Tuesday, December 9, 2008




Published on 07/12/2008

Zimbabwe’s descent into collapse is nearing fresh lows with soldiers rioting in the streets, robbing foreign exchange dealers and battling police and mobs of citizens.

The chaos comes as the economically crippled nation battles food shortages, looming famine and a cholera outbreak that has killed 575 people, stretched limited resources and seen many flee to neighbouring nations for medical care. The outbreak has spread to four neighbouring countries, forcing Mugabe’s government to declare a national emergency and seek international help. The medical refugees it has spawned join the vast majority of Zimbabwe’s economically active citizens, who are in exile fleeing a country with 80 per cent unemployment.

The nation’s Reserve Bank, responsible for record hyper-inflation thanks to a politically-motivated spree of minting as prices double every 24 hours, is accused of profiting from illegal foreign currency deals on the black market. It has instead pointed the finger at four banks it supervises and sacked key executives.

The catalogue of failures is huge: From agricultural and economic crises, to breakdowns in basic services, law and order, and political governance. These, the Mugabe government argues, are all the result of Western economic sanctions, not failed policies.

To end this crisis, Prime Minister Raila Odinga suggests direct intervention — the forcible removal of Robert Mugabe, a course of action also contemplated by Nobel laureate and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has condemned President Mugabe’s regime, saying the embattled president’s departure was long overdue.

Raila’s British counterpart, Mr Gordon Brown says "the systems of government are now broken" and urged international action to deal with the food and health crises. Brown was quoted saying he is in talks with African leaders on "to press for stronger action" in the "blood-stained regime".

What action that might be is unclear but the Mugabe government has taken this to mean the British plan an invasion. This, we believe, is an unlikely scenario.

The argument for military intervention seems persuasive. But with the list of prime candidates for such action — states whose oppressive policies cause untold misery to millions — including Myanmar, North Korea and others, chances of this option finding favour with the international community are remote.

The appetite for military adventure abroad in many nations has also diminished with the difficulties facing US-led interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Brown "hopes" the United Nations Security Council would meet to consider the situation. A meeting of the UN body, however, is likely to do little more than issue a resolution seeking action from African leaders. The West is relying on Africa, particularly Zimbabwe’s neighbours in the 15-nation Southern African Development Community, to lead the way in ending this crisis.

Africa needs to consider what tools it has at its disposal to force an end to the crisis. It must also be realistic as to what means it can use to achieve such change. Mugabe and Zanu-PF’s failure to establish a unity government with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change is a key problem they can address. Such a government’s policies might alleviate the immediate threats of famine and disease. More importantly, it would attract more foreign humanitarian and development aid and end sanctions.

Mere tongue-lashings will do little to end the Mugabe regime’s abuses of its people. And as the prospect of foreign armies, British or African marching on Harare is remote, the continent’s leaders — particularly in South Africa and the African Union — must pressure the despot into stepping down or accommodating the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC in a power-sharing deal.

While the latter option is clearly an unhappy compromise, it may be the only realistic option available that allows sufficient change to address the growing humanitarian crisis.