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The phantom election

'We are not going to give up our country because of a mere X. How can a ballpoint pen fight with a gun?' Robert Mugabe, June 2008.

Zimbabwe's electoral commission, derided for its procrastination following the first round of the presidential election in March, wasted little time in announcing the results of the run-off held on the 27th of June. This time their man had won, which made things rather simpler.

In the week of the run-off, a loaf of bread had cost a billion dollars. In most countries, a statistic like that would have been enough to seal the fate of the incumbent president. But in the case of Robert Mugabe, a failed economy was not enough to bring about regime change. The power-sharing deal he signed three months later kept him in place, and left many questions unanswered.

In June, Zimbabwe's annual inflation rate was estimated at ten million per cent. At independence in 1980, one US dollar bought 80 Zimbabwean cents. On election day, one US dollar bought about 33 billion Zimbabwean dollars.

Mugabe has presided over this staggering economic collapse. A dire string of statistics graphically illustrates the catastrophic effect of his reign. Life expectancy has fallen to 37 years for men and 34 years for women, the lowest in the world. Only one in five people have regular employment. In 2006, the country's farmers produced two thirds less corn than they had before Mugabe began his land redistribution program in 2000. Electricity has been rationed to four hours a day, and the water supply is said to be at breaking point. It is estimated that four million people needed emergency food aid to survive last year. Up to a quarter of the population has already migrated abroad.

As Mugabe approached his judgement day, the regime violently cracked down on opposition activists and Zimbabwe became increasingly closed off to international journalists. Several times in this period, Panos photographer Robin Hammond managed to circumvent the restrictions, travelling around the country to study the impact of the economic and political collapse on the lives of ordinary men, women and children.
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