The UK-Rwanda Asylum Partnership Arrangement Explained

Originally published on Student Christian Movement’s blog

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.  

Deuteronomy 10:17-19 

On April 14 2022 the United Kingdom and Rwanda signed a deal called the Asylum Partnership Arrangement. Since then, the government has faced heavy criticism from human rights and migrant advocacy organisations. This blog will help you to understand what this agreement is and why it has attracted strong condemnation.  

What is the agreement?  

The agreement describes itself as “a mechanism for the relocation of asylum seekers whose claims are not being considered by the United Kingdom, to Rwanda, which will process their claims and settle or remove (as appropriate) individuals after their claim is decided.” Simply put, those who arrive in the UK “irregularly” or who arrived “irregularly” since January 1, 2022, for example by crossing the English Channel, could be sent to Rwanda on a one-way ticket where their asylum claim will be processed. If Rwanda recognises their claim, they will be granted refugee status in Rwanda.

The initial pilot scheme will focus on single men who entered the country via small boats and lorries. The government said that the first transfers of asylum seekers could begin in the next few weeks.

What’s wrong with the agreement?  

Illegal under international law 

The government’s plans are most likely illegal under international law and will face many legal challenges before they can be implemented. According to UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Gillian Triggs, these plans “shift asylum responsibilities, evade international obligations, and are contrary to the letter and spirit of the Refugee Convention.”

The 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol are two key legal documents that define the term ‘refugee’ and sets out refugee rights in addition to the legal obligations of states to protect them. As the Asylum Partnership Arrangement creates a two-tiered asylum system, whereby those deemed to have entered the country “irregularly” are sent to Rwanda while those who have arrived via an accepted route are processed in the UK, the agreement contravenes Article 3 of the Convention which states that the provisions in the convention must be applied “without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin.” Such provisions include access to housing, employment, education, and social security. By refusing to process and assist those who enter via the channel, the UK is contravening these internationally ratified agreements.  

It is also important to counteract the government’s narrative that those who cross the Channel in boats are “illegal immigrants” who cannot claim asylum. This is false. According to Lord Justice Edis, Mrs Justice May and Sir Nicholas Blake in a 2021 Court of Appeals Ruling:

as the law presently stands, an asylum seeker who merely attempts to arrive at the frontiers of the United Kingdom in order to make a claim is not entering or attempting to enter the country unlawfully. Even though an asylum seeker has no valid passport or identity document, or prior permission to enter the United Kingdom, this does not make his arrival at the port a breach of an immigration law.

Therefore, to treat migrants differently according to their method of entry is unlawful.  

Rwanda is not a safe country for refugees 

Rwanda is a country with significant human rights issues and the UK government has itself been a critic of human rights in Rwanda. Julian Braithewaite, director general for Europe at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, said in January 2021 that the UK is concerned by “continued restrictions to civil and political rights and media freedom” as well as calling for investigations into “allegations of extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and torture”. Furthermore, many are concerned about human rights abuses against refugees specifically. In 2018 Rwandan security forces killed at least 12 Congolese refugees who protested a cut to food rations. A further 60 Congolese refugees were arrested on charges including rebellion and “spreading false information with intent to create a hostile international opinion against the Rwandan state.” This concerning track record begs the question of how the UK can consider Rwanda to be a safe place for refugees to settle.  

There is particular concern for members of the LGBTQ+ community seeking asylum. Those fleeing a threat to their lives in one country could be sent to another country that is not safe for queer people. In 2021 the Rwandan authorities arbitrarily detained many gay and transgender people, sex workers, street children, and others in the months before a high-profile international conference. Those arrested were accused of “not representing Rwandan values.”  Many queer Rwandans have been granted asylum in the UK, further bringing into question how the UK can view Rwanda as a safe country for refugees.  

The UK is not the first country to try sending refugees to Rwanda. Israel established a similar scheme in 2015 when faced with an influx of refugees from Eritrea and Sudan. Refugees were offered a ticket to either Uganda or Rwanda, or deportation to their country of origin. The scheme failed: of the approximately 4,000 people deported by Israel to Rwanda and Uganda between 2014 and 2017, almost all are thought to have left the country soon after arrival, with many trying to return to Europe via people-smuggling routes. One can only assume that if a similar scheme is introduced in the UK, its chances of achieving its aims would be slim.

