WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Although Zimbabwe's political rivals in mid-September signed a historic agreement to share power, they have yet to agree on the allocation of key ministerial portfolios such as those of defense, finance, and information. At the core of the political agreement lies the priority to turn around the national economy, which not surprisingly, is also the issue that is of greatest concern to Zimbabweans.
When asked in 2008 about the most important issue the government should address in the next 12 months, 76% of Zimbabweans mention economic matters: economy (39%), poverty (15%), inflation (15%), job creation (4%), and unemployment (3%). In a country plagued by eight-digit inflation, high unemployment, and severe food and gas shortages, such public focus on the economy is not surprising and reflects the harsh realities on the ground.
In addition to stabilizing the economy, the political agreement, under which Robert Mugabe (the long-time leader of the ruling party, Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front [ZANU-PF]) remains president and Morgan Tsvangirai, (the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change) becomes prime minister, also recognizes the need to respect differences of political opinion. Here, the poll findings show the daunting task ahead as 85% Zimbabweans say "most" or "many" people are afraid to express their political views. Across sub-Saharan Africa, a median of 55% of respondents say "most" or "many" people in their countries are afraid to openly express their political views, 24% say "some" people are afraid, and 11% say no one is afraid.
In addition to allowing free political activity in Zimbabwe, the power-sharing agreement also focuses on the issue of ensuring individuals' security by renouncing and desisting "from the promotion and use of violence, under whatever name called, as a means of attaining political ends." This is noteworthy as historically, the armed forces and the police have played a key role in quelling any opposition to ZANU-PF and keeping the ruling party in power.
Gallup Poll findings show that similar percentages of Zimbabweans express confidence in the military and the police. In 2008, 33% of those surveyed say they have confidence in their local police force and 38% say they have confidence in their military. Additionally, the police and military elicit far less confidence in 2008 than in 2006 with confidence in each institution declining nearly 20 percentage points in the eyes of the Zimbabwean public. As points of comparison, the median scores on these confidence measures across 32 sub-Saharan Africa countries surveyed in 2006, 2007, and 2008 were 59% and 69%, respectively.
The power-sharing agreement also promises a freer press under this new, multiparty political system, "recognizing the importance of the right to freedom of expression." But here again, the Gallup Poll underscores how much effort will be necessary to build public trust in Zimbabwe's media. In 2008, just 22% of those surveyed say they have confidence in the quality and integrity of the media compared with a median score in sub-Saharan Africa of 55%.
In light of the dire economic conditions that have afflicted the country for many years, it comes as no surprise that three-quarters of Zimbabweans name economic issues as the most pressing matters for the government to deal with in the next few months. Other Gallup Poll findings regarding confidence in key institutions such as the military, the police, and the media, combined with a climate of political fear that still pervades the country emphasize the tremendous challenges for the future government, after it is actually formed.
Results are based on face-to-face interviews with at least 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, in Zimbabwe in March 2008. The sub-Saharan African median scores are based on national samples, in most countries, of at least 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in 2007, in Angola (urban areas only), Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad (excludes eastern region), Democratic Republic of the Congo (urban areas only), Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan (excludes Darfur and parts of the South, around Juba and Nimule), Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.