Zimbabwe on the Brink

Article published on March 10, 2003
community published
Article published on March 10, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Whatever role the UK once played as a colonial ruler in Zimbabwe, today it is right to 'interfere' in the desperate situation there. This is not about neocolonialism, its is about securing basic human rights and democracy for the people of Zimbabwe. Such efforts should come from all quarters: from the local to the international. Glenys Kinnock MEP tells us why.

We see a pitiful drama unfold in Zimbabwe as millions starve and HIV cuts a swathe through the population, reducing life expectancy to 37. My prediction is that this country, which is being run like a private fiefdom, is heading for meltdown.

All over Africa, brave individuals are challenging the right of their rulers to continue to hold on to power without seeking the authority of the people. The people of Kenya have indeed shown that it is possible to reclaim the right to peaceful change through the ballot box, at the December 2002 General Election. The people of Zimbabwe are also entitled to ask for that right to democracy and an end to their misery and their suffering. The election in Zimbabwe was a defining moment for the international community. The deeply flawed election process was exacerbated by draconian legislation intended to suppress all dissent and dismantle what democratic frameworks remained. It is not surprising that in this atmosphere, and with evidence of growing crisis, that the English cricketers were forced to decide that 'playing the game' would be neither sensible nor appropriate.

That crisis is not a crisis about land, as Mugabe would like us to believe. Instead, it is clearly a crisis of legitimacy, characterised by an absence of rule of law, bad governance and a regime which ignores the will of the people in order to protect a cynical system of self-serving patronage.

A terrible and tragic effect of Mugabe's tyranny has been the food shortages affecting half the population of Zimbabwe. There is widespread despair and uncertainty.

The population of Zimbabwe, it is estimated, should be about 14 million. However, a recent census revealed that now the population is down to 10.4 million. These figures reveal how many millions have left Zimbabwe - often to live in squatter camps in neighbouring countries. Botswana is unable to cope with the massive flow of illegal immigrants, and is sending back 1,600 people every month to Zimbabwe. At least a million Zimbabweans have died of AIDS. 35% of all adults (approximately two million people) are infected with HIV/AIDS - mostly women. AIDS deaths are increasing, especially in areas where food is being denied to the population. There are 75,000 orphans, which represents 15% of all Zimbabwean children. And TB, malaria and other infections rage in urban and rural areas. 65% of girls of school age are not in school. There are high levels of infant deaths and clear evidence of factors related to deprivation and poverty.

One cause of the extreme hunger is the land seizures from white farmers perceived as representing the old British colonial rulers. But all this has achieved is the dismantling of the commercial agriculture sector without replacing it with any other way of producing food efficiently and effectively. The UN has called these seizures "unsustainable" and asserts that without them, the consequences of Zimbabwe's drought would have been contained. Another contributory factor has been the regime's policy of fixing prices at uneconomic levels, and their refusal to allow the private sector to import maize.

Only 50% of the land that was once farmed is actually under cultivation - and seeds and fertilisers are in short supply. More than 100,000 farm workers have lost their jobs and are destitute.

In addition, there is clear evidence that those who cannot show a ruling party membership card are being denied food by regime-controlled organisations. The commercial food sector is being run by ZANU-PF and they now police food imports and allow party officials to run, as the International Crisis Group says, "profitable food resale rackets". The 'Green Bombers' (Mugabe's youth militia) and self-styled war veterans whip up panic and terror in the food queues. They know that whatever they do, they are guaranteed impunity.

Throughout the history of colonialism, the thirst for democracy, peace and security has been an unstoppable process and the people of Africa are increasingly prepared to stand up and campaign for these rights. They are tired of the old liberation leaders who treat office as a personal property, and who use arguments and tactics that belong to a different era.

The failure by Africa, in general terms, to put its own house in order, jeopardises the prospect of a break with the past.

Equally, the European Union must now clearly confirm and strengthen its determination to make 'smart sanctions' work, and to take further coercive measures against the Mugabe regime. We should, in my view, extend targeted sanctions to those business people responsible for financing the ZANU-PF regime, including the principle beneficiaries of the graft and corruption. We could also look at taking away rights of residence in Europe and also access of family members of those on the list to jobs and to our schools and universities. It is also time to name and shame those who connive and collude with ZANU-PF's activities. This could include exposing shareholders, banks and financial houses which have financed the regime.

The Commonwealth, in addition, should maintain the full suspension of Zimbabwe so long as ZANU-PF continues to flout the principles of the Harare Declaration. There are other measures that could also be taken and as the situation continues to deteriorate, everything should be explored - including consideration of a sports and cultural boycott.

The British Government has built a broad international coalition against the Mugabe regime and clearly understands that we must see more action from Zimbabwe's neighbours. We must continue to protect the integrity of sanctions and banned Zimbabweans must be denied entry into the European Union wherever and whenever we have discretion to do so.

Zimbabwe really does matter. It has the potential to act as a motor for regional development and poverty eradication. As things stand, Zimbabwe is impoverishing and destabilising the region. Southern Africa holds the key and they should acknowledge that liberation has been perverted into tyranny. What is needed is leadership which is intent on building a future - not the zealotry of leaders obsessed by the phantom ghosts of the past, or those who care more about political symbolism than they do about the poor. The reality is that the Mugabe regime itself represents Africa's ugly past.