters, and deal with reports of sexual offences. This multi-pronged community policing strategy is complemented by the so-called ‘Home Officer’ scheme, in which a police officer is assigned to a particular policing area, to work with the community to develop specific strategies to combat localised crime. Positive developments are reportedly occurring within the realm of community policing, with a number of cases over the years where the police have engaged with civil society, particularly at the provincial and district level. It remains to be seen if isolated incremental episodes of cooperation will become the norm, and how decentralization of police services will be configured going forward, as well as how formal policing will interface with informal security arrangements.

Following the 2017 military assisted transition, several senior police officials were retired, and a new Commissioner General – Godwin Matanga – appointed, replacing Augustine Chihuri, who had held the post since 1994. Matanga has acknowledged the existence of widespread corruption in the police force – which can itself be regarded as a progressive move – and pledged to resurrect the defunct National Force Development Committee and strengthen the inspectorate unit. Significantly - from the perspective of citizen-police relations - Matanga also acknowledged the blight of police harassment of motorists, a major reason for Zimbabwe’s low ranking (102nd of 107 countries) on the IPSA Police Index. This has been matched by a decreasing rate of human rights abuses by the Police since November 2017, partially due to their removal from the streets. Whether these are temporary improvements or the beginning of a overhaul in police practice remains to be seen, given that the Police still display disproportional use of force in public protests.

d) Defence

During the guerrilla war, ZANLA and ZIPRA forces were provided with training principally by the Soviet Union and China, Cuba and the German Democratic Republic as well as several African countries including Libya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia. After independence the new ZANU(PF) government turned to North Korea to provide the training for the infamous Fifth Brigade which was engaged in the Gukurahundi Operation. Zimbabwean soldiers continued to be trained by China and North Korea, alongside the legacy of British military professional training (Hendricks and Musavengana, 2010).

Despite the display of politicisation at home, the Zimbabwean military is generally seen as a positive contributor to peace support operations, even if significantly behind regional peers such as Zambia and South Africa. The country also provides peacekeeping officers from the ZRP and the ZPCS who were/are seconded to the UN for various missions including AMISOM, UNMIL, and UNMISS. On a positive note it exceeds the UNDPKO minimum requirement for number of woman peacekeepers, which reached around 41% in December 2014 (Dzinesa, 2015).

Whilst a motive of honour for the Zimbabwean defence forces, one of the most controversial issues around their behaviour relates to the intervention made in the DRC starting in 1998 and spanning over a number of years.  At the time the military mission was contested internally, given the budget deficit and the shortage of external funding. Allegations have been made that the ruling ZANU-PF leadership diverted resources from basic public health towards state security benefits, and the enrichment of a selected few.  In the end, the peacekeeping mission became an example of how the military looked for alternative sources of revenue, through exploring the concessions on extractives awarded to the Zimbabwe state by Laurent-Désiré Kabila (Dietrich, 2000). Over time, the connections of the military to mining abroad and at home have built powerful personal networks of patronage and influence (Maley, 2015; Global Witness, 2012). As such, the interaction between the political elite, the security apparatus and the extractive industry indicates the existence of defence forces with capacity to “enable” or “spoil” the country’s transition in the years to come (Chitiyo, 2009, Zimbabwe Democracy Institute Report 2017, Global Witness 2017).

Following the 2017 transition, the military continues to be the decisive player in Zimbabwean politics. Having positioned itself as the ‘guardian’ of Zimbabwean independence through the liberation war, the military has continued to involve itself in all areas of governance and acts as a gatekeeper to the executive branch. President Mnangagwa’s appointment of a number of top generals to his cabinet, including the former Chief of Defence staff to Vice-President, the former Head of the Air Force to Minister of Agriculture, and a former General as Minister of Foreign Affairs suggests that the status quo of military involvement in Zimbabwean electoral politics will not be challenged by the new administration.

At the same time, whilst 69% of Zimbabweans disapprove or “strongly disapprove” of military rule, Zimbabweans deposit a high degree of trust in the armed forces, with 64% trusting the army “somewhat” or “a lot”. Paradoxically, whilst 49% believe the army is professional and respects citizens’ rights,73% do not feel free to criticize the military  (Afrobarometer Dispatch 195 (20/3/18).

In 2016, the Armed Forces manpower was below 30,000 (25,000 Army, 4,000 Air Force), despite a relatively high proportion of GDP (2.5%, compared to an average of 1.5% across Sub-Saharan Africa) being spent on defence.

e) Public expenditure review 

A Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability assessment was initiated by the World Bank in October 2017, in order to assess support to strengthen Zimbabwe’s Public Finance Management System.

