Updated: Feb 26, 2019
Author: Siggy Kahama
Protests over increased fuel prices arose earlier this year in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare. The protests displayed dissatisfaction from Zimbabweans across the country, causing one of the biggest outrages and portrayals of passion since the cessation of former infamous prime minister Robert Mugabe in 2017. As a result, the government responded with rather coarse and repressive actions by shutting down the internet and hunting down activists.
The protests started in mid-January after president Emmerson Mnangagwa’s decision to increase the prices of diesel from $1.36 per liter to $3.11, and prices of petrol from $1.24 to $3.32 per liter. For a relatively poor country that never fully recovered from its inflation peaks in 2008, these prices angered the citizens who already struggle enough to pay for daily necessities. To add some perspective, in 2015 Zimbabwe’s 100 trillion dollar note was equivalent to 40 cents in U.S. dollars. The government’s reason for doubling the prices of fuel was due to increased usage influenced by fuel trading and the use of illegal currencies.
After the fuel price announcements, many began to block roads, rob businesses and services and burn vehicles and buildings, leaving victims injured and helpless in the crossfires. Police decided to take action using AK-47s in an attempt to control the riots. However, reports say that they have invaded the homes of citizens, performed public beatings and have even gone to the point of killing.
Doug Coltart, a human rights lawyer who spoke to some of the victims of the attacks, said “Some people I spoke to had a consistent story who said they were in their homes when armed men with masks on, in plain clothes armed with AK-47s, bashed down their doors, grabbed them, pulled them out into the street, beat them, and then threw them in the back of trucks.”
Reports also mention that some of the men detaining people were not even part of the police force, or were officers defying the rules of the police command and acting impulsively. As of February 12, 2019, approximately 1,000 people have been arrested, whether they had protested or not.
Proceeding the protests, the government issued an official internet shut down for about a week, causing citizens to lose all forms of connection with the outside world. The shutdown did not only result in loss of connection but also a loss of utilities, as some depended on the internet to pay house bills. As a result, some citizens spent days in darkness. Online support with the hashtags #ZimbabweShutDown and #SwitchBackOnZW followed the shut down, with global attention demanding the reconnection of the nation. The internet was soon recovered, but arrests of protesters still continue.
The government continues to try to improve Zimbabwe’s chaotic situation. Even though protests have subsided, Zimbabwe remains in an unstable state. They have reached out to foreign countries asking for aid and the country seems to be improving. Tensions between the government and the people of Zimbabwe are still prominent, nevertheless. Mnangagwa proceeds to take measures in improving the nation’s social and economic state.