Warped Renewal: Mugabe's Tightening Grip

By Foushee, Hampton | Harvard International Review, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview
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Warped Renewal: Mugabe's Tightening Grip


Foushee, Hampton, Harvard International Review


At a time when Zimbabwe risked falling into an abyss of poverty and economic stagnation, the prospect of a determined government effort to restore order seemed attractive. But when President Robert Mugabe ordered the destruction of countless Zimbabwean homes under the guise of an urban cleanup campaign, he pushed the country over the edge. Mugabe's violent methods to stabilize the country devastated Zimbabwe's most defenseless citizens and frustrated international aid agencies that wished to alleviate the crisis. The situation calls for more international attention, and surrounding countries and the United Nations must pressure the government of Zimbabwe to reform.

Beginning on May 19, 2005, and continuing for more than two months, the Mugabe government evicted hundreds of thousands of urban Zimbabweans, bulldozing the homes of many of the country's poorest citizens. Known as Operation Murambatsvina, or "Operation Drive Out Trash," the campaign has been fervently defended by the administration, which asserted that the effort was an attempt to clean up the urban environment and eradicate illegal shantytowns, crowded inner-city settlements that are filled with the country's poor.

Many Africans, by contrast, characterized the campaign as an abominable political ploy that aimed to attack Mugabe's urban opposition by focusing on neighborhoods known to have voted against the President in recent elections. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which has provided the strongest opposition to the expansion of Mugabe's political power, has felt the brunt of the eviction campaign and accused the president of attempting to weaken its political structure by dispersing its core constituents.

The campaign has affected Zimbabwe's most vulnerable citizens. According to the United Nations, the recent campaign has most adversely affected young children, orphans, pregnant women, and the elderly, many of whom have been unable to find shelter after seeing their homes destroyed. More than half a million Zimbabweans are estimated to be homeless as a result, and the collapse of vital economic infrastructure within the region has harmed many more. The destruction of Zimbabwe's agricultural sector and rampant inflation made the price of food prohibitively expensive for millions of Zimbabweans. The government stubbornly claims it has the resources to import maize from South Africa, but the World Food Program has estimated that 4 million of the country's citizens are in need of food and basic necessities. Zimbabwe also currently owes US$160 million to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and is at risk of being expelled from the organization, which would further cripple Zimbabwe's ability to provide basic commodities to its citizens.

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