The time comes for intervention to remove Mugabe
9 December 2008
Robert Mugabe, who turns 85 in February, is surely on borrowed time. But Zimbabweans who have suffered terrible decline under his misrule since independence in 1980 no longer have the luxury of time to wait for it to end. One in four Zimbabweans has fled. Those left behind are trapped in a nightmare of oppression, disease and starvation as a result of the collapse of governance and the economy. (...)
The disease has crossed borders to South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique. Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, of the group known as the Elders who were recently denied entry to Zimbabwe, said on Sunday: "Zimbabwe's people are the greatest victims of their government's mismanagement but the entire region is paying the price." South Africa sent a high-level delegation to Zimbabwe yesterday, while Southern African Economic Development Community health and water ministers are meeting this week. The Elders were yesterday in Paris to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the head of the European Union, which is planning tighter sanctions against Zimbabwe's leaders.
Yet if the total collapse of their country cannot persuade Mr Mugabe and his cronies to surrender power, it is likely nothing will. The question is at what point does the world accept that "enough is enough", as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Sunday.
African voices have begun to break a long and shameful silence on Zimbabwe. Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who last month declared "there is no legitimate government in Zimbabwe", is calling for an African Union emergency meeting to send troops. "If no troops are available, then the AU must allow the UN to send its forces into Zimbabwe with immediate effect to take over control of the country and ensure urgent humanitarian assistance." South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has come to the same conclusion: "If (African leaders) say to him 'step down' and he refuses, they must do so militarily." (...)
South Africa holds the key to an African intervention, but its record does not inspire confidence that it will lead such decisive action. That leaves the international community to take up the challenge raised by Mr Odinga and Mr Brown, who said: "This is now an international rather than a national emergency because the systems of government in Zimbabwe are now broken.
There is no state capable or willing of protecting its people." His words pointedly lay the ground for invoking the responsibility to protect populations from crimes against humanity, a doctrine unanimously adopted by the 2005 UN summit. The Mugabe regime's actions have caused the deaths of tens of thousands and put the lives of millions at risk. "Mugabe's case deserves no less than investigations by the International Criminal Court at The Hague," Mr Odinga said.
That, though, is a matter for the future. Zimbabwean lives take priority. Australia, and all other nations in a position to help, must provide food and medical aid as quickly as possible. At the same time, Australia and like-minded nations should exert maximum diplomatic pressure to bring the matter to the UN Security Council in order to authorise intervention in accord with the responsibility to protect populations from crimes against humanity.
As Mr Annan said before leaving the UN in 2006, "Such doctrines remain pure rhetoric unless those with the power to intervene effectively by exerting political, economic or, in the last resort, military muscle are prepared to take the lead." The vow "never again" will ring more hollow than ever if the world cannot act against a failing dictatorship that is so clearly unwilling and unable to end the death and suffering of its own people.