‘Not the end of Zimbabwe’

Meranda Watling

Hope remains despite health, economic crises

A quarter century after declaring its independence from the United Kingdom, Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, is struggling.

In 25 years, Robert Mugabe, the leader of the ZANU-PF party in power, is the only person who has served as the troubled country’s leader, first as the prime minister and since 1987 as the president.

But even before recently held elections raised international eyebrows, economic and health crises were crippling the country.

According to the CIA World Factbook, the life expectancy in Zimbabwe is only 38.63 years for males and 36.99 for females.

HIV and AIDS contribute heavily to the short life expectancy. Zimbabwe ranks fourth in the world among countries in terms of adult HIV/AIDS prevalence. A 2001 estimate showed 33.7 percent of adult Zimbabweans had HIV or AIDS, and there were about 2.3 million people living with HIV or AIDS.

Mandi Chikombero, a 2004 Kent State alumna, was born and raised in Zimbabwe. She said AIDS is a huge issue for the country.

“It was a problem even then (when she was growing up), and it’s a very serious problem now,” she said. “I don’t know anyone who has not had to deal with it. Everyone has a cousin, friend or a classmate who has it. To even find someone who hasn’t been affected by it, either directly or indirectly, is impossible.”

Chikombero said she thinks part of the reason for the problem is the government’s hesitance to take a stand and acknowledge the problem.

“It took a really long time (for the government) to say, ‘We have a problem here,’” she said.

Another factor in the HIV/AIDS epidemic was economically tied.

“The drugs couldn’t get there fast enough, and when they did get there, nobody could afford it,” she said.

The Zimbabwe of today is much changed from the one Chikombero remembers growing up. Chikombero affectionately describes her childhood as “wonderful.” After being born in 1976, she grew up in an era marked by “euphoria over independence.”

“To someone who never saw or knew the old Zimbabwe … to describe it, they probably wouldn’t believe it because it’s not the same place it was,” she said.

She hasn’t returned home since coming to Kent State for her Ph.D but said from what she’s been told, Zimbabwe is a completely changed place.

When she was growing up, “It was a very free place, things were very affordable.”

“Most people, when they think of Africa, or any developing countries, they think people are always struggling,” she said. “I never didn’t have what I needed. The first time I had to go without things was when I came here.”

But today, Zimbabweans are struggling.

The inflation rate was 384.7 percent in 2003, according to the World Factbook. The unemployment rate in 2002 was 70 percent.

“A lot of people (in Zimbabwe) are below the poverty line,” Chikombero said. “Even today, people who have jobs — even professional jobs like doctors and professors — are struggling.”

People aren’t doing as well as they used to, she said. They can’t afford the basic necessities because they’re overpriced. There are no jobs, and there are no professors or doctors to teach and treat people.

Chikombero is returning to Zimbabwe for the first time this summer.

“When I came here, the economy was probably at its strongest, really at its peak,” she said. “Now, I’m told it’s at its worst. A lot of things I’m told to get ready for it, for the disease and the poverty. I think, ‘That’s not the place I remember, not the place I know.’”

But Chikombero is optimistic about the country’s future. She said all it will take is change in “every sector, there is nothing you can leave behind, you have to look at every aspect.” She said she believes Mugabe could turn the country around.

“Change is necessary, whether it is a new government or within the current government,” she said. “The problem is bigger than any one person. They just need a change. It doesn’t matter who it is.

“A lot of countries have turned around. It takes time, but all it takes is good leadership and decisions. This is not the end of Zimbabwe. It’s going to be better.”

Contact technology reporter Meranda Watling at [email protected].