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Three years after Mugabe, Zimbabwe still hurting

Three years after Mugabe, Zimbabwe still hurting

In late 2017, Zimbabwe's long-serving strongman Robert Mugabe was deposed by the army after 37 years in power. Amid huge popular celebrations, he handed over the reins to Emmerson Mnangagwa, his former spy chief. It was an extraordinary turn of history: Mugabe, one of Africa's last "Big Men" and a hero of the struggle to end white minority rule, went out with barely a whimper, placing Zimbabwe — stricken by economic ruin and international isolation — in the hands of "The Crocodile."

Mugabe has since died, but almost three years after his departure, Zimbabwe's woes continue.

Last Friday, Mnangagwa's security forces swept clean the capital, Harare, ahead of a planned anti-government rally. Mnangagwa warned that anyone involved in what he called an "insurrection" would be dealt with Mugabe-style: rounded up and jailed. The few activists who defied the order ended up behind bars, including prominent local author and Booker Prize nominee Tsitsi Dangarembga.

Here's why protesters in Zimbabwe are fed up these days.

Political repression. Scores of dissidents have been killed by the security forces since Mnangagwa was formally elected in 2018, in a vote which the opposition claims was rigged. Recently arrested journalists and opposition leaders face up to ten years in prison if found guilty of inciting people to participate in public violence.

Corruption. Mugabe's regime was riddled with graft, but things haven't gotten much better since he left. The latest scandal involves a health minister who was caught inflating the cost of pandemic-related medical supplies; he was fired, but the journalist who exposed the scandal was imprisoned.

Inflation. Inflation is running at 737 percent at the moment, as the government prints money to cover expenses. Granted, that's a far cry from the November 2008, when prices rose annually at a world-record 89.7 sextillion percent (that's twenty zeros), but it's still enough to evaporate salaries and pensions.

COVID-19. Zimbabwe's frail health system has collapsed during the coronavirus pandemic. Doctors have sued the government over their lack of access to personal protective equipment, and nurses have gone on strike until they get paid in US dollars. Last week, staff shortages at one of Harare's major hospitals resulted in seven stillborn babies in one night. Instead of hiring more health workers, the government has arrested more than 100,000 people for violating lockdown orders.

Food security. The UN says six in ten Zimbabweans are on the brink of starvation due to the combined effects of severe droughts, economic crisis, and the pandemic. Subsistence farmers, responsible for three quarters of the country's food supply, have produced less than half of Zimbabwe's annual maize requirement this year. Mnangagwa's "response" has been to pay $3.5 billion to white farmers whose land was expropriated and left idle, which dramatically decreased Zimbabwe's once-sizable agricultural output.

As popular anger grows in Zimbabwe, the country's plight offers a sobering lesson: removing a dictator doesn't necessarily make things better — particularly if his system and his cronies remain in power. Will ordinary Zimbabweans, who were too afraid to rise up in large numbers against Mugabe, soon feel they have nothing to lose in standing up to his successor? And will Mnangagwa be able to keep them quiet much longer?

Meet Ian Martin, an English Professor from Glasgow who is now head of Communications for Eni's International Resources. Approaching his work in the same way he used to hold his lectures, Ian is dedicated to listening and making people around him comfortable. Having working in both Milan and London, Ian utilizes his ability to communicate in different languages and cultures to prepare Eni's global messaging strategy. "Communication is a transfer of humanity," he says, and his job is as much centered around people as it as around language.

Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

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While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET


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