Zimbabwe

Just over 4 years ago the Mennonite World Conference held its World Assembly in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. At the time the country was in the midst of a downward spiral under the direction of president Robert Mugabe. There was concern about holding the assembly in Zimbabwe because of the worsening social/economic/political situation, but the hosts, the Brethren in Christ Church of Zimbabwe insisted that the assembly go on in their country. Since 2003 the downward spiral has worsened.  The country is near economic collapse if it has not collapsed already. I don’t hear a lot about Zimbabwe in American news these days (that might be because I don’t hear a lot of American news in general) but the BBC has a video report that is worth checking out.

Comments (12)

  1. Skylark

    I listen to a lot of NPR, and I heard a report about the horrible food and economic situation in Zimbabwe three days ago. The story also told about these websites where ex-pat Zimbabweans can go to send money and food home to their families. Currency isn’t worth much since inflation is so unstable, they said, and you can’t buy much in the country, so the people who run the websites buy food and other supplies in neighboring countries and ship them in. That sounds great, but it doesn’t sound very sustainable for long-term economics in Zimbabwe. Hopefully no one plans on using it as a long-term option.

    Reply
  2. Lora

    I was kind of surprised to read this article on MSNBC this morning. It would seem that people starving is a whole different moral plane than what happens to their pets… Anyone know if any organization is responding this or if there are things we can do?

    Reply
  3. Skylark

    “It would seem that people starving is a whole different moral plane than what happens to their pets…”

    Is it? One or two groups point out the suffering of non-human creatures, and this represents a skewed moral sense for evaluating the situation? If anything, it uses the same moral reasoning for animals suffering as it does for humans suffering. If the humans were killing and eating each other, different groups would undoubtedly object.

    Reply
  4. jdaniel (Post author)

    Skylark,

    I see your point (in your second comment)- animals and the ways we treat them are important – but seriously, what is our priority in assessing a situation such as that of Zimbabwe?

    Regarding your first comment, there’s nothing about the situation in Zimbabwe now that is sustainable. The problem is, Mugabe, who was once a hero, has gasped power so tightly that it now grips him and he no longer knows what he is doing.

    Reply
  5. paco

    “‘It would seem that people starving is a whole different moral plane than what happens to their pets…’

    Is it?”

    I also understand your point, Skylark, however, The group themselves even say,

    “But in the face of starvation and the burgeoning number of stray and abandoned animals, the moral issues become far more complex and we should not be too hasty in our condemnations when animals and people are suffering equally.”

    Generally, I think before someone becomes indignant about the killing of animals by starving people, that person probably ought to have been close to starving themself, while others, sitting well fed behind their computers become indignant about that starving person killing animals.

    I know you didn’t say that exactly, but it’s very easy to say things, even vague moral statements, from comfortable places in comfortable countries, and quite another thing in the midst of a situation of extreme poverty. I’m not interested in mindless animal killing or torture, but its condemnation in “de-developed” nations usually comes from those with privileged and comfortable mouths. This usually strikes me as misplaced and cruel.

    Meanwhile, When I get a chance to see some television, (I’m in Afghanistan), Al Jazeera English, seems to do semi consistent job reporting on the situation in Zimbabwe. However, I have always been surprised (I guess I shouldn’t be though) by what appears to be almost no exposure from the US mainstream media to one of the worst humanitarian situations on the planet.

    Reply
  6. Skylark

    jdaniel said: “What is our priority in assessing a situation such as that of Zimbabwe?”

    That’s an excellent question, and my impression from your post is you think it’s a foregone conclusion the humans are “our priority.” I’m questioning if that’s an unassailable conclusion or if we can talk about the whys and hows of how you got there. I applaud people who help other people. I applaud people who help animals. I don’t think the two aims are mutually exclusive.

    paco said: “Generally, I think before someone becomes indignant about the killing of animals by starving people, that person probably ought to have been close to starving themself, while others, sitting well fed behind their computers become indignant about that starving person killing animals.

    I know you didn’t say that exactly, but it’s very easy to say things, even vague moral statements, from comfortable places in comfortable countries, and quite another thing in the midst of a situation of extreme poverty. I’m not interested in mindless animal killing or torture, but its condemnation in “de-developed” nations usually comes from those with privileged and comfortable mouths. This usually strikes me as misplaced and cruel.”

