SOAS University of London

SOAS academic gives evidence in Parliament on DFID’s work in Zimbabwe

28 May 2019

Stephen Chan, Professor of World Politics at SOAS, has given evidence to the International Development Committee for the inquiry into DFID's work in Zimbabwe.

Professor Chan discussed the Government of Zimbabwe’s response to the recent protests noting that it was a divided response: “I think the Government response to the recent unrest has been clumsy and over the top. It is reminiscent of the Government’s response to protests just after the election, for instance. I was there for those elections.

“It seems to me that what you have is not just a Government response, but a divided Government response, in the sense that one hand may not always know exactly what the other is doing. This speaks to the Harare rumour mill, which is never a reliable rumour mill…. But there seems to be some evidence of a divided approach to security issues, and not only that, but the security forces themselves seem to be divided.”

Professor Chan then gave evidence on projects for young women in rural areas that might be particularly under threat, noting that “There are a huge number of non-governmental organisations that operate in Zimbabwe and in the surrounding area. They have taken almost as a mantra, and I think a very desirable mantra, that they want to have a specific target audience of young women, particularly young women completing education. There is a major blockage in the transition from primary to secondary school, and then in allowing them to complete secondary school. That is precisely the age at which all kinds of physical changes occur, thus the need for sanitary products, for instance. There are all kinds of issues to do with harassment, sexual harassment, that kind of thing.

“The non-governmental organisations I have been working with have been trying to guarantee, as far as possible, the transition from primary to secondary school. I am also involved in unusual projects of teaching these young women self-defence, so that if they are harassed by predators they have some limited but real capacity to resist. You will find variations of educational projects for transitioning and completing secondary education throughout many parts of rural Zimbabwe.

“Very few of these young women, or the young men, will go on to higher education or even technical further education. Even if they do, you have this terrible unemployment problem. There is nothing for them to do when they come out. You have the makings of a most literate youth population, with perfect grammar that would put many of our school students to shame, but there will be nothing for them. They will be the net victims of the parlous nature of the current regime.”

Professor Chan also reflected on the IMF, economic sanctions and hope for the future of Zimbabwe: “Using the IMF simply as a means of battering the economy further is not going to help. There has to be an internationally accepted and supported mix of incentives, promises and very, very harsh punishment for misdemeanours. Now, you have a problem here, which can compound existing problems, in that any IMF programme to restabilise the economy is going to be accompanied by the usual round of IMF measures to put some rigour into public spending, for instance.

“This will affect precisely the doctors, the teachers and the nurses who are already feeling incapacitated, unable to work because they cannot earn a living working. The most vulnerable people stand to suffer further as a result of fiscal discipline, which all the same is probably unavoidable. Apart from encouraging a united international approach to fiscal discipline and what to do in terms of negotiations with the IMF, we have to put in a great deal of effort to ensure that the IMF’s stringency does not greatly disadvantage those already disadvantaged. This would be a new and creative way forward in terms of normal IMF procedures.”

The International Development Committee held this urgent evidence session on the situation in Zimbabwe. Following the recent violent crackdown by Zimbabwe’s security forces, this session allowed the Committee to explore how the UK, and DFID in particular, should respond. The Committee first heard from a panel of academic experts, including Professor Chan, before then questioning the Minister for Africa, Harriet Baldwin MP, and the head of DFID Zimbabwe.

The full evidence can be found at House of Commons.