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Country Profile : Zimbabwe

Country profile: Zimbabwe

Map of Zimbabwe

The fortunes of Zimbabwe have for almost three decades been tied to President Robert Mugabe, the pro-independence campaigner who wrested control from a small white community and became the country's first black leader.

Until the 2008 parliamentary elections, Zimbabwe was effectively a one-party state, ruled over by Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF. A power-sharing deal has raised hopes that Mr Mugabe might be prepared to relinquish some of his powers, but in the meantime he presides over a nation whose economy is in tatters, where poverty and unemployment are endemic and political strife and repression commonplace.

Overview

Zimbabwe is home to the Victoria Falls, one of the natural wonders of the world, the stone enclosures of Great Zimbabwe - remnants of a past empire - and to herds of elephant and other game roaming vast stretches of wilderness.

AT-A-GLANCE
Police use water canons to disperse protesters
Politics: President Robert Mugabe, in office since 1980, agreed to an historic power-sharing deal with the opposition in September 2008, following months of political turmoil
Economy: Economy in crisis, with rampant inflation, "de-industrialisation" and shortages of food and fuel. Agricultural production is shrinking
International: Hopes that political deal will alleviate international isolation

For years it was a major tobacco producer and a potential bread basket for surrounding countries.

But the forced seizure of almost all white-owned commercial farms, with the stated aim of benefiting landless black Zimbabweans, led to sharp falls in production and precipitated the collapse of the agriculture-based economy. The country has endured rampant inflation and critical food and fuel shortages.

Many Zimbabweans survive on grain handouts. Others have voted with their feet; hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans, including much-needed professionals, have emigrated.

Aid agencies and critics partly blame food shortages on the land reform programme. The government blames a long-running drought, and Mr Mugabe has accused Britain and its allies of sabotaging the economy in revenge for the redistribution programme.

The government's urban slum demolition drive in 2005 drew more international condemnation. The president said it was an effort to boost law and order and development; critics accused him of destroying slums housing opposition supporters.

Either way, the razing of "illegal structures" left some 700,000 people without jobs or homes, according to UN estimates.

The former Rhodesia has a history of conflict, with white settlers dispossessing the resident population, guerrilla armies forcing the white government to submit to elections, and the post-independence leadership committing atrocities in southern areas where it lacked the support of the Matabele people.

Zimbabwe has had a rocky relationship with the Commonwealth - it was suspended after President Mugabe's controversial re-election in 2002 and later announced that it was pulling out for good.

Facts

  • Full name: Republic of Zimbabwe
  • Population: 12.5 million (UN, 2009)
  • Capital: Harare
  • Area: 390,759 sq km (150,873 sq miles)
  • Major language: English (official), Shona, Sindebele
  • Major religions: Christianity, indigenous beliefs
  • Life expectancy: 43 years (men), 44 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 Zimbabwe dollar = 100 cents
  • Main exports: Tobacco, cotton, agricultural products, gold, minerals
  • GNI per capita: US $340 (World Bank, 2007)
  • Internet domain: .zw
  • International dialling code: +263

Leaders

President: Robert Mugabe

Under a power-sharing deal signed with the opposition in September 2008, President Mugabe remains head of state, head of the cabinet and head of the armed services.

Zimbabwean president
President Mugabe has agreed to share power

The deal followed months of political turmoil in Zimbabwe.

In the March 2008 parliamentary election, Zanu-PF loses its majority in parliament for the first time in 28 years.

Mr Mugabe lost the first round of the presidential election, also held in March 2008, but won the run-off in June after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the only challenger, pulled out on the grounds that a free and fair election was not possible because of violent attacks on his supporters.

After the initial power-sharing deal was signed, further talks aimed at thrashing out the details were stalled until January 2009, when Mr Tsvangirai declared his party's willingness to join the power-sharing government.

Now in his eighties, Robert Mugabe played a key role in ending white rule in Rhodesia and he and his Zanu-PF party have dominated Zimbabwe's politics since independence in 1980.

Ideologically, Mr Mugabe belongs to the African liberationist tradition of the 1960s - strong and ruthless leadership, anti-Western, suspicious of capitalism and deeply intolerant of dissent and opposition.

He has defended his controversial land reform programme and has vowed not to leave power until all land is in the hands of the majority black population.

Prime Minister: Morgan Tsvangirai

Morgan Tsvangirai
Mr Tsvangirai hopes power-sharing will work

Morgan Tsvangirai was sworn in as prime minister in February 2009, following months of wrangling over a power-sharing agreement originally signed in September 2008.

A final accord on power-sharing was reached in January, after Mr Tsvangirai returned to Zimbabwe following an absence of more than two months for fresh talks with President Mugabe.

Earlier negotiations had faltered after the MDC accused Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF of keeping the most powerful ministries - including the one that controls the police - to itself.

In a speech after his inauguration, Mr Tsvangirai called for an end to human rights abuses and political violence. He also pledged to do all in his power to help alleviate the suffering of Zimbabweans.

Mr Tsvangirai is a former union leader who helped found the Movement for Democratic Change in 1999.

As MDC leader he has faced intimidation, treason charges, physical assault and at one stage was charged with plotting to kill Mr Mugabe.

The son of a bricklayer, Mr Tsvangirai worked as a miner for a number of years, before climbing to the top of the country's trade union movement.

He first took on the government when, as secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, he led a series of strikes against high taxes in the late 1990s.

Soon after becoming PM, Mr Tsvangirai was hit by personal tragedy when his wife Susan died in a car crash in March 2009.

Media

All broadcasters transmitting from Zimbabwean soil, as well as the main newspapers, are state-run and toe the government line.

Newspaper vendor reads Harare's main daily
Newspapers operate under restrictive media laws

The press is dominated by two pro-government dailies, the Harare-based Herald and the Bulawayo-based Chronicle, both tightly controlled by the Information Ministry.

Private publications, which are relatively vigorous in their criticism of the government, have come under severe pressure. A leading private daily, the Daily News, was banned after a legal battle.

The remaining independent press is largely confined to two weeklies, the Standard and the Zimbabwe Independent. Another weekly, The Zimbabwean, is produced in London and distributed in Zimbabwe as an international publication.

Because of rampant inflation, cover prices have spiralled and are beyond the reach of many Zimbabweans. Publishers have been hit by escalating printing and newsprint costs.

Draconian laws

A range of draconian laws and institutions, along with prison sentences for "publishing false news", are used to clamp down on critical comment. Journalists who fail to register with a government body risk imprisonment.

State-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) operates the country's only TV and radio stations. ZBC formerly had two TV channels; its second network was leased to private station Joy TV which closed in 2002. Some of its programmes were said to have ruffled government feathers.

Surveillance, threats, imprisonment, censorship, blackmail, abuse of power and denial of justice are all brought to bear to keep firm control over the news
Reporters Without Borders, 2007

Radio is the main source of information for many Zimbabweans. Although there are no private stations, the country is targeted by overseas-based operations.

The Voice of the People, set up by former ZBC staff with funding from the Soros Foundation and a Dutch organisation, operates using a leased shortwave transmitter in Madagascar.

Another station, the UK-based SW Radio Africa, aims to give listeners in Zimbabwe "unbiased information".

From the US, the government-funded Voice of America (VOA) operates Studio 7, a twice-daily service for listeners in Zimbabwe which aims to be a source of "objective and balanced news".

Radio broadcasts by foreign stations deemed hostile to the government have been jammed.

The press

Television

Radio

News agency/internet

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