Less than ten miles from Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s mansion in Harare–the largest private residence on the African continent–Cleophus Masxigora digs for mice. On a good day, he told me, he can find 100 to 200. To capture the vermin, he burns brush to immobilize them, then kills them with several thumps of a shovel. This practice has become so widespread in Zimbabwe that, as a Zimbabwean journalist informed me, state-run television has broadcast warnings against citizens setting brush fires. Masxigora began hunting mice to support (and feed) his wife and three children soon after Mugabe began confiscating thousands of productive, white-owned farms in 2000, a policy that has since led to mass starvation. Not long ago, Zimbabwe, the “breadbasket of Africa,” exported meat and produced what was widely considered to be Africa’s finest livestock. Today, Masxigora tells me that each mouse nets $30 Zim dollars, about 12 cents, which makes him a wealthy man in Zimbabwe. “This is beef to us,” he told me in August.
The conditions Mugabe rendered in Zimbabwe do not merely stem from idealistic economic and social policies gone awry. He has undertaken a campaign of violence and starvation against political opponents, the fallout of which is killing tens of thousands, if not more, every year. In 2005, there were roughly 4,000 more deaths each week than births, a rate that the famine has surely increased. This is worse than brutality. The United Nations says that “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” constitutes genocide, and that is exactly what Robert Mugabe has wrought.
While we debate gay marriage and talk about Britney and continue our trillion dollar war in Iraq, this is another reality. Trying to absorb all of the world’s pain and suffering is too numbing, too shocking, too exhausting, too paralyzing. But sometimes I feel like we aren’t absorbing enough of it because if we did I think we would lead – to paraphrase – loud lives of fathomless purpose helping others.