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activists bring cause to Capitol Hill
Ida Wahlstrom, OneWorld.net
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
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
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.
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
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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