Expatriates will find Zimbabwe's lifestyle to be increasingly Western, especially in the capital city of Harare. Major international hotels line wide boulevards where shops and restaurants flourish, and yet a short distance into the countryside, little has changed in centuries. In this country of about 12 million, most Zimbabweans still live in the way of their ancestors, and many are poor.
The socio-economic separation between the races, and between the urban and rural residents, makes for considerable anxiety and unrest. Despite these problems, foreigners will find Zimbabweans warm, hospitable and industrious.
Zimbabwe's government consists of a House of Assembly and a Senate. The latter was abolished by constitutional amendment in 1990, but reinstated in late 2005. The majority of Assembly members are elected by universal suffrage; they serve five-year terms. The Senate consists of 93 members, 60 of which are directly elected. The remaining seats are occupied by traditional chiefs, provincial governors, and others appointed by the president. The president, who wields executive power, is elected for six-year terms. While opposition parties are permitted, the present government has, in the past, discouraged - sometimes violently - their emergence.
In September 1999 a new opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was founded. It is sponsored by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, and has received strong backing from church, student, and business leaders.
In February 2000, the opposition succeeded in defeating a new constitution proposed by the government, which would have favored the present government and made it immune to certain laws. During the period prior to parliamentary elections in June 2000, and again in the presidential elections of March 2002, the leaders of the ruling party - the ZANU-PF - were charged with electoral maneuvering, voter intimidation, and muzzling the opposition press. The MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, was accused of anti-government speeches and incitement to violence.
While President Mugabe claimed victory in the March 2002 elections, most observers maintained the elections were not free and fair, with many instances of abuse and obstruction on the part of government forces. Following the elections, Zimbabwe was suspended from the British Commonwealth for one year and other sanctions have been instituted to protest the election's legitimacy.
The 2008 presidential elections resulted in a near-tie between Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangiri, leader of one of the MDC factions. This eventually led to a substantial MDC presence in legislative branches, and the appointment of Tsvangiri as prime minister by Mugabe.
The MDC and the trade unions cite economic hardships - high unemployment, inflation, poverty - and governmental corruption and mismanagement as targets of their opposition. The economic problems have been aggravated by Zimbabwe's costly involvement in the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Farm land seizures
The political and economic crisis has also been heightened by the invasion and occupation of white-owned farms by black veterans of Zimbabwe's struggle for independence. The veterans claim that the land was stolen from them during the period of British colonial rule, and is rightfully theirs. The government has been accused of supporting these occupations in which a number of white farmers and opposition supporters have been killed. At one point, the land seizure activity extended to popular tourist areas such as Victoria Falls and to white-owned tea and coffee plantations. Foreign protests and cuts in aid by foreign donors, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, seem to fall on deaf ears. In addition, the controversial land seizure program disrupted production on commercial farms, creating a serious food shortage.
The tourism industry has declined in recent years, due in part to these struggles as well as widespread deforestation.