Analyzing Zimbabwe’s Crises

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[Africa News Update]

If Kwame Nkrumah were still able, how would this revolutionary Pan-Africanists classify Zimbabwe today? 

According to Nkrumah’s very instructive Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare Africa can be broken down into three zones distinguished by certain political states of affairs. This is commonly known as his Three Zone Theory or Three Zone Analysis, with the three being “liberated zones”, “contested zones”, and “enemy controlled zones”.

So, is Zimbabwe a contested or liberated zone?

This question arises regarding Zimbabwe because of the assertion by some that it is a liberated area or zone and because still others doubt this. So then, a critical examination becomes necessary. 

It should be apparent that Zimbabwe is not an enemy controlled zone since that is defined as a state under imperialist control through a foreign manned administration, a puppet government, or a settler minority government.  Since such is what determines an enemy controlled zone Zimbabwe cannot fit that de scri ption and if it did it would not be under such heavy attack by the West. 

Because the complexity of Africa's politico-economic situation has changed considerably since the time Nkrumah formulated these classifications it becomes necessary to refine how we further apply the analysis. A closer examination reveals the following:

A contested zone is defined as an area that starts under enemy control then becomes contested when “the revolutionary forces in activity there are either on the verge of armed struggle or have reached an advanced stage of revolutionary organization.  In such a situation the enemy is only in superficial command and relies exclusively on support of the police, civil service and the army, where it retains control only as long as the force of habit remains unchallenged.” 

Zimbabwe is clearly beyond this stage since the forces of the liberation struggle have already rid the people of what was settler minority rule and now the liberation forces themselves have control over the police, civil service and the army.  The government of the liberation forces is recognized internationally as a sovereign nation. To call Zimbabwe contested is to legitimize as “revolutionary” the forces of neo-colonialism who are openly and shamelessly supported and encouraged by imperialism—that is, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), and a plague of NGO’s or “non-governmental organizations”, etc. all of which work to blur the lines between individual versus social/collective rights through their opposition to the government and which mirror the imperialist agenda against Zimbabwe.

Some would maintain however, that because Zimbabwe’s economy is still dominated internally and externally by capitalism this classifies it as contested at best.  It is true that major industries and enterprises, such as mining, hotels, etc. are still predominantly capitalist owned and controlled; a legacy of settler colonialism. Hopefully this fact will be short lived and very recently we can see the first concrete steps toward state seizer of mining since independence. 

Such things cannot happen over night but this past November the Zimbabwe government did release a 60-page draft proposal for amendments that strip foreign control of mining and give control over key mines to the state.  Regardless, nowhere does Nkrumah’s analysis suggest that an area must have completely rid itself of all vestiges of capitalism and/or have in place a socialist economy in order to graduate from contested to liberated status.  Furthermore, is such a scenario even possible today with the global economy now more intricately integrated and with neo-colonialism so firmly entrenched on the continent? 

Nkrumahist-Tureist ideology—named in honor of the theoretical and practical contributions of Presidents Osageyfo Kwame Nkrumah and Ahmed Sekou Ture—holds that political independence is one of the preconditions for socialist revolution and that by definition socialism is still a class stratified- society, which will have varying and particular manifestations of capitalism. As Nkrumah once said, “Seek ye first the political kingdom.” 

Politics means a disposition of power, which is what allows a people to control their economy.

Some changes that have occurred in Africa's politico-economic situation are relevant to understand capitalism’s continued dominance over Zimbabwe.  First, at the time when Nkrumah formulated the three-zone analysis a strong socialist block existed, offering an alternative with which to trade and collaborate.  In addition, the call for socialism enjoyed a much greater and broader affinity among the African masses and in the Diaspora.  Neither of these conditions exists today. 

