Blood Diamonds in Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe has been making the news in the last few months concerning its large diamond mining industry. The Marange Diamond Fields are an area of diamond production in the eastern part of the country. Experts estimate that the diamond deposits under Marange could be the largest found in over a century! The mine is currently the largest diamond producing mine in the world as well, with an expected 16.9 million carats to be produced in 2013. The Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) operates on behalf of the Zimbabwean government and is thought by many to be controlled by ZANU-PF. The ZMDC owns five diamond fields in Marange that yielded $685 million in diamond exports in 2012. Millions of dollars of diamond revenue has disappeared from official records in the last years though. This has caused a widespread suspicion of ZMDC operations internationally. Marange has further received a lot of negative attention in the press for allegations of forced labor and governmental corruption surrounding the diamonds’ sale. In an attempt to take a stand against the widespread corruption of the Mugabe administration, much of the western world resultantly placed sanctions on ZANU-PF party members and the Zimbabwean diamond industry.

The United States and European Union notably placed ZMDC on their list of sanctioned entities many years ago, but this past fall there was talk that the EU was considering lifting such sanctions. Belgium was one of the largest proponents of lifting the sanctions, as they are one of the world’s largest diamond trading hubs that has been struggling in recent years to stay afloat. EU officials agreed to take ZMDC off its sanctioned list as a way to incentivize a fair election process in Zimbabwe this past fall. Despite the fact that the election in August was still considered by many to be deeply flawed, the push to delist ZMDC from EU sanctions still went forward. Recent reports say that there will be the first official sale of Zimbabwean diamonds to the Antwerp World Diamond Centre as soon as December 20, 2013. In class we have discussed how a wealth of natural resources in many African countries results in severe mismanagement issues that can ultimately lead to serious conflicts and exacerbate state failure. Zimbabwe’s mineral wealth in their diamond fields is certainly of a major concern to many in the international community for such issues to arise. I would hope that with the lifting of the EU sanctions on ZMDC that the diamond industry and trade will continue to be watched carefully by the world in case troubles do arise.


Race relations in Zimbabwe

We have recently discussed in class the role that racism played in the emergence of Haiti as a weak/failing state. Such a longstanding history of racial tension between blacks and whites has also led to political and social instability in Zimbabwe. As I have mentioned previously in this blog, the colonial history of Zimbabwe involved the repression and mistreatment of the native African populations in Zimbabwe by British white colonialists. Despite white citizens comprising a minority of the population (2-7%) they maintained all of the political and economic power in the country until the overthrow of Ian Smith’s government in 1980. Sadly however, the regime change to a black majority controlled government has since had many problems of its own. Zimbabwe is now haunted by a new racial strife whereby white citizens claim they are being discriminated against by the government.

President Robert Mugabe has openly expressed his contempt for the white population of his country for many years, sparking claims of governmentally supported racism against whites. In December of 2009 he addressed the Zimbabwean Congress stating, “Our party must continue to strike fear in the heart of the white man, they must tremble…. The white man is not indigenous to Africa. Africa is for Africans….The white man is part of ‘an evil alliance.’” Such statements of flagrant racism against whites have only been bolstered by Mugabe’s success at essentially codifying racism into law under the guise of promoting “indigenous welfare.” Such acts include the Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Bill enacted in 2008 which allows the government to transfer the ownership of 50% of all businesses in the country to indigenous citizens- i.e. local, black investors. The bill specifically defines an indigenous Zimbabwean as “any person who before the 18th of April 1980 was disadvantaged by unfair discrimination on the grounds of his or her race, and any descendant of such person.” The policy has chased a large amount of foreign investors as well as white citizens out of the country since its implementation, causing a negative impact on the country’s already failing economy. To make matters of foreign investment worse, there have been plans for a “blacks only” stock exchange to open since Mugabe’s re-election in August 2013. The “indigenization” minister, Saviour Kasukawere, stated that the government/ black Zimbabweans would take 51% of the shares in all major foreign-owned companies in the coming months. The shares are valued at about £4.8 billion and the government has no plans for compensation to be paid. Many researchers believe that such laws are largely an attempt by the ZANU-PF party to regain popularity through promoting Black Nationalism and prevent less opposition in coming elections for the ZANU-PF party to maintain power.

Because of the unresolved colonial legacies of racial inequalities and prejudices in Zimbabwe it has been easy for the ZANU-PF party to scapegoat issues of race as the root of the country’s problems to the public. This persecution of whites by the government itself only worsens Zimbabwe’s problems by creating a negative stigma around the government thereby alienating the international community. I feel that ultimately these actions are just isolating Zimbabwe and preventing opportunities for economic and social growth, thus contributing to Zimbabwe’s failing economy, government, and society.

