Monday, March 9, 2009

Zimbabwe: Once a Breadbasket, Now a Basketcase

Back in 2002, Robert Mugabe ordered 2,000 white farmers to cease production on their farms. The Economist and The Atlantic began speaking about changing the nation from the Breadbasket of Africa to the Basketcase of the continent. The Atlantic’s December 2003 article is particularly damning, and the news has only grown grimmer since.

Just today, the World Health Organization released information that over 4,000 people have died of cholera, and and another 89,000 have been infected. The “good news” is that the number of diagnosed cases has dropped to 4,000 - 4,500 per week, down from a peak of 8,000 per week at the height of the crisis. However, the casualty figures are still likely to continue, especially in the hinterlands of the nation, where the death rate is far higher than in the urban areas due to lack of water treatment and medicine.

The GDP per capita for the nation was $2,400 in the year 2000. By 2004, it had fallen to $1,700 (as per the 2004 CIA World Factbook). In the latest reports, GDP per capita had plunged to $200. While we may rue our financial crisis, in Zimbabwe in 2008, inflation had driven prices up by 11.2 million percent.

All forms of social services are collapsing, from education to healthcare to basic security. Human rights are in shambles. Corruption is rampant. Arrests of dissidents and opposition figures, disappearances as well as torture, remain a daily factor of life.

A possible positive sign of economic change was mentioned today. Representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) met with representatives of the Zimbabwe government to begin talks about restoring ties to the nation, which nearly had its membership in the IMF revoked in 2006.

However, whatever path Zimbabwe will take out of its current predicament will be a long road, simply trying to restore itself to a level of peace, productivity and prosperity it once knew years ago.

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