Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Bleak Christmas for Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe stands as testimony to the failure of the United Nations and the global community to act responsibility in the face of a brutal regime.

Cholera has killed over 1,000 people in Zimbabwe this year, yet Mugabe dismisses the epidemic, which has now infected a further 21,000, as part of a plot by the western powers to create an excuse to “go to war”. The economic crisis in Zimbabwe – inflation is officially running at 231 million per cent and its economic infrastructure has collapsed – is so severe, that over 1 million have fled the country as economic migrants and 80% of those of working age who remain are unemployed. The Central Bank issued new bank notes for general circulation last week - $1 billion, $5 billion and $10 billion.

The political institutions of Zimbabwe are not functioning, following Mugabe’s refusal to honour a power sharing agreement with the opposition. Democracy, once the hallmark of the country, has been replaced by a repressive dictatorship headed by a corrupt regime which lives in luxury while its people starve. Opposition, even from within Mugabe’s own party, is repressed by aggression. Fear, violence and corruption are the basis of the regime.

When Zimbabwe was Rhodesia, it was a model African state. It is rich in agricultural land and, in 2000, was among the world’s leading exporter of tobacco. Mugabe seized the farms and gave them to party supporters, forcing the former farm managers to leave the farms and, in many cases, the country. A farm that once supplied mil to the capital city Harare now has no cows, just a few goats and sheep. The breadbasket of southern African has become an economic basket case.

Last week, the 82 year old Robert Mugabe, made it clear that he would not, under any circumstances relinquish power. “Zimbabwe is mine!” he proclaimed last week. This year alone, the regime killed over 200 opposition members, arranged the abducted of 5,000 of its opponents and created the conditions in which 200,000 left the country during the June election in fear of their lives.

Twenty eight years after Mugabe came to power, he is pursuing the course he laid out in his Maoist-Marxist based party platform during his first election in 1980. Between 1982 and 1985, Mugabe’s crushed armed resistance from the provinces of Matabeleland and the Midlands, leading to claims that he ordered mass murder of 30,000 tribal opponents during this period of his rule. He took Zimbabwe into war in the Congo in 1998 – a war that led to the death of 5.4 million people. All of his domestic views, including his views on land reform and the suppression of opposition, were laid out clearly in his early political life. His views of homosexuality – it is banned in Zimbabwe – emerged later. He has amassed a fortune – said to be in excess of $1 billion – garnered by theft from the public purse. He is not a man who can be dealt with through diplomatic means. Mugabe is a tyrant. A man unfit to govern. A threat to the stability of Africa.

No one appears willing to do anything about it. The UN has passed resolutions. The EU, led by Britain, has placed sanctions on the regime. African states have quietly condemned the regime and attempted to broker a power sharing arrangement between the ruling party in Zimbabwe and the opposition, but it has failed. Consistently strong reporting of the situation by journalists risking their lives to tell the story of a failed African state descending into chaos are met with a shrug by politicians around the world.

Meanwhile, the country falls into chaos. The Times of London reports a visit to a hospital treating child cholera victims. It was staffed by a single nurse trying to look after sixty three children in a hospital with intermittent power, no food and not very clean water. The remaining staff, including doctors, have given up working since there is no money to pay them – the banks have run out of bank notes. Cholera spreads, even though it is treatable, because of the failure of the financial, political and health systems in the country. Now it is spreading to neighbouring African states. Life expectancy in Zimbabwe is amongst the lowest in the world – just 34 for women.

The diplomatic mantra is that this is “an African problem that should be settled by Africa”. They have failed to do so. This is a case in which there is a need for a military intervention aimed at regime change. Mugabe has to go and his party, corrupt and violent, has to be disbanded. Mugabe himself, who was given incentives to leave Zimbabwe and an offer of immunity from war crimes indictments, should be tried for war crimes. If the African states do not undertake the task of intervention, then the UN should do so. The time for diplomacy is over. It is time to act. As an incentive to action, the soccer World Cup scheduled for South Africa in 2010, should be postponed until the situation in Zimbabwe is resolved.

Our collective inability to intervene when it is obvious that there is a need to do so, calls into question the veracity of our global institutions. Where is the UN when we need them?

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