Akim Gama: Out of Africa
On sunny summer afternoons, it’s not usually hard to find Akim Henry Gama. Go to where the music is, that’s where he’ll be.Sometimes he dances, but more often he’s smiling and chatting, bent slightly at the waist to lower his ear closer to whoever he’s talking with.Given the number of smiles and handshakes he gives, he must know half of Glenwood Springs. Gama isn’t a native, or even longtime local. He’s a 27-year-old Zimbabwean, who has lived and worked in Glenwood for four years – waiting tables, talking to schoolkids about Africa, and hanging out outdoors. What sometimes seems to take a back seat to his wit, charm and smile though, is Gama’s passion for Zimbabwe and his desire to better his country.”Zimbabwe is just out of control,” he said recently. “It’s (Hitler’s) Germany pretty much, worse than Germany.”Gama places much of the blame for Zimbabwe’s shrinking economy – a $327 annual average salary and 252 percent annual inflation rate, according to the U.S. State Department – on the shoulders of Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, who has been in power for 25 years. “He has the country under his thumb,” Gama said. On a recent afternoon, Gama sat with a reporter and photographer on the deck of Rivers restaurant talking about Zimbabwe and life there. He couldn’t speak out in Zimbabwe, for fear of retaliation from the government, he said. “You always have to watch your back … watch what you say,” he said.According to the CIA’s Web site The World Factbook, “Mugabe’s chaotic land redistribution campaign begun in 2000 caused an exodus of white farmers, crippled the economy, and ushered in widespread shortages of basic commodities. Ignoring international condemnation, Mugabe rigged the 2002 presidential election to ensure his re-election. Opposition and labor groups launched general strikes in 2003 to pressure Mugabe to retire early; security forces continued their brutal repression of regime opponents.” Gama contends that perhaps 30,000 of his tribe, the Ndebele, were killed by Mugabe and Mugabe’s 77 percent majority tribe, the Shona. Most of Gama’s family has been driven from Zimbabwe, and his father died under “mysterious circumstances” just a few months before Gama moved to the U.S. in 2000. So many people have fled that “Botswana has built electric fences and South Africa has placed military along the border to stem the flow of thousands of Zimbabweans fleeing to find work and escape political persecution,” Gama said.Gama’s mother and sister still live there, but “you don’t want to go to Zimbabwe,” he said. Gama himself left Zimbabwe with the help of an Irish businessman he met while working at a hotel near Victoria Falls. The man owned hotels throughout the United States, including Glenwood Ramada Inn, and offered Gama a job.Gama’s been here almost ever since, leaving for long trips and work in different parts of the United States, even though his home clearly remains Zimbabwe.”To be honest with you, I’m waiting for the day when I can go back to my country,” he said. But wishing for a return to Zimbabwe and worrying about politics and turmoil there isn’t Gama’s style. He’s got music to hear and rivers to run all over the state. “I can’t just sit in my house all day and sulk about Zimbabwe,” he said. “I’ve got to live life.”Gama’s life includes school presentations where he dons a spear and African beads, and a Glenwood Springs Noon Rotary presentation where he spoke forcefully about Zimbabwe’s problems. Speaking out may be dangerous for Gama if he returns to Zimbabwe. For now though, he’s enjoying life and Glenwood Springs. “There’s all these mountains around here,” he said, “I don’t think Mugabe can send any of his people here.”
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