It ignores human dignity 

At a fundamental level, aside from the legal implications, this agreement violates the sacredness of each individual. Gillian Triggs says that “people fleeing war, conflict and persecution deserve compassion and empathy. They should not be traded like commodities and transferred abroad for processing,” and her words reflect the Christian idea that all people are sacred bearers of God’s image and should be treated with dignity, compassion, and hospitality.

As Christians we are called to “accompany” migrants and displaced persons. Unlike other models of humanitarian assistance that view migrants as service users, accompaniment emphasises “personally standing with and sharing the journey of migrants in a spirit of compassion and respect,” as well as prioritizing “deep listening, mutual witness, and joint action…responding to the dignity of migrants as fellow children of God.” When we shift our perspective towards migrants away from viewing them as simply victims in need of saving, or economic burdens as governments like to propagandise, and instead see them as siblings in need of our solidarity and accompaniment, we can build a migration system centred around compassion, mercy, and human dignity.

A Note on Racism, Inequality, and Double Standards 

This government announcement comes amid Europe’s biggest migration crisis in decades amidst the war in Ukraine. But there is no talk of sending Ukrainian refugees to Rwanda. Instead, there are cash incentives for those willing to house families in need and a collective sense of moral duty towards Ukrainians fleeing war. This is great and should be praised. But why do we not feel the same way towards migrants arriving on boats? Why are we so willing to take in those fleeing Europe but not those fleeing conflicts in Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, and many other places? The difference is race, religion, and perceived differences in values. But as the UN Refugee Convention makes clear, we cannot distinguish between how we treat refugees based on their religion, ethnicity, or “acceptability.” We must quash these double standards and advocate for an asylum system that treats all in need equally and welcomes them without distinction. This work begins by examining our own biases.  

The UK-Rwanda Asylum Partnership Arrangement is not only illegal, but cruel and deeply inhumane. We must demand more from our policymakers so that we live in a society that seeks not to exclude migrants but instead accompany them on their journey to safety and prosperity.  

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me 

Matthew 25:35 

References

Ahmed, Y. and McDonnell, E. (2022) ‘UK Plan to Ship Asylum Seekers to Rwanda is Cruelty Itself’, Human Rights Watch, 14 April. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/04/14/uk-plan-ship-asylum-seekers-rwanda-cruelty-itself (Accessed: 16 April 2022). 

Bani, Mohamoud, Rakei and Zadeh -v- The Crown (2021). Available at: https://www.judiciary.uk/judgments/bani-mohamoud-rakei-and-zadeh-v-the-crown/ (Accessed: 16 April 2022). 

Barbieri Jr., W.A. (2020) ‘The Migrant Imago: Migration and the Ethics of Human Dignity’, in Phan, P.C. (ed.) Christian Theology in the Age of Migration: Implications for World Christianit. Lanham, Boulder, New York, and London: Lexington Books. 

BBC News (2022) ‘Patel personally approved Rwanda plan launch after civil servant concerns’, 16 April. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-61126360 (Accessed: 16 April 2022).

Beaumont, P. (2022) ‘Rwanda’s history of receiving deportees raises concerns for potential UK scheme’, The Guardian, 17 January. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/17/rwanda-uk-asylum-seekers-deportees-israel-scheme (Accessed: 16 April 2022). 

Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) OHCHR. Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/convention-relating-status-refugees (Accessed: 16 April 2022). 

Memorandum of Understanding between the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the government of the Republic of Rwanda for the provision of an asylum partnership arrangement (no date) GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/memorandum-of-understanding-mou-between-the-uk-and-rwanda/memorandum-of-understanding-between-the-government-of-the-united-kingdom-of-great-britain-and-northern-ireland-and-the-government-of-the-republic-of-r (Accessed: 16 April 2022). 

Smout, A. and Uwiringiyimana, C. (2022a) ‘Britain plans to send migrants to Rwanda under tougher asylum policy’, Reuters, 14 April. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/uks-johnson-seeks-put-fine-behind-him-with-immigration-plan-2022-04-13/ (Accessed: 16 April 2022).

Smout, A. and Uwiringiyimana, C. (2022b) ‘Britain plans to send migrants to Rwanda under tougher asylum policy’, Reuters, 14 April. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/uks-johnson-seeks-put-fine-behind-him-with-immigration-plan-2022-04-13/ (Accessed: 16 April 2022). 

Sommerlad, J. (2022) ‘What is Rwanda’s record on human rights?’, The Independent, 15 April. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/uk-asylum-rwanda-human-rights-b2058668.html (Accessed: 16 April 2022). 

