Potential Hot Spots: December 8, 2004


Indicative of the terrible economic, social, and political situation inside Zimbabwe, are reports that coffin theft is now a growing criminal enterprise there. Criminals are digging up coffins, tossing out the dead bodies, and then selling the coffins. Analysts say this is the result of the increase in deaths in Zimbabwe. AIDS is the primary cause, but an increasingly bad diet (due to scarce food supplies) has lowered the ZImbabwean population's general resistance to all diseases (especially tuberculosis.) The AIDS epidemic and the decline in diet lead to an increase in illness and a subsequent increase in the death rate. More deaths means a bigger demand for coffins. How widespread is this macabre criminal activity? We don't know--but that isn't the main point here. We do know that Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe has destroyed Zimbabwe. Last year there were indications that Mugabe's political opposition (centered around the MDC, the Movement for Democratic Change) was gaining strength. However, Mugabe's thugs began a campaign of violence against opponents and their family members that succeeded in intimidating them. Control of food supplies was a key part of this campaign. Zimbabwe's own state Grain Market Board reported the latest corn harvest produced less than 400,000 tons of corn-- and Zimbabwe needed 1.2 million tons (produced in the April to October season). The big reason for the collapse of Zimbabwean agriculture is Mugabe's "land restoration" policy. Farms owned by whites (many with Zimbabwean citizenship) were confiscated. The farmers left and with them went their agricultural production knowledge.

Meanwhile, Chinese officials have arrived, bearing gifts and offers to set up direct flights between Zimbabwe and China. This would allow the government to order some critical items in a hurry, like weapons. China sees Mugabe as a survivor, someone who has managed to prevent an armed resistance from forming in the country. Even though his government is starving much of the population, there are no angry mobs moving through the capital. Chinese politicians admire that. -- Austin Bay


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