In our coverage of the Nov. 14 military coup in Zimbabwe last month (see page 6), we advised readers that threat levels to travelers could not be assessed at that time but that UK and US embassies were advising in-country citizens to shelter in place. The coup had occurred at press time, and developments were still too fluid to call. This month we asked for another security update from our sister company Ripcord Travel Protection and can advise that travel to the country is currently “safe and recommended.”
Zimbabweans are generally optimistic about the future of the country. That said, the potential for future instability remains. The new president installed in the coup, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is a member of the ruling ZANU-PF party and has a number of political challenges ahead of him. He has not yet proven that he will lead differently than the deposed Mugabe, and there is speculation that he will not hold an election to certify the results of the coup. Without an election, Zimbabwe may be destabilized by competing political factions and civil unrest.
Mnangagwa also faces the challenge of repairing the economic disarray suffered under Mugabe. Land and business seizures under Mugabe were characterized by corruption and cronyism, and the country suffered from budget mismanagement, underemployment, and lack of development. Mnangagwa may be forced to reverse Mugabe policies, but he risks angering the ruling party that installed him, and he has already been accused of inviting unqualified individuals into the government.
The good news is that the hunting sector appears to be stable. One of the arguments in the media against issuing import permits for elephant from Zimbabwe was that Zimbabwe could not manage its wildlife programs effectively due to the coup. But Mnangagwa himself responded with a letter to President Trump indicating that there has been no interruption in the Ministry of Environment, Water, and Climate’s functioning, and Minister Oppah Muchinguri and Permanent Secretary Prince Mupazviriho will remain in place. All wildlife management programs will continue under the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, and recently appointed Director General Fulton Upenyu Mangwanya will also remain in place. All this is to say that the same management program that led the USFWS to make a positive enhancement finding for Zimbabwe elephant will remain in force, and hunting will continue as usual.
Hunting operators also have expressed optimism regarding the new government. Editor-in-Chief Barbara Crown met with Zimbabwe operators Gary Duckworth of Mokore Safaris and Peter Creighton of Peter Creighton Safaris during the NAPHA AGM in Windhoek, Namibia, in late Nov. They were representing the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association at the meeting. Both were highly positive about the changing of the guard in Zimbabwe and hopeful that the Mugabe policies that were strangling the economy now would be amended. They said that all operators would be moving forward with plans to conduct safaris this year.