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'Days of Rage' Spreading to Africa?

The government of Zimbabwe has arrested dozens of political activists in an attempt to stop protesters from igniting a “Day of Rage.”
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 2/24/2011, 12:26 PM / Last Update: 2/24/2011, 1:38 PM

The government of Zimbabwe has arrested dozens of political activists in an attempt to stop protesters from igniting a “Day of Rage.” The 45 activists were indicted Wednesday on charges of treason after watching videos of North African protests. 

Police testified the activists were discussing the possibility of holding similar demonstrations in Zimbabwe. Among the group were trade unionists, student leaders and their organizer, Munyaradzi Gwisai, leader of the International Socialist Organisation.

They were subsequently charged with plotting anti-government protests similar to those that have so far swept leaders from power in Tunisia and Egypt. Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, now similarly threatened, instead elected to ignite a civil war in an attempt to retain his seat.

If convicted, the activists may be executed. No date has yet been set for trial. 87-year-old President Robert Mugabe has been in power in Zimbabwe for 31 years, since the country achieved internationally-recognized independence from the UK in 1980.

Ripe for Revolt

Conditions in Zimbabwe may be ripe for revolt. In the past decade, the nation has suffered through an economic crisis that many blame on Mugabe's mismanagement, according to Reuters. He has been accused of corruption and vote-rigging in order to stay in power.

Although country's official languages are English, Shona (the Bantu language with the most native speakers) and Ndebele (also a Bantu language), the vast majority speak one or more dialects of the Bantu languages. Food security in the land-locked African nation has been shaky at best, and in the past few years, extremely insecure due to a heavy drought and crushing poverty, as indicated in the map shown here. (Dark red shows the most severe food instability.)

Zimbabwe has one of the lowest life expectancies on the planet – 44 for men and 43 for women, down from 60 in 1990. The rapid drop has been attributed mainly to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Infant mortality rose from 5.9 percent in the late 1990s to 12.3 percent by 2004.

By the end of November 2008, three out of four of the country's major hospitals had shut down, along with the national medical school. Moreover, the one remaining hospital had no functioning operating theaters and only two wards. 

More than 1.2 million citizens are infected with HIV/AIDS, which is estimated to kill 3,200 people per week, according to the United Nations Development Program. An outbreak of cholera that began in August 2008 had infected more than 100,000 people within a 12-month period. At least 4,000 new cases a week were recorded in 2009 by the United Nations' Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN). 

Relations with Israel
Zimbabwe has voiced support for the so-called “two-state solution” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority since 2001. The country established formal diplomatic relations since 1993 and has not participated in boycotts against the Jewish State.

A tiny group of some 260 Jewish souls remains in the 100-year-old Jewish community in Zimbabwe, residing primarily in Harare and Bulawayo. The country is also home to the Lemba tribe, which claims descent from the Jewish people.

Israel expressed its support in June 2010 for Zimbabwe's inclusion in the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme to provide the world with diamonds. 

In the 1980s, the Mugabe government supported the Palestine Liberation Organization under Chairman Yasser Arafat.