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The Zimbabwean Tragedy

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 12, 2008

The continuing suffering of the Zimbabwean people must bring tears to the eyes of any humanitarian. For those of us who prayed and propagandize for the overthrow of Ian Smith of Southern Rhodesia, the ascendency of Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo was god send. It was a beautiful sight. But, alas, our dreams were crushed to the ground and the resultant pain and suffering that we see in Zimbabwe does not do our hearts well. As we look at Zimbabwe today, we see a man who has lost his conscience and every sense of decency and hence the continuing impasse in his country.

A few says ago Zimbabwe's neighbors failed to break that impasse which prompted opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to appeal to the African Union to be more vigorous in his assistance of his country. After 12 hours of meetings, the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) failed to prod President Robert Mugabe into a compromise with Tsvangirai.

The bone of contention is the Ministry of Home Affairs ministry. SADC had proposed that there be two ministers of home affairs: one from Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and another from Mugabe's ZANU. The SADC recommended that Tsvangirai and Mugabe should appoint their own separate police ministers to the Ministry of Home Affairs. President Kgalema Motlanthe, president of South Africa called it "an historic power-sharing agreement as the only way to extricate Zimbabwe from her socio-economic challenges" but Tsvangiria was unrelenting in his opposition to such a formula. He saw such a compromise as unworkable. He pointed out: "This issue of co-sharing does not work. We have said so ourselves, we have rejected it, and that's the position."

Sean Jacobs of the London Guardian puts the issue well. He says, "One of the morals I draw from Zimbabwe is how long it took for Zimbabweans to demand accountability from their leadership. For almost 20 years Zimbabweans were held captive by a nationalist project that became more and more bankrupt and incompatible with democracy." He says further, quoting Jonathan Faull, a researcher at the Institute for Democracy in Cape Town (he is now at Harvard University) that "the impulse for accountability, disdain for unaccountable leadership…and the demands for participatory government, accessible institutions, and an emphatic political leadership are some of the core components of this tradition."

Zimbabwe is facing severe food shortages and rampant inflation. According to the United Nations, one third of Zimbabweans are now hungry and in need of food aid, a million children have lost one or both parents. About 140,000 persons died of AIDS last year. According to the World Health Organization there are 2.7 million cases of malaria among Zimbabwe's 12 million people. More than 80 per cent of the population is living on less than 1 pound or 1.50 (US) dollars a day and nearly half is chronically malnourished.

Zimbabweans are experiencing "a widespread shortage of meat, milk and other basic commodities as a result of the collapse of the agricultural sector. The country is dependent on food handouts and malnutrition is on the rise" (Zimbabwe Standard, Nov. 5). The employment rate is 80 per cent.

Meanwhile, HIV/AIDS activists accused Gideon Gono, governor of the Central Bank of Zimbabwe, of diverting US$7,29 million dollars meant for disease control in the country. It is reported that Gono gave the countries' judges new vehicles, satellite dishes and televisions and allocated 79 vehicles for the Information Ministry. He announced 3,000 tractors, 105 combine harvesters, and 100,000 plows for the country's farm mechanization program. Much of that money might have come from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The information minister said that the reserve Bank had been getting foreign currency for imports of food and medicine.

The annual inflation rate is 230 million percent, something I cannot imagine. Professor Steve Hanke, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute in the US, said that Zimbabwe's annual inflation rate "had soared to 2.79 quintillion percent, a World record in many respects. A quintillion is a figure with 18 zeroes and is a rug above a quadrillion" (Zimbabwe Standard, November 8, 2008). Roeland Monasch, Unicef's acting representative in Zimbabwe says that the number of Zimbabwean dollars required to buy a single American dollar rose from 3 million on October 23 to 1 billion the next day, and then to 40 billion on Wednesday and 1.1. trillion on Saturday according to the New York Times (November 3).

Things are deteriorating rapidly, that is, if they could really get worse. The longer the leaders take to agree on a power-sharing arrangement the more Zimbabweans continue to suffer. Things are even worse at the level of medical treatment. Meanwhile Botswana's President Ian Khama suggested that the only way out of the current deadlock was internationally supervised elections. President Mugabe called such a suggestion "extreme provocation" and said that Khama had "no right under international law as an individual or as a country to interfere in our domestic affairs." On Saturday last (November 8), the Zimbabwe Standard noted: "The government has a well-documented history of being devious. It has no intention of setting up an all-inclusive government and its conduct so far suggests it would rather set up a Zanu-PF government, totally disregarding the wishes of the people as expressed in the March 29 parliamentary and presidential elections."

No one really knows how things will turn out except to say the longer these conditions last, the worse it would be for Zimbabweans. Last week MDC said that Mr. Mugabe's party had unleashed "a new orgy of brutality and assaults across the whole country." In his turn, President Mugabe accused Botswana of interfering in its affairs (Zimbabwe Standard). As it stands somebody has to intervene either through moral suasion or force. One would hope that the former prevails. The latter only perpetuates the violence that has come to characterize the country. I really hope that President Mugabe acts in a patriotic manner and offers Tsvangirai and the MDC an honorably way out of this quagmire of death and destruction.

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