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The Fall And Fall Of Zimbabwe: A Rich Nation, Dirty Politics And Unwillingness

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By Aashu Anshuman:

Hyperinflation, along with all the anarchy in the Zimbabwean economy, is very well exemplified in the banknote staring me in the face right now. The banknote reads a very high figure. In another currency, it would empower you to buy virtually anything you like, be it ten private jets, a hundred Ferraris, even an island. My Zimbabwean friend tells me it can’t buy you one bubble gum!

Knowing that the Zimbabwean economy is in poor shape is one thing; a rendezvous with a virtually impotent five billion dollar note is quite another! The following article is based on my conversation with the friend I mentioned above, who visited her homeland a couple of years ago during the elections.

Around the end of the freedom struggle in 1980, Zimbabwe was left with a veteran of the war, Robert Mugabe, in power. Mugabe has retained power ever since, from 1980 to 1987 as Prime Minister, and as President post-1987, a reign tainted by political sabotage, hyperinflation, large scale emigration and general downfall of the Zimbabwean politico-economic situation. In spite of being the state with the highest literacy rate in Africa (over 90%), Zimbabwe now is also among the highest in unemployment, a whopping 94% (2009 census). Once the largest African exporters of Maize, it now imports large quantities of the same annually. Needless to say, there is widespread dissent among the citizens, which has led, among other things, to large scale migration to neighbouring countries (particularly South Africa).

But how does such a popularly unpopular figure remain in power so long in a democracy? “Well, it is hardly a democracy,” she says. Having been home during the 2008 elections’ runoff, which was contested by the two leading candidates from the first elections held a few months earlier, she has been witness to one of the most blatant charades in the name of an electoral process.

Exactly one week before the runoffs, ZANU-PF (Robert Mugabe’s party) had established ‘command centres’ in different parts of most cities. A resident of Harare, she had a command centre in her house’s vicinity. The centres were run by youth, mostly boys aged 18-25, living in that area. Every citizen was expected to have a t-shirt featuring Mugabe, with an official ZANU-PF membership card and sing songs and slogans. Besides this psychological whitewashing, there was effectively an open ballot system (votes in the closed ballot were in the kept in the same order as names in the voters’ list and so cross checking of votes was easy). And then there was bogus voting. “In a village adjoining Harare, which had a population of less than 5000, over 7000 people exercised their democratic right of voting,” she recollects. As expected, they voted Mugabe! “While CNN, BBC and even South African news channels were rife with reports on the manipulation of the elections, local news channels featured absolutely no such stories.”

There were certain areas of the city that were known to be pro-MDC (Movement for Democratic Change, the opposition party), one of which was hers. Her mother had been pretty vocal about her dislike of the Mugabe regime, while her elder sister was an active MDC member. “During the week before the runoff, one patrolling party came to my house one evening. After asking a few casual questions, they left. We even had our Mugabe t-shirts on.” Later, however, they found out from a friend that their house had been marked as ‘pro-MDC’, and her sister was advised to rush to the command centre and apologise, surrendering all her MDC support material. “My sister was made to apologise on local TV. A speech had been prepared for her, in which she ‘confessed’ that she was ‘lost’, she has ‘gone astray from her path in life’, and now she’s ‘found her direction again’. After this, she was made to set to fire all the material she had surrendered.”

Mugabe’s support base comprises of war veterans and army men. “My brother-in-law, a lieutenant colonel, is a staunch supporter,” she adds. Morgan Tsvangirai, the head of MDC and current Prime Minister, is the effective second-in-reign and the spearhead for the popular movement against the existing political order.”Tsvangirai is the not the best we have, but the bravest. He pleads people to strive or freedom, but only after ensuring their safety. “Whatever keeps you alive!” he says.”

On the economic front the currency, the Zimbabwean dollar has been devalued to the point of being obsolete. Irrational taxation, rampant printing of the currency for plugging the government’s deficits and other ‘Mugonomic’ measures led the Zimbabwean Reserve Bank to declare, in August 2006, a new Zimbabwean dollar, equal to a thousand old Zimbabwean dollars. Through two more such ‘currency reforms’, the bank has been successful in erasing a total of thirty one zeroes from the original Zimbabwean dollar. “And even now, a bus ride covering a few kilometres would cost one a hundred billion dollars.” Not that they use Zimbabwean dollars any more; today, you can only buy stuff if you pay in the South African Rand, or the U.S. dollar. “My nephew, who just turned six, can only count in billions; he doesn’t know how to count in units or hundreds!” Advertisements in local newspapers include rubber bands for bank notes, and note counting machines that count thousands of notes in a minute. “When Tsvangirai was arrested in June 2008, it took several men just to carry his bail money to the court!” The currency was officially suspended in February 2009. The economy is in such a bad shape that shopping is an international expedition. “You want cooking oil, you buy it from South Africa. Mozambique is good for sugar, while blankets can be bought from Botswana. Eventually, however, it all became about food.”

It is saddening how such a rich nation is eroding away. Churchill said that history is written by the victorious. Let us hope that it is the Zimbabwean people who emerge victorious from this socio-political war, and that the people who are responsible for the downfall of this great nation are met with the judgement they deserve, and not worshipped as heroes of yet another war.

Image courtesy: http://containersofhopewa.org.au/

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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