As Zimbabwe Faces a Deepening Crisis, Manuel-Countee ’09 Hears News from Home

For Krystle Manuel-Countee ’09, a student from Zimbabwe, ongoing events across the Atlantic are especially significant. Manuel-Countee, a new Upper who left Zimbabwe this summer, said, “He wants to maintain power, and a ruler who wants to maintain power will do anything.” Since winning the seat of Prime Minister in 1980 when the Republic of Zimbabwe, formerly known as Rhodesia, was declared, Mugabe has controlled the government and expanded his power to industry and the military. Lucia Nhamo, a Zimbabwean now in her first year at Wellseley College, wrote in an e-mail, “I don’t think for me it’s a question about whether the [rival party will] make it into power, it’s a question of what we would see 27 years later, as it were. Because the same party many people curse today is the same one that the majority of Zimbabweans hailed into power at independence.” The upcoming elections in March 2008 pits the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (M.D.C.), led by founder Morgan Tsvangarai, against Mugabe’s long-standing Zimbabwe African National Party-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). Manuel-Countee said, “Most people feel like it’s better the devil you know than the one you don’t because we know what Mugabe’s capable of and we don’t know Morgan Tsvangirai at all.” “Probably at first,…[Tsvangarai] could have come in and rectified the situation, but now it’s gone so far and spun so out of control that I don’t think he’s capable. There is no person who has shown that he can change the situation, that he can improve the lives of Zimbabweans,” she added. Nhamo wrote, “I sincerely believe that it’s the common man at the end of the day who also gets harm done by, and its his voice, in all this hype about elections, ruling and opposition parties, that we lose it and that is maybe never heard. Both parties claim to be for the people.” “What I do know is that people are hungry, people are barely surviving and that the people are, daily, stripped of their dignity trying to make ends meet in such a difficult environment. That’s what people at the top should stop pretending they care about,” she added. Nhamo’s concerns reflect the consensus among Zimbabweans as the election nears. With an overwhelming majority in Parliament, ZANU-PF members have stopped the M.D.C. from implementing any reform that could reveal its intentions, so the people can only consider words, not track records. There are also now talks among the ruling party of making Mugabe president for life and selecting a successor who would rule after his death. Unlike Tsvangarai, Mugabe also has the support of many African leaders. As the possibility of Mugabe becoming president for life looms, the need for military intervention grows more apparent. “Something greater has to be done,” said Manuel-Countee. Adding to the country’s problems, a legitimate election seems out of the question. The ZANU-PF continues to silence its opposition through brutality and corruption. Tens of thousands of civilians and suspected dissidents were executed during the 1980’s, and this past March, officers beat Tsvingarai and other M.D.C. officials. Another legacy of Mugabe’s is the corruption that has debilitated the government. “Even if you change the heart of that [the government], you have to get rid of basically the whole justice system because everyone is just so corrupt,” Manuel-Countee said. As the rest of sub-Saharan Africa is developing economically, Zimbabwe’s economy boasts the world’s highest inflation rate of 8,000 percent, at least 80 percent unemployment rate, and minimal exports. Mugabe’s attempts to redistribute white-owned farmland both collapsed Zimbabwe’s agricultural economy and increased the land holdings of members of his party. The country now depends on international aid and scarce imports that the people cannot afford. Millions have fled to bordering South Africa and Botswana out of desperation, corruption plagues every level of the government, and the population suffers. Along with Western nations, the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association has condemned the Zimbabwe Republic Police (Z.R.P.) for using torture and violence to influence the people. One ZimDaily article labeled the Z.R.P. Mugabe’s “private army.” Constant food shortages have made corruption part of survival: officials in some areas demand bribes in exchange for voter registration. In past elections, Mugabe visited rural villages bearing food and promises to better the situation. “You basically do anything to get food,” Manuel-Countee said. Though the unprecedented desperation of Zimbabweans may push Mugabe and the ZANU-PF out of power, the election holds only symbolic value. Beyond the next five years, the upcoming election questions Zimbabwe’s long-term future. Inflation shows no signs of declining, and neither do the climbing percentage of H.I.V. infection nor the despair that drives people over the borders of Africa’s former breadbasket. The government itself is deeply in debt and cannot afford to import grain for its people, some of whom have resorted to stripping telephone wires for money. Now, a South African electricity company, ESKOM, is threatening to cut off the power supply due to insufficient funds. Zambia Airways will join six other major airlines when it halts direct flights to Zimbabwe this winter. The World Food Programme estimates that four million currently risk starvation in this country of 12 million.