With the death of a lion gaining widespread US media attention, one wonders why the struggles of the people of Zimbabwe are so unnewsworthy.
Despite being the cradle of humanity, Africa is frequently overlooked in today’s busy news cycle.
Between the often introverted news-cycle out of the United States, to the latest conflicts in the Middle East, to the territorial disputes in East Asia, there seems to be little news left for Africa.
Fortunately, sensationalism out of Zimbabwe has proven an exception from this trend.
If you mention most African leaders in the West, you will simply be met with blank stares, but if you mention Robert Mugabe, then you will get many who recognize him as the “dictator of Zimbabwe.” The last two elections even managed to catch the attention of the news media, due to the success of Morgan Tsvangirai under the Movement for Democratic Change, or the MDC. However, since the closely contested election of 2008, in which Tvangirai had been the clear winner in the primary round of the election, only to lose to Mugabe after withdrawing from the subsequent farcical run-off, ultimately resulting in the disappointing Government of National Unity (GNU), the world has seemingly moved on from Zimbabwe.
For a while before the GNU, the western media also focused on the story of the latest trillion dollar bill that had been issued by the government, but after that currency was abandoned in favor of using foreign currencies, even that story quickly dried up.
However, one news story has managed to catch the attention of the Western media: that of Cecil the Lion. Cecil the Lion, went the initial narrative, was a famous black-maned alpha male lion, beloved by all, who was the darling of Hwange National Park, the preserve in which he lived, until an unscrupulous dentist from Minnesota hunted, killed, took the trophy, and left the rest of the body to rot.
In reality, this lion named after Cecil Rhodes did not have quite the national prominence that the reports had initially implied, as he was largely popular with foreign tourists to the park.
However, once Zimbabweans did hear of this story, they were largely embarrassed, but ultimately not surprised, to see people from their country, in this case a professional hunting guide, sell out the riches of their country for some quick cash. This story did not expose some new dark side of Zimbabwe to its people; the feeling of bitter disappointment has become all too common. Because while the foreign news media no longer reports what is happening in Zimbabwe, new stories about the economic implosions, the incompetence of the government, and the utter lack of confidence in the future continue.
The foreign news media, it seems, much like Zimbabweans, are simply waiting around for the old president to die, and are willing to wait and see what happens next.
In part, this lack of news media coverage is a good thing: despite being a failed democratic state, with a history of only one ruler, who has charmed, rigged, and intimidated his way through every election since independence, the number of deaths since the electoral violence in 2008 has been fortunately low. This fact is why Zimbabwe can be very hopeful about its future; while opposition candidates have been jailed, intimidated, and beaten, the unwillingness by the government to revel in full dictatorial excesses gives many hope. Perhaps they should be thanked for that.
However, if the world can get caught up in the death of one lion, then perhaps it can pay attention to the killings and crises that have occurred.
First and foremost, I want talk about Itai Dzamara, a brave young Zimbabwean who I grew a very close and productive relationship with up until his disappearance. He bravely stood against the restrictions on freedoms that the Mugabe regime had imposed in the occupation of Africa Unity Square. Even after being arrested, interrogated, and beaten by the police, he continued to stand for freedom and justice. His subsequent abduction by five unknown men in December has established him as a presumed martyr.
During that episode, the international press played oblivious to his activities, which clearly merited press coverage.
In the meantime, the government of Zimbabwe has proven that you do not need a massively inflating currency to continue an economic down-spiral. The current employment rate in Zimbabwe is at 11%, with most of the rest of the country engaged in the practice of vending. Even amongst that 11%, only a quarter of them are in fact actually being paid, and the government is relying upon a new Supreme Court decision that gives them the authority to fire many others. However, lacking a flashy picture of a 100 trillion dollar note means that this news story has also remained unheard of outside of Zimbabwe.
The government’s actions against those who have lost economically also deserves to be reported more widely. The leaders of vendor organizations, groups that have emerged to protect those who have lost hope of regular employment and turned to other means of making a living, have been routinely beaten and harassed by the police for attempting to have their plight heard more clearly. Similarly, the government has recently demolished houses in Harare that had been built by those who could not afford regular housing. By destroying these houses in the middle of winter, the regime has shown its utter lack of regard for those who it has hurt by failing to manage the economy with even a shred of competency.
Given all of these events taking place, it should be no wonder that Zimbabweans had little time for Cecil the Lion. And only when the western media starts paying attention to the real news coming out of Zimbabwe will Zimbabweans feel as though the world truly cares about its plight.
But if there is no plan in place, then simply hoping the President will die and waiting for that day will mean that ZANU-PF will simply remain in power, despite its egregious record. That is where Zimbabwe First Party (ZimFirst) fits into this equation.
The ZimFirst Party is connected on the ground in Zimbabwe, and is proud to call people of all stripes of life in Zimbabwe loyal supporters. We also have many of the brightest policy minds on our side, experts in the fields of Energy, Health, and Agriculture. With such a potent combination, we know that we possess the tools to bring Zimbabwe to her former glory, and then continue to rise. And at the same time, there is a role for the rest of the world to play in helping us reach such a position.
And it starts with the rest of the world paying attention to the situation in Zimbabwe.