Edmore Tobaiwa left Zimbabwe to work in the UK four years ago. After his first visit back since emigrating, he gives his view on the main changes to have taken place.
It was a warm cloudy day, with temperatures oscillating around 25C- paradise compared to the 7C I had left in London.
Before emigrating to the UK, I ran a Harare-based public relations firm which was commissioned to manage promotional material for the launch of the US$60m international airport in 2001.
Air traffic has dwindled at Harare's international airport
"The design is clearly Zimbabwean in inspiration and execution, inspired by concepts and designs embodied in the timeless monument, the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, an image that will be a lasting memory of Zimbabwe for world's travellers," read an advert I developed.
With only an Air Zimbabwe plane parked at the airport as well as the arriving BA full of the Zimbabwean diaspora, visiting family and friends at Christmas, today the advert's optimism rings hollow.
The number of airlines landing at the state-of-the-art airport has drastically dwindled from more than 23 a day to less than 10 in the last few years.
Zimbabwe has become a pariah state in the West during the past four years, with the international community imposing targeted sanctions on President Robert Mugabe's government.
During my time abroad, Zimbabwe's economic decline has been no less spectacular.
The country was once one of the world's largest tobacco exporters, until the turn of the millennium.
All this was turned on its head when the Zanu PF-government, in power for the past 23 years, embarked on a reckless and economically suicidal land redistribution programme.
Going through the immigration formalities, I felt good to be home - I was speaking in my local Shona language with so much zest.
The officials were smartly dressed, professional and very friendly.
I was picked up by Peter Zimuto (not his real name), an ex-employee of the now defunct Daily News, the country's only independent daily newspaper closed by the government.
Survival of the fittest
Mr Zimuto, like millions of unemployed Zimbabweans, has become a professional products and services dealer.
The job involves finding a product in demand which can hold its value long enough for the deal to go through on the open market.
If he fails, his wife, son and daughter will go without a meal that evening.
Will Zimbabweans have the courage to vote Mr Mugabe out of office?
A day in Harare felt like a throwback to some sort of Darwinist pre-history, where only the fittest survived, something I had only read about at A-level biology.
In 1999, I was commissioned by the Italian government to carry out a study on a number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
It gave me an opportunity to study the collapse and attempts to revive the economies of several African states.
At the time Zambia, Uganda and Mozambique looked in real bad shape but not beyond hope.
Never did it occur to me that one day I would be in my own country, staring at economic decline, with those countries in steady economic growth.
With virtually all international credit lines cancelled or in limbo and debt mounting, Zimbabwe resembles the tragic, yet arrogant, Titanic on that fateful icy day when the unthinkable happened.
The stand-off between Mr Mugabe and the West has prompted Harare to look to Asia for investment and development support.
In 2000, I was commissioned by ZimTrade, the national export promotion agency, to study trade opportunities between Zimbabwe and Malaysia.
The realisation that Asia is the future partner for an increasingly anti-West Zimbabwe has gained ground ever since.
Air Zimbabwe in November launched its scheduled weekly flights to Beijing, China, via Singapore.
Hyperinflation currently stands at 600%
A pro-Asia media campaign is underway in Zimbabwe and potential Chinese and other Asian tourists have been targeted - in an effort to boost foreign currency reserves.
However, on the ground the fall-out between the West and Mugabe is causing untold suffering.
As I drove through the rural areas of Nhema in the Midlands province, resettlement schemes in the Shurugwi district, and suburbs of Gweru and Harare, I sensed how ordinary Zimbabweans were the ones being punished by Mr Mugabe's stand-off with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair et al.
Mr Mugabe lives well in his official state-house sanctuary with his young family, poles apart from the maddening crowds of the resettlement districts I drove through, where the infrastructure is some of the worst I have seen.
During my stay I received a call from Mr Zimuto.
His 14-year-old son Terence, now on school holiday, had broken his leg playing football.
Economic meltdown has left most Zimbabweans living on the poverty line
After driving him to Parerenyatwa General Hospital - Zimbabwe's largest public hospital - he was told Terence could not be x-rayed because the film had run out.
For three days, the boy writhed in pain as Mr Zimuto performed financial gymnastics to raise US$200 needed by a private clinic for x-rays.
Mr Zimuto's monthly salary is well below that amount, with average working Zimbabweans living on less than US$80 a month.
It costs US$100 to fill a Toyota 4x4 Landcruiser petrol tank, the car of choice for well-off Zimbabweans, including Mr Mugabe's government officials.
For a basket of groceries with just basic necessities, one would need at least US$35 a month.
Poverty has risen to astronomical levels over the past four years.
A once self-reliant people is now subjected to humiliating and degrading food hand-outs or worse, left to scavenge.
