Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Bottom Billion

Who wants to be a billionaire?

In Livingstone you will be met on every corner by guys selling worthless Zimbabwean dollars as souvenirs. Why? Because they are in denominations from 500 milion to 5 billion to 100 trillion dollars, due to the incredible, uncontrolled inflation they endured in recent years. The row of zero's covers the entire length of the note. Now of course they are n longer in circulation, at least not for foreign visitors, Mugabe preferring them to spend hard currencies like South African Rand or US dollars to fill his coffers.

On a serious 'note' this is just another sad example of how Zimbabwe went from being the bread basket of Africa to its basket case in just a few years. The atrocities Mugabe and his cronies have committed on their own people, both white and black, have crippled the entire country, destroying the lives of millions, but at all times improving the bank balances of the select few.

Zimbabwe is the first country in our path that we have avoided. OK, we didn't visit Eritrea and Djibouti or Rwanda and Burundi but visiting any of these countries would have required a slight detour. Why avoid Zimbabwe? The answer is above, simply because of the government. Many people have pointed out to us that we have visited, and would visit again, countries such as Burma and China, countries with equally evil leaders that we openly despise. I never said or morals were consistent! Perhaps what makes Zimbabwe worse for us is that Mugabe still claims (and might actually believe) that he is doing the best for the country, and that the Western world, and closer to home Morgan Tsvangerai and the MDC, are the evil ones trying to ruin his country. The governments of those other countries do not bother to make such claims. Mugabe even sends Tsvangerai out on donor gaining missions because he believes that the MDC is responsible for the sanctions in the first lace, rather than admit that the sanctions are there for a reason! The argument is that the people need tourism money more than ever, and again this is true in Burma for instance, but for me this is not a good enough reason to visit. OK my money may have helped, but by now the people of Zimbabwe could be helping themselves. Its a sad fact that the countries that most need help from the Western powers will never be treated the same as Iraq or Afghanistan because there is nothing (i.e. no oil) there for the US, UK etc to take in return for military incursions.

A second, less important reason is that across African borders history and culture do not change as much as they do across borders in other continents. This is because Africa was carved up by European leaders who had never set foot there. Often you witness a much stronger change from region to region rather than across the political boundaries. Therefore there needs to be a good reason to visit. Zimbabwe used to be a very popular destination but it seems nowadays Zambia and Malawi have taken the tourists and offer similar attractions to Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe however seems to be coming back into vogue, many backpackers seem to be heading that way, changing plans as the news travels along the thorn tree. However when I have asked these guys why we should go there the answers have included the following:
"Just to be in Zimbabwe", "Being the only tourist in a country", "It's the cool, new place to be" and "Just to see it". Unfortunately none of these reasons satisfy our curiosity so we headed to Botswana instead. But not before becoming trillionaires!


  1. Ahh, shame. I spent quite a while in Zimbabawe back before Mr Mugabe's latest round of craziness and it was my favourite of the four countries (with SA, Namibia and Botswana) that I went to. The Great Zimbabwe ruins were good to visit and we went to a park near Bulawayo that I forget the name of, but which had amazing rock formations and loads of wildlife, and close to the chimanimani national park there was a great backpackers hostel that was like a little village of its own; big kitchen, permaculture garden at the bottom of the block, bunks under the roof or space to pitch a tent in the garden, and five minutes walk into town. The best though was the local people, such lovely lovely people. Yes Uncle, No Uncle, I am fine if you are fine. I'd be really interested to know what's left of all that now...

  2. Captain, the name of the Park is Matopo
    I spent 10 days in Zimbabwe in 2006 (including I think 3 in Victoria Falls) and I was amased by the scenery and the people (so generous!). Although it was a little sad (so many people struggling, all the young want to get out of the country... who will be left there? what's the future of this country), I didn't regret my trip...