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Optimism rings hollow’

EDMORE Tobaiwa left Zimbabwe to work in the UK four years ago. After his first visit back since emigrating, he gives his view on the main changes to have taken place.It was a warm cloudy day, with temperatures oscillating around 25C &#821

2; paradise compared to the 7C I had left in London.


Before emigrating to the UK, I ran a Harare-based public relations firm which was commissioned to manage promotional material for the launch of the US$60 million international airport in 2001.


“The design is clearly Zimbabwean in inspiration and execution, inspired by concepts and designs embodied in the timeless monument, the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, an image that will be a lasting memory of Zimbabwe for world’s travellers,” read an advert I developed.


With only an Air Zimbabwe plane parked at the airport as well as the arriving BA full of the Zimbabwean diaspora, visiting family and friends at Christmas, today the advert’s optimism rings hollow.


The number of airlines landing at the state-of-the-art airport has drastically dwindled from more than 23 a day to less than 10 in the last few years. Zimbabwe has become a pariah state in the West during the past four years, with the international community imposing targeted sanctions on President Robert Mugabe’s government.


During my time abroad, Zimbabwe’s economic decline has been no less spectacular. The country was once one of the world’s largest tobacco exporters, until the turn of the millennium. All this was turned on its head when the Zanu PF-government, in power for the past 23 years, embarked on a reckless and economically suicidal land redistribution programme.


Going through the immigration formalities, I felt good to be home – I was speaking in my local Shona language with so much zest. The officials were smartly dressed, professional and very friendly.


I was picked up by Peter Zimuto (not his real name), an ex-employee of the now defunct Daily News, the country’s only independent daily newspaper closed by the government. Zimuto, like millions of unemployed Zimbabweans, has become a professional products and services dealer.

The job involves finding a product in demand which can hold its value long enough for the deal to go through on the open market. If he fails, his wife, son and daughter will go without a meal that evening.


A day in Harare felt like a throwback to some sort of Darwinist pre-history, where only the fittest survived, something I had only read about at A-level biology.


In 1999, I was commissioned by the Italian government to carry out a study on a number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It gave me an opportunity to study the collapse and attempts to revive the economies of several African states. At the time Zambia, Uganda and Mozambique looked in real bad shape but not beyond hope.


Never did it occur to me that one day I would be in my own country, staring at economic decline, with those countries in steady economic growth. With virtually all international credit lines cancelled or in limbo and debt mounting, Zimbabwe resembles the tragic, yet arrogant, Titanic on that fateful icy day when the unthinkable happened.


The stand-off between President Mugabe and the West has prompted Harare to look to Asia for investment and development support.


In 2000, I was commissioned by ZimTrade, the national export promotion agency, to study trade opportunities between Zimbabwe and Malaysia.

The realisation that Asia is the future partner for an increasingly anti-West Zimbabwe has gained ground ever since. Air Zimbabwe in November launched its scheduled weekly flights to Beijing, China, via Singapore.

A pro-Asia media campaign is underway in Zimbabwe and potential Chinese and other Asian tourists have been targeted — in an effort to boost foreign currency reserves. However, on the ground the fall-out between the West and Mugabe is causing untold suffering


As I drove through the rural areas of Nhema in the Midlands province, resettlement schemes in the Shurugwi district, and suburbs of Gweru and Harare, I sensed how ordinary Zimbabweans were the ones being punished by President Mugabe’s stand-off with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair et al.

President Mugabe lives well in his official state-house sanctuary with his young family, poles apart from the maddening crowds of the resettlement districts I drove through, where the infrastructure is some of the worst I have seen.


During my stay I received a call from Mr Zimuto. His 14-year-old son Terence, now on school holiday, had broken his leg playing football. After driving him to Parirenyatwa General Hospital — Zimbabwe’s largest public hospital — the was told Terence could not be x-rayed because the film had run out.


For three days, the boy writhed in pain as Zimuto performed financial gymnastics to raise US$200 needed by a private clinic for x-rays.


Zimuto’s monthly salary is well below that amount, with average working Zimbabweans living on less than $80 a month. It costs US$100 to fill a Toyota 4×4 Landcruiser petrol tank, the car of choice for well-off Zimbabweans, including President Mugabe’s government officials. For a basket of groceries with just basic necessities, one would need at least US$35 a month. Poverty has risen to astronomical levels over the past four years.


A once self-reliant people is now subjected to humiliating and degrading food hand-outs or worse, left to scavenge.


As Zimuto drove me to the airport on a blue-sky morning for my flight to London, I could not help but think what the future had in store for Zimbabwe.


Unless something drastic happens on the political scene, Zimbabwe’s future looks bleak. The Asia initiative will one day work, but it is too far-off for it to bring food onto the tables of Zimbabweans in 2005. The rest of the world will hold its breath as Zimbabweans go to the polls for the 2005 general elections. But, I ask myself, will they have the courage to vote for change? — BBC News.

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