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Zimbabwe is a landlocked Southern African country, bordering South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique. President Robert Mugabe has reigned for more than three decades, at times engaging in blatant electoral fraud and authoritarian tactics against opponents, but recent elections have attracted more international scrutiny and some concessions have been made under pressure of Western sanctions. Targeting of human rights defenders and political activists, along with political violence more generally, are severe problems in Zimbabwe, as is the widespread use of child labour and recruitment of children into military and paramilitary units.
Zimbabwe is a landlocked southern African state which occupies the high plateau between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. The country shares borders with Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa and Botswana. The capital city is Harare.
Population and language
The country has a slowly growing population of 12.7 million which fell slightly as the violence and instability developed in the late 1990s and 2000s, though it returned to growth in 2010. As many as three million Zimbabweans are estimated to have fled the country throughout the economic and political crisis, though many are now returning. The majority of the population are ethnically Shona, though there is a substantial Ndbele community and a number of smaller ethnic groups.
English is the country's official language, but Shona and Nbdele are also widely spoken.
History and politics
Until the 19th century, the area of covering modern day Zimbabwe was ruled by a succession of Shona Kingdoms. Cecil Rhode's British South African Company took control of the country throughout the 1890s incorporating it into Rhodesia. When the BSA administration came to an end in the aftermath of the first world war, the white minority opted for self-government and instituted a number of racist policies, including restrictions on access to land for black people in 1930. Opposition to colonial rule gradually developed throughout the next 30 years, leading to the formation and growth of black nationalist groups in the 1960s: notably the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). In 1965, following the break up of the Central African Federation of which modern day Zimbabwe was a part, Ian Smith declared unilateral independence from Britain as the Prime Minister of a white minority government. This declaration triggered sanctions and condemnation internationally, as well as leading to an intensification of the Guerilla war within the country. In 1979 the British government aided the transition to full independence, and in 1980 the first post-independence elections under a newly established Constitution took place. ZANU leader Robert Mugabe became Prime Minister.
Throughout the 1980s, Mugabe consolidated his power by removing opposition and instigating political changes, including the 1987 institution of an executive Presidency. In 1987, ZANU and ZAPU merged into ZANU-PF ending all organised political opposition for more than a decade. The economic crises of the late 1990s and 2000s reinvigorated the political opposition in the country and gave strength to the newly formed Movement for Democratic Change. The MDC made a major breakthrough in the elections of 2008, in which ZANU-PF lost its majority in parliament for the first time since its formation, and MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in the first round of the Presidential vote. Mounting violence caused Tsvanigrai to step out of the second round run-off, however, and Mugabe was returned as President unopposed.
The political stalemate that followed the elections caused regional neighbours to become involved through the Southern African Development Community and African Union, through which a power-sharing agreement (the Global Political Agreement) was reached. Mugabe retains the Presidency alongside Tsvangirai as Prime Minister, and cabinet positions are divided between the parties. As part of the agreement a committee was created to instigate constitutional reforms. Progress in this regard has been slow, however, with substantial delays that have meant that the public outreach element of the process began in June 2010. Elections were to be held in 2013, though President Mugabe and the ZANU-PF party have recently been pressing for them to be held in 2012, though the MDC has opposed this move.
Zimbabwe has suffered a number of serious economic setbacks which became rapidly more severe after 1998, marked by high interest rates and rapid inflation that provoked riots and a shift in political support to opposition politicians. By 1999 the World Bank and IMF had suspended aid to Zimbabwe in response to government economic policies, depriving the State of much needed economic support. The seizure of farms belonging to white Zimbabweans exacerbated food shortages and caused several western governments to withdraw aid, furthering the crisis. Between 1999 and 2008, economic productivity in the country fell every year resulting in a cumulative total of 45 per cent across the period. Throughout the crisis inflation escalated rapidly reaching more than 13.2 billion per cent per month.
Following the formation of the transitional government in 2008, however, the economy began to recover. Growth returned to positive figures in 2009 and 2010, and the agriculture and mining industries, which are at the core of national economic activity, have developed significantly. Despite the rapid development of these economic activities, however, production is yet to return to 2000 levels. Indigenisation policies, whereby foreign owned companies are required to cede a majority stake in their Zimbabwean operations, have continued since the coalition government took office, a policy that risks driving away much needed investment in the national economy.
