Picture still gloomy in Zimbabwe

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Those looking for signs of hope in Zimbabwe won't get it from the International Monetary Fund. It's just released a report painting a gloomy picture of that country's economy. There have been some gains in Zimbabwe since the formation of the so-called unity government a year ago. But as The World's Laura Lynch reports from Harare, they're more than matched by the problems that still plague the nation.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH in Boston. Those looking for signs of hope in Zimbabwe won't get it from the International Monetary Fund. It has just released a report painting a gloomy picture of that county's economy. There have been some gains in Zimbabwe since the formation of the so-called Unity Government a year ago. But as The World's Laura Lynch reports from Harare, they're more than matched by the problems that still plague the nation.

LAURA LYNCH: For those looking for markers of progress in Zimbabwe, the grocery stores are a good place to start. Two years ago shelves were almost empty. Now there's plenty of food paid for in U.S. dollars, the replacement for what had become virtually worthless Zimbabwe currency. Long lines have disappeared from gas stations, drivers have plenty of fuel. And those achingly long queues outside banks are gone. So, is this enough to persuade western nations to end sanctions against Zimbabwe? Mines Minister Obert Mpofu says yes. Not surprising, since the sanctions punish him and other Robert Mugabe loyalists by imposing travel bans and freezes on assets.

OBERT MPOFU: If we could be allowed to do our things without interference from those that actually created problems for us, and I can say our problems are not created by Zimbabweans, but they are created by foreigners; by the British, the Americans and the Europeans who have vested interests in this country.

LYNCH: Blaming the west for Zimbabwe's problems is a familiar refrain from Mugabe and his party hardliners. But the Unity Government means often bitter political enemies must try to work together and so it is that Finance Minister Tendai Biti, once jailed by Mugabe for treason, is now joining in the call to end sanctions.

TENDAI BITI: You might quarrel about the pace of the movement, but the fact of the matter is that Zimbabwe is in motion. It needs to be supported. It cannot be supported by a hands off, let's wait and see position.

LYNCH: But the west is waiting to see. And incidents like the one that happened in Harare last month don't help make the argument that things are changing. A band played upbeat music at the opening of a photo exhibit. The pictures displayed graphic evidence of past political violence. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai told the crowd facing up to that past was key to building Zimbabwe's future.

PRIME MINISTER MORGAN TSVANGIRAI: Exposing the wounds inflicted by a decade of political violence and persecution is not about blame. Instead, it is the first step on the road to forgiveness.

LYNCH: But shortly after Tsvangirai finished speaking the police raided the exhibit. Just the day before, they had arrested human rights activist Okay Machisa as he was helping hang the photos.

OKAY MACHISA: They took all my phones, I was requested to remove my shoes, and they actually told me that I was under arrest.

LYNCH: He as held for several hours then released. Eventually, the exhibit was abandoned. Machisa says those who believe harassment, threats and intimidation have ended, need to think again.

MACHISA: The level of harassment that we are having now is almost the same that we used to have and I can assure you it's actually increasing. It's a shame.

LYNCH: And it's proof that Zimbabwe is still far from a functioning democracy, says political scientist John Makumbe.

JOHN MAKUMBE: It's really hardly working. It is really a paper tiger.

LYNCH: There are numerous disputes between the two factions in government, but Makumbe says Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change party members aren't ready to give up because of the potential consequences.

MAKUMBE: Beatings, murders, rape, you name it. Even the most ardent of MDC members would not like to go back to there. So a foot in the powerhouse is better than both feet outside the powerhouse because you might never, ever get in again.

LYNCH: But Makumbe believes the west is right to be cautious because the government's record on safeguarding rights and freedoms is so thin. While the high level discussions and debates carry on, the reality for many here is still desperate. On the pediatric ward at Harare's main hospital, an 18-month-old boy named Sean can barely lift his head to take a spoonful of fortified formula. He is malnourished, one of more than two million Zimbabweans who don't have enough to eat. There are still food shortages in this country that once fed large parts of Africa. International aid agencies won't hesitate to step in to help, but there's no sign the west is ready to go further and drop sanctions as long as Robert Mugabe remains in power. For The World, I'm Laura Lynch, Harare.

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