Zimbabwe Economy Shows Signs of Improvement
Zimbabwe Economy Shows Signs of Improvement
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It has been slightly more than one year since Zimbabwe's political rivals signed a power-sharing agreement. The accord led to a unity government that has launched a program aimed at reviving the country's ailing economy. Many Zimbabweans see signs of improvement, but others complain that progress is slow and life remains hard.

A visitor to Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, would find a bustling city with rush-hour traffic and busy inhabitants.

One year ago, the scene was quite different, as falling productivity caused widespread shortages of food and fuel and hyper-inflation brought long lines at banks.

Now, market shelves are full, eight months after the government abandoned the Zimbabwean dollar and allowed the U.S. dollar and South African rand to be used as legal currencies.

Professor Eldred Masunungure of Zimbabwe University says the introduction of stable currencies brought some dramatic changes.

"The most visible change is obviously in the area of the economy.  The macro-level, the macro-economic situation has improved," he said.  "The micro-economy has also shown signs of improvement."

Masunungure says productivity in some sectors is up from ten percent of capacity to 30 percent.

The improvements followed a power-sharing agreement  between President Robert Mugabe and then-opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara.

They formed a unity government, with Mr. Mugabe as president and Mr. Tsvangirai as prime minister.

The power-sharing accord ended much of the political violence that marred controversial elections, last year.

Workers have begun replacing old water pipes that were partly responsible for water shortages and a cholera epidemic, one year ago.

Tinashe Dube, a businessman from the Glenview suburb in southwestern Harare, says the power-sharing accord has improved living conditions.

"The unity government has changed our lives because, before unity government, this situation of Zimbabwe was totally grounded [collapsed]," he said.  "One could not even afford to buy mealie meal [maize flour], even bread, itself."

In the Epworth township, which saw some of the worst political violence, 55-year-old vendor Patricia Chingombe says the introduction of the American dollar helped.

She says the Zimbabwe dollar was no longer buying anything.  It was just paper.  But, now, she says if she gets a little money, she can buy something.

Despite the improvements, life for most Zimbabweans remains hard.

Economist John Robertson says, although farming and manufacturing have picked up somewhat, Zimbabwe is still not producing enough goods for its 10-million people.  As a result a great deal of the money is going abroad to pay for imported goods.

"The money is not really circulating in Zimbabwe. It's coming and going," said Robertson.  "And, it comes from the diaspora, so-called, the remittances of former Zimbabweans sending money to support their families.  And, that money becomes what can be spent in the shops.  And, the shopkeepers will send it straight out of the country to replace stock they have just sold."

In St. Mary's township, one of the poorest in Harare, vendor Idah Mukwanyi sees little change in her life. She says business is not good. Sometimes she goes home without even making a dollar.  She says the suffering continues.

Analysts say the government needs to adopt more investor-friendly policies and abandon nationalization programs, if it is to attract the capital needed for reconstruction.  Still, they predict it will take years for the economy to recover from the decline of the past decade.