January 2, 2006: To say Zimbabwe's political and economic condition continues to deteriorate doesn't do justice to the word deteriorate. The destruction of Zimbabwe's productive agricultural sector wrought by dictator Robert Mugabe's policies removed a key source of foreign currency (ie, exported food and agricultural products) has reduced most of the population to poverty. Now Zimbabwe has no hard currency to pay for essential imports, like oil. African and western sources report that in Zimbabwe gasoline cannot be bought legally by private citizens-- it is only available on the black market. One estimate of annual inflation (December 2004 to November 2005) in Zimbabwe was 500 percent. Two-thirds of the adult working age population is unemployed. It is hard to arrive at an accurate figure for inflation since the Zimbabwean currency is regarded as worthless and much of the economy is based on barter. One of the saddest stories of 2005 --and it received very little coverage, other than a few stories in June 2005 and a handful in December-- was Mugabe's attack on "illegal houses" (alleged squatters). The houses Mugabe's supporters removed were for the most part located in areas where the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party is strong. The "counter-squatter" operation had the name "Operation Murambatsvina" (a Shona phrase, one translation is "drive out the trash"-- an opposition website translates it as "clean out the filth."), It’s estimated that 700,000 people were left homeless. (One source said that ultimately 2.4 million people suffered from the "operation.") The MDC and other opposition groups claim that several hundred thousand small businesses were also destroyed. That's a huge claim, but in sub-Saharan Africa many businesses in urban areas are "mom and pop" stands selling food, crafts, and various supplies in front of the family home or shanty. The ZImbabwean government subsequently began a "reconstruction program" called "Operation Garikai/Hlalani Kuhle." The government source said this is Shona and Ndebele for "live well," and claimed that 5000 new houses have been built. But few of the displaced have the cash to pay for them. Apparently the program requires the family pay a "deposit" for the new home-- the requirements aren't quite clear. Very few of the destroyed houses have been replaced, though the government says more houses will be built. Still, this looks like a political ploy --an attempt to quiet critics in the "international community."
Mugabe's opponents now describe his regime as a military dictatorship-- and that's a pretty accurate assessment. Zimbabwean publisher (and Mugabe opponent) Trevor Ncube even supplies the names of the men he says are running Zimbabwe:: Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede, Immigration Director Elasto Mugwadi and Army Commander Constantine Chiwengwa. One of Mugabe's key henchmen, Air Marshal Perence Shiri, is believed to be dying of an AIDS-related condition. The thinking is that Shiri's death will weaken the Mugabe government. There's no indication that this is the case. Mugabe and his supporters control the guns. If civil war does break out, Mugabe's dominant Shona tribe will provide the core of the "pro-government" force. The civil war would quickly become something of a tribal war, with Shona fighting Ndebele. And right now the Ndebele are starving, broke and unarmed. For a dictator, it is the perfect police state. For Mugabe’s subject’s, it is hell on earth.