Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Cholera pandemic worsens in Zimbabwe

World leaders have called on Robert Mugabe to step down as the cholera pandemic worsens in Zimbabwe. At least 600 have so far died though some suggest the figure may be far higher. Hospitals and health clinics are at crisis point, many unable to provide even the most basic care besides claims by the government that the “cholera situation is under control”. The World Health Organisation have said that more than half a million people are at risk from contracting the disease and the ICRC are attempting to mount operations to deliver medicine and other supplies.

But despite the disease threatening to spread beyond Zimbabwe’s borders few African leaders have called for Mugabe to resign his office. On the border with South Africa there are makeshift refugee camps filled with victims of the outbreak. "I think it's going to get worse," Kgetsa Nare, from the South African Red Cross, told the BBC, "We've got between 500 and 1,000 people crossing every day, and most of them are sick, many with cholera". Eight people have died in South Africa alone, and in Zambia which borders Zimbabwe, one has died in the town of Chirundu. Botswana too is said to be on high alert as one Zimbabwean is being treated for the disease.

One African country that has made continued calls for ousting Mugabe is Botswana. The country’s foreign minister, Phandu Skelemani, said in a recent radio interview that if neighbouring countries closed their borders with the landlocked country, President Robert Mugabe's 28 year rule would end in a week. "If no petrol went in for a week, he can't last," Skelemani said. He expressed little confidence in the SADC mediation process being led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, and said the SADC should "own up" and admit it had failed. President Ian Khama of Botswana has been one of Mugabe's staunchest critics, even though both countries are among the 14 members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The worsening situation which some have likened to genocide has prompted some to call for even more drastic action. Former Archbishop and Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu has called for the use of military force if Mugabe does not step down. "If they say to him, 'step down' and he refuses, they must go in ... militarily," Tutu said in an interview with a Dutch television programme on 4th December.

And there was even calls to physically oust Mugabe with force from Kenya which has seen its own troubles in recent months. Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga called for Mugabe's removal during an interview with the BBC on the same day Desmond Tutu spoke out. "Power-sharing is dead in Zimbabwe and will not work with a dictator who does not really believe in power-sharing. It's time for African governments to take decisive action to push him out of power".

The rhetoric and calls for Mugabe to step down has seemingly only strengthened the leaders resolve and prompting him to accuse the West of plotting colonialist invasions [BBC].
But when the disease spreads well inside the borders of South Africa, action may follow. It will not be calls by other African leaders and archbishops, nor protestations by Condoleezza Rice, George Bush or Gordon Brown, that will motivate South Africa to mount any action. It will only be the threat to its own security.

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