It seems like ages have passed since we went to Zimbabwe in January this year. Life happened in the meantime, mostly in the form of writing my MA thesis, which gave me little chance to write anything other than just that.
MA in International Relations earned, I now have my evenings and weekends back and can get back to writing this blog.
It is the last day of Ramadan here in Dubai, tomorrow marks Eid al-Fitr, which brings the month of fasting to end. In fact, Muslims are not permitted to fast on the day of Eid. The dates of Ramadan and Eid are determined by the moon and usually get announced only a day or two before. In the UAE, private sector employees get two days off work and public sector a week. Nobody starves during Ramadan. Quite the contrary – people put weight on with feasts they have every night.
The near 45 ºC temperature and inability to eat or drink anything in public has meant a lot of time at home for me since I got back from Estonia two weeks ago. To be quite honest, I cannot wait for Ramadan to finish and life resume its normal course. While cafes and restaurants open after sunset and stay open well past midnight, some of them interestingly stay open all day. However, the windows are covered with heavy curtains, so no one can see inside, as if they haven’t a clue what people in a café or restaurant are doing.
Back to Zimbabwe now
China’s president Xi Jinping welcomed us to Harare after spending six hours stuck in Nairobi airport in Kenya. Thankfully the airport has the best African chips (that is potato chips made of real potatoes and covered in butter a.k.a heaven) and airport steak, which I managed to consume twice in that time.I was in the middle of writing my thesis at the time of the visit, so I took note of everything to do with China that I noticed. The newly renovated Airport Road (don’t be fooled, if you turn off it you get stuck in a pothole before you an say stop) was lined with posters welcoming the Chinese premier to Zimbabwe, who visited a month before us. China and Zimbabwe, the ‘all weather friends’ have been exchanging lots of courtesy visits recently. These visits are always preceded with promises of concessional loans, aid and infrastructure projects by China and less publicly, access to natural resources and markets by Zimbabwe.
Other Chinese things we saw in Harare were a whole shopping mall complex complete with Chinese curved roofs, guardian lions and restaurants, where young Zimbabwean waitresses address you in perfect Chinese and dishes on the menu are not your usual Sichuan chicken, but actual dishes we recognised from Xi’an. We chatted up a couple of Chinese people we saw in local supermarkets. To say they were surprised would be a huge understatement. Maybe it is the equivalent of a Chinese person coming up to you in a supermarket in Botswana and talking to you in Estonian? It seems that they keep to themselves, live amongst their own community and don’t bother anyone, although there is a quiet resentment towards China and Chinese that can be felt in the air in Zimbabwe. I personally love both. What I do not love is big cheeses in each country striking deals to line each other’s pockets instead of those of their citizens.
President watches as we get the essentials: beer, cider and ice. He also watched while we got ice-cream, while we took passport photos and while we stood in a queue in the bank. I wonder if he and Kim Jong-un have exchanged tips?
Anyhow, first essentials bagged, we went to get something more substantial and what else could it be but biltong made in heaven by angels? And just to get all the food over and done with, below is a picture of another food made in heaven by angels with strong arms – sadza.
Before one eats sadza, someone will come round with a bowl and jug of water to wash hands. This is usually done by the youngest child in the family. My lovely friend Samantha, whom many of you know, introduced us to Gava’s – the place to go if you need real Zimbabwean food. They serve sadza with various meats and additions and it is delicious every time. The place is frequented by locals and expats, which makes it even nicer.
Trouble is brewing in Harare
We had a wonderful time seeing friends we had not seen for years and enjoying the warm hospitality of Zimbabweans, but overall it was a sad trip. Zimbabwe is in a state of despair. Riots have broken out in the capital Harare over the last week, police opened fire yesterday and a nationwide strike is planned for 6th July. What frustrates me is the lack of international media coverage on Zimbabwe. BBC had one article and a news stream named Africa Live, which bunches together everything from Africa as if it was one big pot of identical news. Many times have international news outlets talked about 92-year old Mugabe and his endless rule, but now that things are actually happening and people have started to fight, there is silence. Is it because there is no cool hashtag to make the story sexier? Sadly the majority of those caught in turmoil have no access to wonders such as Twitter. This has been compared to the Arab Spring, but it is no Arab Spring. It is and has to be Zimbabwe’s own revolution and not something that the media tries to make seem like a continuation or repetition of events.
The trouble started to brew a while ago. Civil servants did not get paid for months, because ‘the government is experiencing cash flow constraints’ said Patrick Chinamasa, the Minister of Finance. However, cash flow constraints did not stop the Minister of Technology, Supa Mandiwanzira, from purchasing a brand new Land Cruiser he really needed for his work, or Minister Kasukuwere who needed a 50-bedroom mansion to house his family.
The picture above is of Zimbabwe police. This is one of the good cars, it even has a numberplate. We saw policemen doing their job barefoot. There are tens of roadblocks in major roads, where the police stop cars for made up charges in order to get the bribes, which stand in the place of salaries. We took a bus from Mutare to Harare, usually about a 3 hour drive. We were stopped six times and at one stop, the bus driver was so frustrated he refused to open the bus doors. So a policeman climbed in through the window. The whole situation was so desperate, people so angry and fed up that arguments and fights constantly erupt. The police are attacking rioters and are getting attacked by rioters in return. The unpaid nurses and doctors are expected to patch them up, so they can go back to protecting the government, which does not pay them high enough wages to afford shoes. This was not the Zimbabwe I saw 3 years ago.
Less trouble and more silence in Mutare
David’s hometown Mutare was quiet compared to the last time I saw it. In fact, we hardly saw any of the friends we saw last time as all had left.
We didn’t stay in Mutare for long. Just enough to catch up with some friends and get our visas to Mozambique.
Who goes to Africa without seeing wildlife?
Not me. Once we got back from Mozambique we visited Wild is Life – an animal sanctuary in the outskirts of Harare that takes in injured animals. We fed some warthogs, bonded with elephants, bottle-fed giraffes and then enjoyed the sunset with all of the above and a glass of champagne and canapes. It was a lovely and quick way to see some animals and to give our bit to keep the centre going. Highly recommended for anyone visiting Harare, who does not have a whole day for a safari.
I hope Zimbabweans carry on the momentum they currently have and the government is wise enough to not instigate additional violence. Democracy and rule of law will return to Zimbabwe.
In other news
Nothing much. Life carries on as normal. We are both busy working and staying cool in this heat. We are going to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for a weekend to celebrate our wedding anniversary at the end of the month. You know, post-Soviet space is known for its romance.
Until the next time (Mozambique and Bangladesh blogs still to come!).