It costs Zimbabweans more than the average monthly salary to fill up
As Mr Zimuto drove me to the airport on a blue-sky morning for my flight to London, I could not help but think what the future had in store for Zimbabwe.
Unless something drastic happens on the political scene, Zimbabwe's future looks bleak.
The Asia initiative will one day work, but it is too far-off for it to bring food onto the tables of Zimbabweans in 2005.
The rest of the world will hold its breath as Zimbabweans go to the polls for the 2005 general elections.
But, I ask myself, will they have the courage to vote for change?
Is this a fair reflection of the changes in Zimbabwe? Have there been any positive developments in the past four years in Zimbabwe? Send us your views using the postform below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
We Zimbabweans are suffering not because Mugabe wants us to. Far from it. We are suffering because certain countries do not want to deal with our government. The land reform measures taken by the Mugabe regime is necessary if we Zimbabweans are to rid ourselves of the nepotism, colonialism and foreign interventionist heavily embedded into the structure and systems of the country. The chaos going on in Zimbabwe goes far beyond land reform. It is a system that can be replicated in other countries in the region. Mugabe is simply doing what should have been done across Africa in the past decades
I've been living in Zimbabwe since November 2003 and from my arrival to date there has been a very big change in a negative way. Before a pie was affordable to everyone but today it has become a luxury and you no longer see take-aways full of people during lunch time. Zimbabweans used to be a bit honest.
One could leave or forget something worth $100 and when you returned an hour later you'd find it where you left it but today almost everyone has become a thief because of the situation which has been degrading on a daily basis. To be honest, the situation is chaotic and I personally fear that this lead to a civil war if nothing is done soon.
Kapinga Ntumba, Harare, Zimbabwe
Whilst I do not support the regime, I think these are comments from British puppets who claim to know so much about governance and what needs to be done but chose to run away from this country obviously expecting the few of us to bring change. If you are Zimbabwe, enjoying in the UK and expecting change to come from heaven then you are a coward. Keep your comments to your masters there!
Nyati, Harare, Zimbabwe
The quality of life is not as bad as Edmore wants to put. Like in any country , one has to work hard to survive. Zimbabwe is not any different.
John, Harare, Zimbabwe
Now that the UK has become little Zimbabwe so many Zimbabwean parties are held where all the Zimbabweans there lament the terrible situation in Zimbabwe. They are unable to see that they are part of the problem, firstly by creating a black market that artificially drives up the prices of things in Zimbabwe with the foreign currency that they send back which ordinary Zimbabweans living in Zimbabwe cannot hope to compete with. Secondly, it's all very well and good hoping that there was more opposition or hoping that the situation will change but if everyone is now living in the West then who are we expecting to change the situation or to provide the opposition?
Cynthia, Brighton, UK (ex Harare)
Things here in Zimbabwe are not that bad until end of the month comes. Bills have to be paid and we hardly make ends meet. We have to rely on International Care and other Christian organizations for aid. We cannot afford the medications if we get sick. Mugabe needs to step down and Zimbabwe needs a miracle for things to start picking up. Half of the countries population are dying of HIV and the half are overseas trying to work as hard as they can to send money home. We need a miracle and only our trust in God will help Zimbabwe be a better place.
Rudo Shava, Gweru, Zimbabwe
It is quite true that Zimbabwe's economy has declined in the last five years but there are signs of resurgence. Many new farmers who have benefited from the land redistribution have been able to work the land quite efficiently - though with limitations due to shortages of seed and fertiliser. The economy has proven to be resilient beyond imagination - it seems it has outlived the proverbial nine lives.
Recently, history was made with the controversial appointment of a long serving female stalwart as vice president. This is a positive signal for women's emancipation and perhaps the future direction of the country. I believe the worst is over, and it can only start getting better from here on.
Alan Webb, Toronto, Canada
Yes, indeed it is! I have several friends who have visited Zimbabwe and they tell me the same things. It is a true shame that this dictator is still hanging on. It would be right on time to kick him out and so end mismanagement, starvation, oppression, corruption and lawlessness. I feel deeply sorry for the people in Zimbabwe who are struggling with the burdens of this dictatorship. If there is a God somewhere, this God is certainly not fair at all.
Jan Andersson, Stockholm, Sweden
Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans need to go through this situation to achieve their maturity as a nation. Many developing nations want to skip their own evolution and assume the democratic identities of the Western countries. But Americans, British, French and Germans in recent history all experienced periods of extreme injustice and self agony which however paved the way for their development into democratic countries. China is also now emerging from such a self-finding period, which although mostly regarded as a negative period but one cannot fail to notice that the Chinese came out of it as a stronger and self-confident nation.
