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Zimbabwe: Current Issues - page 3 / 19





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Zimbabwe: Current Issues


Zimbabwe, a country of 12 million people in southern Africa, continues to face a serious political, economic, and social crisis; and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is demanding that President Mugabe resign or be impeached. The MDC won 57 seats in the 150-member parliament in June 2000 elections marked by considerable violence. On May 25, 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that Mugabe seems “reluctant to submit to the law an the will of the people,” and urged that the next election be free and fair.

Since February 2000, approximately 1,000 white-owned farms have been occupied by veterans of the independence struggle and others. An estimated 2,600 farms have been slated for eventual takeover, and the govern- ment plans to resettle 500,000 poor farmers on the seized land.

the vote. MDC president, labor-leader Mor- gan Tsvangirai, led a vigorous campaign, despite the violence his party faced.

The MDC poses a serious challenge to ZANU-PF in part because of Zimbabwe’s serious economic problems. Unemployment reportedly is at 60%, and more than 60% of Zimbabwe’s people live in poverty. Zimba- bwe’s crisis has led to a sharp drop in tourism, and foreign exchange earnings from tobacco and other agricultural exports have fallen. Zimbabwe has undertaken a costly military deployment in Congo, contributing to the International Monetary Fund’s decision to suspend balance of payments support. World Bank lending is also suspended, in part be- cause Zimbabwe is in arrears on its repayments of past loans. The adult HIV infection rate in Zimbabwe, estimated at over 25%, is among the world’s highest.

The need for greater equity in land distri- bution in Zimbabwe has long been recognized by aid donors and even the commercial farm- ers’ organization. Donors have offered sup- port for the orderly purchase of land and the creation of commercially viable small farms. Analysts are concerned that the current, seemingly chaotic process will turn much of Zimbabwe’s rich agricultural endowment into a patchwork of subsistence farms.

At least 30 people, including four white farmers, had been killed by the time the June elections were held. Supporters of the MDC, both black and white, were the main targets.

There has been much speculation that President Robert Mugabe pushed ahead with land seizures in order to enhance the popular- ity of his ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party among war veterans and rural Africans before

The next presidential election is expected in April 2002, and President Mugabe, now 77, has stated his intention to run again. He has headed the government since 1980.

U.S. policy-makers once saw Zimbabwe as a source of political and economic stability in southern Africa, but with the failure of Zimbabwe’s economic reform program and mounting unrest in the 1990s, U.S. assistance levels fell sharply. Aid now focuses on pro- grams to strengthen democracy, raise living standards among the poor, and fight the AIDS epidemic. In 2000, the United States strongly criticized pre-election violence and intimida- tion in Zimbabwe. In June 2001, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs warned that the United States and Zimbabwe could not have normal relations until the violence and intimidation end and the rule of law is restored.

Congressional Research Service

  • The Library of Congress

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