Monday, June 23, 2008

Zimbabwe: A Zambian Perspective

“So what do you think of what is happening in Zimbabwe?” It is a question I find myself asking more and more of my Zambian friends and colleagues, and one that gets asked of me nearly as often. The answer, sadly, is generally always the same; a shake of the head, and a statement of how Mugabe will never give up power, regardless of the results of an election.

You are no doubt well aware of the situation in Zimbabwe right now, so I won't go into detail. If you aren't aware of what is happening, check out the links at the bottom of this post. Things seem to reach a new level of chaos every day. Supporters of the MDC, the opposition party contesting the rule of the incumbent Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party, are daily beaten, arrested, and murdered as gangs of pro-Mugabe supporters roam the streets of Harare and the rest of the country, and man roadblocks. There are countless reports, often smuggled out of the country by Zimbabweans desperate for help from the rest of the world, of people being forced to chant pro-government slogans, or wear pro-government regalia, or risk being beaten or killed.

On Monday Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC, announced that he was withdrawing from the run-off vote, to be held this Friday. His reasoning was that there is no way the election could be even remotely fair, due to all the government sanctioned violence, and that he feared for his, and his supporters’ lives if he continued campaigning.

My colleagues and friends here in Zambia were saddened, but not surprised by this decision. They have already resigned themselves that Mugabe will remain in power, likely until his death. For my part, I am filled with sadness. I think back to a week I spent on the border of Zimbabwe one year ago. I was there with some other EWB volunteers and we went to see the Kariba Dam, which provides power for a large portion of Southern Africa. While there we met some Zimbabwean women who had come across the border, as they do every day, to sell goods and take the Zambian Kwatcha back home, as they are far more valuable than Zimbabwean dollars. That was one year ago, when the inflation rate was around 66,000%, and the Zimbabwean dollar was trading at approximately 254.5 Zim Dollars per US dollar. Now the inflation rate is well over 2 million percent, and still climbing, and the exchange rate is around 7.5 Billion Zim dollars per US dollar (this is the official exchange rate, though the black market rate, which is what most people have to deal with, is much worse).

I think about those women now, wondering where they are, if they’re still alive. They were clearly not in favour of Mugabe, as we talked at length of what Zimbabwe needed to improve, and they were adamant that they needed a new leader, that Mugabe needed to be removed from power. I wonder if they joined the protests, if they were jailed, or beaten, or worse. I would post a picture of these women, but I’m afraid that someone in Zimbabwe would see it, and they’d be place in danger. The fact that I need to worry about that sickens me.

My heart breaks for my adopted neighbours to the south. At the same time I am amazed and impressed at the resilience and persistence of Zimbabweans who are fighting for change. This is a fight to rival the storied independence fights against colonial powers, the memory of which is used by Mugabe to garner support and slam his opponents.

I am also saddened that stories such as the situation in Zimbabwe, or the recent violence in Kenya, or the horrors of HIV/AIDS are the only stories that make it into the headlines in Western countries. Any time we read about Africa, it is a story of kleptocracy, or genocide, or corruption, or suffering. To be sure these problems exist, and I am glad that they are in the world’s eye, but what about other stories from Africa? I just read a post from a friend which commented that in 1976, Freedom House listed only 3 African countries as “free”, and 25, by far the majority, as “not free”. Today, most African countries are labelled as “partly free”, and the “not free” category has shrunk to only 14 countries. While there is still room for improvement, there is clear progress being made.

Africa is not without its problems, but these problems are not what define Africa, and the countries of this continent, no more than political scandals, pollution, and bad traffic are what define Canada. Africa is a continent of amazing natural beauty, of vibrant and honoured culture and tradition, and most important, of dedicated, hard working, optimistic people. So my heart breaks for Zimbabweans, and for Africans in general, because the world yet again sees this continent as a backward, corrupt part of the world, worth our pity, but not much more. I want to tell you that this isn’t true.

Please pray for the people of Zimbabwe, for peace and stability. Please take a few minutes to learn more about the situation in Zimbabwe. Below are some links worth checking out. If you’re still not convinced that Africa is a beautiful place, please read my previous posts, and those from my EWB friends (links to their blogs can be found on the right).

An excellent article by Stephanie Nolen, from the Globe and Mail, which was posted on the EWB message board:

A post by Parker Mitchell, the co-CEO of EWB, regarding the current situation in Zimbabwe:

The BBC is a great resource for daily updates on the Zimbabwe situation. This is the latest article, but on the right hand side of the page are links to previous articles and more information. Check back with the BBC daily for more news on Zimbabwe:

This website compiles many different resources regarding the Zimbabwe situation, and is updated regularly:


Sue Titcombe said...

Trevor, thanks for posting this. Your insight is much more helpful than the 30 second stories we get on the news here. It seems like a horrible situation that seems like it can only get worse.

I'm glad that I too have seen the "real Africa" and the amazing people who live there. I will never forget the woman who hosted me for a week. I hope, as you do, that more people will hear those stories and celebrate what an amazing continent Africa is.

Chris said...

It really is a sad situation in Zimbabwe. I was hoping that things were on the mend but it appears not. No real surprise but there was some hope. It really is sad that a relative few of these leaders/countries present a tarnished view of Africa to the rest of the world. I know that your posts have presented just the opposite. Keep posting and take care.

Talk to you soon.

Anonymous said...

HI Trevor Bobbo Here. I agree with Chris your block adds a whole different perspective on what we see in the media. Keep up the blogs I love them

God Bless