As far as I know Zimbabwe has not embraced male circumcision or the findings of the WHO and UNAIDS on the procedure to
prevent reduce the risk of HIV/AIDS infection. If events in that country continue along the current path, it is unlikely it will do so anytime soon. Good news for the men of that country, bad news for the country as a whole because other proven and effective prevention measures will also be ignored.
Zimbabwe is in crisis. Its gay-baiting and confiscatory leadership has mishandled problem after problem. In a climate like this, HIV/AIDS has slid far down the list of priorities behind feeding one’s family and maintaining a steady supply of fuel, which is now necessary due to electricity rationing. Even before, President Mugabe paid little attention to the epidemic, blaming the disease variously on the West, “degenerates,” and drug abusers. In such a climate, the only hope from the West is to concentrate the focus firmly on ensuring a supply of condoms (at an affordable current price of 3 cents a piece) and providing information.
The Economist reports after the jump …
Back to the Dark Ages
The last person to leave may not have any lights to turn out
[HARARE and JOHANNESBURG] IT IS hard to imagine that things could get any worse in Zimbabwe. But, sure enough, day by day, they do. Since the opposition, NGOs and church groups organised a protest rally that was brutally crushed in March, the police and militias have been intimidating, arresting and beating up political opponents, journalists, lawyers and ordinary people alike. The government has even warned the Catholic bishops, once considered inviolate, to shut up or suffer the same fate. Meanwhile the inflation rate has passed 2,200%; last week the national power company announced that it would ration electricity in cities, possibly to a meagre four hours a day, just as the southern hemisphere’s winter is starting to bite.
Power cuts are already frequent, but the latest blackouts mark a new low. Residents of Harare, the capital, have been rushing to get firewood and paraffin, though a domestic worker’s monthly wage can buy only five litres (1.3 American gallons) of paraffin or two litres of cooking oil. Many companies, already operating at about 40% of capacity, say the cuts will force them to reduce their working hours even more. “The whole thing is a nightmare,” says Lovemore Mandebvu, who runs a small furniture-making factory in Harare. “We don’t know when we will have power and when it goes. This is affecting our output. Then at home water runs out when you are bathing, and the electricity goes while you are cooking.” Hospitals must use gas stoves, coal-fired boilers, fuel generators, solar power and candles.
Basic staples like maize are becoming harder to buy. The official rate for the Zimbabwe dollar is 250 to the American one, but the street value is now closer to 32,000. Many Zimbabweans survive only thanks to the 3m or so friends and relatives who have emigrated. Every day desperate Zimbabweans cross the Limpopo river, braving crocodiles and occasionally drowning, to try their luck in neighbouring South Africa. Trapped into illegality there, many are exploited and abused.
Those who stay face the increasingly arbitrary power of the police and militias. Since the crackdown in March, there have been raids on Harare districts such as Highfield and Glenview, known opposition strongholds, where random beatings and arrests have become common. President Robert Mugabe’s government claims that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is responsible for the violence and is behind a wave of bombings. The MDC says the bombs are planted by the police to justify repression. Last week lawyers protested against the arrest of two colleagues and the routine defiance of court orders by the police. A march was dispersed and several lawyers assaulted.
The latest efforts of Zimbabwe’s neighbours to improve things are still going nowhere. After the violence in March, the Southern African Development Community, a regional club of 14 countries, mandated South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki, to encourage negotiations between Mr. Mugabe and his opponents. But the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think-tank, says that Zimbabwe’s ruler has shown no willingness to co-operate with the regional initiative to prepare the ground for presidential and parliamentary elections due next year, when Mr. Mugabe looks likely to run again. At present, there is little chance the elections will be fair.
But some of Zimbabwe’s neighbours are sounding exasperated. Last week the Pan-African Parliament, a talking-shop with a secretariat in South Africa, said it would send a mission to investigate human-rights abuses. Mozambique’s energy company, a big supplier of Zimbabwe’s electricity, may switch off power unless it gets paid. And South Africa’s government, long in denial about the crisis on its doorstep, has just granted political asylum to Roy Bennett, the MDC treasurer who fled Zimbabwe to avoid another arrest. It turned down his application last year.
Still, this rare build-up of pressure was released last week when, to the dismay of the United States, the European Union and many others, Zimbabwe’s minister of environment and tourism, Francis Nhema, was elected to chair the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, where he will preside over discussions on land and rural development. Astonishingly, the UN’s African members, whose turn it was to hold the rotating post, could think of no better candidate than one from a country whose agriculture has been largely destroyed by its government’s catastrophic policies. Like many other Zimbabwean bigwigs, Mr. Nhema himself pocketed a farm that was confiscated a few years ago—and has already let it lapse into ruin.
Staff reports. Back to the Dark Ages. The Economist print edition. May 17, 2007.