The Issue of Land Reform

The takeover of President Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF after the civil war gave rise to what is perhaps the most bitterly contested political issue that confronts Zimbabwe today; land reform. Land has been a major source of political conflict in Zimbabwe since its colonization and initial existence as Rhodesia hundreds of years ago. Under British colonial rule and Ian Smith’s white minority controlled government, 70% of Zimbabwe’s arable land was owned by the 5% of whites in the country. After gaining independence in 1980, there was an attempt by the new government to redistribute the land (and therefore wealth) of the country more evenly between the historically excluded native black citizens and the minority white ruling class. Several land reform acts were passed from 1980 up to the most recent laws enacted in 2006. To date, the laws have removed nearly 7 million hectares of land from white control, redistributing it to black rural peasants and workers.

Up until the year 2000, the process of land reform was considered to be under a “willing buyer, willing seller” contract whereby the government acquired redistributed land from farmers who voluntarily gave up their land in exchange for compensation. But in 2000 a policy of “Fast Track Land Reform” was instituted whereby the process of land reform and resettlement turned violent. The government discontinued compensating for acquired land and instead compulsively acquired many farms.  White farmers were forced off their land during hostile takeovers that resulted in most white Zimbabweans fleeing the country from such violent farm invasions. On December 31, 2000, the Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) did a survey and found that among other things, 1,600 white-owned farms had been invaded and that on them there had been 17 murders, 26 rapes, 459 abductions, 424 serious assaults, 3,890 minor assaults, and an astounding 3,853 death threats. As a result of this persecution, white citizens fled and comprise less than 1% of Zimbabwe’s population today.

Many critics of the land reform acts assert that land reform is largely responsible for the collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy. Zimbabwe was once termed the “bread basket” of Africa for its rich agricultural resources. Today, Zimbabwe’s agricultural production of major crops such as maize has declined to be less than 1/3 of what it was in the 1980s. Specifically since the fast track land reform movement in 2000, Zimbabwe’s agricultural output has declined 69% in production and 70% in value by some estimates. Many critics of the land reform acts also claim that much of the land was in fact taken over by ZANU-PF bureaucrats rather than distributed to disadvantaged black Zimbabweans. This sort of corruption within the program is merely another example of Zimbabwe’s ineffectiveness as a government is resulting in its failure. Furthermore, the government suborned violence against and persecution of its own people resulting in a mass exodus of white citizens is another prime example of the insecurities that we have discussed in class that commonly accompany a failing state.

An Unhealthy Government

One of Zimbabwe’s largest failures as a state is the health crisis that plagues its people. The health and nutritional status of Zimbabwe’s people is considered dismal by international standards with high maternal mortality rates, malaria and cholera epidemics, malnutrition, a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, and cases of tuberculosis and anthrax on the rise. The World Health Organization (WHO) cites that the major concerns in Zimbabwe are communicable disease, compounded by the challenges of emerging and re-emerging infections such as typhoid and cholera outbreaks. The WHO refers to the situation in Zimbabwe as a “triple threat” to health, stemming from poverty and food insecurity, a weakened capacity of government and high HIV/AIDS prevalence rates. UNAIDS in fact cites the prevalence rate at 14.7% as of 2012 (that’s more than 18 times the global rate and over 3 times the rate for sub-Saharan Africa by the way).  Zimbabwe’s healthcare system is additionally challenged by a lack of human resources (less than 1 physician per every 10,000 people) and governmental financing as well as the government’s failure to procure and/or deliver essential medicines and equipment. To make matters worse, malnutrition runs rampant since 64% of the country’s population is believed to live below the Food Poverty Line- the level of income whereby people can meet their basic nutritional needs. The WHO’s annual report in May 2012 stated that the situation was only worsening and called for an “urgent need” to address and correct the state of health in Zimbabwe. Perhaps the best indicator of Zimbabwe’s failed healthcare infrastructure is that the life expectancy at birth was the lowest in the world in 2006, 36 years for both sexes, having fallen from 62 years in 1990.

