Zim’s transition in prisoner’s dilemma 

Source: Zim’s transition in prisoner’s dilemma – The Zimbabwe Independent December 21, 2018


Chief Justice Luke Malaba.

This study interrogated two fundamental indicators of transition in the “quality of government” (service delivery and corruption reduction) in Zimbabwe since November 2017.

Undergirding the study was the objective to monitor and hold government accountable for the promises it made to transition Zimbabwe to a democratic and prosperous dispensation. Such accountability cannot be exerted without a clear picture of results so far. Such results can only be “perceived” by those at the receiving end of government service delivery.

Thus a team of Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) researchers collected data from a sample of 506 key informants, who were purposively sampled from among consumers of services delivered by sampled public institutions, leaders of community-based organisations, civil society organisations and activists across the country.

Key public institutions that were selected for examination were: Vehicle Inspection Department (VID), health sector (public hospitals), education sector (public universities, schools, colleges); traffic police, registrar’s office (issuance of births and deaths certificates and passports), the military, the government agricultural input scheme, traditional leaders, judiciary (courts) and local authorities (town and district councils). Data collection was done from September to November 2018 through 274 in-depth interviews with key informants and seven focus group discussions with 232 key informants purposively sampled from Lupane, Gwanda, Plumtree, Tsholotsho, Bulawayo, Umguza, Masvingo, Harare, Kwekwe, Gokwe, Chegutu, Kadoma and Chitungwiza.

Corruption reduction 
Findings revealed that “minute” petty corruption reduction seems to be happening in public institutions generally as 38% of all respondents perceived “no corruption reduction” in sampled public institutions against 61% who perceived evidence of “corruption reduction” which ranges from “satisfactory reduction” (24%), “fair reduction” (17%) and “partial reduction” (20%).

This generalisation came as a result of higher proportions of “no corruption reduction” perceptions about public institutions such as the VID, government agriculture input scheme and the judiciary as 63% of sampled VID clients perceived “no reduction” in petty corruption at VID, 62% of sampled beneficiaries of government agriculture input scheme perceived “no reduction” in petty corruption in the scheme and 54% of sampled judiciary service consumers perceived “no reduction” in petty corruption in the judiciary system.
The traffic police, Registrar-General’s Office, local authorities, health sector, education sector and traditional leadership were perceived to be partially respondent and seemed very uncomfortable with commenting on military affairs.

Public institutions bribe

Only the VID had an above average “bribe” perception score as 57% of sampled consumers of its services attested that they have been made to pay bribes to get services done, whereas the military had the least “bribe demand” perception score as only 7% of sampled consumers of its services attested that they have been made to pay bribes to get services done.
This data entails that most government institutions have seen a “limited” culture of taking “facilitation fees” from service consumers and explanations were that: the level of fear of the current political leadership has made employees in public institutions to tread with caution in their corrupt culture thus the increase in number of service consumers who pay bribes for services Zimbabweans have gotten so terrified by the system to the extent that they even fear telling anyone (including the researcher) that they pay bribes for public services to protect their “contact persons” inside public institutions and themselves.
There was a general observation across interviews and FDGs that patronage and nepotism have continued to increase in public institutions. Explanatory data given by respondents indicate that traffic police officers were intimidated by the army and current government during the power transition period and no longer trust civilians on the road and they are no longer safe when they collect bribes on the road.

Graft in public institutions

Findings revealed a very gloomy picture of corruption in public institutions in general as only 37% of sampled service consumers perceived them “not corrupt” against 62% who perceived sampled public institutions as either “corrupt”, “very corrupt” or “extremely corrupt”.
These findings entail that: service consumers generally perceive sampled public institutions as corrupt save for the education sector (55% not corrupt) and the military (57% not corrupt) and that corruption is still high in these institutions and the President Emmerson Mnangagwa dispensation has not done anything to foster transition in this respect.
Only 7% of public service consumers viewed the VID as “not corrupt”, resonating with the “no corruption reduction” and “more bribe demands” revealed in perception about this institution. These findings reveal that: petty corruption might have entered a period of decrease due to the fear factor associated with the Mnangagwa administration; grand corruption and/or political corruption continues unabated and; transition in quality of government has not been initiated since patronage networks sustaining political corruption still continue despite signs of decreases in “some” bureaucratic corruption indicators. The Mnangagwa dispensation will not legitimately claim transition until it addresses these decays perceived by the people since it is the people and them alone who can give legitimate feedback regarding this transition.