Media and civil society
Reporters Without Borders rated the country 117 out of 179 in its 2011/12 Press Freedom Index, a rating that has improved significantly over the last five years, but that still indicates serious problems for the press operating in the country. National media operate against a backdrop of draconian legislation which provide for criminal penalties for reporting without accreditation, and leaves the government run Media and Information Commission in control of which journalists are accredited. Reporters Without Borders has reported on a broad range of violations on press freedom across the last decade, from the shutting down of the prominent and outspoken Daily News in 2003, to 2007's laws on the interception of emails and phone calls without judicial supervision, and persistent attacks, arrests and harassment of journalists.
In 2003, Zimbabwe became one of the first countries in Africa to create freedom of information legislation, which purports to grant citizens the right to access government held information. In reality, however, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act 2003 served to institute further government media controls.
Human rights and children's rights
Recent years have seen widespread human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, from the political violence that surrounded the 2008 elections to the well documented restrictions on the media and civil society. Harassment of human rights defenders is also an ongoing problem in the country, Human Rights Watch has consistently reported on the harassment and arbitrary arrest of human rights advocates, which it claims has intensified since January 2011. Political violence more generally appears to be on the increase in anticipation of upcoming elections as part of the interim government's mandate. Violent farm invasions and property seizures also continue.
Of particular concern for Zimbabwean children has been the growth in child labour in the country. UNICEF has reported that 13 per cent of children are engaged in labour that the International Labour Organisation defines as mentally, physically, socially or morally harmful to children and that interferes with their schooling. This figure rises significantly in urban areas such as the capital. The prevalence of HIV and AIDS, as well as the inadequacy of social services, in the country has left around 100,000 of the country's 1.3-1.4 million orphans living alone or as the head of their household.
- UNDESA, Population Statistics 2011
- Institute for War and Peace Reporting, "Zimbabwe exiles start to return" 25 March 2009
- See BBC, "Robert Mugabe: The survivor" 6 December 2011
- BBC, "Profile: Morgan Tsvangirai" 6 March 2009
- BBC, "Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe calls for elections in 2012" 8 December 2011 and The Guardian, "Zimbabwe's Tsvangirai insists on Mugabe reform before election- video" 24 February 2012
- The World Bank, "Zimbabwe Country Brief"
- The Guardian, "Zimbabwe farm seizures led to crop failures" 2 November 2005
- The Telegraph, "Zimbabwe hyperinflation 'will set world record within six weeks'" 13 November 2008
- Supra. 7
- The Economist, "Zimplats happens: Robert Mugabe's government wins a victory for 'indigenisation'" 17 March 2012
- Reporters Without Borders, "World Report: Zimbabwe"
- Reporters Without Borders, "SADC urged to tackle Mugabe about surge in press freedom violations" 12 August 2011 and "Detained Media Monitoring Project staff freed on bail" 20 December 2011
- IRIN, "ZIMBABWE: Political violence escalates" 14 February 2011
- The Constitution Unit, "Freedom of Information International Focus: Zimbabwe" March 2011
- Human Rights Watch World Report 2012: Zimbabwe
- The Telegraph, "The end of an era for Zimbabwe's white farmers?" 26 June 2011
- IRIN, "ZIMBABWE: Child labour on the rise" 27 February 2012
- UNICEF, "Humanitarian Action Report 2010" p. 22 and "Eastern and southern Africa: Feature story for Zimbabwe" 2 September 2009
- OHCHR, "Zimbabwe homepage"
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Zimbabwe country profile"
- BBC, "Zimbabwe Profile", "Zimbabwe Timeline" and news items (see footnotes)
- The World Bank, "Zimbabwe Country Brief"
- Reporters Without Borders, "Press Freedom Index 2011/12" and news items (see footnotes)
- Human Rights Watch, "World Report 2012: Zimbabwe"
- The Guardian (see footnotes)
- The Economist (see footnotes)
- The Telegraph (see footnotes)