In last week’s post, I mentioned that Zimbabwe has been charged with violations of human rights by several international organizations. Zimbabwe’s health care crisis is commonly thought to be a direct result of the corruption within the government stemming from the Mugabe regime and is thus an example of such human rights violations. Organizations such as the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and Amnesty International have therefore cited the collapse of the public health sector under Mugabe’s regime as a “crime against humanity.” PHR published a special report in 2008 detailing what they referred to as “a man-made health system disaster” in the country. The report cited failed sanitation systems, food insecurity and a refusal by the government to support or maintain public healthcare facilities or healthcare staff as the root of the issue. Whether or not the right to public healthcare is in fact a basic human right is a largely debated topic in many countries much better off than Zimbabwe today.  As we have discussed many times in class, the inefficacy of governmental institutions such as sanitation or public healthcare can be both a cause and a symptom of state failure. Therefore, regardless of whether or not the health and healthcare crisis in Zimbabwe should be considered a violation of human rights, it is indisputably yet another sign of this state’s dissent into failure.

A Violent Situation?

My previous postings have spent time analyzing the ways in which Zimbabwe is both economically and politically challenged as a well-functioning state. But the Fund For Peace’s Failed States Index also measures stock in social indicators when assessing state failure. This week, I want to take a look specifically at the FFP’s indicator known as “Group Grievance,” for which Zimbabwe has one of its most concerning scores. Group Grievance is essentially the conflict between groups within a country that may contribute to violence and the undermining of a state’s ability to provide security. While Zimbabwe doesn’t top the FFP’s list for the states with the worst Group Grievance score, it certainly cannot be considered to be in “good” condition with a score of 8.4 out of 10 (10 being the worst).  Ethnic, communal, sectarian, and religious violence as well as powerlessness and discrimination against groups are what the FFP sites as sample indicators in this category.

Violence in Zimbabwe, while not the country’s largest cause for concern, is a major factor in the country’s instability at present. The government in Zimbabwe has been cited by several organizations, such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch, as guilty of committing crimes against humanity. With the merging of ZANU-PF and MDC political parties in 2008 there seemed to be a lot of hope that there would be institutional and legal reforms, most notably in ending political violence and ensuring accountability for such violations of human rights. Unfortunately however, there seems to have been little progress in implementing any aspects of policy reform with regards to violence.

The USA cites crime and road safety in major cities such as Harare as the major threats to visitors in Zimbabwe. With a 70% unemployment rate in the cities, the cost of goods and services in far beyond the means of average citizens, leading to a high prevalence of petty to moderate crimes such as theft, burglary and counterfeit.  Increasing levels of corruption by police officials has additionally led to a general mistrust and disregard for the law by the common populace. The lack of resources allotted by the government to such political institutions only worsens the problem. Political violence is perhaps the most major concern at present that leads to governmental instability and ineffectiveness in the country. Intimidation and violence at the polls as well as the assassination of many political party members that attempt to oppose ZANU-PF and the Mugabe regime has led to widespread civil unrest. The government has even been accused of harassing non-governmental organization (NGO) and civil society organization (CSO) presences in the country.

As we have discussed in class, corruption and violence within political institutions leads to governmental ineffectiveness and majorly contributes to Zimbabwe’s perception as a flawed and failing state throughout the world. It seems likely to me that a government borne out of such a lengthy and bloody civil war was doomed to be riddled with issues of violence from its very inception. That the violence within Zimbabwe is not only ignored but actually promoted and committed by its own government is an issue that is only going to worsen over the years unless serious reforms are enacted soon.

What if the Solution is Really Just the Problem?

We’ve spoken a lot in class about foreign aid and its influence on failing states. Generally we see that a lot of these countries have become highly dependent on foreign aid benefactors in order for their country to continue functioning. For this reason, many scholars believe that foreign aid is actually harming these countries more than helping them, as it is enabling them to put a band-aid over their problems instead of actually fixing them. This week I decided to look into this issue in Zimbabwe and I found some pretty convincing evidence that foreign aid is probably hurting more than helping.

As I discussed before, Zimbabwe is plagued by the deeply rooted corruption of its central government stemming from the consolidation of power within the ZANU-PF political party. The western world understandably treads lightly in Zimbabwe and continues to enforce travel bans and asset freezes against ZANU-PF party members and affiliated organizations. In return, Zimbabwe’s government has demonstrated a public animosity for Western governments and donors. ZANU-PF has even publicly blamed western government trade sanctions for the suppression of any economic recovery within their country. Despite the tense relations between western donors and the Zimbabwean central government, westerners have clearly not turned a blind eye on Zimbabwe’s need for help. Reports in 2011 revealed that US$715 million of humanitarian aid was flowing into the country, accounting for nearly 12.5% of the country’s total gross national income (GNI). On top of this humanitarian aid, Zimbabwe took nearly US$550 million dollars in official grants or loans known as official development assistance (ODA) from other countries/organizations for the purpose of “promoting their economic development or welfare” .