Conservatively estimated at around 50 percent of GDP, the scale and scope of Zimbabwe’s public sector are exceptional for a country of its population, size and low income status. Public spending is dominated by personnel costs limiting the government’s ability to deliver public services and conduct sound fiscal policy. Both the country’s capital budget and basic operations are underfinanced. 

The central government accounts for about half of the country’s total public spending and 25% of GDP. Public spending by local authorities and state-owned enterprises or parastatals represents over 20% of Zimbabwe’s GDP but has been subject to less oversight. Coordinating spending across these different arms of the state has been a challenge.

Zimbabwe’s ability to formulate and implement effective fiscal policy is slipping away given the lack of robust controls over public finances, and the deferment of key policy choices on the role and structure of the state. Today, Zimbabwe’s fiscus has limited flexibility to respond to economic and social challenges and the aggravating economic situation poses a risk for stability, safety and human security

f) Human rights

Until 2013, the guarantor of Human rights in Zimbabwe was the office of the Public Protector. This institution was then replaced by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC), which is mandated to promote and protect human rights. The functions of the ZHRC are to investigate human rights violations and recommend effective measures to promote human rights and freedom to Parliament.

Under Mugabe’s regime, the most significant human rights issues included government-targeted abductions, arrests, torture, abuse, and harassment, including of members of civil society and political opponents; harsh prison conditions; executive political influence on and interference in the judiciary; government-sponsored evictions of farms, private businesses, and property; invasions and demolition of informal marketplaces and settlements; restrictions on freedoms of expression, press, assembly, association, and movement; government corruption, including at the local level; trafficking of men, women, and children; and criminalization of LGBTI status or conduct, including arrests.

In spite of a lull in Human rights violations thanks to the political transition, the post-election phase was fraught with extreme violence where opposition party supporters reported of attacks by members of the defence forces especially in bars and night spots. The ZNA has denied that they had deployed officers in high density areas but rather labelling the perpetrators ‘rogue’ elements. The period was also characterized by displacements in both urban and rural areas as political persecution targeting opposition supporters triggered their fleeing their homes. The period also witnessed the escalation of reports of reprisals against political opponents. These reprisals manifested through deprivation of government funded food aid and agriculture inputs and evictions. It demonstrated how structurally anchored these norms and behaviours are. Yet it also showed that change is possible and that authorities in Zimbabwe are now more sensitive to the issue of Human rights.

In 2019, fuel price increases led to violent protests in Harare and other locations which resulted in disproportionate use of force by government security personnel and a crackdown on protesters and opposition in the following period, as reported by the Human Rights Watch.  In the meantime international pressure on the Government to revise the The Public Order and Security Act (POSA) has grown. Civil society has been engaging around the new Bill on the Maintenance of Peace and Order (which will replace the POSA), with a view to aligning it with international standards in policing, aiming to safeguard human security.

g) Gender equality

In Zimbabwe, there are great disparities in terms of men and women participation in higher positions of power in both private and public sector. According to the SADC Gender Protocol 2013, in Zimbabwe, women representation in top decision making in the security sector remains below 30 percent. Zimbabwe is among the only countries in the region to have achieved a representation of 20 percent women and above in its national defence forces. In terms of the Police force, the ZRP has made notable progress in terms of including female officers in its contingents, especially regarding women participating in the UN Peacekeeping operations. In terms of women representation in peacekeeping, there were 31 percent women in 2011 and this increased to 42 percent in 2012. New dimensions of security require factoring-in such as for example the fact that despite the revised 2017 National Gender Policy the country does not have a National Action Plan to guide the implementation of the UN Resolution 1325, nor is being able to effectively tackle widespread gender based violence.

Socially integrating women is a stated objective of Zimbabwe’s authorities because they are perceived as a vector of development. In spite of the effort to support greater inclusion in the security sector, decision-making is still largely male-dominated although some women are starting to be granted higher positions. There is a slow but ongoing transition.

6. Donor Relations

International donor engagement in security sector reform has been low in Zimbabwe mostly due to the skepticism for reform under President Mugabe, and his fostering of the message that SSR is a regime change agenda driven forward by external actors. The limited scope of political opposition in the country until the ousting of the president, the resistance to reform, coupled with the international sanctions applied to the country resulted in an environment where international partners refrained from support.

Yet, after the partial lifting of sanctions in 2014, international donor engagement increased in certain areas. For e.g. the EU, Japan, Switzerland, Sweden and the US have been engaged in electoral support and capacity building in human rights through implementing agencies: Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), UNDP, SIDA, USAID and GIZ.

In terms of support to security and justice, the EU and Switzerland had been engaged in the country through the Zimbabwe Peace and Security Programme between 2011 and 2018. This programme was significant in many ways but most importantly for being a local initiative from the start, championed by Zimbabwean nationals which drew on carefully selected international support given the political risk entailed.

