Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Hope for Zimbabwe?

The world has been anxiously awaiting election results from Zimbabwe, and now the "election commission" has announced the opposition has won. But wait. Official results haven't been announced yet, although the election was held last week. Everyone smells trouble.

Vic Falls, Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe has been the leader of Zimbabwe since its 1980 independence, and has singlehandedly run a once rich african nation into the ground. Zimbabwe has the world's highest inflation, the world's highest rate of HIV infection, and the worst economy in Africa (80% unemployment). Those are some superlatives!

Mugabe chased off white farmers and replaced them with friends who can't farm, and who don't have the connections to sell and distribute their crop even if they did. There is hardly anything on the supermarket shelves, and more than once I saw people looking at a small bag of rice, or a carton of milk and debating heavily or not whether they could afford to buy it.

There are no tourists. In fact, outside of Vic Falls, I saw maybe two foreigners the whole time. It's just too volatile, too unsafe and hectic. There is often no fuel, so trains and buses simply don't run sometimes.

Imagine the money. When I was there, inflation was at over 1000% so the "value" of the zim dollar changed regularly. When I traded USD for zim dollars, the money-changing man (it's all black market, because the governments "official rate" is pumped up fiction) arrived with a huge suitcase full of cash. Can you imagine how long it takes you to count out money at the grocery store check out? An eternity. To buy like, a banana.

This wad of 50,000 zim dollar bills is worth about, maybe ten dollars.

The other side of the bills are just...blank...because the treasury couldn't afford to print the back, too.

Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

The situation there has forced good people (and I met many good people) to take drastic measures, to try to get work. Others resort to crime. Not only are there no tourism dollars flowing in, but parks and animal protections are strapped. Economic woes have led some to start poaching of the endangered black rhino (there's only 3,000 left in the world).

Nobody I met in Zimbabwe had anything good to say about Mugabe. And yet every last park is named after him, and so are streets, plazas and statues. He's rich! I also noticed that Zimbabweans also felt there was nothing they could do about him. I wondered why these people could not stand up in a great number and revolt?

I quickly learned that any organized opposition has been beaten up, jailed, and silenced. Demonstrations in the capital of Harare have been officially banned by the government. Most recently, Amnesty International cited a case where officials forced opposition supporters to take down their election signs, and then forced to eat, and swallow them.

So today they tell me that the 300 year old most famous living tyrant of our times has been beaten in a "democratic" election and may have to step down. I hope I'm wrong, but: fat chance.


Tony said...

Hey Jesse -

Looks like their may indeed be hope for change in Zimbabwe. News reports say the election commission has confirmed that Mugabe's party has lost control of Parliament, which is a good thing. Trouble is, results on the presidential election, as you point out, haven't been confirmed, and it looks like there may be a run-off, which the opposition says it can win. But, a source has told the NYT that the military and intelligence chiefs, plus some cabinet members, in order to keep their jobs, want Mugabe to use the intimidation techniques in the run-off that have kept them in power so far. Not good. Meanwhile, inflation is now running at 100,000%, which means prices double every 37 days (!!!). Hopeful sign: a news photo of an opposition supporter handing out news of Mugabe's parliamentary loss unimpeded. So maybe there's more than a fat chance for change. Thanks for the interesting post.

Anonymous said...

Hello Jesse. Mugabe is a monster. Not only are these desperate people having problems in Zimbabwe,they are fleeing their homeland and joining refugees from Mozambique and other poverty stricken nations. They find minimum refuge in South Africa, but the situation is creating havoc. These "illegal aliens" are taking the low-paying jobs and using up the welfare rights of the citizens of South Africa. This is leading to violence, tribal warfare and murder of black on black. Johanessburg is so unsafe that tourists are being warned about their safety in travel to Africa. Bruce