If Zimbabwe is receiving such substantial foreign aid then why is the country still struggling so much you might ask? The answer is that the animosity between the ZANU-PF party and these western organizations/governments has resulted in the funds being given to Zimbabwe with little accountability or oversight as to their ultimate use. Most of the aid is being improperly distributed and is often just entirely diverted into the pockets of ZANU-PF party members. A recent report published anonymously in 2011called The Anatomy of Terror even reported that many NGOs operating in Zimbabwe are actually completely run by ZANU-PF. In this case, foreign aid in Zimbabwe is really just contributing to a vicious cycle whereby it empowers the very government that is creating the problems it seeks to fix.

If this report is correct, what should the response of these aid organizations be to the diversion of their funds? Should they suspend their projects in the country? Should they publicize the diversion of their funds and those who are diverting them? Foreign aid is essentially a top down approach to a problem that needs to be solved from the bottom up. These gifts don’t insure the construction of a solid infrastructure within a struggling state such as Zimbabwe.  A better solution would be for foreign aid organizations to set up grassroots organizations or relationships with state institutions that would enable Zimbabweans to gain independence in solving their country’s own problems. 

A Land in Crisis or just a Crisis of Land?

In the spirit of this blog being assigned for a geography class, let’s take a look at the geography and environment of Zimbabwe this week!


Zimbabwe is a landlocked nation of about 390, 757 km2 in southern Africa situated between South Africa and Zambia. The country is home to about 12.6 million people at present. For a little spatial reference, that’s about 1.5 times the population of Virginia in a space more than 3 times the size of Virginia!  Most of the country consists of a high, central plateau known as the “high veld” which ranges from 1,200 to 1,600 m in altitude. The eastern portion of the country is mountainous, and contains Zimbabwe’s highest point at Mount Myangani reaching 2, 952 m. Only 20% of the country’s territory is considered to be in the “low veld” (below 900 m). The mostly tropical climate of the country is largely moderated by these changes in altitude.

The Zambezi River forms a natural boundary on the country’s northern boundary, stretching along the northeastern border to include the country’s most notable tourist attraction, Victoria Falls. Vic Falls is hailed as one of the 7 Wonders of the World and forms the world’s largest waterfall during the flooding season from February to April (22 BILLION gallons flow through the falls every day! wow!! check it out). Unfortunately, the distribution of water from the Zambezi to the rest of the country is sporadic and unorganized. A lack of formal irrigation infrastructure has left most of the country without a water supply (only 1,735 km2 of the country’s total area was irrigated as of 2005). Since most of the land is already naturally water scarce due to the geology creating little in the way of groundwater supplies (only about 4,000 km2 of the country is lakes/reservoirs), Zimbabwe is plagued by chronic, recurring droughts.

Several worsening environmental issues including deforestation, soil erosion, land degradation, air and water pollution, and heavy metal pollution caused by poor mining practices plague Zimbabwe today. Large parts of the country were once covered in lush forests that were home to abundant wildlife, giving Zimbabwe a long history of a rich biodiversity that promoted a large ecotourism industry. However, recent practices of deforestation and poaching are decimating the country’s natural resources and contributing to the downward spiral of the economy through the death of its ecotourism industry. The Zimbabwean government has tried to promote some environmental sustainability through supporting national parks, forest reserves, and community-based sustainable schemes such as their CAMPFIRE program. However, as tends to happen with corrupt governments as we have discussed in class many times, their governmental institutions are largely ineffective. For instance, the country instituted an “Environmental Management Act” in 2004 that has been since been internationally criticized as being wholly ineffective. Additionally, Zimbabwe’s accumulation of debt caused neighboring Mozambique to shut off the country’s major power supply in 2012. This event has even further contributed to woodland degradation throughout the country as now the population in cities as well as rural areas has been forced to turn to firewood as their major source of fuel.

Add to all of these environmental issues the fact that only about 10.5% of Zimbabwe’s land is considered arable and you have a country in a downward spiral of natural resource availability. As we discussed in class, a sign of state failure is when the state’s citizens are fleeing. Zimbabwe is certainly a classic case of this, with an outpouring of refugees fleeing into neighboring South Africa and Botswana from the economic meltdown, repressive government and dying landscape. The overflow of nearly 3 million Zimbabwean refugees into South Africa is causing a crisis in South Africa with a notable increase in inner-city violence, particularly in Johannesburg neighborhoods that refugees have swarmed. This refugee crisis is a good example of the principle we discussed in class that being geographically situated next to a failing state can put other countries in jeopardy themselves.