Media reform promise in Zimbabwe not enough

President Robert Mugabe met with other leaders of Zimbabwe in Cape Town, South Africa in the first week of April, seeking $8.5 billion of emergency recovery aid from international donors. In addition to their request, they made a number of promises for their next 100 days, including media freedom reform in a nation that has seen tight restriction in recent years.

Over the past decade, Mugabe’s control over the Zimbabwean press has grown, and many news sources have been banned, including The Daily News, along with most foreign news sources, including BBC, CNN, and Fox News.

The primary reason Zimbabwe’s government needs foreign aid to operate is the devaluation of its currency, to a point where it has become completely useless; the country’s newspaper — The Zimbabwean — just released a number of billboard ads wallpapered with trillions of Zim-dollars. For this reason the country’s economic system has reverted to bartering, with the government only recently having started to pay their employees with certificates good for U.S. currency.

This promise for reform of the media laws is intended to encourage donations, in a measure of goodwill toward potential international partners. We are suspicious, however, of how much of an impact a promise that has not yet been put into action can have on the nation’s floundering economy.

The struggling country has seen some recent economic progress with the newly elected Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. The work of his education minister, David Coltart, has even brought teachers back to long-closed classrooms with the promise of payment in foreign currency. The government hopes that the promise for media freedom will build upon the improvements started by Coltart.

While these small steps are encouraging, the long-standing history of governmental corruption and mismanagement is nowhere near being a thing of the past. Mugabe still presents every new minister with a brand new E-Class Mercedes — an offer turned down by Coltart and a handful of other progressive newcomers to Zimbabwe politics.

These governmental promises for an open media and free airwaves are especially important with the corruption still present in the government. They are necessary for the development of any successful nation, and the international community must hold Mugabe’s administration accountable by taking advantage of the opportunity of loosened media laws to report the struggles of Zimbabwe’s people.

While we support Zimbabwe’s promise for media reform, we do not believe that the promise is a fair trade for the amount of aid that the country hopes to see pour in — people want to see action of reform, not just promises of it.