The 1951 Refugee Convention (no date) UNHCR. Available at: https://www.unhcr.org/1951-refugee-convention.html (Accessed: 16 April 2022).

UN Refugee Agency opposes UK plan to export asylum (2022) UNHCR. Available at: https://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2022/4/62585e814/un-refugee-agency-opposes-uk-plan-export-asylum.html (Accessed: 16 April 2022). 

Wood, P. (2022) ‘Why Rwanda plan might not work as offshore schemes by Australia, Israel and Denmark all failed’, inews.co.uk, 14 April. Available at: https://inews.co.uk/news/rwanda-scheme-might-not-work-offshore-asylum-schemes-failures-1577123 (Accessed: 16 April 2022). 

Cover Image: “rwanda” by rezendi is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Iran-Qatar Talks Indicate Support of Nuclear Deal

Originally published in The SOAS Spirit

Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, indicated his country’s support for the Vienna-Iran nuclear deal talks during a visit by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to Doha on 21 February. The discussions between the two Gulf nations resulted in the signing of several bilateral agreements, including a plan to connect the countries via an underwater tunnel. 

Raisi’s visit to Doha is considered by academics to be significant on many fronts. It marks his first visit to a Gulf nation and his fourth international visit since taking office in June 2021. It is the first visit by an Iranian President to Doha in 11 years. 

The visit follows an unannounced visit by Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani to Tehran earlier in January. The Qatari Foreign Minister discussed Yemen and Afghanistan with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian. 

Qatar enjoys good ties with Iran, with whom it shares the world’s largest natural-gas condensate field in the Persian Gulf. Iran supported Qatar during the 2017 Qatar diplomatic crisis when Saudi Arabia and its allies boycotted the small Gulf nation due to allegations of supporting terrorism and diapproval of Qatar’s ties to Iran and Turkey. Qatar and Saudi Arabia agreed an end to the crisis on 4 January 2021 after signing an agreement brokered by the United States and Kuwait. 

Raisi had hoped that his trip to Qatar would boost political and trade relations with Gulf Arab countries, as well as being an opportunity to discuss issues of ‘common concern’ between the two nations. One such issue was the ongoing Vienna talks that aim to revive the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and western powers, known as The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). 

President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the JCPOA in May 2018, calling it ‘defective at its core.’ President Joe Biden has been trying to revive the deal since taking office in January 2020. He says the US will rejoin and lift sanctions if Iran reverses its breaches of the JCPOA, while Raisi maintains that the US must make the first move.

“Qatar’s Emir said his country was prepared to do what it can to assist in bringing an agreeable solution to all sides in Vienna.”

Commenting on the Vienna talks, Raisi said that ‘guarantees are essential to reach an agreement,’ and urged the United States to prove it is willing to lift heavy sanctions if a deal is struck. Qatar’s Emir said his country was prepared to do what it can to assist in bringing an agreeable solution to all sides in Vienna.

Iran also suggested that it would be open to discussions with Saudi Arabia, which Al-Jazeera reporter Jamal Elshayyal suggests could lead Qatar to find itself ‘in a position where it may play mediator’ between the two opposing regional powers. 

Photo Caption: President of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi. His visit to Qatar is his fourth foregin visit since becoming President in 2021 (Credit: Mehr News Agency, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons).

America’s Last Chance? A Reflection on the 2020 Election

Growing up, I was fascinated by my American heritage. Proud to say that I wasn’t just British, I was constantly researching Washington State (where my father is from) and thinking about what it would be like to live there. I’ve twice had the privilege to visit my family there and some of my fondest memories are from my trips to the states: sitting in a restaurant looking over the Oregon coast at sunset with hummingbirds fluttering about; marvelling at all the planes in the Museum of Flight; being charmed by the hilarious sea otters at the Seattle Aquarium. I loved this part of my identity and all of the unique experiences it brought me.

Looking across the Pond now, I am sometimes ashamed to say that I am American. In just four years, it went from a nation with its first Black President to a nation whose leader has refused to condemn white supremacist groups. It is a nation where the word “freedom” is often twisted to mean that those with power and privilege should be allowed to do whatever they want, but many innocent Black lives are lost to police brutality each year. It is a nation where the existence of climate change can be a matter of opinion, rather than a real but stoppable consequence of human greed and negligence. It is a place where healthcare is a privilege, not a right. It is a place where religious freedom is not about who can practice their religion, but rather who can use their religion as an excuse to exclude others. 

