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Updated: 05/06/03

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Tuesday, 6 May, 2003

Four years ago, I went on safari in Africa. The whole trip report is here, but the schedule had me flying Philly-London-Johannesberg, and then spending a couple of days in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe before heading to Botswana. I stayed at a resort called The Gorges, which had a handful of bungalows set on the edge of a steep canyon. The Gorges was about a fifteen minute ride from Victoria Falls, which was one of the most magnificent - and definitely the wettest - sights I have seen.

Victoria Falls - Devil's Cataract

The following year, Robert Mugabe's economic and land reforms began. The lands owned by white farmers were taken by the government and "redistributed" to settlers ranging from peasant to urban bureaucrats to political elite. Out of the 4,500 white commercial farmers in 2000, only 600 remain. Close to two million farm workers and their families were also affected - it is estimated that up to 70% of farm workers lost their jobs and a means of income as a direct result of the redistribution program.

Here are some of the highlights of the past three years:

- Inflation is running at 208%, with the International Monetary Fund predicting that it could rise to more than 500% by the end of the year.
- Unemployment stands at more than 70%.
- There has been a 47% contraction in commercial agriculture - once the backbone of Zimbabwe's economy.
- At least 7.2 million out of Zimbabwe's population of 12 million is at risk of starvation, with deaths from Aids-related illnesses "peaking at about 2,500 per week", says Stephen Lewis, the UN's special envoy on HIV and Aids in the region.
- Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF government has reverted to price controls in a desperate bid to rein in inflation.
- It has adjusted the official exchange rate for its currency, moving it closer to rates paid on the black market. At the original exchange rate, US$1 used to buy 55 Zimbabwe dollars. Now the government has set the rate for exporters at 800 Zimbabwe dollars to the US dollar. On the streets, black market traders offer up to 1,500 Zimbabwe dollars for US$1.

There is, naturally, political patronage and corruption, since the friends and associates of the ruling elite play by different rules. The government is spending twice as much money on security agencies then it is on land, agriculture and rural resettlement. Opposition to the government results in inprisonment, or worse.

Mugabe blames the economic disaster on drought.

Yet another insane meglomaniac, stealing from his people, propping up his own political supporters, and turning what was once a prosperous, beautiful country into a poverty-stricken wasteland.

So I was heartened to see the BBC News headline today: Time Running Out For Mugabe?

[Hopefully the world will not give him as much time as it gave Saddam.]

On a lighter dictator note, here's a bizarre news flash:

SEOUL (Wireless Flash) -- Wherever Kim Jong-Il goes, sunshine follows. That's according to the Korean Central News Agency, which is reporting that when the Korean Communist dictator arrived at a silicate brick factory in the city of Hamhung on Saturday, the dark rain clouds parted to let the sun shine through. This is just one of many times Jong-Il's visit has reportedly cleared up rainy skies.

[Wow, nice skill to have.]

~ ~ ~

Quote du jour:

"Dictators never invent their own opportunities."

-- Richard Buckminster Fuller (1895 - 1983) US architect, author

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