zimbabweZimbabwe is a landlocked country in south-central Africa

Zimbabwe is smaller than California. It is bordered by Botswana on the west, Zambia on the north, Mozambique on the east, and South Africa on the south.

The remains of early humans, dating back 500,000 years, have been discovered in present-day Zimbabwe. The land's earliest settlers, the Khoisan, date back to 200 B.C. After a period of Bantu domination, the Shona people ruled, followed by the Nguni and Zulu peoples. By the mid-19th century the descendants of the Nguni and Zulu, the Ndebele, had established a powerful warrior kingdom.

The first British explorers, colonists, and missionaries arrived in the 1850s, and the massive influx of foreigners led to the establishment of the territory Rhodesia, named after Cecil Rhodes of the British South Africa Company.

In 1923, European settlers voted to become the self-governing British colony of Southern Rhodesia. After a brief federation with Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, and Nyasaland, now Malawi, in the post–World War II period, Southern Rhodesia chose to remain a colony when its two partners voted for independence in 1963.

On Nov. 11, 1965, the conservative white-minority government of Rhodesia declared its independence from Britain. The country resisted the demands of black Africans, and Prime Minister Ian Smith withstood British pressure, economic sanctions, and guerrilla attacks in his effort to uphold white supremacy. On March 1, 1970, Rhodesia formally proclaimed itself a republic. Heightened guerrilla war and a withdrawal of South African military aid in 1976 marked the beginning of the collapse of Smith's 11 years of resistance.

Black nationalist movements were led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa of the African National Congress and Ndabaningi Sithole, who were moderates, and guerrilla leaders Robert Mugabe of the Zimbabwe African National Union and Joshua Nkomo of the Zimbabwe African People's Union, who advocated revolution.

On March 3, 1978, Smith, Muzorewa, Sithole, and Chief Jeremiah Chirau signed an agreement to transfer power to the black majority by Dec. 31, 1978. They formed an executive council, with chairmanship rotating but with Smith retaining the title of prime minister. Blacks were named to each cabinet ministry, serving as coministers with the whites already holding these posts. African nations and rebel leaders immediately denounced the action, but Western governments were more reserved, although none granted recognition to the new regime.

The white minority finally consented to hold multiracial elections in 1980, and Robert Mugabe won a landslide victory. The country achieved independence on April 17, 1980, under the name Zimbabwe. Mugabe eventually established a one-party socialist state, but by 1990 he had instituted multiparty elections and in 1991 deleted all references to Marxism-Leninism and scientific socialism from the constitution. Parliamentary elections in April 1995 gave Mugabe's party a stunning victory with 63 of the 65 contested seats, and in 1996 Mugabe won another six-year term as president.

In 2000, veterans of Zimbabwe's war for independence in the 1970s began squatting on land owned by white farmers in an effort to reclaim land taken under British colonization—one-third of Zimbabwe's arable land was owned by 4,000 whites. In Aug. 2002, Mugabe ordered all white commercial farmers to leave their land without compensation. Mugabe's support for the squatters and his repressive rule has led to foreign sanctions against Zimbabwe. Once heralded as a champion of the anticolonial movement, Mugabe is now viewed by much of the international community as an authoritarian ruler responsible for egregious human rights abuses and for running the economy of his country into the ground.

In March 2002, Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth of Nations. That month Mugabe was reelected president for another six years in a blatantly rigged election whose results were enforced by the president's militia. In 2003, inflation hit 300%, the country faced severe food shortages, and the farming system had been destroyed. In 2004, the IMF estimated that the country had grown one-third poorer in the last five years.

Parliamentary elections in March 2005 were judged by international monitors to be egregiously flawed. In April, Zimbabwe was reelected to the UN Commission on Human Rights, outraging numerous countries and human rights groups. In mid-2005, Zimbabwe demolished its urban slums and shantytowns, leaving 700,000 people homeless in an operation called “Drive Out Trash.” In 2006, the government launched “Operation Roundup,” which drove 10,000 homeless people out of the capital.
Since 2000, Zimbabwe has experienced precipitous hyperinflation and economic ruin. By 2008, inflation skyrocketed to nearly 100,000%, up from 7,000% in 2007, unemployment reached 80%, and the Zimbabwean dollar was basically worthless. According to the World Health Organization, Zimbabwe has the world's lowest life expectancy.

Zimbabweans, clearly fed up with the economic collapse and the lack of available necessities in Zimbabwe, expressed their anger at the polls in March 2008's presidential and parliamentary elections. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change won a majority of the seats in Parliament, a remarkable defeat for Mugabe's party, ZANU-PF. Four days after the vote, Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of Movement for Democratic Change, declared himself the winner by a slim margin. Mugabe refused to concede until the vote count was complete. More than a month after the election, howvever, the vote was not yet complete. Zimbabwe's HIgh Court dismissed the opposition's request for the release of election results. Many observers speculated that Mugabe ordered the delay to either intimidate election officials or to rig the results in his favor. Indeed, in April police raided the offices of the opposition and election monitors and detained dozens of people for questioning. After the election, supporters of Mugabe began a brutal campaign of violence against the opposition that left more than 30 people dead and hundreds wounded. Tsvangirai fled the country, fearing assassination attempts. He returned to Zimbabwe in late May.

On May 2, election officials finally released the results of the vote, with Tsvangirai defeating President Robert Mugabe, 47.9% to 43.2%. A runoff election, scheduled for June 27, is necessary because neither candidate won more than 50%. In the lead-up to the runoff election, police intensified their crackdown on Tsvangirai and members of his party. Indeed, at least 85 supporters of his party were killed in government-backed violence. Officials banned rallies and repeatedly detained Tsvangirai for attempting to do so. In addition, Tsvangirai’s top deputy, Tendai Biti was arrested on charges of treason. Biti denied he committed treason, and several members of Parliament alleged the charges were trumped up. In June Mugabe barred humanitarian groups from providing aid in the country—a drastic move that aid organizations estimated would deny about two million people much-needed assistance.

On June 22, Tsvangirai withdrew from the race, saying he could not subject his supporters to violence and intimidation. He also said he refused to take part in "this violent, illegitimate sham of an election process." He took refuge in the Dutch Embassy. The United Nations issued a statement condemning the violence that has plagued Zimbabwe and said it would be "impossible for a free and fair election to take place."

The presidential election did take place, but it was neither free nor fair. Nevertheless, Mugabe was elected to a sixth term, taking 85% of the vote. President Bush joined the chorus of world leaders who condemned the election and the government-sponsored crackdown on the opposition. China and Russia, however, blocked the U.S.-led effort in the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe.

In a historical meeting in July, Mugabe and Tsvangirai agreed to end the poltical violence and engage in talks to form a government of national unity...



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