Zimbabwe's Biggest City Shut Down To Protest Everything Going Wrong In Zimbabwe

Activists used the hashtag #ThisFlag to help organize a near total shutdown of the capital over the lack of economic opportunity in the country.

The streets of Harare, Zimbabwe's capital and largest city, were quiet on Wednesday morning.

Philimon Bulawayo / Reuters

...Very quiet.

Philimon Bulawayo / Reuters

Which is to say that, thanks to a protest organized to show Zimbabweans' displeasure with their country's current state, they were completely empty as people stayed home in droves.

#ShutDownZimbabwe2016 #strathavenHarare #thisflag

Zimbabwe has been in an economic tailspin for the better part of two decades now, having taken a nosedive back in the early 2000s.

Don Emmert / AFP / Getty Images

It was then that longtime president Robert Mugabe seized land from white farmers, redistributing it in the hopes of gaining more political support and weakening the landed elites. That in turn sparked widespread turmoil as the international community turned its back on Harare, crop yields plummeted, and hyperinflation made life miserable for the average Zimbabwean. Things have gotten especially bad lately as four in five Zimbabweans are currently unemployed and weather patterns threaten the country with famine.

The #ThisFlag movement that helped promote Wednesday's protest began back in April, when Zimbabwean pastor Evan Mawarire posted a video to his Facebook, praising his country's flag and denouncing the hardships it has faced.

Facebook: video.php

As the video went viral, racking up over 100,000 views, more and more people began carrying the flag everywhere they went as a form of protest.

Zimboz everywhere getting bolder & bolder Its getting crazy #ThisFlag is alive again. We can't go on like this!!

Though the original video didn't specifically mention Mugabe, it became popular enough that the government dismissed it as a "political stunt."

The fad or thing is not Zim but your political stunt which has nothing to do with the flag. Politics. Handei tione! https://t.co/nq3gwaP586

Things came to a head on Wednesday as the capital basically ground to a halt.

I'm proud to be Zimbabwean today, finally we are starting to speak with one voice. #ShutDownZimbabwe2016 #thisflag

The shutdown was mostly calm, though a little eerie judging by the pictures Zimbabweans posted on Twitter.

POWERFUL! 👊 Zimbabweans standing together against "corruption, injustice & poverty". #ThisFlag #ZimShutDown2016

Shops closed, no Transport, Harare CBD deserted. What a day! #ShutDownZimbabwe2016 #thisflag

A picture speaks a thousand words 6 July 2016 #ShutDownZimbabwe2016 #ShutDownZim #ThisFlag

Seke bridge this morning...#ShutDownZimbabwe2016

But things didn't go entirely smoothly. There were several arrests throughout the day, some protesters burned tires in Harare's streets, and at times the WhatsApp messaging service was taken down entirely.

Philimon Bulawayo / Reuters

“Freedom House condemns the unlawful arrests of peaceful civilians in Victoria Falls, Masvingo, and other locales, as demonstrators show their dissatisfaction with the government’s economic policies,” Lynn Fredriksson, director of Freedom House's southern Africa programs, said in a statement. “We are also concerned by the government’s efforts to limit citizens’ ability to communicate and share information freely, by temporarily shutting down WhatsApp access.”

The shutdown is also just the latest of events lashing out at the government for failing to provide basic services.

Philimon Bulawayo / Reuters
Philimon Bulawayo / Reuters

It comes on the heels of civil servants, mostly teachers and nurses who haven't been paid in a month, going on strike on Monday and taxi drivers clashing with security forces on Tuesday over claims of extortion.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwean government is reportedly warning citizens that "social media abuse" can be easily tracked.

We demand freedom they threaten draconian controls.What is wrong with this lot #ShutDownZimbabwe2016 #ThisFlag🇿🇼 👇🏿

Mawarire, for his part, lauded the success of the action and called for his countrymen and women to repeat the process next week.

Thank you citizens & the way forward #ThisFlag #ZimShutDown

"If we are not hearing from you, government, next week on Wednesday we shut down and this time we shut down another day — Wednesday and Thursday," he said in a video posted Wednesday evening.