R.Mugabe and M.Tsvangirai
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe called for "national healing" as he appeared at an independence event with his rival, the current prime minister. "We need tolerance... irrespective of political or religious affiliation," Mugabe said at the national stadium.
Washington has praised Zimbabwe's unity government for the progress which it says it has made towards reform. But U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, made no mention about lifting American or international sanctions. She made the remarks in a statement to mark Zimbabwe's 29th year of independence from Britain. But correspondents say tensions remain over February's power-sharing deal.
Mugabe has called for all economic sanctions by the European Union and the US be lifted against his country. The U.S. and the European Union have insisted that concrete signs of progress in the unity government and around the rule of law are seen first.
In February Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was sworn in as prime minister in a unity government with President Robert Mugabe. Tsvangirai had won the first round of last year's presidential election - but he withdrew from the run-off, citing violence against his supporters. However he later agreed to share power with Mugabe.
The power-sharing accord between Tsvangirai's MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) and Mugabe's Zanu-PF was signed last September, but got mired in ever more bitter disputes. Zimbabwe is enduring rampant inflation and an escalating food crisis and the World Health Organization (WHO) says an outbreak of cholera, fueled by the collapse of infrastructure, has now infected 60,000 people and killed more than 3,000. Donors have said they would only provide aid once a unity government is in place.
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In November 2008 former President Jimmy Carter said the crisis in Zimbabwe is "far worse" than he had imagined. President Carter is one of a group of world leaders, known as the Elders, who were refused entry visas for Zimbabwe to assess the humanitarian situation there. Speaking in Johannesburg, President Carter said: "The crisis in Zimbabwe is much worse than anything we have imagined." He went on: "There is no reason this should be going on in secret." The country's basic structure was "broken down", he said, pointing to the cholera epidemic that has swept Zimbabwe. He added that as the crops had failed this year, the next harvesting opportunity would be April 2010.
A summit of African leaders in Zimbabwe in October had failed to end the country's political deadlock. The key sticking point was control of the home affairs ministry, which controls the police. On Sep 15th, Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara - leader of a breakaway MDC faction - shook hands to rapturous applause having signed the agreement in front of some 3,000 invited guests. Thabo Mbeki, then South Africa's president had brokered the power-sharing negotiations since July.
Basic foodstuffs, including maize meal and bread, are often in short supply in Zimbabwe, which was once one of Africa's leading agricultural producers. About 80% of the country's 12.3m people are unemployed and many depend on food aid. President Mugabe is widely accused of economic mismanagement resulting in runaway inflation, soaring unemployment and the decline of Zimbabwe's agricultural sector. Mugabe blames former colonial power Britain and its Western allies for the crisis.
Zimbabwe has just about the worst-performing economy in the world. People are struggling with soaring inflation, widespread joblessness and the exodus of millions of Zimbabweans, both to neighboring countries and to Europe and the United States. Mugabe's critics have blamed the crisis on his seizure of white-owned farms. He says he is the victim of an international plot intended to bring him down. Zimbabwe has the world's highest annual rate of inflation. On June 23rd the Zimbabwean dollar fell to 30 billion against the U.S. dollar. At independence in 1980, one Zimbabwe dollar was worth more than the one American dollar.
There have been long lines every day at banks as people have struggled to withdraw cash. The government's only response is to print more money - and that is seen as the main reason for the hyperinflation. There have been no official inflation figures published for the past three or four months.
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What is the reason for the crisis?
Land ownership is at the heart of Zimbabwe's current problems. The opposition says that Mugabe's seizure of white-owned farms that began in 2000 has destroyed what was once among Africa's most developed economies. Mugabe says the seizures were necessary to make land ownership more equitable following the colonial era. He blames western powers for the country's economic meltdown, saying they have sabotaged Zimbabwe's economy to drive him from power.
Robert Mugabe has headed the government in Zimbabwe since 1980, first as prime minister and later as the country's president. His ZANU party emerged as the winner of Zimbabwe's first free elections in 1980 after the collapse of white minority rule under Ian Smith. Mugabe, who was named prime minister, included fellow pro-independence campaigner Joshua Nkomo in his cabinet. In April 1980, Zimbabwe became an internationally recognized nation. In 1982, Mugabe fired Nkomo, accusing him of preparing to overthrow the government. Five years later Mugabe changed the constitution and become president of Zimbabwe.
Morgan Tsvangirai (pronounced: "Chan-ghi-RYE") is the leader of the â€˜Movement for Democratic Change' (MDC), which was formed in 1999 to oust Mugabe. Tsvangirai has risen from working in a mine to becoming one of the most important political figures in Zimbabwe. As the leader of Zimbabwe's opposition, Tsvangirai has been called a traitor on many occasions. He has been brutally assaulted and he has been charged with treason three times.
In the presidential elections of March 2008, Tsvangirai gained more votes than Mugabe in the first round. But election officials said neither candidate gained the 50% needed for victory, so a run-off was held in June. Ahead of this, there were numerous, credible reports of systematic attacks against MDC activists. About 200 were killed, 5,000 abducted and 200,000 forced from their homes, the opposition said.
Mugabe's Zanu-PF said the scale of the violence was exaggerated and blamed much of it on the MDC. Mugabe said "only God" could remove him from power. This led Tsvangirai to pull out of the run-off. He said he wanted to save the lives of his supporters and that if Mugabe would not accept defeat, there was no point in taking part in a sham election. There were also parliamentary elections in March, in which the MDC won a majority.
Gasoline shortages are frequent
These days, life is not easy for most people in Zimbabwe. Many factories and other businesses have closed as the economy has gone from bad to worse. In January the World Food Program warned that more than half the population of Zimbabwe may need food aid to survive the coming months. In another sign of what the UN agency called a dramatically worsening situation, the unemployment rate in Zimbabwe has risen to 94%. Meanwhile Zimbabwe's government announced it's allowing local people and businesses to use foreign currencies, including the South African rand and the U.S. dollar. The Zimbabwean dollar has been in free fall for months, recently the government introduced a Z$100 trillion bill. Until now only licensed businesses could accept foreign currencies, although it was common practice. World-record hyperinflation - 231 million % in July 2008, the most recent figure released - has left the Zimbabwean dollar virtually worthless. Prices are rising by the day and basic items such as bread, sugar, and gasoline are increasingly hard to find.
Sheri Fink reports from Zimbabwe (Aug 2006)