Two days ago, the government’s Information Minister tweeted that his fellow Cabinet members had been “eliminated” and called the nation’s doctors “medical assassins”.
He deleted the tweets yesterday and apologized “if anyone was offended”.
Nurses at a major hospital in the capital city of Harare are on strike because they are provided a single cloth mask and bakery aprons as PPE.
The Defense Minister has accused China of “botched experiments” that brought Covid to Zimbabwe, and has said that she will only accept a vaccine if it is manufactured locally.
Today, the government announced that it “plans to buy” cheapo Chinese and Russian vaccines, but can only afford to cover two-thirds of the country’s population.
The Harare elite have taken to hoarding – not food, but oxygen– to the point where hospitals are placing newspaper ads promising to pay top dollar for any remaining supply.
This is the ‘Zimbabwe Event’, and I believe it has significant real-world and market-world consequences.
Like the ‘Ireland Event’ I’ve been writing about recently, what is happening in Zimbabwe (and every country in Southern Africa) is driven by a combination of relaxed social mitigation policies AND the introduction of a more infectious SARS-CoV-2 virus variant.
What is different is that Zimbabwe is a “weak state”, not a strong, stable state like Ireland.
What is different is that Zimbabwe is being hit by the South African-variant (501.V2), not the UK-variant virus (B117).
The stress of the Covid pandemic is enormous in ALL countries, and it is stress at EVERY stratum of society. The poor are dying. The middle class is dying and getting poorer.
The elite are not dying quite as much, but they’re not getting richer and the difference in outcomes between some elites and other elites is enormous.
This broad societal stress results in popular discontent and elite conflict in every country on Earth.
Rich country or poor country, weak state or strong state, big nation or small nation … doesn’t matter.
ALL nations are experiencing much higher levels of popular discontent and elite conflict today, which means that ALL governments are experiencing much higher pressure for regime change and leadership transitions.
In a strong state – meaning a nation that has the institutions, traditions, narrative legitimacy and state-supporting common knowledge to accommodate a peaceful leadership transition even under times of intense stress – you can survive a Covid Event without violent regime change.
In a weak state – meaning a nation that does NOT have the institutions, traditions, narrative legitimacy and state-supporting common knowledge to accommodate a peaceful leadership transition under times of intense stress – you cannot.
Weak states do not have an effective political steam valve for popular discontent and elite conflict, resulting in war and violent regime change when a Covid Event hits.
The United States is a strong state. It is, arguably, the strongest state in the world, with an institutional legitimacy and broad-based popular loyalty to those core institutions that has few peers.
The United States has many political steam valves for the expression of popular discontent and elite conflict.
If the events of January 6th and the storming of the Capitol can happen in the United States, can you imagine what’s possible in Harare? In Tehran? In Moscow?
In a desperately poor country like Zimbabwe – and there are a lot of Zimbabwes in the world – the violence of popular discontent and elite conflict is obvious enough.
When the core functions of a domestic government effectively collapse, civilian life in these circumstances quickly becomes, as Hobbes would say, nasty, brutish and short.
The outcome of these circumstances is ALWAYS war. First a war of all against all, then a war of organized factions, then (often) a war of nations.
Some of these wars in the Zimbabwes of the world will be entirely internal to existing borders. Some of these wars will cross those borders. Some of these wars will include major powers.
I think 2021 will be a Year of Civil War in weak states that are desperately poor.
The market couldn’t care less about that, of course, whatever the human enormity of this violence might be.
But the dynamics I’m describing are not only true for an insanely poor weak state like Zimbabwe, but are also true for a relatively wealthy weak state like South Africa. Or Iran. Or Russia.
If you don’t see that the Navalny protests and the growing popular discontent with Putin and his billion dollar palace and all that is both made possible and accelerated by the enormous stress that Covid has placed on the Russian economy and public health … well, I think you’re missing the larger picture here.
By the same token, I also think it’s clear that there is real and significant elite conflict behind the protests you see on TV, similarly stemming from that stress on the Russian economy.
Clausewitz famously said that war is the continuation of politics by other means. In weak states, though, the reverse is also true: politics is the continuation of war by other means.
Right now, Russia is a political war of all against all. Can Putin survive this political war? Sure. But if he does, it won’t be pretty. My bet is that he “retires for health reasons”.
I could absolutely see the same thing happening with Khamenei in Iran. Or MBS in Saudi Arabia.
I think 2021 will be a Year of Unexpected Regime Change in weak states that are relatively wealthy.
The market will care about this a great deal.