Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Toil and Tears in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe stands out even in Africa as a cauldron of violence, corruption and starvation. The grudging accomodation of the country's white minority along with tribal and political warfare has reduced the troubled nation to being a supplicant among troubled nations rather than being an exporter of food.

The Zimbabwean dollar now stands at about 25 billion to one US dollar. Since independence in the late 1970's the government has rolled out new currency several times, simply lopping three zeroes off the old currency each time.

Foreign creditors have long refused to accept Zimbabwean currency, which takes only a few months to lose any value it might have. Now, this lack of confidence has spread to the markets and groceries across Zimbabwe. According to Sam Chakaipa, an opposition activist in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwean dollar has been replaced by gold as the new currency in Zimbabwe.

Gold in the Zimbabwean marketplace is measured by tenths of a gram. One gram of gold is worth about thirty dollars. So one tenth of a gram is worth about three dollars. The Zimbabwean country dwellers to not trade in heirlooms, or gold coins. The gold that they use in trade is tiny specks and splinters. Those who are able bodied pan through tons and tons of mud in hope of finding a few specks worth three or four dollars. On the average, a day's grueling work is enough for one person to stave off starvation. The sick and the elderly, who can only get worthless banknotes face starvation. The country faces a man made famine which is creating a wave of economic refugees in neighbouring South Africa.

Zimbabwe once had industry, farms and a vibrant economy. Its population was educated and well fed. Now its economy is the fastest shrinking in the world. Its president Robert Mugabe basks in the fading glory of having fought for majority rule in the former apartheid state of Rhodesia. Now, in a nation of grinding poverty, he stands out as a multi millionaire with mansions in Zimbabwe and factories in China. His Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) crushes the opposition headed by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) with a wave of violence that has frightened away investors and blighted the life of citizens.

What can Zimbabwe expect in the future? Even at a middle class dinner party, a loaf of bread or a bottle of milk is a gift cherished by a dinner host. Poorer folk consider themselves fortunate if they can scrounge edible leaves and roots from fields and wilderness.

Zimbabwe has plenty of natural resources. It has agricultural potential as well. But it is the human variables that have pushed this tormented country to the brink of starvation and chaos. It is ultimately the human and social variables that are crucial in turning a nation's wealth into a blessing for its people.

What can the world do for the suffering Zimbabwean people? In the short term, there should be humanitarian relief efforts to save its people from the brink of starvation. Unfortunately, a corrupt government can steer foreign aid to political supporters of the regime. For this reason, the government of Robert Mugabe should be pressured to hold free, honest elections and to step down. Investors will not want to invest in a country that is in chaos.

The country may need international supervision for a transitional period. Sometimes, national emergency overrides national pride. In 1979 for instance, the Vietnamese were welcomed into Cambodia despite the historical enmity between the two countries. Even Vietnamese occupation was preferable to the infamous Cambodian genocide in which two million perished. Zimbabwe is at that level of human suffering. Perhaps the British, who ruled the country until 1965 might oversee the reconstruction of a clean government and trustworthy administration. I am pointedly ignoring the impotent and useless United Nations, which is infamous for running violence ridden camps in which UN employees terrorise the refugees who live there.

The United States should follow the body count and assign Zimbabwe a high priority in peace making efforts. Even on such a tormented continent as Africa, Zimbabwe stands out.

It has long been said that darker skinned people matter little in the deliberations of the United Nations. The reality on the ground does little to give lie to this assertion. Americans should try to find organisations that are able to get aid to the suffering people of Zimbabwe. The people of this tormented nation do not have a lot of political clout. But in the eyes of G-d, we stand as equals with them. And in the eyes of man, the colour of tears is the same.


I was very troubled in writing this story and found a British charity that operates humanitarian missions in Zimbabwe. I was frustrated at not being able to find an American charity. The British site I visited took a donation of ten British Ponds The name of the organisation is H.E.L.P. I hope my readers will check out this and other charities operating in Zimbabwe. Sphere: Related Content

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