Potential Hot Spots: Zimbabwe Simmers and Stumbles Along



Items About Areas That Could Break Out Into War

April 25, 2006: It's hard to tell if this signals further major economic and agricultural policy changes in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe government appears to be reconsidering or revising its policy of seizing farms owned by white Zimbabwean farmers. Zimbabwe faces a terrible food shortage, created in large measure by the destructive agricultural policies of dictator Robert Mugabe. Over the past six years Mugabe has taken farms from white Zimbabwean owners and redistributed the land -- to his political supporters. Farm productivity has collapsed. Mugabe justified the seizure as returning land taken by British imperialists in the 19th century. The problem is, the white farmers left the land and so did their workers (predominantly black African workers). Mugabe's replacements knew little or nothing about agriculture. In early April, the government began to consider application from white "commercial farmers" who want to continue operating farms. Some of the applications may be from farmers who wish to return to the business. Approximately 200 applications are being considered. The government may offer farmers a long-term lease arrangement, but that is speculative. Letting white Zimbabwean farmers return to farming would be a political loss of face for Mugabe, but the country needs food. Agriculture is also a source for foreign exchange and Zimbabwe is terribly short of hard currency. Poverty, a recipe for continuing trouble, is increasing. Zimbabwe has an annual inflation rate of about 900 percent. This means Zimbabwe has the most rapidly shrinking economy for a country not in a war zone. For example, last year the Ivory Coast's economy shrunk and it is in the midst of a huge civil war. The only other country on the African continent whose economy shrank in 2005 was Zimbabwe.

That may be true, that technically Zimbabwe is not a war zone-- but Zimbabwe may be a "proto-war zone." On April 23 the opposition group MDC called for new mass protests to "drive Mugabe from power." On April 24 Zimbabwe's security minister said that police and "armed soldiers" would shoot protestors who sought to topple the government. Zimbabwe's Security Minister is also in charge of Zimbabwe's Central Intelligence Organization, the CIO. This isn't the first time the security forces have promised to crush threatened strikes and mass protests by the democratic opposition. Mugabe also uses a militia composed of "war veterans" to intimidate his political opponents. The main opposition group in Zimbabwe is the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC. The MDC is split into two rival factions.


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