The indicators paint a sad and disturbing picture of Zimbabwe. The once thriving “bread basket” of Africa has become politically and economically paralyzed, with a falling GDP, life expectancy of just 44 years, and a per capita income of only US$274 per year. Yet there is also reason for hope, with a new coalition government in place and promises of reform. For Violet Gonda, 2011 M.C./M.P.A. candidate, a Zimbabwean banished from her homeland for almost a decade, this union of failed policy and dreams for a better tomorrow drive her ambition as a citizen, journalist and Harvard Kennedy School student.

“When I left Zimbabwe it was a beautiful country,” Gonda says, “but the reports that I hear from back home are really depressing. Zimbabwe has changed greatly; much of the country’s infrastructure has collapsed and sadly there are some things that cannot be repaired because the damage has been too much. But I still feel that I can play a positive role in rebuilding and fighting for a better Zimbabwe, when I leave the Kennedy School.”

It was while working for a radio station in London in 2002 when Gonda learned that she was banned from returning to Zimbabwe. SW Radio Africa, Zimbabwe’s first independent radio station, had apparently upset the government with its coverage of the nation’s economic and political troubles. Media restrictions in Zimbabwe forced the journalists to broadcast daily news and current affairs programs on shortwave from London. Gonda was among a group of six journalists banned from returning to Zimbabwe by the government led by President Robert Mugabe.

“At the time we thought that it was just ridiculous. We are citizens of Zimbabwe and no one had a right to stop us from entering our country. In any case, we didn’t think the ban would really last long because Zimbabwe was about to have elections in 2002. The mood in the country around that time was – people were fed up. We thought people were ready for change,” she said. “So we were upset, but not that upset because we thought it was going to be short-lived. Reality is, nine years later 87-year-old Mugabe is still in power and I’m still in exile.”

Gonda harbors ambitions of returning home, but continued political violence and repression of anti-government activists cause her great concern.