Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Living on rats in Zimbabwe

Jeff Koinange:

This is a story about how Zimbabwe, once dubbed southern Africa's bread basket, has in six short years become a basket case. It is about a country that once exported surplus food now apparently falling apart, with many residents scrounging for rodents to survive.

According to the CIA fact book, which profiles the countries of the world, the Zimbabwean economy is crashing -- inflation was at least 585 percent by the end of 2005 -- and the nation now must import food.

Zimbabwe's ambassador to United States, Machivenyika Mapuranga, told CNN on Tuesday that reports of people eating rats unfairly represented the situation, adding that at times while he grew up his family ate rodents.

"The eating of the field mice -- Zimbabweans do that. It is a delicacy," he said. "It is misleading to portray the eating of field mice as an act of desperation. It is not."

Western journalists aren't allowed in Zimbabwe. CNN gained access via a cameraman who operated under the radar of the Zimbabwean government. Mapuranga said that there are news agencies allowed to film there but that the country was "under siege" by media outlets like CNN and the BBC, "which have shown themselves to be hostile to the people of Zimbabwe."

Critics point to one man for the nation's downfall -- 82-year-old President Robert Mugabe, one of the longest-serving rulers in Africa. They say he rules with an iron fist and has reduced Zimbabwe to a nation of beggars.

On Friday, Mugabe downplayed the situation in the country.

"I know we are in difficult times; it's hard times that we are going through. You are bearing a fair share of the burden, we know that [but] Zimbabwe will never collapse," he told a meeting of his ruling political party, the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front, or ZANU - PF, according to Reuters.

But Shadrack Gutto, of the Center for International Political Studies, said Zimbabwe is on the verge of collapse.

"The reality is it's really grinding down and not improving," he said.

The downslide began, critics say, in 2000 when the government crippled the country's prime commercial farms by running off white farmers and redistributing the land to Mugabe's cronies. At least a dozen white farmers were killed and dozens were injured and hospitalized. Thousands more fled the country and the land. Most of that land now lies empty and abandoned.

Zimbabwe: Reduced to Eating Rats

SURVIVAL IN ZIMBABWE

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