HARARE, Zimbabwe — As countries continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, many of them have required aid from foreign countries. Whether that aid is money or medical supplies, for many countries, the fight to defeat COVID-19 has been a collaborative effort. However, Zimbabwe has been unable to receive traditional forms of foreign aid from organizations during the pandemic. Due to the country’s economic situation, Zimbabwe’s foreign aid is much lower than what other countries in Africa receive.
History of Debt
In recent years, debt to many financial organizations and disfavor to others have marked Zimbabwe’s financial situation. In 2019, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) issued several warnings to Zimbabwe’s government for forcing inflation in an effort to increase the country’s economy, even after Zimbabwe cleared its debts to the IMF. Meanwhile, in February 2020, the IMF released a similar statement, citing how various political and economic missteps led to Zimbabwe losing favor in the eyes of the organization. However, due to this loss of favor, Zimbabwe was not one of the 25 African countries eligible to receive financial aid from the IMF.
While Zimbabwe became exempt from receiving aid from the IMF, its numerous debts prevented other organizations from giving it traditional forms of foreign aid for the COVID-19 pandemic. As of April 2020, Zimbabwe owed $1.4 billion to the World Bank, $687 million to the African Development Bank, $322 million to the European Investment Bank and more to other creditors. For the World Bank, this debt restricts Zimbabwe from entering G20 debt relief, a program that temporarily suspends debt from the poorest countries in the world while the pandemic is still ongoing. This debt also severely limits the amount of aid these creditors can give Zimbabwe, meaning that the majority of Zimbabwe’s foreign aid would have to come from individual countries instead of organizations.
Zimbabwe Without Foreign Aid
Even without the COVID-19 pandemic, Zimbabwe has been struggling to support its people in 2020. Due to the aftereffects of Cyclone Idai and an ongoing severe drought, Zimbabwe is facing food insecurity and an economic decline. At the beginning of 2020, the International Medical Corps reported that over 5.5 million people in rural areas were food insecure and that it expects the numbers to rise as the drought continues. At the same time, the Zimbabwe dollar continued to be in short supply in formal markets, as poorer communities in the country could not purchase food due to the continuing drop in the value of the dollar.
Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic impacting the country, the government is unable to supply doctors and other medical personnel with the supplies necessary to treat and prevent the virus.
Already dealing with the effects of Cyclone Idai and a severe drought, the organization Christian Aid has spoken out against Zimbabwe’s exclusion from G20 and other similar programs. It stated that these exclusions would severely limit Zimbabwe’s foreign aid and negatively impact the country’s ability to handle COVID-19. In its statement, Christian Aid requested that individual people and governments donate to Zimbabwe to curtail the pandemic’s effects.
New Sources Foreign Aid to Zimbabwe
Although its debts mean that Zimbabwe is ineligible for traditional foreign aid, the World Bank has pledged a $7 billion trust to help Zimbabwe fight the pandemic. The trust entails that the World Bank decides the allocation of the money rather than the Zimbabwe government. However, this number is much lower than the $200 million Zimbabwe Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said the country would need to fully recover from the pandemic. While Zimbabwe has been continuing to ask organizations such as the IMF for money during the crisis, it has yet to get any other forms of aid. Other countries have been stepping in to make up for the lack of medical supplies that the money would typically go towards.
On May 11, 2020, a medical team that the Chinese government dispatched arrived in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital. This plan continued China and Zimbabwe’s relationship, in which China has assisted Zimbabwe with foreign aid in times of need for decades. China sent the team over to help with the current and future COVID-19 cases in Zimbabwe and train local medical personnel to treat patients with the virus. Alongside the medical team, anti-pandemic tools such as respirators, masks and gloves also arrived in Zimbabwe. Although China is currently the only country to implement any plans to assist Zimbabwe, the country remains hopeful that more medical aid will come in the future.
– Sarah Licht