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Brief History

Zimbabwe, officially known as the Republic of Zimbabwe, was formerly Southern Rhodesia, the Republic of Rhodesia, and Zimbabwe Rhodesia. The name Zimbabwe derives from “House of stone” in the Shona language. It gained its independence on April 18, 1980 from the UK. Two uprisings occurred in 1980 and 1981, and 300 people were killed in the latter. Robert Mugabe, the nation's first prime minister, has been the country's only ruler -as president since 1987- and has dominated the country's political system since independence. His chaotic land redistribution campaign, which began in 2000, caused an exodus of white farmers, crippled the economy, and ushered in widespread shortages of basic commodities. On March 29, 2008, Zimbabwe held a presidential election along with a parliamentary election. However, Mugabe retained control because Tsvangirai –MDC opposition leader- did not win by the margin required by Zimbabwean law. Hence, the election results that would otherwise put Mugabe out of power, failed the opposition. In September 2008, a power-sharing agreement was reached between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, in which Mugabe remained president and Tsvangirai became prime minister. However, due to ministerial differences, the agreement was not fully implemented until February 13, 2009.

Geography

Zimbabwe, capital Harare, is a landlocked country located in southern Africa covering an area of 390,757 square kilometers. It is bordered by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the southwest, Zambia to the northwest and Mozambique to the east and it lies between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. The country has a tropical climate with a rainy season usually from November to March. The climate is moderated by the altitude. . Victoria Falls, one of the world’s biggest and most spectacular waterfalls, is located in the country's northwest as part of the Zambezi River. Zimbabwe is rich in natural resources such as coal, chromium ore, asbestos, gold, nickel, copper, iron ore, vanadium, lithium, tin, and platinum group metals.

People

Zimbabwe has a population of 11,651,858 (2010), with Africans making up 98% of the total population and are mainly related to the two major Bantu-speaking groups, the Shona (about 82% of the population) and the Ndebele (about 14%) and others (about 2%). Whites make up 1% of the non-African population. Asians and peoples of mixed ancestry make up the remaining 1%. The official languages are English, Shona, and Sindebele, and there are other numerous but minor tribal dialects. The literacy rate is 90.7% and the unemployment rate is 95% (2009). The religions are distributed among 25% Christians, 24% followers of indigenous beliefs, and 1% Muslims and others. There are small groups of Portuguese, Italians, and other Europeans.

Government

The government of Zimbabwe is subject to a parliamentary democratic system. Its legal system is a mixture of Roman-Dutch and English common law. It has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction. The chief of state is Executive President Robert Gabriel Mugabe since December 31, 1987, and the head of government is Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai since February 11, 2009. The official currency was the Zimbabwean dollar, however, the use of the dollar as an official currency was effectively abandoned on April 12, 2009 as a result of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe legalizing the use of foreign currencies for transactions in January 2009, so the United States dollar became the official currency. It is divided into 100 cents.

Economy

Zimbabwe has developed one of the most diverse economies in Africa. Mineral exports, agriculture, and tourism are the main foreign currency earners of Zimbabwe. The mining sector - contributing 27% of export trade in 2002- remains very lucrative, with some of the world's largest platinum reserves being mined by Anglo-American and Impala Platinum. Zimbabwe is the biggest trading partner of South Africa on the continent. The chief minerals were coal, gold, copper, nickel, tin, and clay, and Zimbabwe was a world leader in the production of lithium minerals, chrysotile asbestos, and ferrochromium, with more than half of the world's known chromium reserves.

The downward spiral of the economy has been attributed mainly to mismanagement and corruption of the Mugabe regime and the eviction of more than 4,000 white farmers in the controversial land redistribution of 2000. Zimbabwe was previously an exporter of maize but has become a net importer. Tobacco exports and other exports of crops have also declined sharply. Agricultural products include cotton, wheat, coffee, sugarcane, peanuts; sheep, goats, and pigs.

Industries include steel, wood products, cement, chemicals, fertilizer, clothing and footwear, foodstuffs, and beverages. In 2009, industry accounted for 19.1% of the GDP.

As for tourism, it was an important industry for the country, but has been failing in recent years. The loss of life combined with widespread deforestation is potentially disastrous for the tourist industry.

The government of Zimbabwe faces a variety of economic problems after having abandoned earlier efforts to develop a market-oriented economy. Problems include a shortage of foreign exchange, soaring inflation, and supply shortages. Its 1998-2002 involvement in the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo drained hundreds of millions of dollars from the economy. However, the power-sharing government formed in February 2009 has led to some economic improvements, including the cessation of hyperinflation by eliminating the use of the Zimbabwe dollar and removing price controls. The economy is registering its first growth in a decade, but will be reliant on further political improvement for greater growth.

As of 2002, the IMF's program with Zimbabwe remained suspended because the country was not complying with the IMF's conditions, and Zimbabwe had not made payments to the IMF since 2001. The World Bank also suspended programs in 2000 due to Zimbabwe's falling into arrears on payments. Mugabe's greater exercise of control over the economy did not portend well for the future in 2003.

The country was rated 145th on the Human Development Index in 2003. Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita is less than US$100 (2009), and 68% of the population lives below the poverty line (2004). The inflation rate is 5.1% (2009), and the Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is estimated to be US$ 237.25 (2010).


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