5 years ago this February, my Girl Scout troop studied Zimbabwe for Thinking Day. I still have the comparison I made between the country and Texas. Once upon a time, Zimbabwe was a potential bread basket for Southern Africa. Now it faces starvation and disease.
In 2004, I garnered almost all of my facts about Zimbabwe from the CIA World Factbook. At the time, Zimbabwe had a population of 12,576,742. The 2008 factbook shows the population as 11,350,111. That's a loss of 1,226,631 souls. Some of these undoubtedly moved to neighboring countries in search of work. But some of that numbered have died of cholera, starvation and in political violence.
The World Health Organization reported 1,608 deaths out of 30,365 cases of cholera on December 30. The country's sanitation and public health services have virtually collapsed. President Robert Mugabe announced on December 11 that the epidemic was contained while the UN and Save the Children said it was getting worse. Mugabe feels that the US and UK are planning on using this outbreak as an excuse the invade and overthrow his government.
Meanwhile, schools and hospitals have closed all across the country because teachers and health workers are not being paid. Hyperinflation has put the cost of basic necessities out of reach. Sanitation systems have collapsed and raw sewage runs in the streets. Garbage is left uncollected. Vaccination programs have been halted due to lack of medication.
Even if this cholera epidemic is under control, which is highly unlikely, the situation is ripe for any number of water borne diseases to profligate. Food supplies are scare and people have been forced to scavenge what they can from wild plants.
While his people starve and die of disease, Robert Mugabe's government deals harshly with any opposition. Kidnapping and torture have been reported. Although Morgan Tsvangirai won enough votes in the March 08 elections to force a run off, the violence against his supporters caused him to withdraw from the race. Despite this, arrests of his supporters have continued. Activist Jestina Mukoko was taken from her home on December 3 and reappeared on December 24 in government custody. She has been charged with with recruiting people for banditry -- a crime that carries the death penalty in Zimbabwe. Mukoko, a human rights activist who ran the Zimbabwe Peace Project, had catalogued abuses and violence by the government.
Mugabe and the world are in seeming agreement that Zimbabwe needs to take care of itself, even if they come at from opposite ends. Mugabe wants to be left alone to run his country as he sees fit and without interference. The World thinks its up to the people of Zimbabwe to rise up and kick out those who have led their country down this path of destruction.
I don't have the answers for what will fix this crisis or any of the others in Africa. I just know that sticking our head in the sand and pretending that it's not our problem has failed Africa for generations. How many have to die before we do something?
If you want to catch a glimpse of life in Zimbabwe, read This is Zimbabwe , a blog by the Zimbabwe Civic Action Support Group.