Zimbabwe is at risk of drought, chronic food shortages and conflict as it faces an uncertain political and economic future.


The country’s once prosperous economy, based on agricultural and mineral exports has suffered a catastrophic decline since 2000.


This has led to falling living standards, soaring unemployment and massive emigration, mostly to neighbouring South Africa and Botswana.


According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), at least three million Zimbabweans have gone abroad in search of better opportunities.


About 13 million people remain resident in the country.


Agricultural output has declined as land reforms aimed at transferring the control of Zimbabwe’s richest farmland from white to black ownership have resulted in lower productivity.


The decline in food production, aggravated by recurrent drought, has made a large swathe of Zimbabwe’s population dependent on food aid.


Falling living standards and crumbling water and sewerage infrastructure led to a cholera epidemic in 2008 which killed almost 4,500 people.


HIV/AIDS is a major health problem. UNAIDS estimated that there were 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe in 2009, giving the country an HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 14.3%.


President Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe continuously since independence under black majority rule in 1980.


He has been accused by local and international human rights groups of using violence against the opposition and manipulation of the media and the electoral process to stay in power. 


Human rights organizations accuse Mugabe of using the security forces and  militants from his Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party to harass and attack opposition sympathisers.


Mugabe was once lauded by the business community for his liberal economic policies, but in recent years he has been accused of gross economic mismanagement.


Hyper-inflation forced Zimbabwe to abandon its devalued and virtually worthless currency in 2009. The country now relies on the US dollar and to a lesser extent the South African rand for domestic monetary transactions.


Since January 2009, Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party have been forced into a tense and difficult power sharing arrangement with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).


They formed a transitional government of national unity with the help of mediation by Zimbabwe’s Southern African neighbours to prevent the country from sliding into conflict following the disputed outcome of parliamentary and presidential elections held in 2008.


Under this arrangement, Mugabe and ZANU-PF retain an iron grip on the security forces, the central bank and the state media.


MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is Prime Minister. His party controls the Finance Ministry and many of the social affairs ministries, including Health and Education.


The MDC was formed as an opposition party in 1999 with the backing of Zimbabwe’s trade union movement and Zimbabwe’s white minority.


It has accused ZANU-PF of rigging every national election to stay in power since then.


Under the terms of the September 2008 Global Political Agreement (GPA), ZANU-PF and the MDC agreed to share power in a transitional government of national unity for two years.


This joint administration was tasked with organizing fresh elections under a new constitution in 2011.


However, by September 2011, the new constitution had not yet been approved by referendum and the timing of the next presidential and parliamentary elections remained uncertain.


Mugabe, who was then 87, showed every indication of running for a new term as head of state. No obvious heir apparent had emerged within ZANU-PF to succeed him.


The leadership of ZANU-PF includes many senior military figures who rose to prominence during the guerrilla war against white minority rule in the 1970s.


The military establishment which these veterans represent has become a powerful political and economic force in Zimbabwe in its own right.


The military leadership draws financial strength from the army’s control of the recently discovered Marange diamond mines in south eastern Zimbabwe.


The main languages spoken in Zimbabwe are English, Shona and Ndebele.


Nearly three quarters of Zimbabweans speak Shona or a dialect of Shona as their first language, but English is the main language of government and business.


Ndebele, which is mostly spoken in western Zimbabwe around Bulawayo, is the first language of about 16% of the population.


In 2009, Zimbabwe claimed an adult literacy rate of 92%, one of the highest in Africa.


Education became free after independence. Primary and secondary school enrolment increased steadily during the 1980s and 1990s.


However educational standards have fallen since 2000 as a result of the economic crisis.


Education is no longer free and many teachers have emigrated or left the profession.


Tough government restrictions on the independent media have eased slightly since 2009 under the transitional multi-party government.


The state retains monopoly control of domestic radio and television.


However, several influential privately owned daily and weekly newspapers compete with the state controlled print media.


Zimbabwe moved up to 123rd place out of 178 in the Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) 2010 Press Freedom Index, from 136 in 2008, following an easing of restrictions on the media after the MDC was brought into government.


But the international press freedom organization warned: "surveillance, threats, imprisonment, censorship, blackmail, abuse of power and denial of justice are all brought to bear to keep firm control over the news".


Mobile phone use is widespread and growing. At least half of all Zimbabweans owned a handset.


The Post Office and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) said there were 6.5 million mobile subscribers in early 2011.


But mobile phone usage is growing fast. Subscriber figures issued by Zimbabwe’s three mobile phone companies indicate that by September 2011 there were more than 8.5 million SIM cards in use.


According to POTRAZ, the mobile network covered 90 to 95% of the population and 40% of Zimbabwe’s land area.


The Zimbabwe All Media Products and Services (ZAMPS) survey reported that mobile phone ownership amongst urban adults had reached 86% by the end of 2010.


The coordinating organisation for international humanitarian and emergency aid to Zimbabwe is UNICEF.


Humanitarian organisations planning to launch communications initiatives with intended beneficiaries in Zimbabwe should coordinate their actions with other stakeholders through the UNICEF office in Harare and the Cluster leads.



6 Fairbridge Avenue,




Tel: +263 (4) 703941/ 703942/ 721692/
731840/ 730093/ 730094


At a glance: 



Population (est. 2010):

12.6 million (World Bank)

Main languages:

English, Shona, Ndebele

Other languages used in broadcasting:

Tonga, Chewa, Venda, Shangani, Kalanga, Nyanja, Manyika, Ndau

Radios per 1,000 people (2003):

100 / 1000 (

TV sets per 1,000 people (2007):

33 / 1000 (

GDP per capita (2010):

$500 (ITU)

Adult literacy rate (2009):

92% (UNESCO)

Mobile phone penetration (2011):

6.5 million (Post Office and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ))

HIV/AIDS prevalence rate (2009):


Mobile network coverage:

< 95% of population
> 40% of land area
(Post Office and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ))

Internet subscribers (2010):

1.4 million (ITU)

Ranking in UN Human Development Index:

169 out of 182

Ranking in RSF World Press:

123 out of 178


Statistics on all aspects of life in Zimbabwe are unreliable and often contradictory. All figures should be treated with caution.