This election is a chance for Americans to reclaim their nation as a progressive and tolerant place – a nation that can address inequality, historic atrocities against minorities, and become a fairer place for all. But my fear is that not enough people know what is at stake in this vote. Not only is the country’s reputation on the line, but so are its democratic institutions. Donald Trump has refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power and his nominee for the vacant Supreme Court seat refused to say whether presidents should commit to this. Donald Trump attacked the postal system and claimed that Democrats were using it to rig the election – a disproved claim, but one that damages public confidence in the system all the same. Donald Trump’s actions and words are more akin to a facist dictator than they are to the ‘Leader of the Free World.”

Me with my father at Mount St. Helens

But this is precisely what many activists are saying: Trump’s actions are in line with how many dictatorships begin. Umair Haque, a survivor of an authoritarian regime, has been writing extensively on what he sees as America’s descent into authoritarianism. In his article titled “We Don’t Know How to Warn You Any Harder. America is Dying.”, he analyses many of the events over the past couple of months, including the August protesst in Kenosha in the aftermath of the police killing of Jacob Blake, at which a white supremacist killed two protestors and injured another. In the article Haque goes on to warn: “A second Trump term? It will involve all of the following. Shock troops on the streets. Disappearances becoming everyday events. Critics and dissidents being tortured in hidden jails. Expression and thought being monitored for any negative portrayal of the fascists. Hated minorities institutionally dehumanized and resegregated. It will involve levels of such horrific violence and brutality that Americans still cannot understand or grasp precisely because they have been lucky enough to have never yet personally experienced them.” 

Americans are failing to grasp that this election is not just about politics – it is about democracy and people’s lives. I am angered by those on the left who refuse to vote for Biden as they deem him to be too right-leaning for their taste. Now is not a time for protest votes against the two party system. As Blake Mundell tweeted, “I’m voting for Biden because I’d rather fight to dismantle the two party system under a capitalist oligarchy than under a militarized fascist regime.” Voting Biden into office certainly won’t fix all of America’s problems, but it will ensure that people can criticise institutions and call out injustice without fear of being attacked by the state for doing so. 

I hope there comes a day where once again I can take pride in my American heritage, knowing that I was one of the voters who ensured Trump was a one-term President. I hope there comes a day when I can be proud of my leaders and proud of the elected officials representing my people. But until then, I will continue to speak out against injustice and the destruction of Democracy, knowing that a better America is possible. 

Originally published October 2020 by Student Christian Movement

Lebanon: How Did We Get Here?

Once admired as a beacon of stability in an increasingly unstable region, Lebanon is currently a nation in crisis. The country is facing its worst economic crash in the modern era. The local currency, the Lebanese Lira, lost 60% of its value over June 2020, as well as decreasing in value by 80% since October 2019. Essentials such as medicines, safe drinking water, power, and internet access are in short supply as thousands descend into poverty. The World Bank projects that over half of the population will fall below the poverty line this year.

Many saw the collapse of Lebanon’s economy as an inevitability. Successive Lebanese governments have been accused of economic mismanagement, endemic corruption, and overspending. But the main catalyst for the current situation was the shortage of foreign currency in October 2019, causing the value of the Lebanese Lira to fall against the dollar on the black markets that emerged. To increase revenue, the government introduced sweeping tax proposals on commodities such as tobacco, petrol, and voice calls, but these plans were fiercely opposed by Lebanese citizens and thus rescinded. Although a lockdown imposed in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic forced many protesters off the streets, it also worsened the economic situation and exposed the inadequacies of the country’s welfare system.

Street of Beirut. Photo by Maxime Guy on Unsplash

In the midst of this crisis, catastrophe struck when an explosion in the Port of Beirut on 4 August 2020 devastated the capital. Over 200 were killed, 6,000 injured, and over 300,000 left homeless. The explosion was caused by the detonation of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that had been stored unsafely for six years. Following public anger and protests, Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his cabinet offered their resignations on 10 August 2020.

Lebanon’s current crisis is political in nature. In a political system designed to share power along confessional lines, Prime Minister-Designate Mustapha Adib failed to form a cabinet made up of independent specialists that could work on enacting reforms, and thus offered his resignation on 26 September 2020. As of writing, the country is yet to install a new government.

