Zimbabwe is a fairly small country, about the size of Japan but with far fewer people. As a result, the population density is substantially less. Zimbabwe is located in the southern part of Africa and is landlocked. It is bordered by South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique. The name derives from a phrase in one of the official languages that means "House of Stone". Most of the country consists of an elevated plateau, called a veld. It is mountainous in the east with peaks as high as 8800 feet. A low veld covers about 20% of the country.
The country has a tropical climate. The rainy season is from November to March during the late southern spring and summer. Altitude moderates the temperature of the country.
Organized societies have settled Zimbabwe since about AD1000. It was established as the British colony of Southern Rhodesia in 1888. Britain granted land concession rights to Europeans, displacing many of the indigenous peoples. This was met with widespread resistance and violence for 9 years. An uneasy truce was observed during much of the 20th century. As colonial rule was ending throughout Africa in the 1960's, Ian Smith unilaterally declared the country to be an independent in 1965 and a republic in 1970. These actions began a violent civil war which pitted resistance fighters Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo against Ian Smith's government. In 1978, an accord was signed to end the civil war. Elections were held and Abel Muzorewa became the country's prime minister. Robert Mugabe won power in a landslide victory in 1980. He has retained power since during several elections, all of which have been criticised as being unfair and not free.
Zimbabwe contains about 12.5 million people. The capital, Harare, contains 10% of the population of the country, 20% in the entire metropolitan area. Bulawayo is the second largest city, only slightly smaller than Harare. The population density of the entire country is 57 per square mile which is only 170th in the world's list of density list.
During the middle ages, there was a civilization in parts of Zimbabwe. Trade developed with the Muslim nations on the coast of the Indian Ocean. For the next 800 years, a sophisticated trading state was established that exchanged gold, copper and ivory for glass and cloth. In the early 17th century, Portuguese settlers destroyed the trade and left the country in near collapse. Britain established a colony from 1888 to 1965. Zimbabwe has been independent since.
The Shona people comprise 80% of the population. The Ndebele are the second most populous at 15%. Perhaps one million Ndebele may have left the country during the early 21st century. They have moved to South Africa, mainly. Other Bantu ethnic groups comprise about 3% of the population. White descendants of European settlers comprise about 2% of the population.
Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980. His government has held power throughout a number of elections since. These elections have been marred by multiple claims of vote-rigging, intimidation and fraud. There have been widespread reports of human rights violations in the country. Gatherings of groups opposed to the government have been subject to brutal attacks by the police. Members of the press have been denied freedom of the press and freedom of speech has been suppressed.
Zimbabwe was an important agricultural and mineral producer. The economy experienced growth rates of 4-5% through the 1980's and 1990's. Since then, government mismanagement and corruption has contributed to a decline of over 30%. As a consequence of the controversial land redistribution of 2000, the country has become a net importer of crops that it previously exported. Inflation rose from about 30% to over 11,000,000,000 percent in 2008, becoming the second worst instance of hyperinflation in history. In an effort to stem inflation, the Zimbabwean dollar was suspended in 2009 in favor of other world currencies such as the US dollar, British Pound and South African Rand.
The population has been racked with severe outbreaks of AIDS and cholera. The medical establishmenthas essentially collapsed under the pressure of service delivery in a hyperinflation economy. Three of the four major hospitals have been closed due to the inability to obtain basic medicines and supplies to operate. As a response, 25% of the population has fled the country for South Africa and Zambia. There is also a large population of internally displaced people numbering perhaps one million.
Zimbabwe was a fertile productive agricultural producer for most of the 20th century. In 2000, many farms owned by white descendants of European settlers were taken by the government and redistributed. Despite a national referendum opposing the move, over 110,000 square kilometers of land was seized. Since then, the production of these lands, and the whole country, has plunged. The breadbasket of Africa has been reduced to a malnourished country that must import many of the agricultural products that it previously grew in abundance. Much of the infrastructure previously used in agriculture has been destroyed either through vandalism, neglect or theft. A return to productivity for the seized farms is difficult to imagine.
Tourism has essentially stopped in Zimbabwe. A 75% decline from 1990 tourism levels has resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs. Several airlines have discontinued service to the country. There are many major attractions such as Victoria Falls and national parks shared with Zambia. Most visitors now come from Zambia which is benefiting from the tourist trade.
Zimbabwe is beset with economic, health and stability problems. The government of Robert Mugabe rules as a totalitarian state. Mugabe proudly patterns himself after Adolph Hitler. Unemployment is approaching 95% of the population and an exodus of people to neighboring countries is currently underway. There is a sense that no progress will occur in Zimbabwe while Robert Mugabe rules. Life expectancy has declined to the lowest level in the world. A spectacular country has been nearly laid waste. There is currently little hope for the country without serious interventions by the other nations of the world.