Metaphor of the down escalator: Zimbabwe and the decent into food insecurity.


What, you may ask, does a shopping mall in Hong Kong have to do with the food situation in Zimbabwe?  Well, I’ll tell you.  When we first moved to Hong Kong, people told me that Grace Mugabe has been frequently spotted shopping at this mall.  Apparently the Mugabe’s have a house in a development known as The Beverly Hills in Hong Kong. True or not, I am not certain.  There is clear evidence that the Mugabe’s have access to cash and a will to spend it. What is also certain is that the situation in Zimbabwe is still critical as the industry is in free fall (see this report) and the UN World Food Programme is predicting that the upcoming months will bring the worst ‘Hunger Season’ in years (see the report (here).

The housing estate in Hong Kong where the Mugabe’s are said to have a home is very expensive (currently there is a small house on the market in the estate for HK$28 million).  Grace Mugabe has certainly been shopping in Hong Kong as Daily Mail reporter, Richard Jones, can attest (see report of her attacking him here) and Robert Mugabe‘s daughter, Bona, has or is currently studying for a master’s degree at Chinese University of Hong Kong so perhaps the house makes some sense, though this is somewhat more extravagant digs than most students are used to as the mansion is said to be worth around £4m (See this story here about another house in Asia the Mugabe’s are said to own or be building).  While the Mugabe’s apparently have an infinite source of cash with which to buy goods at designer malls and houses across Asia, the situation for ordinary Zimbabwean’s at home must instead appear to be infinitely impossible.

The World Food Program (WFP) describes the situation in Zimbabwe this way:

In recent years, food production in Zimbabwe has been devastated by a number of factors including natural disasters and economic and political instability. Recurrent drought, a series of poor harvests, high unemployment (estimated at more than 60%), restructuring of the agriculture sector and a high HIV/AIDS prevalence rate – at 13.7 per cent, the fifth highest in the world – have all contributed to increasing levels of vulnerability and acute food insecurity since 2001. This situation has necessitated large-scale humanitarian food relief operations in the country.

What is particularly discouraging about this situation is that firstly, it was avoidable and secondly, it represents an enormous amount of waste. Zimbabwe was once the bread basket of Africa. Now the UN WFP suggests that nearly 2.2. million people (out of a total of about 13 million) are going to be food insecure in the country in the period between January and March 2014. The Farm Union, and many others, argue that Zimbabwe’s food crisis is linked directly back to poor government policy regarding land reform, inflation, and distribution issues (see this article here).  The aim in the agricultural reform policy was to de-colonize the countryside, taking farms from white owners and returning them to black indigenous people. While I am not condoning the acts of Colonialism that have contributed to the misery that many on the African continent have (and continue to) experience, the fact is that the farmers were also skilled and understood farming practices that could produce food at a large scale. The people, to whom the land was given knew only traditional farming practices and crop yields fell dramatically.(see this article from the BBC on the topic here).   On top of this, later in 2005, Mugabe in an attempt to erase poverty put in place a policy of slum clearance that involved bulldozing the markets where low income traders sold food and other goods (see BBC news report here). Yes, it made the landscape more appealing for those whose landscape preferences are for cleared empty land instead of people working and attempting to make a life. At the same time the view is one like the escalator sending many further and further down into deeper and deeper poverty with fewer and fewer resources from which to draw.


Valerie Tagwira has written a wonderful book about the time when Mugabe was knocking down the markets in Zimbabwe.  It gives an insight into the difficulties of living and livelihood in Zimbabwe, while at the same time expressing the potential of the place and its people.  You can find her book, the Uncertainty of hope on and on It really is a good read.

This post is part of the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge.  The theme this week is infinite. You can find the challenge here.

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