The EU assistance includes contribution to a multi-donor support programme for the Parliament and for the Office of the Auditor General which was launched on 8 May 2015, in a bid to contribute to alignment of legislation to the provisions of the 2013 Constitution. In addition, the EU provides support to justice programming as part of the National Indicative Programme, signed in 2015 for the period 2014-20. Funding tranches for 2018 were allocated to CSOs working in support of the justice sector, including for example, the Legal Resources Foundation project to deliver legal training for chiefs in the context of improving access to justice for the majority of Zimbabwe’s rural population. 

However, the fluidity of the environment led to the adoption of a resolution on Zimbabwe by the European Parliament, in February 2019, condemning the post electoral violence in the country and the use of excessive force by state security forces as a response to peaceful protests.

The United Nations support to Zimbabwe is set out in the Zimbabwe United Nations Development Assistance Framework, being implemented between 2016 and 2020, and form a total budget of $1.6bn, $73.8m have been allocated to governance-related programming, focusing on the public sector. 




CIO                       Central Intelligence Organisation

ESAP                     Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes

FTLRP                    Fast Track Land resettlement Programme

GNU                      Zimbabwe’s Government of National Unity

IG                         Inclusive Government

IMF                       International Monetary Fund

JOC                       Joint Operations Command

MDC                      Movement for Democratic Change

NANGO                  Non-Governmental Organizations of Zimbabwe

NPRC                     National Peace and Reconciliation Commission

PF                         Patriotic Front

PISI                       Police Internal Security Intelligence

SADC                     Southern African Development Community

SST                       Security Sector Transformation

STERP                   Short Term Economic Recovery Programme

UDI                       Unilateral Declaration of Independence

ZANLA                   Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army

ZANU                    Zimbabwe African National Union

ZAPU                     Zimbabwe African People’s Union

ZDF                       Zimbabwe Defence Forces

ZIPRA                    Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army

ZNLWVA                Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association

ZPS                       Zimbabwe Prison Service

ZRP                       Zimbabwe Republic Police


Additional Readings

“Ambitions, Profits and Loss: Zimbabwean Economic Involvement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Michael Nest African Affairs, Volume 100, Issue 400 (2001).

“An Inside Job Zimbabwe: The State, The Security Forces, And A Decade Of Disappearing Diamonds” Global Witness (2017)

“‘The Anatomy of the Resource Curse: Predatory Investment in Africa’s Extractive Industries,” J.R. Maley, Africa Centre for Strategic Studies special Report (2015).

“Boost to Parliament as EU Supports New Programme,” United Nations Development Programme (2015).

“The Case for Security Sector Reform in Zimbabwe,” Chitiyo, Knox, Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (2009).

“The Church, Politics and the Future of Zimbabwe,” Zakeyo, Marion (2012).

“Constitution Watch Zimbabwe,” Veritas (2015).

“The Elephant in the Room.” Human Rights Watch (2013).

EU Country Roadmap for Engagement with Civil Society 2014-2017, Zimbabwe,” European Union External Action Service (2014).

“New Constitution Ushers Security Sector Reforms,” Daily News (2013).

“Perspectives Africa: Women, Custom and Access to Justice,” Heinrich Böll Foundation, Regional Office Southern Africa (2014).

“Pre-Trial Detention in Zimbabwe,” Chimbga, Dzimbabwe, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Law Society of Zimbabwe (2014).  

“Progressive Reform in the New Constitution of Zimbabwe: A Balance Between the Preservative and Transformative Constitution Making Process,” Nyabeze, Tawana H., Harare: Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e.V. (2015).

“Providing for Peacekeeping - Zimbabwe Profile,” Dzinesa, Gwinyayi, A Providing For Peacekeeping (2015).

“The Security Sector in Southern Africa,” Hendricks, Cheryl, and Takawira Musavengana, Institute for Security Studies (2010).

“Securing Reform? Power Sharing and Civil-Security Relations in Kenya and Zimbabwe,” Noyes, Alexander, African Studies Quarterly 13, no. 4 (2013).

“Statement Attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Elections in Zimbabwe,” Ban Ki-moon, (2013).

“Zimbabwe Case-Study,” Lalá, Anicia, African Security Sector Network, Research Project on SSR Provisions in Peace Agreements (2009).

“Zimbabwe,” Transparency International (2014).

“Zimbabwe:The Urgency of Now,” Mwanaka, Tendai R. (2015).

“Zimbabwe Transition in a Muddy Terrain: Political Economy Under Military Capture”, Zimbabwe Democracy Institute Report (2017).