If I had to guess, the question on the lips of anyone who has come across the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter on Twitter would be: what is happening in Zimbabwe? And the answer is, well, a lot; but for everyone’s benefit, let’s start with the basics.
Zimbabwe is a landlocked African nation with a population of about 15.6 million people. And it’s fine if you didn’t know this before now, the world we share is one huge space and we all have our personal matters and financial struggles to contend with and only 24 hours in a day.
Our histories often directly impact our present and so what is currently happening in Zimbabwe pretty much started with Robert Mugabe who came to power in 1975 after a revolution of sorts. During his time as President, inflation in the country went as high as 156%, some of the highest ever recorded. The economic situation rapidly became unbearable as things got so bad that the government stopped printing official inflation statistics. In no time, Zimbabwe, under Mugabe, stopped printing its currency altogether, started using currencies from other countries and eventually switched to the US dollar (though this has now changed and in 2019 the country outlawed the US dollar and other foreign currencies).
When he was finally ousted in November 2017 (yes, he was in office for 37 years), there were celebrations on the streets. In a subsequent election fraught with various issues and protests in 2018, the country “elected” a new president in the person of Emerson Mnangagwa. He started off his presidency as you might expect, by proclaiming to citizens and foreign investors alike, that as part of his strategy for the country’s growth, human rights would finally be respected. Public sector corruption was expected to be eradicated and business-friendly economic policies were promised to be introduced into the country. It was practically declared a new dawn for Zimbabwe and in an ideal world; his presidency should have started Zimbabwe on its journey to recovery and growth.
As it turns out, Zimbabweans and the rest of the world were in for a colossal disappointment because what has been playing out in Emerson’s presidency is the classic old case of storing old wine in new wine skin. President Emerson Mnangagwa had in fact been Vice President under Mugabe and so is no stranger to corruption, opposition suppression and blatant disregard for the economic advancement of Zimbabwe. Inflation has continued on its steady unabated rise in the country and as at May this year, it stood at an astonishing 785.5%. Unbelievable isn’t it?
According to the citizens, corruption has only gotten a lot more sophisticated, to say nothing of the government’s wanton dismissal of the daily struggles of its people. In response to this downturn of events, Zimbabweans and some members of the opposition commenced agitations against the government. Never mind that they are well within their rights, the government’s only response so far has been geared towards the swift quashing of all protests, by the means they deem necessary. The government has used the country’s security forces to crackdown on any protests or demonstrations, no matter how peaceful, and COVID-19 lockdown rules have been so weaponized that over 100,000 people have been arrested under the facade of pandemic regulations about public gatherings.
Members of the opposition have been detained en masse and three female opposition leaders who were arrested allege torture and sexual assault. Over 40 opposition members have announced that they are scared for their families and will be trying to move them to safer locations. Notable figures like the award-winning author and Booker Prize nominee Tsitsi Dangarembga was arrested for speaking out and later released. Award winning journalist Hopewell Chin’ono has been in jail for a month and has been refused bail.
For what it’s worth, various organizations and international bodies have manifestly made their stance against the actions of Emerson’s government crystal clear. For most of its inhumane and corrupt actions, the Zimbabwean government has received pushback from certain quarters and instances abound. For one, the Catholic Bishops of Zimbabwe wrote a strongly worded letter to the regime and for it, they have been maligned by the regime. Celebrities and some representatives of foreign governments have either spoken out against or tweeted about this issue. But while all these happen, most of the world has remained largely unaware.
When I came across the issue on twitter, trending under the hashtag #ZimbabweanLivesMatter, I wondered why I had not seen a lot of these issues in the media, local and otherwise. At first, I was quick to blame the media houses but that was until I realized that it was also about us. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg issue; the media can’t make Zimbabwe a priority in their news cycles because in reality, their viewers don’t care. And their viewers won’t care until the media makes Zimbabwe a priority. The media would probably deem things serious enough to put out there if the current Zimbabwean situation escalates to the level of crisis they can ride on for their ratings (perhaps punctuated with gory details of mass deaths) but for Zimbabweans, things are degenerating quickly.
This treatment of #BeatriceMtetwa is unacceptable. @PoliceZimbabwe have a constitutional duty to act professionally & to protect the public. We don’t expect them to shout obscenities like “futseke” to an officer of the court. We can’t normalize this. #ZimbabweanLivesMatter https://t.co/qq6UPK1Xms— Fadzayi Mahere (@advocatemahere) August 25, 2020
For context, the Hong Kong protesters may have inspired us all but they only became heroes because they were interviewed endlessly. We watched their courage live on TV and read of their innovations on Wired. And so why does a crisis in Hong Kong get the world’s attention but a worse situation in Zimbabwe does not? I honestly don’t think that the common person in the United States for instance, knows or cares more about Hong Kong than Zimbabwe. It is all really about what the media has deemed relevant enough to present before him/her. Strategically speaking, a crisis in Hong Kong is politically good for the US when you consider the unending cold war between superpowers and so this gets published by the media.
Before you say it out loud, this is not just about Zimbabwe or even the African continent. It is also about all the economically powerless countries in the world that will be ignored either because they don’t have much to offer the world elites or because they are not strategically important to the key global players. Think about the protests in Chile and the news we hear (or don’t hear) coming out of the Philippines. It is about doing what is right; it is about humanity and caring for each other in whatever way we can.
I am learning daily the importance of caring beyond whatever topic mainstream media tells us to care about because this often means that we show up for the people who actually need our voices and our assistance. But if for no other reason, let us care to save ourselves from the burden of having to care much later. Sending relief items and packages of food to refugee camps is great but it can be avoided if we care on time. When we speak on time, deplorable situations such as that currently in Zimbabwe can be tackled before it snow-balls into something much worse.
We don’t have to wait until the only solution amounts to a fire-brigade approach. Let us speak now because now, our voices, our tweets and our concerns can have immense impacts, regardless of where we are.
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Feature image by of a political supporter complaining to a commanding officer just after riot police started advancing towards them outside the party headquarters taken in Harare, Zimbabwe in November 20 2019. Photo: Shutterstock.