In addition, Africa as a whole has deviated from her revolutionary path towards political and economic integration or continental unity, which Nkrumah foresaw as necessary to overcome her dependence on capitalism and the West.  Lastly, the West’s pressure on African nations to subscribe to multi-party systems, so-calling them “greater expressions of democracy”, is used to polarize the people, as what it is really meant to do.  Nkrumah warned us of this phenomenon. In such parliamentary governments multiple parties, including reactionary ones serving neo-colonial interest, can hold seats and influence policy.  Unfortunately Zimbabwe has been no exception. Although ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front), Zimbabwe’s ruling party did not originally have the objective of sharing power with other parties this was one of the compromises of the 1979 Lancaster House Agreement that brokered Zimbabwe’s independence and has been used to preserve settler privilege and manufacture alternative poles of attraction.

It may be unknown or disputed, but since its inception there has always been the struggle internal to ZANU-PF to further the cause of socialism.  History reveals that the 2002 fast track land reclamation process was not the first step in breaking capitalist control in Zimbabwe.  Adopted at the Second People’s Congress in August 1984 was the Leadership Code, which was established to “impose on (ZANU-PF) leaders a strict code of behavior with a view to assuring the advent of socialism in Zimbabwe”.   The preamble of this code and the ZANU constitution declare ZANU-PF a “Socialist Party”. 

A detailed account and critical analysis of Zimbabwe’s history has to be made to explain the set backs and challenges along its revolutionary path and why capitalism still dominates the economy today.  What must also be taken into consideration is the evolving complexity of the global economy and imperialism, as it resists and adapts to oppressed people’s struggle for justice.  The question is; should not Zimbabwe be defined by including the objectives of its ruling party, ZANU-PF or merely by the situation in which the current circumstances confine them and the rest of world?

When compared with Nkrumah’s de scri ption of a liberated area, we see that it is not a stretch to say Zimbabwe stands the test of scrutiny. Liberated zones are defined “as territories where: [a.] Independence was secured through armed struggle, or through a positive action movement representing the majority of the population under the leadership of an anti-imperialist and well organized mass party.  [b.] A puppet regime was overthrown by a people's movement (Zanzibar, Congo-Brazzaville, Egypt), and [c.] A social revolution is taking place to consolidate political independence by: 1. Prompting accelerated economic development 2. Improving working conditions 3. Establish complete freedom from dependence on foreign economic interest.”  While Zimbabwe clearly conforms to item (a.) and item (b.) does not apply, item (c.) needs more critical examination. 

A social revolution has been taking place in Zimbabwe that started with accelerated economic development during the first decade of independence. According to Deborah Pott’s Structural Adjustment and Poverty: Perceptions From Zimbabwe, the economy enjoyed an average annual growth rate of 4% with reputable achievements in public health and education.  This occurred while cutting its debt-service ratio in half between 1985 and 1989. 

Only the World Bank’s Economic Structural Adjustment Programs (ESAP) taken on in 1991 that began Zimbabwe’s plunge into its current economic challenges interrupted these achievements.  Surely the working conditions since independence were a marked improvement over those of Rhodesian settler colonial apartheid. 

Zimbabwe has not, however, established complete freedom from dependence on foreign economic interest.  “Complete freedom” from foreign economic interest is difficult to determine and seems it may be impossible until a more revolutionary unity exists in Africa as a whole.  It can be said that Zimbabwe is in the process toward this freedom with its Land reclamation program, the 2000 abolition of the ESAP (a fact for which the government rarely gets credit, but is often condemned by so-called progressives for the mistake of adopting the ESAP) and we should not forget the aforementioned developments in the mining industry.  These are things for which all African people should be proud of Zimbabwe and surely more such bold measure against capitalism and imperialism are inevitable there.

Things are undeniably not as they should be in Zimbabwe. What's more, the difficulties entrenched on the continent of Africa as a whole do not help the situation. 

However, all things considered Zimbabwe seems to have earned Nkrumah’s designation of a Liberated Zone and as such deserves the support and encouragement of all genuine revolutionary Pan-Africanists.

Netfa Freeman is currently the director of the Social Action & Leadership School for Activists at the Institute for Policy Studies. Mr. Freeman is a longtime activist in the Pan-African and international human rights movements. Netfa is also a co-producer/co-host for Voices With Vision, WPFW 89.3 FM, Washington DC. He can be reached at


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