Zimbabwe is the worst country to live in the world, according to the United Nation’s human development index released Thursday, November 4th. This report—based on prosperity, health and education—ranks nations based on development over the last 40 years. Unlike many other sub-Saharan African countries that landed on the bottom of the chart, Zimbabwe’s human development has decreased significantly.
According to a Reuters Africa report, Zimbabwe’s position comes as hardly a surprise, stating that the southern African nation’s “inflation reached 500 billion percent two years ago.” The UN Development Program’s assessment attempts to gain a comprehensive survey of the quality of life of 169 countries with measuring levels like health, life expectancy, education, gender quality, and political freedom. Zimbabwe, along with Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, Burundi, and Mozambique received the highest hits for the lowest marks.
The report has not sat well for the country’s leaders, including Zimbabwe’s Regional Integration and International Cooperation Minister Pricilla Misihairabwi. Claiming the UN assessment was distorted, Misihairabwi looked to comparing Zimbabwe to other African nations not on the bottom.
“Is it true, for instance, that a Malawian lives longer than a Zimbabwean on average? How credible is a finding suggesting that Liberia has better schools than Zimbabwe? As of today, can someone seriously say our economy is worse than Somalia’s?” she told New Zimbabwe.
Minister Pricilla Misihairabwi tells the New Zimbabwe the UN report is "distorted".
“I know it’s not a measure of greatness to compare yourself to Malawi, Somalia and Liberia, but I have used those examples to just show you that whoever has done this research has a twisted view about Zimbabwe and its people.”
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and his government have been widely criticized by the international community and the country continues to be both politically and economically isolated. With one in seven adults living with HIV, Zimbabwe’s AIDS epidemics is one of the worst in the world.
Daily life in Zimbabwe was not always this devastating.
Things changed significantly in July 2005, when Operation Murambatsvina—which literally translates to “operation drive out trash”—was initiated to redistribute people from urban to rural areas. Great numbers of business and homes were demolished by this project, displacing some 700,000 people. Mugabe’s Zanu-PF government claims the project was a necessary response to curb increases in crime, illegal housing, and sexually transmitted disease that flourish in urban areas. Critics, on the other hand disagree, describing the initiative as “a direct attack on the poorer sections of society that represent the main opposition to President Mugabe. Mugabe himself labeled it an ‘urban beautification’ program” (Advert.org).
Few seem to be reporting on the actual quality of life in this once-esteemed African nation. With all media on Zimbabwean soil under state-run governmental control, there is little if any information on the living conditions of the nation’s people struggling to survive in such brutal conditions.
Internal media coverage appears solely focused on political matters. However, there are obvious concerns to be considered in Zimbabwe. According to a Worldpress report, suffering is a far-reaching reality:
“Contrary to testimonies of people who have visited the country and mass media reports that Zimbabwe is righting itself, people continue to suffer greatly. Between 2002 and 2009, hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans have lost their lives due to political murders, starvation and AIDS.”
Zimbabwean children search for food in the rubbish piles. Photo courtesy of Foreign Policy Blog Network
Zimbabweans are forced to pan for gold in a country that must operate without a currency. Frequently the U.S. dollar or South African rand is used, but these bills are scarce. Simply buying groceries is a difficult task with a severe lack of change or coins.
Xoliswa Sithole is one of few working to expose the reality of Zimbabwe’s misery. Producer of Zimbabwe’s Forgotten Children, a documentary that aired on BBC in March of 2010, was filmed undercover from the Zimbabwean government.
Sithole grew up in Zimbabwe when it was the “breadbasket of Africa,” receiving a world-class education and relative economic prosperity.
“It is startling how quickly a society can fall apart,” she writes in a BBC article about her film. “Zimbabwe has become a very hard place to be poor, and poverty is ugly. Conspicuous consumerism is very evident, and greed is also very visible.”
Zimbabwe’s Forgotten Children has brought a voice to Sithole’s voiceless Zimbabwean countrymen struggling to survive in the “worse place to live”. The film exposes a country in which there is immense fear and doubt. A doubt of the government’s ability to care for its people coupled with fear to speak out against the government.
This is the same country where Zimbabwe’s Regional Integration and International Cooperation Minister Misihairabwi says “[The UN] must leave us alone, we are fine. We don’t need their research or endorsement to see that our country is going in the right direction.”
“The system was supposed to take care of its people, but it has failed. In less than a generation, the country has changed beyond all recognition,” Sithole laments.
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