Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Putting Zimbabwe’s hardships in some perspective

Posted by CM on August 2, 2007

Here’s an interesting story on the Voice of America that gives the perspectives of some foreigners in Zimbabwe who are determined to stick things out because they find life there still so much better than in their own countries :

Many Foreigners Decide to Stay in Zimbabwe

While thousands of Zimbabweans are fleeing the country in desperate attempts to better their lives, many foreign citizens say they’re staying. They say they’re confident they’ll survive the economic decline and political upheavals. Several people say despite ongoing economic problems, Zimbabwe’s infrastructure is still intact, making life here better than in their own homelands.

...Nigerians and Congolese top the list of so-called “easy to spot foreigners” in Bulawayo.

Josea Katende is a permanent Zimbabwean resident from the Democratic Republic of Congo…says he’s been in Zimbabwe for nearly a decade…says although Zimbabwe’s economy is collapsing, life is still better here than in the DRC.

“The economy is bad right now in Zimbabwe but the difference maybe is the infrastructure and that things haven’t collapsed in Zimbabwe like in the Congo. …you can still post a letter and it gets to wherever it must go, which in our country doesn’t exist anymore. So at least, there is some kind of order in Zimbabwe.”

… he has watched the number of Nigerians and Congolese nationals in Bulawayo expand. He argues that’s because there are numerous opportunities in Zimbabwe to make money. Katende adds with the money he makes, he can buy a lot more goods here than he’d be able to purchase in the DRC.

“…now, you know, there are a lot of Nigerians because they find it easier here. It’s hard to make money but its easier living. In Nigeria and in DRC you can easily make a lot of money but the life is just not easy; the comforts that go with it. If you are living in a place with power cuts, potholes everywhere, you can’t really live properly.”


Well, having had the privilege of travelling a fair swathe of Africa in the last couple of years, including Nigeria but not DRC, I can fully relate to what Katende is talking about. Here he reminds us why Zimbabwe’s many unique qualities in Africa and its turmoil continue to arouse such impassioned feelings all over the world.

It must be said, though, that as a foreigner one will tend to think in hard currency terms to gauge whatever one is doing; whether it is holding a salaried job, being a trader or a drug dealer for that matter. If you have some hard-currency earning capacity you can still live quite well in Zimbabwe, even though you can no longer be sheltered from the difficulties all around you.

Zimbabweans solely dependent on the worthless Zim-dollar and with no frame of reference of life for the average person in countries like those mentioned by Katende will obviously find it hard to comprehend where he is coming from. But those of us who have the difficulties as well as the privilege of experiencing life in other parts of the world have a responsibility to put our country’ problems in some kind of perspective in a way the Western news outlets we rely on for information will not do for us. This VOA story was written by Netsai Mlilo, who I am guessing is a Zimbabwean. The VOA must be commended for giving us temporary relief from the unrelenting stream of “Zimbabwe is going to disappear any minute” stories by injecting one of a different flavour, to give one a more rounded perspective of the country’s mixed reality.

You sure as hell would not expect to read a story like this from a British or American journalist! They have a different outlook and for some, like the UK’s Daily Telegraph, a different agenda from that of the ordinary Zimbabwean just concerned about his or her homeland.

Katende’s sentiments should not make us counter the destruction-intending deluge of “Zimbabwe in crisis” reports from the Telegraph and others of its ilk by attempting to sugar-coat the country’s deep problems. The issue is to present the reality of what is happening honestly, but to be able to put it in a context that gives a reader a more complete view of that very complex reality.

A final point about Katende’s observations is that we should not feel particularly satisfied that Zimbabwe in its present troubled state is still better off than many other African countries that are not considered to be “in crisis.” The measure of our progress should not be how much better off we are than one or another dysfunctional country, but how we are doing today compared to yesterday, and in relation to our own potential.

By those standards we are not doing well at all, no matter how much somebody from a worse off country may appreciate life in Bulawayo or Harare.

Chido Makunike


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