Many Lebanese do not feel hopeful about the future. Beirutis fervently want answers as to the reasons behind the explosion. However, the FBI released a report on 13 October 2020 that reached no conclusion as to its cause. Judge Fadi Sawwan, who is leading the Lebanese government’s investigation into the explosion, is now awaiting reports from French and British explosive experts before making a judgement on the exact cause of the detonation.

The world bank projected that over half of the population would fall below the poverty line this year

As well as answers, many Lebanese also want justice for the failures of the government to prevent the country from reaching crisis point. However, Lebanese President Michel Aoun suggested that charges of corruption against the country’s politicians were ‘unfair’ in comments made about mass protests in the nation. But because of endemic corruption, the international community has not been keen to help Lebanon. The country’s western allies have been offering an $11 billion loan package since 2018, but this is on the condition that the government implements reforms in the public sector. As these changes haven’t been made, the loans have not been granted.

The future of Lebanon is firmly in the hands of the politicians that run the country. The extent of Lebanon’s recovery will be determined by the extent to which reforms are implemented.

Originally published November 2020 in The SOAS Spirit

The Silent Majority – Why Iranians Didn’t Vote

On 21 February Iranians voted in the Republic’s eleventh parliamentary elections, yielding a landslide victory for conservatives in the 290-Seat majlis. However, the country saw its lowest turn-out since the 1979 Revolution with ballot boxes being boycotted by reformists. The mass disqualification of reformists and incumbents, paired with growing domestic dissatisfaction towards the governing regime in the aftermath of the shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 in January, and the violent crackdown of last November’s protests, has resulted in a disenchanted electorate.

“Nothing is going to change with or without us voting…We’re protesting…by not participating in the elections.”

The disqualification of reformists was completely legal as per the Iranian vetting system. The Guardian Council, consisting of twelve religious jurists, assesses proposed candidates on their loyalty to the Islamic Republic and their religiosity, and can ultimately bar them from standing. Of the fifteen thousand who applied to run in this election, more than seven thousand were disqualified. This included the disqualification of ninety percent of the reformist nominees. This meant that the election was a battle between conservative and ultra-conservative candidates, leaving moderate and reformist voters feeling disenfranchised.

Anger with the political system resulted in calls to boycott the elections, with prominent Iranians including imprisoned activist Narges Mohammadi and former minister Mostafa Tajzadeh asking people not to vote. Yet the most striking motivator for boycotting was the sense of powerlessness people felt to be able to vote for change. “Nothing is going to change with or without us voting. [The ruling regime] decided everything for the country, without considering the parliament, so it’s a joke to even have a parliament. We’re protesting against them by not participating in the elections,” Mehdi, a young Tehrani business owner, told CNBC. Many in Iran viewed the elections less as being a chance to influence government policy, than as a public relations stunt legitimising the Islamic Republic – a public relations stunt they didn’t want to participate in.

Several crises in Iran have soured opinions of the Guardian Council’s image, particularly amongst the middle class and the educated young. The downing of Flight 752 on 8 January killing all  passengers (including fifteen children) followed government denials enraged Iranians. Coming not long after the brutal crackdown on protests in November in response to a rise in fuel prices, the government’s failure to respond adequately to these domestic issues has further prevented voters from being able to support the regime.

Iran is a country deeply wrapped up in a conflict between conservatism and modernism, with both sides wanting their worldview to determine the future direction of the country. However, with a conservative ruling elite, reformists have struggled to gain a foothold in the political system and to influence policy, allowing the regime to pursue hard-line methods of governance. The Iranian Students Polling Agency surveyed Tehranis and showed that half of the people did not trust that the election would be fair, with only a quarter saying that they would vote.  

“This vote is significant because it commences the hard-line takeover of Iran’s elected institutions,” says Sanam Vakil, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House in London. And with presidential elections on the horizon, the country is likely to soon have an ultra-conservative as its head of government, leading to further dismay amongst reformists and greater reluctance of the electorate to engage in suffrage. 

Originally published May 2020 in The SOAS Spirit

Life Struggles as Zimbabwe’s Drought Worsens

Life in Zimbabwe is failing to flourish amidst the country’s worst drought in years. Hundreds of animals have died while the World Food Programme believes at least 2 million people have been affected by the drought. 

According to Tinashe Farawo, Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority’s spokesman, over 200 elephants have died in Hwange National Park since October of this year. Competition for scarce food and water resources has led to animals dying of exhaustion and starvation. As the country faces temperatures above 45°C, even fish are struggling to survive in the inhospitable conditions.

