When numbers lie!

Figures don't lie, goes the adage, but liars can figure. Which is precisely why we need to be a lot more skeptical of the numbers we publish... especially numbers that supposedly measure things such as nutrition, environmental hazards and health risks," says Jack Hart, Managing Editor of the Oregonian.

Though this is the introduction to his handout entitled When Numbers Lie meant for journalists, Hart could equally have directed it at the State Department.

Its latest report on Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe's Manmade Crisis, is full of contradictions.

Although the first case of AIDS was reported in 1985, the report says 3 percent of the population already had HIV/AIDS in 1982. This had risen to 10 percent 10 years later and to 33.7 percent another decade later.

Life expectancy, which stood at 51.8 years in 1982, had declined to 41.35 years in 1992 and further down to 37.7 years a decade later.

A USAID brief on HIV/AIDS on Zimbabwe says life expectancy, which stood at 66 years in 1997, is predicted to decline to 35 years by 2010 due to AIDS.

The aim of the report, it appears, is to show that "Zimbabwe has declined in nearly every single category since Mugabe came to power, and the situation has only grown worse as he has amended policies and tightened his grip on Zimbabwe".

The statistics, the report says, "leave no doubt about the future of Zimbabwe being disastrous as long as Mugabe remains in power".

While Mugabe himself admits that the country is in a crisis, and things have definitely deteriorated over the last five years, the same report, in fact on the same page, states that "in the early days of President Mugabe's rule, major strides were made in education, health care, housing and economic development. Jobs were created and filled by a new generation of Zimbabweans, trained at home, in first rate schools and universities. Zimbabwe exported food and imported some of Africa's brightest young minds..."

Today things are totally different, the report says. "Zimbabwe cannot grow enough food to feed itself and a bankrupt treasury cannot finance critical imports of food and fuel. Zimbabwe's new generation of graduates has been forced to go abroad in search of economic opportunities. Those fortunate to still have jobs have seen the purchasing power of their salaries and savings decline dramatically. At the same time, President Mugabe, his wife and extended family, and his allies have expanded their private land holdings, travelled abroad in lavish style, and looted the national treasury."

And what are the "true roots of the crisis"? "Zimbabwe is in a state of crisis today because those who govern the country have systematically undermined the rule of law. Through their actions, President Robert Mugabe and his colleagues in the ZANU-PF party have placed themselves above the law; rather than serving the state, the state now serves their personal interests.

"Although they have employed the rhetoric of liberation to portray their actions as a defence of the Zimbabwean people, their real agenda has been and remains the defence of their own privilege. President Mugabe, his family, and his inner circle have prospered while 7 million of their compatriots have reached the brink of starvation.

"They have enriched themselves while 400 000 of their fellow Zimbabweans have lost their jobs. They have acquired valuable real estate while hundreds of thousands of their people have been internally displaced or driven into exile.

"Their bank accounts have grown while the economy of Zimbabwe has contracted. In their hands, the Zimbabwe dollar has great value; in the hands of an ordinary Zimbabwean, their national currency, their salaries and their savings are virtually worthless.

"President Mugabe and members of his inner circle have united their small ruling elite around an agenda of greed while turning the people of Zimbabwe against each other.

"They have protected themselves with the power of the state, but denied their fellow Zimbabweans the protection of laws. The many police and military personnel who want to protect their fellow Zimbabweans have instead been coerced into defending the privileges of this small ruling elite.

"Police officers have been discouraged from upholding the law; they have been compelled to step aside as armed gangs masquerading as veterans of the liberation struggle became the law. The men and women of the armed forces, many of whom fought for Zimbabwe's freedom, have been forced to watch self-proclaimed "war veterans" tarnish the legacy of the true heroes, those who fought for freedom.

"Soldiers who fought for the right to vote in their own country were ordered to vote for the ruling ZANU-PF party in the most recent presidential elections. The generals charged with leading the defence of the nation told their fellow Zimbabweans and the world that the force of arms, not the will of the people, would determine the outcome of those elections.

"Above all, President Mugabe and his comrades have fractured the hard-won unity of their nation. City-dwellers and rural people increasingly see each other not as sons and daughters of the same great country, but as antagonists.

"In a Zimbabwe where all were equal before the law, Shona, Ndebele, and other ethnic groups could see themselves as part of the rich mosaic of Zimbabwean life. Increasingly, and harkening back to the dark days of massacre in Matebeleland, these groups have been encouraged to see each other as rivals.

"What should have been another southern African success story is now a house divided against itself. Rather than repudiate the legacy of past regimes, President Mugabe and his cronies have adopted their most cynical, desperate and destructive technique: divide and rule."

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