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Something’s got to give

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This morning, someone pointed me to Gapminder, a fun easy to use webpage that tracks all kinds of different population and demographic data, like life expectancy and income per capita. So I selected Zimbabwe, and watched the data tell the story I already knew – the staggering decline in income per capita, and the crash in life expectancy, since 1992.

Countries like Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho, also devastated by HIV/AIDS have seen their life expectancies decline similarly, but their income per capita has been more firm.

So then, given everything I’ve been hearing about Guinea lately, I decided to have a look at their changes in income and life expectancy over the past years. The country has seen a slow and steady improvement in both life expectancy and income per capita. But Guineans still aren’t satisfied with the past 22 years of President Lansana Conte’s government.

In April 2006, Conte sacked the Guinea’s prime minister and took over that role in addition to remaining President. On 10 January 2007, trade unions in Guinea called for the third general strike in a year, demanding government reforms.

The strike lasted almost three weeks, and was combined with protests by demonstrators calling on Conte to resign. At least 60 people were killed in the demonstrations. These deaths are part of what led Conte and the unions to negotiate. Conte agreed to let go of some of his power and re-establish the position of Prime Minister, and the unions agreed this was enough for them to end the strike. The new Prime Minister has yet to be named, but clearly Guineans hope she or he will bring new life into the government.

With all the strikes growing in Zimbabwe now, maybe we have something similar in store. Reflecting on this with a colleague, she commented “Mugabe is at his weakest right now because of the economic crisis, but the opposition is failing to use this to their advantage.”

I hope she’s wrong. I don’t know if all this is enough to make Mugabe agree to let go of some of his power. But if Gapminder is anything to go by, we’re well past our turn. As they said on SW Radio Africa tonight, no matter what Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono does, ordinary people continue to struggle from day to day as prices rise and shortages persist. And even Gono recognizes that, if government does not increase wages, workers will have no choice but to join labour action.

With strikes, threats of strikes, go slows and discontent by nurses, doctors, teachers, Tel-One employees, farm workers, university lecturers, and even the Zimbabwe Military Academy, as well as the ZCTU threatening a general strike starting 23 February, maybe double oh seven really will have some surprises in store.

3 comments to “Something’s got to give”

  1. Comment by Josh:

    I agree with you. I have an article similar in thoughts to yours comparing both Zimbabwe and Guinea stating that Zimbabweans are at a point of no return. It is already too late for Mugabe. I don’t think he can do anything right now that will be judged nicely.

    Check it out

    Mugabe running on empty

  2. Comment by Dave Coventry:

    I’m sorry to be pessimistic, but I don’t think that things in Zimbabwe will improve for a few more years (2010, anyone?)

    My own belief is that Sally Mugabe [Editor: Grace Mugabe?] is desperate for him to remain in power until one of his sons can assume the throne.

    Even if he doesn’t manage to do this, Zimbabwe will probably be taken over by the Army, probably with Soloman Mjuru in charge. I believe that Perence Shiri is also lining himself up for the top job.

    In any case, Zimbabweans have hitherto displayed very little appetite for any sort of fight, preferring to hope that large numbers will hit the streets while they themselves keep their heads down at home.

    Up until now any demonstrations have pitched a few brave souls against overwhelming numbers of riot police who have taken great pleasure in punishing them.

  3. Comment by Dave Coventry:

    >>Sally Mugabe [Editor: Grace Mugabe?]

    Er, yes.

    Sorry. Sally died a few years back ;)