The tragic story of Zimbabwe

The tragic irony of Zimbabwe is that what is today a hellish country should by all evidence be a paradise. Its high, malaria-free interior is a magical place: sweeping vistas of long tawny grasses slope up to the mountain ranges of the eastern highlands; in the north the land falls sharply down to the Zambezi River, which tumbles magnificently over the Victoria Falls. Zimbabwe is blessed with rich, loamy soil. Beneath it lie generous seams of gold, chromium, coal, iron, and diamonds. At independence in 1980, Mugabe inherited a sophisticated, well-maintained infrastructure. The black middle class grew fast, and Zimbabwe enjoyed the highest standard of living in black-ruled Africa.

But that was yesterday. The most recent World Values Survey shows that Zimbabweans are today the world’s unhappiest people. Their economy has almost halved in size in the past 10 years. The unemployment rate is more than 80 percent. About half of all Zimbabweans are reliant on food aid. Some 20 percent of the population is afflicted with H.I.V./aids. Zimbabwe today has the world’s shortest life span–the average Zimbabwean is dead by age 36 (down from age 62 in 1990). As a result the country now has the highest percentage of orphans on the planet.

Day of the Crocodile. Zimbabwe’s longtime ruler, Robert Mugabe, made a brutal sham of recent elections, after banning Western journalists. The author, a native, reports from the inside on Mugabe’s campaign of terror–and the extraordinary courage of those who’ve confronted ‘The Fear.‘” By Peter Godwin, Vanity Fair, September 2008


  • Zimbabwe,” by Lauren Ploch, CRS Report for Congress RL32723, March 25, 2008 (46-page pdf PDF)
  • Zimbabwe: Current Issues,” by Jeffrey Townsend and Raymond Copson, CRS Report for Congress RL32723, March 11, 2005 (24-page pdf PDF)
  • The Food Crisis in Southern Africa: Background and Issues,” by Charles Hanrahan, CRS Report for Congress RS21301, December 6, 2002 (6-page pdf PDF)
  • “Zimbabwe Update,” by Raymond Copson, CRS Report for Congress RS21595, August 15, 2003
  • “Zimbabwe: Election Chronology,” by Raymond Copson, CRS Report for Congress RS21161, March 26, 2002

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