Zimbabwe is a fragile country. The political, economic, social and humanitarian situation has long been marked by a repressive social and legal climate. Despite being rich in natural resources and having a well-educated population, the economic situation is worsening. With high poverty levels, an unemployment rate estimated to 80-85% and an on-going cash shortage, development in Zimbabwe is declining.
Zimbabwe has faced various challenges after gaining independence in 1980. In the 1980s and the early 1990s, the country made great social progress within the healthcare and education sectors, a well-developed industry and a productive agriculture. However, towards the end of the 1990s the economy worsened and the government was forced to turn to international organizations for support, such as the IMF and the World Bank. The standard of living in Zimbabwe deteriorated, leading to protests against the government. The crisis in the country kept deteriorating and in 1999, the first real opposition party, known as Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was formed.
In the early 2000s, the government imposed a land reform in which land was redistributed from white commercial farmers. The land reform policy created small to medium sized land holdings and turned what was previously large scale commercial farms into smallholder plots and farms. This land allocation seriously affected the country's food production and in turn, the economy in general. Forced resettlement and a humanitarian crisis followed.
The land reform was criticized by parts of the international community, condemning its violations against human rights. As a result, many of the donors – mainly Western states and organizations – discontinued the bilateral development cooperation with the government of Zimbabwe.
Sweden stopped its bilateral development cooperation with the government in 2001 and has since then channelled its support through multilateral and civil society organizations. Shortly thereafter, the EU introduced restrictive measures in the forms of an arms embargo, travel restrictions and in 2002, an asset freeze for a limited number of people in response to the serious human rights violations. Additionally, the EU suspended its development cooperation with the government of Zimbabwe in accordance with the Cotonou Agreement (a development cooperation agreement between developing countries and the EU).
The land reform was followed by political turmoil, greatly affecting the political climate. The strained situation was manifested in the controversial election in 2008, resulting in a governmental coalition between the ruling party ZANU-PF and the opposition party MDC. However, due to serious internal cooperation problems within the government, the coalition did not achieve what it aimed for. The coalition split following the election in 2013 and ZANU-PF regained power.
There have, however, been some improvements following the 2013 election, mainly the new progressive constitution which was approved. The constitution limits the post of president to a maximum of two five-year terms and strengthened the government and parliament at the expense of the president. The new provisions of the Constitution hold promise to deliver good governance, equitable access to justice and respect for human rights for all Zimbabweans. Another important improvement within the new constitution is its greater focus on the rights and inclusion of women.
Zimbabwe continues to suffer from widespread poverty. According to estimates made by the UN in 2011, 72.3 percent of the population live in poverty, the majority in rural areas. Furthermore, the country is characterised by prevailing inequality. Zimbabwe is ranked in place 154 out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI), a guide used by the UN measuring not only economic prosperity but also include life expectancy and education level.
Zimbabwe's economy has suffered greatly from the political instability that has plagued the country since the early 2000s. This culminated in 2008 - 2009 when the country experienced hyperinflation and the production experienced a sharp drop. As a response to this hyperinflation the U.S. dollar was adopted.
The latest economic crisis struck the country in 2016. Zimbabwe went from suffering from great inflation to deflation, affecting the everyday life for most Zimbabweans. Today, there is a severe shortage of cash and the government has difficulties paying public sector workers, such as doctors and teachers. As a response to the shortage of U.S. dollar in the country, the Central Bank of Zimbabwe launched 'Bond Notes' in 2016. Bond Notes are not a currency, but a legally acknowledged medium of payment attached to the U.S. dollar.
A great challenge facing Zimbabwe is the high level of unemployment. Recent surveys estimate that 80 percent of the population are involved in the informal sector, while approximately 84 percent of the state budget goes to salaries. Furthermore, Zimbabwe is affected by environmental challenges, such as El Niño and La Niña, worsening the situation for the population already suffering from poverty and food insecurity. In 2017, 4.1 million people out of the total population of roughly 13 million were estimated to be food-insecure.