My arrival in Harare a few weeks ago almost perfectly coincided with the most recent call for elections, and I couldn’t have been more ecstatic. Watching Zimbabwe come out of hyperinflation has been astonishing, as an economist, and as a person trying to become a Zimbabwe scholar (sort of), a call for elections was electrifying.
Of course, my euphoria was short-lived. The first person I talked to about it responded with “they probably won’t happen.” The second with “no one actually thinks they will happen.” The third delved into a lengthy explanation of the coalition government and the problems associated with the implementation of the new constitution and how they likely wouldn’t happen on time and suddenly, I realized how little I actually knew.
I’d been here before. That is, I’ve jumped into a country I knew very little about with a few weeks’ worth of research under my belt and tried to answer some questions about it. I’d never been to Zimbabwe before. Zimbabwe is a place you can read a lot about. The hyperinflation, president of seemingly millions of years Robert Mugabe, agriculture and land reform, cholera and the UN, and so much more.
For all of this, things in Zimbabwe seem to be working. Sure, the power went out a few times on the streets, but even as traffic snarled, people got to where they were going and were improbably polite about it. Everyone seemed so kind and helpful. There wasn’t the constant blaring of horns you hear in Delhi or Kolkata. It didn’t seem nearly as crowded as Dar or Kampala. Though I was warned not to walk around at night and got plenty of stares for going on a jog through a park nearby my hotel, I felt incredibly safe driving around the country and walking through Harare during the day. We even managed to get buy-in from a relevant ministry on my project without too much leg work.
That’s not to say that things are perfect. An estimated one third of Zimbabweans under the age of 49 suffer from HIV/AIDS. Though the official unemployment rate is lower than that of the US (6% to 7.7%), an estimated 70-90% of Zimbabweans aren’t working for wages. Cash is short due to dollarization and prices are much higher than one would expect.
And elections, it seems, as so many tried to tell me, will be delayed. So perhaps everything doesn’t work quite as well as I had thought.
It’s really beautiful, though.
For reading on Zimbabwe, I’ll recommend the two books that were given to me as I took on this project. I’m sure there are many more good ones and I’d be happy to read/share if anyone has suggestions.