What is going ON in Zimbabwe?

This weekend, Zimbabwe is slated to hold democratic elections to elect the new leader of the country. The defending candidate of 28 years, Robert Mugabe, is facing some fierce opposition, but many are worried about the validity and fairness of the election. Despite the appearance of a free Democracy, you see, Zimbabwe is wrangling some serious problems. We’ve distilled the issues and events of recent Zim at Gadling for you here:

Robert Mugabe was born in Southern Rhodesia (present day Zimbabwe) in 1924 and has over the years climbed through the political ranks and eventually into power in 1980. He has ruled ever since, though his tenure has been marred with infighting, violence and ethnic genocide.

As the Mugabe regime has evolved, more and more Western states have raised alarm in the country, citing further behavior reticent of an authoritarian regime. Accusations include rampant ballot rigging, corruption and the above mentioned rape and genocide of over 20,000 ethnic Zimbabweans. In 2003, the Bush administration levied economic sanctions against many members of the governmental regime, forbidding Americans to trade with or visit the country.

Mugabe’s controversial land reform program, enacted earlier this decade, was a plan to redistribute land from wealthy, white farm owners to smaller, indigenous farmers. Under these laws, Zimbabweans were allowed to settle onto larger corporate farms with no advance warning or permission — it was now their right. Unfortunately, many of these farmers didn’t have the skills or equipment to run these farms, so huge swaths of land quickly went to waste. As a result, the former agrarian economy that was once an exporter to much of South Africa became an importer.

Poor economic management of said crisis and other Zimbabwean events by the current government have resulted in serious economic instability. Inflation has skyrocketed to the current open market exchange rate of 1US dollar to 30,000 Zim dollars. Unofficially, however, inflation is still surging, and a black market economy is now commonplace among citizens, with an exchange rate as high as 1USD to 550,000ZD.

With “democratic” elections now underway, many fear that Mugabe will be unwilling to let go of the power theat he has now held for almost thirty years. Ballot rigging is a serious concern, combined with the fact that no Western sources are on hand to monitor the process.

At the time of writing, voting stations have been closed for over 36 hours with no word on official results from the nation. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has declared an unofficial victory with less than half of the votes counted and the Mugabe strongholds yet to report, so few are willing to make a call yet.

What Zimbabwe really needs though is a straight shooting, honest government ready to turn the economy around, stifle inflation and return the country to the normal, commodity producing state that it once was. Regardless of whether the MDC, Mugabe or another opposition party takes control at this point, Zimbabwe will not recover without this.