AU stands by Zimbabwe

Khanyi Magubane

Leaders of the African Union (AU) are optimistic that a lasting solution to Zimbabwe’s debilitating crisis can still be found without tougher action taken against President Robert Mugabe.

On 9 December 2008 Salva Rweyemamu, the spokesperson for the chairperson of the AU and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said, “Only dialogue between the Zimbabwean parties, supported by the AU and other regional actors, can restore peace and stability to that country.”

Rweyemamu said that the forceful removal of Mugabe, as suggested by prominent figures including Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga and South Africa’s Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, were not options.

“We have a serious humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe. We have cholera. Do they think that we can eradicate cholera with guns?” he said.

Mugabe called to step down

The stance taken by the AU to stand by Mugabe comes as world leaders call for the insistent leader to relinquish his power.

On 9 December, former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan made an urgent call to world leaders to help in finding a new, long-term and coherent approach to the Zimbabwe crisis.

Speaking at the 25th anniversary of the Clingendael Institute in The Hague, Netherlands, Annan said the collapse of Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector meant that the country will no longer be able to feed its own people, let alone export food to neighbouring countries.

The Clingendael Institute of International Relations acts as a think-tank as well as a diplomatic academy, which identifies and analyses emerging political and social developments for the benefit of government and the general public.

To date, five million malnourished Zimbabweans are in urgently need of food aid.

Further afield world leaders are also increasing the pressure on Mugabe to step down, amidst fears that the country has finally reached the brink of collapse.

European Union leaders announced on 8 December that they are widening sanctions against the Southern African country’s government, adding the names of 11 high ranking Zimbabwean officials to a list of people banned from entering Europe.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband says the new names are “middle-ranking members of the regime” and were added to 168 already on the persona non grata list.

This list also includes Mugabe and his wife Grace.

The world leaders are stepping up their efforts of dethroning Mugabe as the country battles its worst cholera outbreak, critical food shortages, a struggling economy and political instability.

During a press conference, France’s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who chaired the EU ministerial meeting at which the decision to tighten the screws on Zimbabwe was announced, said that further sanctions could be imposed depending on how events played out in Zimbabwe.

Kouchner also said EU ministers had called on the World Health Organization (WHO) to tackle the outbreak of cholera, which has claimed hundreds of lives, pointing out that it is one of the communicable diseases which require international intervention.

Speaking from Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said, “President Mugabe must go,” also adding that the time for negotiations was over.

“There comes a time when a dictator does not want to hear, does not want to understand, and so my understanding is that heads of states and governments must end discussions.”

Zimbabwe’s strongest foreign ally China, has also voiced its concern, “We sincerely hope that all concerned parties in Zimbabwe will truly focus on the interests of the country and its people and soon form a government of national unity,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Liu Jianchao, speaking from Beijing.

Meanwhile in South Africa, ANC President Jacob Zuma said that he still supported the negotiation process started by former President Thabo Mbeki.

Speaking during a meeting with Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba, Zuma said that even as the political negotiations continue, swift action was needed to meet the immediate needs of the people of Zimbabwe.

“We need some swift action to deal with the situation in Zimbabwe. We fully support Mbeki’s mediation efforts and we urge the Zimbabwe leadership to act and … pave the way for a unity government.”

Zim authorities defend sovereignty

The widespread call for an immediate resolution to Zimabwe’s problems has however not alarmed President Mugabe, who, through his spokesperson George Charamba, said the West was using the cholera outbreak to sabotage his leadership.

“The British and the Americans are dead set on bringing Zimbabwe back to the U.N. Security Council. They are also dead set on ensuring that there is an invasion of Zimbabwe but without themselves carrying it out.”

Charamba also criticised British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s comments that a “command and control structure” in Zimbabwe needed to be set up.

“It is clear the command centre which Brown is referring to has nothing to do with cholera. It has everything to do with the running dispute between Zimbabwe and Britain over land.”

“It has to do with regime change politics. He is asking for an invasion of Zimbabwe,” he added.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the cholera death toll now stood at 589 with the number of reported cases now standing at 13 960.

The WHO speculates that up to 60 000 people could contract cholera if the epidemic continues to spiral out of control.

The disease is preventable and treatable under normal circumstances, but with Zimbabwe’s health sector in near collapse, it has been difficult to successfully manage the outbreak.

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