Currently viewing country profile for Zimbabwe
The fortunes of Zimbabwe have for almost three decades been tied to President Robert Mugabe, the pro-independence campaigner who wrested control from a small white community and became the country's first black leader.
Until the 2008 parliamentary elections, Zimbabwe was effectively a one-party state, ruled over by Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF. A power-sharing deal has raised hopes that Mr Mugabe might be prepared to relinquish some of his powers, but in the meantime he presides over a nation whose economy is in tatters, where poverty and unemployment are endemic and political strife and repression commonplace.
Zimbabwe is home to the Victoria Falls, one of the natural wonders of the world, the stone enclosures of Great Zimbabwe - remnants of a past empire - and to herds of elephant and other game roaming vast stretches of wilderness.
For years it was a major tobacco producer and a potential bread basket for surrounding countries.
But the forced seizure of almost all white-owned commercial farms, with the stated aim of benefiting landless black Zimbabweans, led to sharp falls in production and precipitated the collapse of the agriculture-based economy. The country has endured rampant inflation and critical food and fuel shortages.
Many Zimbabweans survive on grain handouts. Others have voted with their feet; hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans, including much-needed professionals, have emigrated.
Aid agencies and critics partly blame food shortages on the land reform programme. The government blames a long-running drought, and Mr Mugabe has accused Britain and its allies of sabotaging the economy in revenge for the redistribution programme.
The government's urban slum demolition drive in 2005 drew more international condemnation. The president said it was an effort to boost law and order and development; critics accused him of destroying slums housing opposition supporters.
Either way, the razing of "illegal structures" left some 700,000 people without jobs or homes, according to UN estimates.
The former Rhodesia has a history of conflict, with white settlers dispossessing the resident population, guerrilla armies forcing the white government to submit to elections, and the post-independence leadership committing atrocities in southern areas where it lacked the support of the Matabele people.
Zimbabwe has had a rocky relationship with the Commonwealth - it was suspended after President Mugabe's controversial re-election in 2002 and later announced that it was pulling out for good.
- Full name: Republic of Zimbabwe
- Population: 12.6 million (UN, 2010)
- Capital: Harare
- Area: 390,759 sq km (150,873 sq miles)
- Major language: English (official), Shona, Sindebele
- Major religions: Christianity, indigenous beliefs
- Life expectancy: 50 years (men), 50 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 Zimbabwe dollar = 100 cents
- Main exports: Tobacco, cotton, agricultural products, gold, minerals
- GNI per capita: Estimated to be low income: $995 or less (World Bank, 2009)
- Internet domain: .zw
- International dialling code: +263
President: Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe has been the leader of Zimbabwe for the three decades of its independence.
He was a key figure in the struggle for independence, which involved a bitter bush war against a white minority which had cut the country loose from the colonial power Britain.
When he was first elected in 1980 he was praised for reaching out to the white minority and his political rivals, as well as for what was considered a pragmatic approach to the economy.
However, he soon expelled from his government of national unity the party whose stronghold was in the south of the country and launched an anti-opposition campaign in which thousands died.
In the mid-1990s he embarked on a programme of land redistribution, in which commercial farmers were driven off the land by mobs. The programme was accompanied by a steady decline in the economy.
As the opposition to his rule increased, he and his ruling ZANU-PF party grew more determined to stay in power. Critics accuse him of heading a military regime.
In the elections of 2008, ZANU-PF lost its parliamentary majority and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai defeated Mr Mugabe in the presidential vote but with insufficient votes to avoid a run-off.
Mr Mugabe was sworn in for another term in June 2008 after a widely-condemned run-off vote from which Mr Tsvangirai withdrew because of attacks on his supporters.
Under international pressure, Mr Mugabe agreed a power-sharing deal with Mr Tsvangirai, who was made prime minister.
However, Mr Mugabe has made no secret of his distaste for the arrangement and Mr Tsvangirai has complained of a lack of co-operation.
Ideologically, Mr Mugabe belongs to the African liberationist tradition of the 1960s - strong and ruthless leadership, anti-Western, suspicious of capitalism and deeply intolerant of dissent and opposition.
