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Zimbabwe activists bring cause to Capitol Hill
Ida Wahlstrom,
September 27, 2007

WASHINGTON, Sep 27 (OneWorld) - Civil society activists from Zimbabwe recently traveled to the United States to lobby for a more just international economic structure and to raise awareness about their country's devastating economic crisis.

Ntando Ndlovu and Rutendo Hadebe spent the majority of their week-long visit on Capitol Hill, urging U.S. lawmakers to promote legislation that favors a more equitable global economic system.

Many citizens' groups in Zimbabwe have blamed the country's economic woes in part on restrictive policies imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other global agencies in return for financial assistance and promises of debt cancellation.

Zimbabwe has the world's highest inflation rate and over 35 percent of its citizens are unable to provide for basic household food needs.

Ndlovu and Hadebe came to Washington specifically to encourage the United States government to take a leadership role in advancing a fairer global trade regime and "democratic, people-centered economic governance" in the global South in general and in Zimbabwe in particular.

The United States wields tremendous power within the governing boards of the IMF and World Bank, which are both headquartered here. These institutions play a crucial gatekeeping role in directing investments, loans, and grants that contribute to the development of poor nations.

In order to more effectively communicate their message to an American public, the activists have partnered with the Philadelphia-based American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Nobel Prize-winning non-profit organization that promotes social justice and global economic fairness.

Of the 12 million Zimbabweans still living in the country -- several million have fled due to the spiraling economic and political situation -- 70 percent reside in rural areas and work mainly in agriculture.

Analysts attribute this country's current economic situation to various factors that have unraveled over the last decade. These include a series of poorly managed and underfunded land reform programs; a global economic system that favors wealthy nations; and isolation from the international community and most humanitarian aid agencies, spurred by repressive and corrupt political practices.

Although many of Zimbabwe's concerns seem tied to decisions made in official circles, Ndlovu and Hadebe emphasized the central role grassroots activism can play in affecting political and social change. The women told OneWorld that, "if ordinary people are not aware of and involved in their country's government, lasting change is not possible."

A government responsive to its citizens' needs, the activists continued, would prioritize "pro-people policies" that not only guarantee basic needs such as food and health care but incorporate regular civilians into the political decision-making process.

After independence was achieved from Britain in 1980, Ndlovu added, the Zimbabwean government made ample investments in education and health care, but many simply understood this as newly gained privileges, not as innate and indefinite rights.

The Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD), one of the many organizations working in partnership with the AFSC, teaches ordinary Zimbabweans to be more assertive and to demand their rights be fulfilled, even in a period of economic crisis.

Zimbabwe's Women in Politics Support Unit (WiPSU) is also active at the grassroots level, promoting gender equality and political participation by reaching out to local communities across Zimbabwe.

Among many other initiatives, WiPSU is currently staging a national campaign that demands full gender parity in government and throughout Zimbabwean society, arguing that women leaders are more likely to promote "pro-people policies" like expanded health care and education opportunities.

The group's team members also travel regularly throughout Zimbabwe's villages to educate local people about basic politics. The programs are intended to provide rural Zimbabweans the basic tools and terminology needed to participate in politics and hold their elected officials accountable.

Activist Hadebe agrees with this approach. The power lies with the people, she told OneWorld, and leaders should act "in light of what the people are asking for."

The activists are hoping that a combination of people power within their country and activist efforts among global financial circles will bring about lasting economic and social improvements for the people of Zimbabwe.

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