    I’m not indignant. I’m just bemused that others found someone else’s objection so misplaced. I am well aware that I am comfortable and have no first-hand knowledge of what is going on in Zimbabwe. But does that extend to everyone outside of Zimbabwe? Should we all just say nothing about anything going on there because we’ve never experienced it? I’ve heard some YARs say comfortable people in secure countries should keep their mouths shut about people in warring areas using violence. Do you agree?

    On one hand, I hear people complaining people don’t talk enough about Zimbabwe. On the other hand, others complain when people do talk about Zimbabwe because they’ve never experienced the conditions of Zimbabwe. Both of these complaints can be found in this thread.

    Reply
  7. Lora

    Ha, I brought on a whole comment thread without ever meaning to. Skylark, if I had remembered some of your other commentary on vegetarianism, I think I would have thought twice before I said what I said. But I still think it’s interesting that that was the only article on MSNBC about Zimbabwe that day, as far as I am aware. When I was living in Guatemala, I remember hearing some of the locals feeling really frustrated because the tourists came and were so interested in the animals (protecting, observing, etc.) but were rather blind–willfully so, it seemed–to the suffering and problems of the people who lived there. I don’t think opposing the suffering of humans and animals is mutually exclusive, and I eat very little meat, for a variety of reasons. Maybe what bothered me is the suspicion that mass media in U.S. tends to focus on what will sell, and I have to wonder if as many people would read an article that focused primarily on human suffering, rather than on that of animals. Or maybe focusing on what’s happening to pets is one of the few ways to get Americans to consider what’s happening in a distant and completely foreign country…

    Reply
  8. Skylark

    No sweat, Lora. I can’t expect you or anyone else to remember every discussion we’ve had on YAR. :-)

    I think it’s a terrible shame when people ignore the sufferings of people. It’s also a terrible shame when people ignore the sufferings of animals.

    If anything, objecting to people eating their household animals points to the hierarchy many of us in the U.S have for animals. Few would object to killing and eating a cow, pig, or sheep because the Zimbabweans were hungry and needed something to eat. Somehow it’s a bigger deal when they kill and eat dogs. I don’t know what kind of emotional bonds Zimbabweans tend to form with their pet dogs, but for Americans who would never consider making a meal of Rex, realizing that someone would resort to eating their dog might “bring home” the extent of the situation in Zimbabwe. About the only thing more extreme in some people’s minds would be parents eating their children or lopping off their own limbs for meat in an attempt to stay alive.

    Reply
  9. paco

    1. I’m cynical but i’m going to go with Lora. People (Oprah watchers?) tend to perk up when they hear of something like cute pets being eaten, but rarely bat an eye at the daily suffering of people around the globe. Maybe I’m “speciesist” but I think there maybe be a different priority there. Of course it could also have to do with media oversaturation and our disconnection from the realities of those suffering people. Or it could just be racism. It’s probably all of them.

    2. “Should we all just say nothing about anything going on there because we’ve never experienced it? I’ve heard some YARs say comfortable people in secure countries should keep their mouths shut about people in warring areas using violence. Do you agree?”

    Actually, I may agree. Should people really be seriously giving suggestions or commenting on things they know little about? Does having enough free time or pride to think that my opinion on every issue is important, entitle me to tell everyone about it? Let’s ask Katie if someone who has never met an LGBT person should be involved in serious debates about them. Let’s ask Carl if he thinks people who know little about the black hills or situations of indigenous people, ought to be given a platform to express their views.

    This isn’t necessarily a invitation to shut up because we haven’t experienced things, its an invitation to experience more things and experience them deeply, which after all is a major part of being a Christian (let alone a YAR). I don’t think that oppressed people groups or starving Zimbabweans are infallible. But I do think that we ought to be very careful when making pronouncements in general, but especially if we are not experiencing the situation ourselves, or if we know little of the subject or have little experience with the matter at hand.

    While I would never condone the people Hazara minority in my village of taking violent revenge on Tajik majority that has and does hurt them so badly, I ought to be very carefully of what i condemn before I really understand, mentally, physically, spiritually, what they have been through.

