Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Death of Zimbabwe

The pictures above, released yesterday by Amnesty International, is the horrifying evidence of the destruction of an entire village, as well as a window into the fate of Zimbabwe. The village shown in the above left picture is the Porta Farm settlement, a settlement of around 10,000 people. The picture on the right is the exact same location...all 850 buildings are gone, as are the people. This is the brutal result of Operation Murambatsvina (Restore Order), launched by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe last year to pacify domestic opposition. As part of the operation, Zimbabwean police have been evicting people, mainly poor urban dwellers, from the cities and forcing them into the countryside, where they are unable to feed themselves. As is reported in this Amnesty report on Zimbabwe, the government has forced approximately 700,000 people out of the cities, and has also razed entire villages and closed businesses.

In addition to the immediate misery caused by the evictions, Mugabe has succeeded in destroying the economy of what was once known as the "breadbasket of Africa." Inflation is officially stated to be 1,040%, but is widely believed to really stand at 1,800%, while 90% of the population exists below the poverty line. Life expectancy has dropped from 55 in 1980 (the year of Zimbabwe's independence from the UK) to 34 today.

Where is the outrage? It's great to see people in the US and the West somewhat up in arms over what's going on in Darfur or Uganda, but there has been little attention or protest at what's been transpiring in Zimbabwe. The African Union has been complicit, refusing to censure, sanction, or punish Mugabe for his policies. At last, earlier this year, the African Union's human rights commission condemned Zimbabwe's policies, but went no further.

Sovereignty must have its limits...and the pictures above grapically demonstrate what those limits should be.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

I think we found the limits of sovereignty long before this village was destroyed.

As for the lack of outrage, I think there are two reasons that this story is off of America's radar:

First, this happened far away in a place that most (i.e., white) Americans have difficulty identifying with. And we seem to have come to think of subsaharan Africa as a political/economic/social lost cause.

Second, this story is another casualty of the war in Iraq. Or: it's another casualty of myopic U.S. news coverage. Even our most thorough news sources for international news give us only a fraction of what there is to know. Of course, no one can report everything all the time, but why are there huge swaths (is that a word?) of humanity that never make the first five pages of the NYT? Until a natural disaster hits.

I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that the West is "somewhat up in arms" over Darfur. That's pathetic. It's not that Zimbabwe is unique in being neglected. Whole continents are being neglected, starting with Africa.