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To read stories about our work in Zimbabwe, click here.Zimbabwe is in southern Africa and shares a border with Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa, and Botswana. Slightly larger than the state of Montana, over 12.5 million people live there.
Zimbabwe is a high plateau with mountains in the east; in addition to forming Zimbabwe’s northwest border, the Zambezi River creates the spectacular Victoria Falls, the world’s largest curtain of falling water. Rich in natural resources, Zimbabwe is home to the world’s largest platinum reserves and the biggest diamond find in over a century.
The country has two main ethnic groups, with 82% Shona and 14% Ndebele. Almost three-fourths of the nation considers themselves Christian although mixing faith with ancestral worship is quite common. English is spoken widely thanks to Zimbabwe’s once stellar education system; the country still boasts a 90% literacy rate, the second-highest in Africa.
Zimbabwe was once a British colony known as Rhodesia. Independence was granted in 1980 following years of conflict between the minority white rulers and various guerilla movements. Robert Mugabe was elected the country’s first prime minister and became the president after the constitution changed in 1987 to allow an executive presidency. He has been the country’s only ruler.
Zimbabwe was once considered the bread basket of Africa with its bustling economy and excellent health and education systems. Now, however, the country is better known for its staggering economic collapse associated with Mugabe’s chaotic land redistribution campaign in 2000. In 2008, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the most votes in the presidential election but not enough to win outright. The lead up to the run-off election was filled with violent crackdowns. Tsvangirai pulled out of the run-off citing the corruption and violence. A power-sharing agreement allowed Mugabe to remain as president with Tsvangirai as prime minister. Elections scheduled for 2001 were never held.
After years of unrest and crushing unemployment, more people are fleeing Zimbabwe than any other nation in the world. Like its neighbors in southern Africa, HIV/AIDS has devastated the country and cholera remains a threat. It is estimated that more than 90% of Zimbabweans are unemployed, and more than 80% live below the poverty line.