    This all takes a lot of patience and humility which I (and most “activists,” or “christians,” whatever) often don’t have. But its one of the core elements of peacemaking in any context. And I think it also touches on a number of topics we have discussed before (I can’t recall specific posts, but things about privilege, Whiteys and other richies “doing good deeds” and “helping,” etc…)

    Of course this all being said on a blog, and as we all know, blogs are the home of feeling entitled to say whatever we want about anything.

    And of course this is now tremendously off topic.

    Reply
  10. Lora

    Paco, I’m very cynical about most things. But to quote George Bernard Shaw, the power of accurate observation is frequently referred to as cynicism by those who haven’t got it.

    In all seriousness, I think you touched on something crucial when you talked about humility. It’s something I don’t think we do well at all in the U.S., but it’s so important to keep that in front of us.

    Reply
  11. Skylark

    Paco,
    Thank you for your thoughtful response. You gave me a lot to chew on.

    I’m glad you pointed out the irony of asking people not to talk about things they don’t know, when blogs are places for people to spout off about whatever they’re thinking. I doubt it’s realistic—or even helpful in a global sense—to expect people who aren’t directly involved in Zimbabwe to keep quiet. It would be great if we had several people “on the ground” who we could ask humble questions of, but I’m not that well connected. Even then, that runs the risk of thinking they can “speak for” everyone in Zimbabwe, sort of like what happens sometimes when a white person asks a non-white person about his/her experience with racism.

    I think there’s definitely a place for people who don’t know much about a topic to ask sincere questions of those who do, and to discuss their perceptions for the purpose of learning more. On those few topics on which I do consider myself knowledgeable, I’m always happy to talk about my experiences with people who genuinely want to know. But that could be just me. :-)

    Reply
  12. TWeaver

    As a recently-arrived resident of Botswana (a neighboring country to Zimbabwe) I was shocked at how bad the situation in Zimbabwe is and how little coverage it is getting in the US media. The little that I knew about Zimbabwe before was only from the bits and pieces that I’d heard around World Conference time, and I hadn’t known that the situation was worsening so quickly. You can’t go a day here without seeing the effects or hearing news of the Zimbabwe problem. It seems that every week there is a new order from Mugabe that will make the situation even worse, just when it seems to have hit rock bottom. Botswana (and other neighboring countries) are being flooded by refugees who come looking for work of any kind so that they can send money and food back to their families. Zimbabweans regularly come around to my house and ask for “piece jobs,” willing to do anything for a pittance. When you ask them about their families and the situation at home, they shake their heads and tell you about empty shelves, empty petrol stations, and an unemployment rate that defies belief (one man that I have become friends with estimated that 90 percent of Zimbabweans back home were without work – I think BBC said 80 at one point). Unfortunately, many people here, as much as they sympathize with the situation in Zimbabwe, don’t like the Zimbabweans, blaming them for increasing crime rates and taking away jobs. Loads of refugees are carted back to Zimbabwe every day (my friend is afraid to sit outside his house in the evenings for fear that the police will find him and deport him). In many ways, the situation with Zimbabweans here reminds me of the situation with Mexicans in the US, and it’s an all-around bad and difficult one. A part of the problem is that neighboring African nations aren’t doing a whole lot about the situation and aren’t speaking up much against Mugabe and his government, trying to be politically neutral and not offend Mugabe and his allies. The apartheid era in South Africa saw a similar sort of neutrality/non-involvement on the part of Botswana and other nearby countries. It’s hard to know what to do about this sort of crisis, and it seems surprising to me that there hasn’t been more violence and more opposition from within the country despite Mugabe’s scare tactics and oppressive government. Whatever the case, it is important that something be done, and soon. I don’t know that people are dying of starvation in huge numbers yet, but it seems inevitable if things don’t change in the near future.

    I’m not the most knowledgeable person or the most intimately involved in the situation (I’ve never really been to Zimbabwe other than in the tourist town of Vic Falls in June, which was bad enough), but I do know many people who are. And I must say that, in regards to the discussion above, I would have an extremely difficult time condemning my friend (who is working to feed far more people than he should have to feed) if he killed his pet dog so that his children could eat for another day. Anyway, be that as it may, I hope that the North American media and people won’t turn a blind eye to the things that are happening in Zimbabwe.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>