Prime Minister: Morgan Tsvangirai
Morgan Tsvangirai was sworn in as prime minister in February 2009, following months of wrangling over a power-sharing agreement originally signed in September 2008.
A final accord on power-sharing was reached in January, after Mr Tsvangirai returned to Zimbabwe following an absence of more than two months for fresh talks with President Mugabe.
Earlier negotiations had faltered after the MDC accused Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF of keeping the most powerful ministries - including the one that controls the police - to itself.
In a speech after his inauguration, Mr Tsvangirai called for an end to human rights abuses and political violence. He also pledged to do all in his power to help alleviate the suffering of Zimbabweans.
Mr Tsvangirai is a former union leader who helped found the Movement for Democratic Change in 1999.
As MDC leader he has faced intimidation, treason charges, physical assault and at one stage was charged with plotting to kill Mr Mugabe.
The son of a bricklayer, Mr Tsvangirai worked as a miner for a number of years, before climbing to the top of the country's trade union movement.
He first took on the government when, as secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, he led a series of strikes against high taxes in the late 1990s.
Soon after becoming PM, Mr Tsvangirai was hit by personal tragedy when his wife Susan died in a car crash in March 2009.
All broadcasters transmitting from Zimbabwean soil, as well as the main newspapers, are state-run and toe the government line.
Under the 2008 power-sharing deal, the government in December 2009 set up the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC). The move was aimed at spearheading media reforms, including the licensing of new press and broadcasting outlets.
The main pro-government dailies, the Harare-based Herald and the Bulawayo-based Chronicle, are tightly controlled by the Information Ministry. Private publications, which are relatively vigorous in their criticism of the government, have come under severe pressure.
In June 2010, newly-licensed title NewsDay hit the streets, becoming the first privately-owned daily to publish in seven years. The private press also comprises weeklies the Standard and Zimbabwe Independent. Another weekly, The Zimbabwean, is produced in London and distributed in Zimbabwe as an international publication.
However, cover prices are beyond the reach of many readers and publishers have been hit by escalating printing and newsprint costs.
A range of draconian laws and institutions, along with prison sentences for "publishing false news", are used to clamp down on critical comment. Journalists who fail to register with a government body risk imprisonment.
Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) operates the only TV and radio stations under the umbrella of state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH).
Radio is the main source of information for many Zimbabweans. Although there are no private stations, overseas-based operations broadcast into Zimbabwe.
The Voice of the People, set up by former ZBC staff with funding from the Soros Foundation and a Dutch organisation, operates using a leased shortwave transmitter in Madagascar.
Another station, the UK-based SW Radio Africa, aims to give listeners in Zimbabwe "unbiased information".
From the US, government-funded Voice of America (VOA) operates Studio 7, which aims to be a source of "objective and balanced news".
Radio broadcasts by foreign stations deemed hostile to the government are subject to deliberate interference.
- The Herald - government-owned daily
- The Chronicle - Bulawayo-based, government-owned daily
- NewsDay - private daily
- The Financial Gazette - private, business weekly
- The Standard - private, weekly
- Zimbabwe Independent - private weekly
- The Zimbabwean - private weekly, published from UK and South Africa
- Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) - state-run, operates ZTV1
- Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) - state-run, operates National FM, Power FM, Radio Zimbabwe and S-FM
- SW Radio Africa - studio in London, broadcasts via shortwave and online to Zimbabwe
- Voice of the People - broadcasts to Zimbabwe from hired shortwave transmitter on Madagascar
- Studio 7 - based in Washington DC, via shortwave, mediumwave (AM) and online, operated by VOA
A chronology of key events:
1200-1600s - Rise and decline of the Monomotapa domain, thought to have been associated with Great Zimbabwe and to have been involved in gold mining and international trade.
1830s - Ndebele people fleeing Zulu violence and Boer migration in present-day South Africa move north and settle in what becomes known as Matabeleland.
1830-1890s - European hunters, traders and missionaries explore the region from the south. They include Cecil John Rhodes.
