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While Most Of Africa Prospers, Zimbabwe Implodes


While Most of Africa Prospers, Zimbabwe Implodes

Stella Chikava distributes advertising pamphlets on the streets of Johannesburg, South Africa. It's a long step down for the 41-year-old graduate with more than 10 years' experience as a physics and chemistry teacher in Zimbabwe.

But after experiencing detention, rape and torture under Mugabe's government, she feels lucky to be alive.

Chikava's fate, along with that of many thousands of other Zimbabweans, is graphically described on Web sites such as that of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, an international media development charity that supports local journalists reporting on democracy and human rights.

According to Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports freedom and monitors political rights and civil liberties around the world, Zimbabwe is one of the world's most repressive states.

FROM PROSPERITY TO POVERTY

Rich in natural resources such as chromite, platinum, gold, silver and nickel, Zimbabwe experienced a moderate economic boom in the 1970s. But poor management has plunged the country into poverty, according to the U.S. State Department's background notes on the country.

Both government and academic experts say that although many countries in Africa are experiencing increasing prosperity, Zimbabwe is imploding.

Zimbabwe is among the few African countries that are not enjoying an average of 6 percent growth, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer said at a panel discussion hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on December 3.

Eighty percent of Zimbabwe's citizens are unemployed; one-fourth of the population has left the country; there are food shortages and hyperinflation, she said.

Adding to the dismal economic picture is the brutal repression of human rights proponents.

WORST YEAR EVER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS

The 2007 crackdown by the government of President Robert Mugabe has been the worst ever for defenders of freedom in Zimbabwe, Frazer said. Nongovernmental organizations have reported more than 6,000 instances of human rights abuses; 3,463 victims of government attacks have required medical treatment.

As recently as November 22, cadres of ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, Mugabe's socialist party) members severely beat 22 members of the National Constitutional Assembly, a pro-democracy civil society organization, Frazer said.

UNITED STATES TO IMPOSE ADDITIONAL SANCTIONS

"Given Mugabe's escalated use of violence," Frazer said, "the United States will be imposing additional sanctions against the worst perpetrators of the regime's brutality.

"Financial sanctions will be imposed in the coming days against several additional Zimbabweans not yet sanctioned who played a central role in the regime's escalating human rights abuses and two additional companies that are owned or controlled by specially designated individuals," she said.

"The United States will also impose travel sanctions against 38 additional individuals, including nine state security officials involved in human rights abuses and anti-democratic activities in recent months. The affected individuals will include at least five adult children of the Mugabe government officials implicated in the December activities who are currently studying in the United States," Frazer said.

"It is intolerable," she added, "that those closest to Mugabe are enjoying the privilege of sending their children to the United States for an education when they have destroyed the once outstanding educational system in their own country, thereby depriving ordinary Zimbabweans of a decent education."

Zimbabwean schoolteachers are leaving the profession by the thousands, driven out by hyperinflation and political violence. According to the Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe, 5,000 teachers left their jobs in 2005 alone.

"At one point Mugabe sent children to school," Frazer observed. "Now he is beating them as free-thinking adults."

Frazer emphasized that U.S. sanctions will be lifted quickly once Zimbabwe implements reforms needed "to restore Zimbabwe to what it once was: a democratic and prosperous country that was jewel of the region."

She also emphasized that U.S. food aid, assistance to HIV/AIDS victims and other humanitarian aid will continue despite the increased sanctions, in order to help ordinary Zimbabweans.

In 2007, Frazer said, the United States will deliver more than $170 million in food aid to feed more than 1.5 million Zimbabweans.

DEALING WITH ENABLERS

Frazer said the United States continues to encourage the governments of Zimbabwe's neighbors, particularly South Africa, to take an active role in pressuring Zimbabwe to return to democracy.

South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, despite his own political problems at home, is a leader in the region, Frazer said, and she expressed the hope that Mbeki will listen to his own constituents, who have said South Africa needs a tougher approach to Zimbabwe.

John Makumbe, professor of political science at the University of Zimbabwe, said that the Zimbabwean diaspora is inadvertently propping up President Mugabe's repressive regime.

More than 50 percent of Zimbabwe's families are alive today thanks to remittances sent to them from some 5 million family members working outside the country, Makumbe said. "If they would stop sending funds for six weeks, Mugabe would collapse," Makumbe said.

Sydney Chisi, founder of the Youth Democracy Initiative of Zimbabwe, acknowledged the existence of "conflict entrepreneurs," who have benefited from of the current crisis in Zimbabwe. "Most of them are not willing to let go," Chisi said.

But most ordinary Zimbabweans are eager for change, Chisi said, whether it comes via a street movement or the democratic process.

ENDS

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