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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 111

Zimbabwe: Breadbasket to basket case …

By Allabaksh - Syndicate Features

When recently inflation in India climbed up a notch—from 6.4 to 6.53 percent —there were demands for the government to quit because the rise in prices of items of daily use had made the life of ordinary citizens ‘miserable’. But can one imagine the lives of people living in a country where inflation has touched 1700 percent —yes, 17 followed by two zeros. That dubious distinction goes to Zimbabwe in Africa.

Never has any country seen inflation reach that height or the spectacle of people—those who can afford it—carrying virtually sack-full of currency notes to buy things like bread and sugar. A salary of a million (Zimbabwe) dollars may sound impressive but will have little purchasing power in the country. Eighty per cent of the people live in poverty; unemployment is rampant.

It must be a miracle of sorts or supreme act of benediction that keeps the Zimbabweans alive when inflation is heading heavenwards and on top of it all there is little or no freedom to express dissent. The African state of Zimbabwe, and more particularly its leader Robert Mugabe, must be lucky to be surviving under such conditions, for nations that had at least managed to keep a modest supply of food to the majority of their people have been punished with invasion and deposition.

The state in which Zimbabwe finds itself today is almost unbelievable because till very recently the country was known as the breadbasket of Africa. Now the living standards have fallen to astonishingly low levels. Droughts have made it even more difficult to produce sufficient food for the 12 million population. The price of many commodities can rise within a matter of few hours in the course of a day. People cannot keep their money in bank, not only because their salaries are inadequate but also because the best way to maximise the money’s worth is to spend it fast. Many young persons want to migrate but cannot because they cannot get the travel document from the passport office which does not have the paper on which it is printed.

Most African states, if not the third world countries, have been shy of denouncing Zimbabwe because Mugabe is looked upon as some kind of a continental hero. He had valiantly fought for the freedom of his country from the British rule. In a rare act of daring in 2000 he had thrown out the white farmers from their huge farmlands and thus he was seen undoing the injustice done to the natives during the colonial era when the then masters had ‘stolen’ their land in addition to committing many other atrocities during the long foreign rule.

For many in Africa and in Asia, Robert Mugabe is an icon even though he has attracted criticism in some other parts of the world where he is thought to be too brash. He had offered no compensation for the land taken back from the white settlers. His critics in the West also noticed an autocratic streak in him as he showed no inclination to step down as Head of State even as opposition to his rule was building up in the country. Mugabe strode on undisturbed by the opposition to him domestically and all the harsh things that were being said in the West about him.

Mugabe was particularly severe on Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main opposition, ‘Movement for Democratic Change’, framing treason charges against him on three occasions though each time the charges had to be dropped for want of sufficient evidence. Western nations alleged that Mugabe was also rigging elections to keep himself in power. Came the inevitable sanctions from Europe and the US, though comparatively milder in nature because all that happened was that travel restrictions were put on senior officials along with a freeze on their accounts. The sanctions reportedly affected a total of 125 officials.

But now Zimbabwe may be facing a tighter and bigger squeeze—though still not a full regime of sanctions-- following an incident of March 11 when Tsvangirai was prevented from addressing a rally and badly beaten up after he was detained by the police. He was taken to hospital with a fractured skull. What will hurt Mugabe more is the indication given by Mugabe’s friends in the African continent that he had tested their patience too much.

The South African president, Thabo Mbeki, who had so far resisted talking tough to Mugabe because he was pursuing what he called ‘quiet diplomacy’, has sent him a signal that he no longer approves of all that Mugabe does. The two leaders had met while attending the 50th anniversary of Ghana’s independence. Mbeki wants is Mugabe to respect the rule of law and the rights of opposition political parties. That doesn’t appear to be happening yet, according to South Africa’s foreign minister, Aziz Pahad.

The ruling party in South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC), joined many countries and leaders in conveying its displeasure over the brutal assault on Tsvangirai. The African Union is now trying to resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe. The regional bloc, South African Development Committee, has appointed a three-nation panel (Tanzania, Namibia and Lesotho) to end the political crisis in Zimbabwe. It could well be a race against time for Mugabe appears intent on extending his term that is due to end next year.

Mugabe hopes to continue in office at least till 2010, the year when South Africa will play host to the football world cup. He thinks his powerful neighbour will not like to get into the mess that he has created in his country till then while it prepares for that prestigious event. But many critics of Mugabe now think that the assault on Tsvangirai could mark the beginning of the end of his 27-year rule.

Of course, Mugabe may still be able to count on the support of China which has been pursuing a policy of deep penetration into the African continent. Chinese support is not tied to issues like human rights. But China can do a North Korea on Zimbabwe—arm-twisting quietly in case it thinks that things have gone too far.

Zimbabwe has to show respect for the rights of its people and a policy of tolerance of the opposition if it has to avoid international opprobrium. It also needs a quick economic recovery to make the lives of the people easier.

Mugabe does not help his countrymen and women by taking on the international community. His advice to his critics after the Tsvangirai incident that they can ‘go hang’ themselves may be a show of desperation rather than a challenge to them. The challenge is before Mugabe and he does not appear ready or willing to fight it off.

- Syndicate Features -

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