1889 - Rhodes' British South Africa Company (BSA) gains a British mandate to colonise what becomes Southern Rhodesia.
1890 - Pioneer column of white settlers arrives from south at site of future capital Harare.
1893 - Ndebele uprising against BSA rule is crushed.
1922 - BSA administration ends, the white minority opts for self-government.
1930 - Land Apportionment Act restricts black access to land, forcing many into wage labour.
1930-1960s - Black opposition to colonial rule grows. Emergence in the 1960s of nationalist groups - the Zimbabwe African People's Union (Zapu) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu).
1953 - Britain creates the Central African Federation, made up of Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi).
1963 - Federation breaks up when Zambia and Malawi gain independence.
Smith declares UDI
1964 - Ian Smith of the Rhodesian Front (RF) becomes prime minister, tries to persuade Britain to grant independence.
1965 - Smith unilaterally declares independence under white minority rule, sparking international outrage and economic sanctions.
1972 - Guerrilla war against white rule intensifies, with rivals Zanu and Zapu operating out of Zambia and Mozambique.
1978 - Smith yields to pressure for negotiated settlement. Elections for transitional legislature boycotted by Patriotic Front made up of Zanu and Zapu. New government of Zimbabwe Rhodesia, led by Bishop Abel Muzorewa, fails to gain international recognition. Civil war continues.
1979 - British-brokered all-party talks at Lancaster House in London lead to a peace agreement and new constitution, which guarantees minority rights.
1980 - Veteran pro-independence leader Robert Mugabe and his Zanu party win British-supervised independence elections. Mugabe is named prime minister and includes Zapu leader Joshua Nkomo in his cabinet. Independence on 18 April is internationally recognised.
1982 - Mugabe sacks Nkomo, accusing him of preparing to overthrow the government. North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade deployed to crush rebellion by pro-Nkomo ex-guerrillas in Midlands and Matabeleland provinces. Government forces are accused of killing thousands of civilians over next few years.
1987 - Mugabe, Nkomo merge their parties to form Zanu-PF, ending the violence in southern areas.
1987 - Mugabe changes constitution, becomes executive president.
1991 - The Commonwealth adopts the Harare Declaration at its summit in Zimbabwe, reaffirming its aims of fostering international peace and security, democracy, freedom of the individual and equal rights for all.
1998 - Economic crisis accompanied by riots and strikes.
1999 - Economic crisis persists, Zimbabwe's military involvement in DR Congo's civil war becomes increasingly unpopular.
Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formed.
2000 February - President Mugabe suffers defeat in referendum on draft constitution.
Squatters seize hundreds of white-owned farms in an ongoing and violent campaign to reclaim what they say was stolen by settlers.
2000 June - Parliamentary elections: Zanu-PF narrowly fights off a challenge from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tsvangirai, but loses its power to change the constitution.
2001 May - Defence Minister Moven Mahachi killed in a car crash - the second minister to die in that way in a month.
2001 July - Finance Minister Simba Makoni publicly acknowledges economic crisis, saying foreign reserves have run out and warning of serious food shortages. Most western donors, including the World Bank and the IMF, have cut aid because of President Mugabe's land seizure programme.
2002 February - Parliament passes a law limiting media freedom. The European Union imposes sanctions on Zimbabwe and pulls out its election observers after the EU team leader is expelled.
2002 March - Mugabe re-elected in presidential elections condemned as seriously flawed by the opposition and foreign observers. Commonwealth suspends Zimbabwe from its councils for a year after concluding that elections were marred by high levels of violence.
2002 April - State of disaster declared as worsening food shortages threaten famine.
2002 June - 45-day countdown for some 2,900 white farmers to leave their land begins, under terms of a land-acquisition law passed in May.
2003 March - Widely-observed general strike is followed by arrests and beatings.
2003 June - Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai is arrested twice during a week of opposition protests. He is charged with treason, adding to an existing treason charge from 2002 over an alleged plot to kill President Mugabe.
