Red News Readers,
Thank you Cynthia Banham for addressing the amazing inertia in the developed nations over action on Zimbabwe. How much of a basket case does Zimbabwe have to become before we see some real action by Great Britain , the US and Australia. Turning back the arms shipment is the first step. Surely more can be done to make South Africa, the African Union and the Southern African Development Corporation take a more interventionist role in the situation in Zimbabwe. How much more do the Zimbabwean people have to suffer? What are we waiting for? A genocide?
Excuses ring hollow as the world idly waits for Mugabe's disaster
Cynthia Banham, smh
April 26, 2008
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A decade ago I travelled through Zimbabwe, where I befriended a family with whom I have stayed in contact until this day. Zimbabwe was a very different place then to the country that now stands on the precipice of a major humanitarian disaster. As I trucked through game parks and white-water rafted down the mighty Zambezi River - just a couple of years before the President, Robert Mugabe, made his great grab for white-owned farms - it seemed to be one of the most stable countries in Africa.
Tourism, of course, no longer exists in the Zimbabwe of today. The place is in economic ruins, with agricultural production having almost completely halted, inflation running at more than 165,000 per cent, and widespread food shortages.
My friends no longer live in Zimbabwe. They fled the country, like a third of the population have, a few years ago. But they remain close to people who are still there, and they have insights into what daily life is like in their former home, insights they have shared with me.
What they show is how ominous things have begun to feel inside Zimbabwe. Nearly a month has passed since Mugabe lost the March 29 presidential election, yet his electoral commission refuses to release any official results, while it conducts a recount, which is widely believed will be rigged (results of the recount will supposedly be announced this weekend).
Stories have emerged of violence and killings of political opponents, and a few days ago the churches warned of possible genocide similar to what has occurred in Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi. This week dock workers in South Africa (thankfully) refused to unload a ship of arms from China which - chillingly - were en route to Mugabe's regime.
A few days after the election, my friends told me there was nervousness about the possibility of violence breaking out, and a belief that the delay in publicising election results was deliberate, meant to "stir the people up and cause bloodshed". People "want change now, and to wait the extra time will be pure agony" they told me. If there was no change, locals predicted industries would grind to a halt by August. Inflation was already ridiculous, with shops having to knock off three zeros on their checkout tills because the machines could not cope. Zimbabwe's inflation levels were underscored by the banks releasing two new notes, a $25,000,000 and a $50,000,000.
A week later, the mood in Zimbabwe had dropped. Mugabe was clearly hanging on, and the frustration was growing at not knowing what would happen next. Their few friends left in Zimbabwe, though they did not want to leave, were beginning to contemplate how they might do it. Inflation soared again. "One good thing is at least the rest of the world can see just how desperate this man is, and how little regard he has for the law." Then came this insight, from just a couple of days ago: "I have no words to describe the level of frustration felt by everyone and of course the underlying fear of violence erupting." Those friends left in Zimbabwe were now fretting about getting out of the country safely should things explode - what would they do with their pets? What about those who did not have passports? The Government in Zimbabwe has stopped issuing new ones. Would they be able to make it across the border? There were widespread reports of post-election intimidation and beatings. An extraordinary number of police patrolled the streets, they had set up multiple road blocks and were pulling cars over at random. The shelves in the shops were getting emptier than ever. International intervention, these friends believe, is the "only answer to our problem".
Which brings us to the question: what exactly is the international community doing about Zimbabwe? Diplomats say the situation is tricky, that so dire is Zimbabwe's economy, suspending it from global financial bodies such as the World Bank or imposing further sanctions (Australia has had "smart sanctions" targeting the regime since 2002) will have little effect. Zimbabwe has already been expelled from the Commonwealth, so that card has been played, and any moves by the United Nations Security Council will never get up because of expected opposition from China and Russia. Diplomats argue tough action by Western nations will only isolate Mugabe further, allowing him to portray their moves as a colonial plot. They argue countries such as Australia have done all they can. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith, like the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and the United States Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, have all spoken out in strong terms against Mugabe's regime. The best thing now, diplomats say, is to work with Zimbabwe's African neighbours and regional bodies such as the African Union and the Southern African Development Community who have the moral force and the ability through direct action (South Africa for example could cut off electrical power to Zimbabwe) to force out Mugabe.
Unfortunately many African nations have been reluctant to do this, and South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki's insistence on "quiet diplomacy" - publicly denying there is any crisis in Zimbabwe - has met with disappointment and outrage. This might yet change.
Is there really no more the international community can do in a situation such as Zimbabwe's, without waiting for some genocidal catastrophe to occur first, at which point it will have no choice but to send in troops as has happened elsewhere in Africa in the past? Certainly there are those within the Rudd Government who say there is more that could be done, even if it is through the UN's various human rights bodies. A friend from South Africa likened the situation in Zimbabwe to a family in crisis, where nobody wants to call DOCS until it is too late and the children have been abused.
Cynthia Banham is the Herald's Diplomatic Editor