Economic and Human Rights Disintegration in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, hyperinflation has
reached levels beyond control and the road to recovery seems unclear.
Reports of secret human rights abuses and extreme political opposition
harassment continue to surface, lengthening the list of questions for the
supposedly strong ruling party and their leader, President Robert Mugabe.
With elections only a year away, even Zimbabwe’s
central bank governor has begun to wonder if Zimbabwe will hold up that
long and how to prevent a complete meltdown.

Economically, Zimbabwe
has been in a down-swing since 1998.  Many services have been put on hold
or significantly lessened because of the extreme levels of
hyperinflation.  Hyperinflation occurs when inflation cannot be normally
regulated by the economy.  The currency loses value as prices increase
rapidly.  In an attempt to meet the demands of inflation by printing money
to cover the costs, the inflation problem actually advances by further
devaluing the currency.  People lose faith in the currency and resort to
quickly buying goods with all of their income and not saving or investing
locally. The latest financial report out of Harare shows inflation to be near 4,000
percent and some predict it to reach 9,000 percent by year’s end.

Recently, the government created a strict response to the inflation,
demanding and enforcing a 50 percent price cut on goods.  BBCnews
reported
how this price cut provoked a run on stores that consequently left
businesses in a pinch—they had to cut prices, often at a huge loss, or be
arrested.  At the same time, the government asked citizens not to create a
false demand by buying in bulk, but with the current state of the economy, many
Zimbabweans disregarded the request and attempted to stock up on the
essentials.

The supply of and access to necessities like food, gasoline, electricity,
and safe water have been significantly reduced.  Because salaries cannot
rise at rates comparable to the inflation, all groups have been struggling to
pay employees.  Reportedly, unemployment is currently between 80 and 90
percent, or in other words, every 4 out of 5 individuals are jobless.
Some public servants in health care, education, and security have either gone
on strike or threatened to strike for a suitable raise in wages, which, in the
meantime, considerably lowers the number of patrons who can access the crucial
services they provide.  Although some wages have been increased by the
government, most remain inadequate.

Deteriorating economic
conditions aptly reflect the current political atmosphere as the media and
opposition to the ZANU-PF party, are increasingly stifled.  According to a
recent article entitled  “Zimbabwe: human rights
in crisis” compiled by Amnesty International, Article 19, Human Rights
Watch, the International Bar Association and Redress,  “the
government of Zimbabwe has failed to respect and protect the rights contained
in the African Charter.” These organizations, over the past 10 years, have
“carefully monitored the human rights situation in Zimbabwe, through a combination of research,
testimonies and field work” and submitted their findings as a combined
effort to challenge Zimbabwe’s
own submission to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights last
October. Other reports have said that currently, all public meetings require
police approval, leading to very few resistance-run meetings.

With HIV/AIDS and the
continual brain drain also assaulting Zimbabwe, we can look to vocal
members of internal opposition for alternatives for dissenters and ways to
support those desiring to improve the deteriorating conditions. There are a
number of diaspora sources that provide dissenting views through radio and print from outside of the
country.  One of the most vocal opponents is Archbishop Ncube of
Bulawayo
, who has even asked for international assistance in removing
President Mugabe.  The efforts of Ncube
and the Church have inspired some Zimbabweans to stay in the country and demand
a peaceful resolution to their economic woes.

While the West has been able
to criticize the human rights abuses of the ZANU-PF party, one might wonder if
more cannot be done to pressure the Zimbabwean government.  President
Mugabe has been clear about his disregard of the West, going as far as to say
that the West has created the economic crisis that Zimbabwe is currently experiencing
as a way to remove him from power.  In
the past five years, Western nations have imposed selective sanctions against
certain individuals, but something else needs to be done. Others analyzing this
crisis say that an increase in the amount of Western
pressure
  would deter the government from abusing human rights.

To that end, there has been movement on a bill proposed in
May by New York Senator Hillary Clinton.
This bill looks to support democracy and human rights in Zimbabwe and to
expand on the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001.  Watch the progress of s.1500 to see if your
support can raise awareness about the continuing human rights abuses.  With 9 co-sponsors and bi-partisan support,
it seems that movement on this bill will continue and provide the necessary
international pressure to call “President Mugabe to immediately restore
democracy and human rights in Zimbabwe.”

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