If you rely on the media, regardless of its reputation, for information about what’s going on in the world, I must sadly tell you that you are in all likelihood being badly misinformed. Through its actions of what it airs, or what it does not air, the media often paints a highly distorted and incorrect picture of the world in which we live.
Zimbabwe, where I’ve lived for the past two-plus years, is a case in point. Born out of a violent 20-year independence war, Zimbabwe was once the bread basked of southern Africa; a country that Julius Nyere described as ‘the jewel in the crown of Africa.’ In the 30 years since independence, having started with a smoothly functioning bureaucracy and an infrastructure that was the pride of Sub-Saharan Africa, mismanagement, misguided economic policies, corruption, political violence and repression have created a situation where many of the people of the country have fled, or have remained and must subsist on international community handouts.
Today, Zimbabwe only seems to be mentioned in international media when something tragic happens; incidents of political violence, a disease outbreak, or a government official threatening to take over foreign companies. Largely ignored is the fact that even with these unfortunate events, there are communities not experiencing violence, places where people are working and making a living despite the astronomical rate of unemployment and underemployment.
A visitor to Harare, or any of the other metropolitan areas, might stay several weeks and never see evidence of the problems that appear in the media. I’ve often had visitors say to me that they wonder where the media gets its stories. I always tell them that the stories are mostly true, but also misleading, because they only paint a small part of a larger picture.
Zimbabwe still has the highest literacy rate in Sub-Saharan Africa, and since hyperinflation was eliminated with the introduction of the US Dollar and the South African Rand as official currencies in 2009, the health and education systems are on the mend. They have a long way to go, but they’re moving slowly in the right direction. Each one of Zimbabwe’s ten provinces has a college or university, built with US aid money in the 1980s that, neglected as they have been, still function. They’re still turning out graduates who are in demand in neighboring countries and the West.
I live in Harare, in a fairly upscale neighborhood, and we have to depend on generators for electricity and a borehole (an artesian well) for water because the utilities are so unreliable. My Internet connection goes out two or three times a day, but I still manage to communicate with my 4,000-plus Facebook followers regularly, and post to my blog, to Red Room, and other sites to which I contribute. I don’t get to play golf as often as I’d like, but Harare’s dozen courses, and the 50 courses countrywide are there when my schedule permits. Borrowdale Race Course in Harare hosts the annual Castle Tankard Race, the oldest organized horse race in Africa.
We still get reports of violence and intimidation frequently; politically-motivated arrests; and invasions of property; but, we also go to fancy parties where people of all races and political persuasions get together in harmony and friendship. What the media fails to explain adequately is that the violence is tied to scheduling of elections, and the interim years between elections are usually peaceful. During the 1980 elections, for instance, there was as much violence as in 2008, but for some reason, the West wasn’t paying attention back then. In 1983 and 1984, for instance, the North Korean-trained 5th Army Brigade was sent into Matabeleland where it killed more than 20,000 people and rendered hundreds of thousands homeless. Back then, with our attention focused on the Cold War, this got scant mention in the international press. After the farms of a few white Europeans were stolen violently in the late 1990s, for some reason, Zimbabwe was ‘discovered,’ and slowly the black-on-black violence that is associated with the political process came to our notice. Since then, when problems occur, the press goes into reporting mode, but when the violence subsides, the media looks away.
Is Zimbabwe a mess? Most certainly; but, actually no more so than most of the developing world, in particular Sub-Saharan Africa, and not as bad as many. It has a long way to go before its normal and functioning effectively and efficiently. But, it is also not the ‘hell on earth’ that the media seems to want us to believe it is.
Now, that’s just my personal observation from two years of living here and traveling to every corner of the country; every major city, isolated communities in the Zambezi Valley, and luxurious resorts in the lower veld near the South African border. But, that observation is based on more than 49 years of living in and traveling to and through every continent save Antarctica, and more countries than I can remember without making a list; of dealing with dictators, near-saints, and even a couple of cannibals (another story that I might blog about sometime). So, I think my observations are relatively valid.
Bottom line: Zimbabwe is not the simple place that you might believe after reading about it in today’s media reports. It’s all about nuance.
Causes Charles Ray Supports
The Nature Conservancy
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial