Zimbabwe: Bad to worse, and no end in sight

September 03, 2006|By Hativagone Mushonga

HARARE, ZIMBABWE -- It's hard to image that in a country with the world's highest inflation rate, high unemployment and chronic food shortages, people are worried that the worst is yet to come.

Yet after six years of a political and economic free-fall, many here believe that the bottom still isn't in sight, as least not as long as President Robert G. Mugabe remains in power.

Most Zimbabweans have assumed that something would happen to rein in their country's precipitous decline. Instead, they have watched as conditions have gone from bad to worse.

Inflation is running at 1,200 percent a year. Employment, gross domestic product and real wages have plummeted.

U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell recently said that, economically and politically, the country "has already passed the point of no return."

Yet many believe meaningful change cannot happen before the next presidential election, currently scheduled for 2008, although it appears Mugabe will succeed in his attempt to have the date delayed until 2010.

The rapid rate of the country's decline, however, has led many outside observers to conclude Mugabe's reign could end as early as this year.

A recent report published in Harvard University's Africa Policy Journal concluded that Zimbabwe was in a perilous state of decline and the transition could come at any time.

And a briefing paper issued by the International Crisis Group asserted that the end of the Mugabe presidency looms and that his government was becoming "increasingly desperate and dangerous."

John Makumbe, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe, said he doubts Mugabe can last beyond the end of the year. "I believe something is bound to give," he said.

But those inside the country, including senior members of the two rival political factions who might be in a position to bring an end to the current regime, say Mugabe will do whatever it takes to retain power.

Tendai Biti, secretary-general of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said anyone who predicts an early end to Mugabe's rule was unaware of the political dynamics in Zimbabwe.

"People making those predictions don't know Zimbabwe," he said. "Mugabe has no intention of relinquishing power. He has power in his veins. He will never give it up. He will not leave office."

Joseph Kurebwa, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare, argues that the public is not prepared to rise up against Mugabe.

"People have adapted [to current conditions], which is a natural phenomenon," he said. "I would be surprised if people marched onto the streets. ... The older generation has gone through a lot of hardships in the past, and this will influence the course of events. The political situation is unlikely to change any time soon."

Hativagone Mushonga is a journalist in Zimbabwe who writes for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict.

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