Political corruption

Political corruption and grand corruption have been empirically confirmed as key causes of political decay and poor human development indicators in many developing countries (Robinson and Acemoglu, 2012). Findings indicate that political corruption is very hard to handle for the Mnangagwa government.
Save for the military, sampled respondents perceived that government is not genuine in dealing with political corruption as witnessed in sampled institutions. Less than 45% of sampled service consumers for all reviewed public institutions perceived some genuineness in government’s anti-corruption efforts. 51% of all sampled service consumers from all reviewed institutions perceived “no sign of genuineness” in government efforts to fight political corruption. Findings were that government seems to be more committed in consolidating its grip on power and fighting political rivals than addressing political corruption in a manner that leaves no sacred cows.
Citizen confidence
Findings indicate that the Mnangagwa administration is perceived “not fit” to deal with political corruption decaying public institutions, as 52% of all sampled service consumers for all reviewed public institutions perceived the Mnangagwa administration as “not able” to fight political corruption, while 47% were divided into “partly able” and “able” perceptions.
Reasons for this perception were that: the current administration has inherited and benefits from Zanu PF patronage networks in public institutions and it will be detrimental for Mnangagwa to completely get rid of it given his perceived desire for state power the current leadership has “dirty hands”, insofar as the creation of a corrupt authoritarian state. It is impossible to expect government to devour itself in the name of fighting political corruption it has worked so hard to create and maintain. There are no effective institutions to exert accountability and rule of law measures capable of curbing political corruption; they have been captured and emasculated. These findings highlighted that Zimbabwe’s transition is going nowhere anytime soon. It is in a prisoner’s dilemma; the necessary political leadership to initiate and sustain transition and reform is missing.

Service delivery

Corruption generally has been empirically confirmed to have “saboteur” effects on the quantity and quality of service delivered by public institutions and transition from one political dispensation to another is mostly felt in the manner with which service delivered by public institutions differs in the two dispensations.
Findings indicate mixed feelings across sectors, feelings of “fair changes” or slight changes (30%) and “not changed, still dismal (36%)” being the most popular. The military was again given promising indicators of transition; 57% of consumers of its services perceived that service delivery “has changed, now satisfactory”, although it was also the only one with the highest percentage (followed by the judiciary) of perception of “becoming worse” compared to others.
The most sticking institutions have been the VID (53% of its clients perceived its service delivery as “not changed, still dismal), judiciary (54% of its clients perceived its service delivery as “not changed, still dismal”), and health sector (54% of its clients perceived its service delivery as “not changed still dismal”). Service delivery by the traffic police, national registry, government agriculture input scheme, local authorities, traditional leadership and the education sector have been perceived to have “changed, now fair”.
Delivery processing time

To fully appreciate the level of change in service delivery, it has been a general practice to measure it using “processing time” taken to get services from government or hours taken queuing for services.

Findings indicated that more institutions still take more than one hour to process services, save for the traffic police (59% of its service consumers said they wait for “less than one hour” for services), education sector (57% of its service consumers said they wait for “less than one hour” for services) and the military (64% of its service consumers said they wait for “less than one hour” for services).

The worst institutions perceived to be keeping people waiting in queues for service for one hour to six or more in their descending order were: judiciary (92%), government agriculture input scheme (85%), Registrar-General’s office (85%). What these findings entail is that there is still a lot of stagnation in improving service delivery in those institutions that interact with the public most frequently in delivering basic services such as health, citizenship documents and licences. This is a very bad indicator that is detrimental to the efforts of attracting foreign investment. There is need for improvement in this regard.

Customer care

A change in perceived customer-care and/or user-friendliness is a good indicator of improved quality of service delivery. Findings revealed that the nature of customer care in many of the sampled institutions “has changed, now satisfactory” or “has changed, now fair”, save for the VID (60% of its sampled clients perceived its service delivery as “not changed, still unfriendly”), health sector (54% of its sampled clients perceived its service delivery as “not changed, still unfriendly”), and the judiciary (62% of its sampled clients perceived its service delivery as “not changed, still unfriendly”). What these findings mean is that citizens feel “some” transition in key public institutions in terms of how they are treated when they visit for various services.

This can partly be explained by the fear factor associated with the entry of the Mnangagwa administration into power.
“People were so terrified to the extent that they no longer trust visitors here.”


In light of the collected findings, the study concluded that Zimbabwe’s transition to a democratic and economic recovery dispensation is very shadowy. The political economy experiences what is called a “prisoner’s dilemma” in Game Theory. The theory states that there are two options out of two prisoners’ situation; they can choose to either “cooperate” or “defect”.

Each prisoner gains when both cooperate, but if only one of them cooperates, the other one, who defects, will gain more. If both defect, both lose, but not as much as the “cheated” co-operator whose cooperation is not returned. Thus, as Zimbabwe’s transition is in a prisoner’s situation, absence of strong institutions and willing political leadership to support political reforms and transition to a democratic and economic recovery dispensation is the “defecting” party making the “cheated” Zimbabwean transition dream more and more “illusive”.

The Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) is a politically independent and not for profit public policy think-tank based in Zimbabwe.