Foreign policy and defense
Under Robert Mugabe's 37-year reign of 1980,
Zimbabwe went from being a high-profile nation both
regionally and internationally to becoming a partially
isolated state outside the world. Mugabe's successor
Emmerson Mngagwa is now trying to break the country's
Relations with the outside world deteriorated step by
step during Mugabe's time in power (1980–2017). From the
beginning, Mugabe was seen as a hero of freedom and his
policy of reconciliation was praised by the outside
world. After the massacres of the Ndebele people from
1983 to 1986 (see Modern history), his reputation in the
West began to decline and after 2000, when Mugabe pushed
through his violent land reform and increased the
pressure on the opposition, Zimbabwe became an
Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Zimbabwe for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
After the 2002 elections, the EU and the US imposed
so-called smart sanctions on Zimbabwe because of the
regime's harassment of the opposition (see Modern
History). The assistance was withdrawn, with the
exception of food assistance. The sanctions included
travel bans and frozen bank assets for individuals and
companies with links to the regime. After the 2013
elections, the EU liquidated most of its sanctions, but
Mugabe himself and his wife were still subject to travel
bans. The United States retained most of its
restrictions, even after the change of power in 2017
(see Current Policy).
The special relationship with the old colonial power
of Britain suffered special damage. Mugabe accused the
British government of exploiting the opposition party
MDC to carry out devastating activities against his
government. The Commonwealth (Britain and the former
British colonies) ruled out Zimbabwe for one year after
the presidential election in 2002. Before an expected
extension of the exclusion, Zimbabwe chose to leave the
organization. The government that took over after
Mugabe's fall applied for re-entry in 2018 but in order
to re-enter Zimbabwe into the community again, the
Commonwealth demands that the country show clear
improvements in the human rights situation. The
shootings of civilians in January 2019 (see Current
policy) have not facilitated the process.
In 2008, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted
a resolution on Zimbabwe, in which all Council members
(including South Africa, China and Russia) condemned the
threats and violence against the country's opposition in
the presidential election that year. The Security
Council called for a halt to the Mugabe government's
violence, which had also been condemned by the African
Union (AU). In general, African countries were otherwise
cautious and indulgent in their attitude toward Mugabe
and his human rights violations. The principles were not
to criticize or condemn Mugabe publicly and avoid
interfering with what is perceived as the country's
"internal affairs". The African leaders relied on
so-called silent diplomacy to get the parties in
Zimbabwe to form a unifying government.
The South African Cooperation Organization (SADC) has
long supported Mugabe and was restrained with criticism.
The tone sharpened somewhat in 2011 when the
organization's leadership troika, South Africa's,
Namibia's and Zambia's leaders, noted that very little
was done to fulfill the terms of the power sharing
agreement. After the 2013 election, however, SADC ruled
that everything went well, despite the opposition and
judges in the West pointing to irregularities. The
Government of Botswana was an exception and condemned
the lack of democracy in Zimbabwe. After the change of
power in 2017, Botswana's president was the African
leader who first came to visit. Botswana also offered
Zimbabwe emergency loans.
The relationship with South Africa is complicated.
The situation improved naturally enough when the
apartheid system was abolished in 1994. Under President
Thabo Mbeki in 1999–2008, South Africa chose not to
condemn the Zimbabwe government and Mbeki endorsed all
elections held during the period. Mbeki's successor
Jacob Zuma was somewhat sharper in his stance. Under the
surface, South Africa worries that a continuing crisis
in Zimbabwe will increase the flow of Zimbabweans
seeking refuge in South Africa, fleeing political
turmoil and financial difficulties. At least one million
Zimbabweans live in neighboring countries. The number is
uncertain, as most are paperless and move back and forth
across the border.
The isolation from the western world since the
beginning of the 2000s led Zimbabwe to turn to China. In
exchange for financial aid, Zimbabwe has provided China
with a number of trade benefits and permits for mineral
During Mugabe, Zimbabwe also approached US-critical
states such as Venezuela and Iran.
Zimbabwe's military forces were loyal to President
Mugabe's government from independence in 1980 and for
many years to come. The army's reputation was clouded
during the 1980s by the brutal methods used to defeat a
rebellion in Matabeleland (see Modern History).
Thereafter, the military kept a low profile, but its
influence increased again as the political crisis
worsened during the first years of the 2000s. Mugabe was
reportedly increasingly seeking his support from
military circles, but during the power struggle that
arose within the ruling party in 2017, the military
changed foot and chose to support the phalanx that
challenged Mugabe. The military's intervention
eventually forced Mugabe to leave his post (see Current
FACTS - DEFENSE
25,000 men (2017)
The air Force
4,000 men (2017)
Military expenditure's share of GDP
2.0 percent (2017)
Military spending's share of the state budget
7.4 percent (2017)
MDC boycott government
Tsvangirai announces that MDC is boycotting all government meetings so far.
The immediate reason is that an MDC politician has been arrested, charged with
terrorism and stamping out on insurgency and sabotage. MDC is also deeply
dissatisfied with Zanu-PF as a partner. Following MDC's resignation, violence
and harassment against MDC members is increasing.
Settlement celebrates one year
One year has passed since the settlement of power sharing, but the MDC
complains of continued harassment and violence against the party's members.
However, some economic progress is noted and visits by EU and US delegations
show that relations with the outside world have improved. Both, however, still
have some sanctions directed at leading Zimbabweans.
Currency is abandoned
The country's currency is formally abandoned, since the number of zeros in
the figures for both inflation and banknotes has become incomprehensibly high.
Car accident with the Prime Minister
Tsvangirai's wife Susan dies in a car accident in which the prime minister
himself is slightly injured. There are speculations about the attack, but
Tsvangirai calls it an accident.
The unity government can eventually be formed. The constitutional amendments
required to consolidate the division of power are adopted by Parliament, and
Tsvangirai can take over as prime minister. The new government is in place a few
days later. Control over the disputed Interior Ministry, under which the police
sort, is shared by MDC and Zanu-PF. MDC party secretary Tendai Biti, who has
just been cleared of charges of high treason, becomes finance minister.