A Decade of Suffering in Zimbabwe: Economic Collapse and Political Repression under Robert Mugabe

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On March 29, 2008, Zimbabwe will hold presidentialand parliamentary elections. Few peoplebelieve that they will be free and fair or that RobertMugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front party will fail to return to office.

That is a tragedy, because Mugabe and his cronies arechiefly responsible for an economic meltdown that hasturned one of Africa's most prosperous countries into acountry with one of the lowest life expectancies in theworld. Since 1994, the average life expectancy in Zimbabwehas fallen from 57 years to 34 years for women and from 54years to 37 years for men. Some 3,500 Zimbabweans dieevery week from the combined effects of HIV/AIDS, poverty,and malnutrition. Half a million Zimbabweans mayhave died already. There is no freedom of speech or assemblyin Zimbabwe, and the state has used violence to intimidateand murder its opponents.

At the root of Zimbabwe's problems is a corrupt politicalelite that has, with considerable international support,behaved with utter impunity for some two decades. Thiselite is determined to hang on to power no matter what theconsequences, lest it be held to account for the genocide inMatabeleland in the early 1980s and the wholesale lootingof Zimbabwe that followed the mismanaged land reform in2000.

When change comes to Zimbabwe, the nation will haveto rediscover the rule of law and the sanctity of persons andproperty. The public discourse and the economy will haveto be reopened. The new government will have to embracea more limited idea of government and rescind legislationthat makes the operation of the private sector next toimpossible. Moreover, the new government will have tofind a way for the people of Zimbabwe to heal the woundscaused by decades of political violence.

Download the Development Policy Analysis

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David Coltart

David Coltart is a member of the Parliament of Zimbabwe. Affiliated with the Movement for Democratic Change, he represents the Bulawayo South Constituency and serves as the shadow justice minister.