October 02, 2014
This week, the International Crisis Group issued a new briefing on Zimbabwe that portrays a country on simmer. "Zimbabwe is an insolvent and failing state," writes ICG Africa Program director Comfort Ero, "its politics zero sum, its institutions hollowing out, and its once vibrant economy moribund." Without significant changes of course in economic policy and elite behavior, the report warns, the risk of a sharper crisis and deeper collapse will continue to grow.
Our analysis largely accords with ICG's. The Early Warning Project's statistical risk assessments put Zimbabwe among the 30 countries at greatest risk of an onset of state-led mass killing, but barely. Zimbabwe ranks 28th, in the same range as Chad, Angola, Algeria, and Malawi. That ranking suggests a country with the structural potential for mass killing but not the overt crises that usually beget them.
Our expert opinion pool also has one question running on Zimbabwe. In late August, we asked our forecasters, "Before 1 January 2015, will violent conflict abruptly produce a new displacement crisis in Zimbabwe?" For purposes of this question, "displacement crisis" is defined as the displacement of 5,000 or more persons, and a crisis is considered to have occurred “abruptly” when those 5,000 or more persons are displaced within a seven-day period. Since the question opened, the aggregate forecast has hovered at about 4 percent. We asked identical questions about Kenya, Ethiopia, and Guinea, and the forecasts for all of those have run higher so far (currently 12, 8, and 6 percent, respectively).
Also consistent with ICG's analysis, our statistical models imply that the risk of state-led mass killing in Zimbabwe would increase significantly if the factional struggles within the ruling ZANU-PF party were to break into the open with a coup attempt or the eruption of armed conflict. The possibilities of these events are not remote. As ICG observes,
Despite visibly waning capacities, 90-year-old Robert Mugabe shows no sign of wanting to leave office. The succession battle within his party is presented as a two-way race between Vice President Joice Mujuru and Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, but the reality is more complex. Public battles have intensified, with intimidation and violence a disquieting feature. Mugabe’s diminished ability to manage this discord will be severely tested ahead of its December National People’s Congress.
Our statistical risk assessments won't be updated again until the spring of 2015. In the meantime, though, our opinion-pool question on the risk of a displacement crisis offers one way to track change in the risk of wider conflict in Zimbabwe. We will also be adding a raft of questions about risks of mass killing onsets before 2016 to the opinion pool later this fall and will be sure to include Zimbabwe in that set.