Zimbabwe - Introduction

Zimbabwe was once one of southern Africa’s most vibrant, productive, and resilient countries. However, over the past decade, the nation has faced a series of political and economic crises that have led to the general decline of the standard of living and a breakdown in public health, education, and infrastructure.

Zimbabwe is constitutionally a republic. President Robert Mugabe, his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party, and its authoritarian security sector have dominated the country since independence in 1980. The security situation in Zimbabwe is unpredictable, due to high levels of unemployment, economic instability, including intermittent shortages of medical supplies, basic goods and food, and the unreliable provision of services such as power, water and transport.

Zimbabwe is a beautiful country in Southern Africa that is known for its dramatic landscapes, its diverse wildlife and its hardworking people. Home to the Great Zimbabwe Monument, the mighty Victoria Falls and the majestic Eastern Highlands, the country also boasts of world class national parks in which a variety of animals, including the Big Five, can be found. The largest of these are Hwange National Park in the west, and the Gonarezhou Transfrontier Park in the South. Zimbabwe has a total land area of 390 000 square kilometres and a well educated population of around 14 million people.

Indigenous culture merges with Western culture to shape the behavior of people here. In Zimbabwe, the dominant Shona culture often exists side by side with Western culture and locals see no conflict. Many Government of Zimbabwe (GOZ) agencies and officials switch between the two whenever it is to their advantage.

Political parties and civil-society groups that oppose ZANU-PF and President Mugabe routinely encounter state-sponsored intimidation and repression from government security forces and ZANU-PF-linked activists. This environment persisted even during the period of the coalition government when the main opposition parties, the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) and the Movement for Democratic Change-Ncube (MDC-N), joined ZANU-PF in a Government of National Unity (GNU) from February 2009 to June 2013. Individuals and companies out of favor with ZANU-PF routinely suffer harassment and bureaucratic obstacles in their business dealings.

There were many other human rights problems. Prison conditions were harsh. The government’s expropriation of private property continued. Executive political influence and interference in the judiciary continued, and the government infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. The government generally failed to investigate or prosecute state security or ZANU-PF supporters responsible for violence. Authorities restricted freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and movement. The government continued to evict citizens; invade farms, private businesses and properties; and demolish informal marketplaces and settlements. The government arrested, detained, prosecuted, and harassed nongovernmental organization (NGO) members. Government corruption remained widespread, including at the local level. Violence and discrimination against women; child abuse; trafficking of men, women, and children; and discrimination against persons with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and persons with HIV/AIDS were problems. The government interfered with labor-related events.

It is illegal to photograph sensitive places, including airports, military establishments, government offices, the President's Residence and security forces, without special permission of the Ministry of Information. The President's official residence (State House, Chancellor Avenue, The Avenues, Harare) is particularly sensitive, and visitors should not look through the gates or linger outside the walls.

A severe cholera outbreak affected most of Zimbabwe between August 2008 and July 2009. The disease may break out again with little warning. Malaria is a risk in all areas except Harare and Bulawayo. Other mosquito-borne diseases (including filariasis) are also prevalent in Zimbabwe. Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including hepatitis, tuberculosis, measles and rabies) are prevalent, with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time.

The highest danger to a person’s physical well-being in Zimbabwe is being involved in a serious road accident. Large, overloaded trucks ply the main roads; highways are often narrow and have abrupt step-downs off the asphalt onto the shoulders. Large potholes are always found in the cities and frequently on the highways (causing drivers to swerve at high speed). At highway speeds, the potholes can be very dangerous (and not seen due to poorly illuminated roadways). Livestock and pedestrians can pose hazards to traffic on urban and rural roads. Nighttime travel outside of the larger cities is substantially more dangerous and should be avoided if at all possible.

With little maintenance and frequent power outages, traffic lights are often either non-functional or there is only one light working per intersection. Due care should be used in crossing any intersection that is not clearly marked by the lights. The absence of street lights makes driving hazardous after dark in the cities as well. Always wear seatbelts and drive defensively.

Travelers are frequently stopped at police roadblocks and are often told they have committed some traffic infraction. Increased traffic/vehicle violations (fines) went into effect on January 1, 2016, and police officers may indicate that a “spot-fine” has been levied and demand money. Speed traps and other moving violations are strictly enforced, as there has been publically announced increased enforcement of traffic violations due to the high number of traffic deaths due to speeding, poor driving, unsafe vehicles, and aggressive driving.

Civil unrest is a growing likelihood due to the economic hardships, drought, and political instability as 2018 national elections loom. The government restricts large gatherings of people and generally issues permits for demonstrations only if the demonstration is clearly in favor of the government or a cause that the government supports. If a demonstration is approved by the government, but considered possibly inflammatory, the demonstrators will be accompanied by a considerable number of riot police.

There is anti-American, and to a certain extent, anti-Western sentiment. The government publicly blames economic sanctions imposed by the US and other Western countries as one of the main reasons for its economic problems.

The government attempts to exercise strong control within its borders and over its population, and as a result, there are very few acts of extremism in the country. However, due to the lack of adequate funding, equipment, and resources, and due to multiple unofficial crossing points and a lack of airborne or electronic monitoring, it is possible that there are nefarious individuals transiting/residing in Zimbabwe (who departed from other African countries) .

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