‘Almost every animal is being affected,’ said Farawo, ‘elephants are easily noticed during patrols, but some bird species are seriously affected because they can only breed in certain tree heights and those trees are being knocked down by elephants.’ Predator and scavenger species are thriving as their access to food increases with the rising death toll of prey species. Volunteers are bringing food and resources for the struggling park but at a cost of $2500 per truckload. However, Zimbabwe as an already economically challenged nation, will struggle to use this as a sustainable solution. 

More than 2 billion people globally live in areas of high water stress, with demand for water estimated to increase up to 30% by 2050.

Agence France-Presse has reported that the country’s wildlife agency plans to move 600 elephants, two prides of lion, a pack of wild dogs, 50 buffalo, 40 giraffes, and 2,000 impalas, in what would be the ‘biggest translocation of wildlife in Zimbabwe’s history,’ according to Farawo. The relocation will alleviate the pressure on limited resources as the land will take time to recover after the rains come. 

The people of Zimbabwe have also suffered because of the drought. The effect of the water shortage on crops and the failed harvest means that over 50% of the population is in need of food aid. Bloomberg reports that the government has appealed for $464 million in aid to tackle the famine, following a fall in output from hydroelectric plants and the depletion of dams. Nationally, the ACT Alliance (Action Churches Together) has reported that prices of maize, the population’s staple food, have increased 31% from last year.  In Bulawayo, the country’s second-largest city, water has been rationed in an attempt to stem the demand on the depleting resource. 

In the age of climate crisis, these droughts will become ever more common. Southern Africa has been labelled by The United Nations International Panel on Climate Change as a so-called ‘hotspot’ region that faces higher risks of extreme heat and less rainfall as the global temperature continues to rise. Globally more than 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress, and the UN warns the problem is set to worsen, with demand expected to grow as much as 30% by 2050. The world will be watching Zimbabwe closely to see whether an intervention can help alleviate the problem, or whether this will serve as a warning for other climate-threatened nations.

Originally published December 2019 in The SOAS Spirit

Zimbabwe – Hopes Fade as Economic Crisis Worsens

President Emmerson Mnangagwa

The UN estimates that half of Zimbabwe’s population of 8.5 million will be food insecure by 2020.

Hopes that the President of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, can bring about economic renewal to the south African nation are dwindling after the country’s annual inflation reached nearly 300% in August, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The economic crisis has given rise to a deterioration of living standards, including energy shortages and rapidly rising food prices. The UN estimates that half of Zimbabwe’s population of 8.5 million will be food insecure by 2020. 

Zimbabwe’s economy has seen a difficult year – both in terms of policy and external factors. According to the IMF, ‘severe weather shocks’ affecting the country this year have hampered production, with droughts and cyclone Idai affecting agriculture and electricity generation. Meanwhile, attempts by the government to reduce the deficit through policies known as ‘fiscal consolidation’ have slowed growth. Although the government blames western sanctions for thwarting economic recovery and deterring investment, the weakening of confidence in the government and their policies has increased the pressure on exchange rates. Furthermore, opponents of Mnangagwa accuse the President of lacking commitment to political reform, and have criticised his use of heavy-handed tactics to clamp down on anti-government protests, further exacerbating distrust in the government.

Mnangagwa acknowledged the economic crisis and the need for reform in an address given to parliament on October 1st. Media outlet, Al Jazeera, reported that this was boycotted by the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Mnangagwa pleaded with the nation for time and patience in order to revive the economy from the ‘dead’. ‘I’m aware of the pain being experienced by the poor and the marginalised. Getting the economy working again from being dead will require time, patience, unity of purpose and perseverance,’ Mnangagwa said. In a controversial move the Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube suspended the publication of official annual inflation data in July, although the IMF continues to publish its data on the country’s economic situation.

Led by Mr. Gene Leon in September, a recent IMF mission to review progress in Harare laid out several recommendations for the country to tackle the economic crisis. ‘Policy actions are urgently needed to tackle the root causes of economic instability and enable private-sector led growth,’ reported Leon. Such actions include the containment of fiscal spending, the tightening of monetary policy to stabilise exchange rates and build confidence in the currency, and improvement in the transparency of monetary statistics. The preliminary findings also criticised Zimbabwe’s ‘slow progress on international re-engagement,’ and Leon concluded that ‘efforts will need to be intensified on both economic and political fronts to drive Zimbabwe forward.’  

Originally published November 2019 in The SOAS Spirit