Archive for June, 2009

Just Arrived in Zimbabwe

June 25, 2009

I arrived in Harare last night on a full South African Airways flight from Johannesburg.  The fact that the flight was full on a Wednesday night caught my attention because a few months back many were wondering whether SAA would keep its two daily flights between Johannesburg and Harare.  That immediately told me that I was coming to a changing Harare, different to the one I saw six months ago when I was last visited.  Harare International Airport itself, though the fourth largest in Africa, was deserted and dimly lit.

As we drove from from the airport into downtown Harare, I was disappointed to find out that little had changed in terms of infrastructure improvement since the inclusive government was formed four months ago.  Street lights that have been out for a long time now are still not repaired.  The same with traffic lights on most intersections.  While the city has started filling pot holes, the roads are not anywhere near as good as the roads that once served this city in its sunshine days.

I spent my first morning just walking the streets, going in and out of shops, observing as much as i can and talking to regular folks to get a good sense of the situation on the ground.  Everyone says things are a lot better compared to the time before the inclusive government when inflation was in the billions, and shops were empty.  Now the supermarkets are full with goods and prices are much lower compared to December when i was last in Harare.  For example,  10 pounds of the staple corn/mealie -meal was going for US$12.50, but now it has come down to US$4.50.  Also noticeable is how goods from the local industry are slowly coming back into supermarkets.  Back in December almost all products in shops were from South Africa, but now half of the goods are from Zimbabwe industries.  This suggests a slow revival to Zimbabwe’s, once formidable manufacturing sector which, at its height, contributed 45% of GDP.

While people are acknowledging improvements and seem more optimistic about the future, the conditions of living for most Zimbabweans remain dire.  It is exceedingly difficult for people to access foreign currency.   The salaries that workers are getting are no where near matching their monthly bills.  The government is broke and is only giving paltry allowances to civil servants.  Civil servants have given notice they will go on a nation-wide strike in July if the government does not start paying decent salaries.  Many young people remain unemployed as industries are not yet hiring.  This is fueling crime in Harare and other cities.

On the political side the situation remains fragile.  The partners to the inclusive government are sharing and contesting power at the same time and as a result the progress is slow.  There is still a lot of mistrust between the political players.

Tomorrow I will start consultations with civil society players on the new constitution, ahead of the Civil Society Leaders Conference on Constitutional Reform, at which I will be speaking.   Everyone I have talked to so far, regards the new constitution as the most important project in terms of consolidating Zimbabwe’s transition towards democratization and economic recovery.

Stay tuned,

Briggs Bomba, Africa Action

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