Noel Kadada, Dusseldorf, Germany
The situation in Zimbabwe is lamentable but I think there is hope for Zimbabwe. It is the responsibility of the citizens of this country to implement a change. Challenging, no doubt, but none can stop the will of the majority. Mugabe, like similar self proclaimed messiahs in Africa, is at the peak of his madness. He has become a classic example in the gross failure by most African presidents in exercising sound governance. This is at the expense of the entire country. Zimbabwe must arise to get rid of him. The time has come.
James Mugabi, Albany, USA
His observations are so true. Us the ordinary Zimbabweans are suffering, the government does not consider us when they make decisions and policies. There are no medicines in the country, and the few drugs that are available are beyond the reach of the bulk of the population, yet our country is victim of the Aids epidemic. When we go to the polls next year we must all remember that change is vital, to bring hope to our troubled country. There is unfold suffering in Zimbabwe and would like to urge the international community not to shun away the ordinary Zimbabweans because they are victims of a failed government.
Mercy Chikwati, Zimbabwe
I am a Zimbabwean but left for South Africa a few months ago to pursue my studies. What has just been reported is mild. The government claims there is enough food but the reality on the ground is there is none and people are suffering. Having two meals a day is a luxury in most rural households. I worked in Masvingo South, Chivi, Mberengwa, Zvishavane, lower Gweru and Silobela. These areas generally were relying on CARE International - the organization I worked for.
I am not ashamed to say that it is true that people survive on wild fruits. Aids is also taking its toll. Zimbabweans do not know that it kills but some turn to prostitution for survival. No employment, no food, no money... but they have children... how do they survive? The available options are prostitution or for the lucky ones - gold panning.
Junias Chirongoma, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Believe it or not: Edmore's views are far too positive! Zimbabwe today is a proud people reduced to scavenging. Three years of madness have resulted in Zimbabweans voting with their feet - 70% of the economically active population has left the country. My (black) wife has six sisters and two brothers.
Only one of them is still in Zimbabwe, the rest are in Europe, Australia, USA and South Africa. There are almost four million of us in the Diaspora waiting to come home after the crazy tyrant and his henchmen are gone. We all wait for the day Zimbabwe will be free - after 120 years of oppression.
Klaus Dieter, Frankfurt, Germany (ex Zimbabwe)
The decline is exponential - no positive effects on the macro level at all. Companies and entire industries are closing, and Zimbabwe is now comprised of informal dealers. We are a resourceful people, but the methods currently being employed by the powers that be ensure that our future as a nation is bleak. The nation I belong to - my Zimbabwe - currently only exists in the past, but will hopefully arise again. As for now, I am a Londoner, planning for the post ZANU PF era.
I think this is a fair assessment of Zimbabwe. Most of my friends who have been home tell me that Zimbabwe is not the same place that it was before. Unless the people of Zimbabwe are willing to change the status quo there is no other way of doing it. Look at Ukraine they are saying enough is enough. Change is not going to come through MDC or ZANU PF it will come the day we choose to have the rule of law. A form of democracy when we call all campaigns freely. That day is near if we Zimbabweans choose to stop this.
Blaming the West for our problems is not the solution. Who is benefiting now and why? The future of our destiny lies in Zimbabwean people to do it for themselves. Place your vote for change because no-one is going to do it for you. The liberation struggle was fought so the people of Zimbabwe will have a voice to vote freely to choose a leader of their choice. We can continue to blame the West for what?
Kaya, Toronto, Canada
This is definitely a true reflection of the economic decline in Zimbabwe. Mugabe can survive through the travel/trade sanctions and such - the people that really make up Zimbabwe (everyday people on the street, in the schools, on the farms, or rather people who used to be on the farms) are suffering. The world is scared to stand up and be known to care simply because it would look as if it were being racist - is that not what is happening in Zimbabwe?! If Zimbabwe found a source for oil - I wonder what action would be taken?
Melody, Channel Islands (ex Zimbabwe)
The comments are a clear indication that the people of Zimbabwe have been punished for what Mugabe has done. Whilst the Western world preach that they have targeted sanctions for Mugabe and his close friends it looks from the foregoing description that the sanctions have affected ordinary men like Peter Zimuto. People like Peter Zimuto are victims of the Mugabe regime as well as being victims of the sanctions from the Western world.
It looks to me that the Western world are making a bad situation worse. As I see it the people therefore have little choice to chose when they come for elections. The choice is between a local devil that they know or the foreign devil that they do not know is making a bad situation worse and sponsoring reactionary politics. I have yet to find someone who is genuinely concerned about the welfare of the Zimbabwean electorate.
Kudakwashe Mugombachoto, Birmingham
Edmore has captured the feelings so many returning Zimbabwean have. I too feel as though my country was robbed. My only wish is that there was more opposition to Mugabe and his regime. Zimbabwe's population is educated so why are they yielding to this tyrant?
Shingi, London, UK (ex Bulawayo, Zimbabwe)
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