About the Author: James D. McGee serves as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Zimbabwe.
While celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends last week I was struck yet again by the contradictions of life in Zimbabwe. Most obviously is the contradiction of a land blessed by nature, but unable to feed its own people. While I gave thanks for my many blessings, at least 1.5 million Zimbabweans were suffering from food insecurity. Within a couple of months that number could reach 5 million people, or more than half of the population.
All of this in a country that once fed an entire region on its bounty. The lack of food isn’t the result of any environmental challenges either. In just the past few months I’ve watched Harare glow with the lavender haze of jacaranda, blaze with the glory of the flame trees and now be perfumed by thousands of plumeria. Nature is as bountiful as ever here in Zimbabwe. Tragically, the lush beauty of Harare is contradicted by the emptiness of Zimbabwe’s fields.
Late November is the start of the rainy season in Zimbabwe. Normally the rains are a blessing that allow the crops to grow. But not in this season of contradictions. With little seed or fertilizer available, many fields lie dormant. All the rains will bring is the spread of cholera. As the rains started, Zimbabwe was in the midst of a major cholera outbreak. According to the UN, over 10,000 have been infected already, with over 400 deaths. The rains will only make the problem much worse.
Against this backdrop of suffering, there was one more giant irony last weekend. While millions of Zimbabweans suffered, the country’s illegitimate President, Robert Mugabe, traveled to Doha for the International Conference on Financing for Development. The meeting was meant to be a forum for world leaders to discuss enhancing development work, including sharing “best practices and lessons learned…and obstacles and constraints encountered.” I doubt that Mugabe shared with the assembled heads of state that criminally poor leadership is one of the major constraints to development. Ironically, he could have offered an excellent first hand account of how mismanagement and poor leadership can run a once prosperous country into the ground.
Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season. I’ve seen holiday decorations going up at a few stores and malls in Harare. Holiday decorations outside empty stores in a country where very few can buy presents, and even fewer have anything to celebrate. Just one more contradiction in Zimbabwe.