Over 80% of Zimbabweans are unemployed. It is estimated that over 3 million citizens, one fourth of the population, have left the country in recent years. For those who remained, life expectancy is 34 years for women and 37 years for men.
Zimbabwe’s inflation in January 2008 stood at 100,580%, a new world record. For years, the country is experiencing chronic food and fuel shortages.
The economic collapse is a result of Robert Mugabe’s misrule and tyranny. “The seizure of commercial farms and the collapse of the rule of law have led to a dramatic slump in agricultural output, a sharp contraction in industry, and a flight of investors.” The Economist notes that Zimbabwe under Mugabe experienced “the most dramatic peacetime collapse of any country since Weimar Germany.”
African countries are still reluctant to openly criticize Robert Mugabe, who is widely respected on the continent as a hero of the fight against colonialism. The German magazine Der Spiegel writes that “hardly any African politician ever so much as voices a word of criticism about Mugabe” and his current policies.
Mugabe fought against the British racist tyranny and led his country to independence in 1980. But over the years he replaced it with, arguably, even worse and definitely deadlier tyranny for his people.
The majority of Zimbabweans today suffer because of Mugabe‘s history as a freedom fighter. Yes, he led the country to independence, did some great things in the past. He deserves a medal for this, not the immunity to inflict misery and pain on his own people today.
How far the respect for Mugabe goes in Africa shows an example from May 2007, when Zimbabwe was chosen by other African nations to head the United Nations’ commission on sustainable development and help the world meet the human needs of the present and prepare for the future. It didn’t matter to African leaders that Zimbabwe cannot meet its own basic human needs.
On March 29, Zimbabwe will hold local, parliamentary, and presidential elections.
Robert Mugabe, who is in power since 1980, recently began his re-election campaign by calling his opponents “witches, prostitutes, charlatans, traitors, and two-headed creatures.”
Analysts think that Mugabe, now 84 years old, could easily win another five-year term in office due to divisions in the opposition and an unfair political playing field, especially since he is using state funds and media to fuel his campaign.
Two credible challengers running against Mugabe are Morgan Tsvangirai, one of the opposition leaders, and Simba Makoni, an independent candidate. Makoni, the former finance minister who was sacked by Mugabe after disagreements over the economy, is backed by many who until recently supported Mugabe. A fraction of the opposition also supports Makoni.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a coalition of civic groups involved in providing voter education and monitoring of the electoral environment before and after elections, has said that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission does not have the logistical capacity to run the multiple elections.
It is possible that a week or so will pass before the election results are announced. ZimOnline writes that opposition parties and election observers “have in the past argued that delays in announcing poll winners allow time to tamper with results.”
Last week, the Zimbabwean police was given instructions to use firearms against opposition activists if they start street protests or “Kenya-style riots” believing that the outcome of the elections was rigged.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum says that a “relentless wave of political violence over the past year, in which state security forces played a major role, had already tainted” the March 29 elections.
What will happen if Mugabe loses the elections but decides to steal the victory from the opposition?
The Economist notes that Mugabe is “certainly willing to resort to force when cornered.” After “the nakedly crooked” elections in 2002, Mugabe’s troops took to the streets to deter protests and hundreds of protesters ended up in hospitals after being beaten by the security forces.
Will Zimbabwe go down the path of Kenya this time? Hopefully not. But many in Zimbabwe have nothing to lose and fighting for their vote and human dignity by any means should not come as a surprise.