2003 November - Canaan Banana, Zimbabwe's first black president, dies aged 67.
2003 December - Zimbabwe pulls out of Commonwealth after organisation decides to extend suspension of country indefinitely.
2004 March - A group of mercenaries allegedly on the way to Equatorial Guinea to stage a coup is intercepted after landing at Harare airport. Their leader, British national Simon Mann, is sentenced to seven years in prison for attempting to buy guns.
2004 October - Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is acquitted of treason charges relating to an alleged plot to kill President Mugabe. He faces a separate treason charge.
2005 January - The US labels Zimbabwe as one of the world's six "outposts of tyranny". Zimbabwe rejects the statement.
2005 March - Ruling Zanu-PF party wins two-thirds of the votes in parliamentary polls. Main opposition party says election was rigged against it.
2005 May-July - Tens of thousands of shanty dwellings and illegal street stalls are destroyed as part of a "clean-up" programme. The UN estimates that the drive has left about 700,000 people homeless
2005 August - Prosecutors drop remaining treason charges against opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
2005 November - Ruling Zanu-PF party wins an overwhelming majority of seats in a newly-created upper house of parliament, the Senate.
The opposition MDC splits over its leader's decision to boycott the poll.
2005 December - UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland says Zimbabwe is in "meltdown".
2006 May - Year-on-year inflation exceeds 1,000%. New banknotes, with three noughts deleted from their values, are introduced in August.
2006 September - Riot police disrupt a planned demonstration against the government's handling of the economic crisis. Union leaders are taken into custody and later hospitalised, allegedly after being tortured.
2006 December - Ruling ZANU-PF party approves a plan to move presidential polls from 2008 to 2010, effectively extending Mr Mugabe's rule by two years
2007 February - Rallies, demonstrations banned for three months. The ban is extended in May.
2007 March - Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is hospitalised after his arrest at a rally. One man is shot dead as riot police move to disperse the gathering.
2007 May - Warnings of power cuts for up to 20 hours a day while electricity is diverted towards agriculture.
2007 June - Ruling ZANU-PF and opposition MDC hold preliminary talks in South Africa.
2008 March - Presidential and parliamentary elections. Opposition MDC claims victory.
2008 May - Electoral body says Tsvangirai won most votes in presidential poll, but not enough to avoid a run-off against Mugabe.
2008 June - Run-off goes ahead. Mugabe declared winner. Tsvangirai pulled out days before poll, complaining of intimidation.
Russia, China veto a Western-backed UN Security Council resolution to impose sanctions.
2008 July - EU, US widen sanctions against Zimbabwe's leaders.
2008 Sept - Mugabe, Tsvangirai sign power-sharing agreement. Implementation stalls over who gets top ministerial jobs.
2008 December - Zimbabwe declares national emergency over a cholera epidemic and the collapse of its health care system.
2009 January - Government allows use of foreign currencies to try stem hyperinflation.
2009 February - Tsvangirai is sworn in as prime minister, after protracted talks over formation of government.
2009 March - Tsvangirai's wife is killed in a car crash. He is injured.
Retail prices fall for the first time after years of hyperinflation.
2009 June - Constitutional review begins.
Tsvangirai tours Europe and US to drum up donor support.
2009 September - One year after power-sharing deal, MDC remains frustrated and alleges persecution and violence against members.
Arrival of EU and US delegations seen as signs of thaw in foreign relations. Both maintain stance on targeted sanctions.
IMF provides $400 million support as part of G20 agreement to help member states.
2009 October - Mugabe calls for new start to relations with West.
2010 January - Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai urges the easing of targeted sanctions, saying the unity government's progress should be rewarded.
Zimbabwe's High Court rejects a regional court ruling against President Mugabe's land-reform programme.
2010 March - New rule forces foreign-owned businesses to sell majority stake to locals.
2010 June - Commercial farmers say they are under a renewed wave of attacks.
2010 August - Zimbabwe resumes official diamond sales, amid controversy over reported rights abuses at the Marange diamond fields.
2010 September - Premier Tsvangirai alleges ruling party instigating violence at public consultations on new constitution.
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