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April 2008

Zimbabwe, 2002

Zimbabwe, 2002

Zimbabwe, or the Republic of Zimbabwe, covering an area of 390,580 sq km (150,760 sq mi), slightly larger than Montana, is located in southern Africa. Border countries include Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zambia. The country is landlocked: the Zambezi River forms a natural riverine boundary with Zambia and, from February-April, the massive Victoria Falls on the river forms the world's largest curtain of falling water. Harare is the capital city; other cities include Bulawayo, Chitungwiza, Mutare, Gweru, Kwekwe, Masvingo, and Marondera.

Zimbabwe’s climate is mostly subtropical with a rainy season from November to March. The country’s terrain is mostly desert and savanna with mountains in the east. Natural hazards include recurring droughts; floods and severe storms rarely occur.

Agricultural products consist of corn, cotton, tobacco, wheat, coffee, sugarcane, and peanuts; livestock production includes sheep, goats, and pigs. Coal, chromium ore, asbestos, gold, nickel, copper, iron ore, vanadium, lithium, tin, and platinum group metals make up the country’s natural resources.

Zimbabwe exports platinum, cotton, tobacco, gold, ferroalloys, and textiles or clothing. Export partners are South Africa (24.8%), Democratic Republic of the Congo (17.6%), Botswana (15.7%), and the United States (10.4%); machinery and transport equipment, other manufactures, chemicals, and fuels comprise the country’s imports and import partners are South Africa (40.8%), Zambia (29.6%), and the United States (4.9%).

Current environmental issues include deforestation, soil erosion, land degradation, air and water pollution. The black rhinoceros herd in Zimbabwe, once the largest concentration of the species in the world, has been significantly reduced by poaching. Poor mining practices have led to toxic waste and heavy metal pollution throughout the country.

Ethnic groups consist of the Shona (71%), the Ndebele (16%), other Africans (11%), white (1%) and mixed and Asian (1%). English is the official language; other languages include Shona and Sindebele.

President Robert Gabriel Mugabe has been in office since December 31, 1987; the president is both the chief of state and head of government. A presidential election was held on March 29, 2008.

The government of Zimbabwe faces a wide variety of difficult economic problems as it struggles with an unsustainable fiscal deficit, an overvalued official exchange rate, hyperinflation, and bare store shelves. Its 1998-2002 involvement in the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo drained hundreds of millions of dollars from the economy. The government's land reform program has badly damaged the commercial farming sector, the traditional source of exports and foreign exchange and the provider of 400,000 jobs, turning Zimbabwe into a net importer of food products. Badly needed support from the International Monetary Fund has been suspended because of the government's arrears on past loans and the government's unwillingness to enact reforms that would stabilize the economy. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe routinely prints money to fund the budget deficit, causing the official annual inflation rate to rise from 32% in 1998, to 133% in 2004, 585% in 2005, passed 1000% in 2006, and 26000% in November 2007. Private sector estimates of inflation in 2007 are well above 100,000%. Meanwhile, the official exchange rate fell from approximately 1 (revalued) Zimbabwean dollar per US dollar in 2003 to 30,000 per US dollar in 2007.

CIA World Factbook, U.S. State Department Background Notes, 03/2008, 02/2008