Whither Zimbabwe?

THE situation in Zimbabwe is worsening by the day. We really hate joining the Western media chorus calling for President Robert Mugabe's head. But having led and governed the country since its independence more than two decades ago, Mugabe cannot escape the blame for much of the mess the country finds itself in today.

If the country once described as the Jewel of Africa is today the poorest, the worst governed and most mismanaged nation on the continent, the credit largely goes to Mugabe.

And by refusing to accept the clear change his people so overwhelmingly want and trying every trick in the African dictators' book to perpetuate his fast eroding power, President Mugabe is only adding to and multiplying his people's woes. What a fall for a leader who was once lionised as the icon of hope for the African people!

Having forced opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai out of the presidential run-off with endless persecution and crackdown on the opposition party, Mugabe and his governing party Zanu-PF have declared themselves the winner of the vote. And Tsvangirai has taken refuge in the Dutch embassy in Harare.

Goes without saying there is no credibility of the presidential vote held last month or this so-called presidential run-off. The first litmus test of a truly democratic and fair election is the freedom of choice given to the voters. That simply doesn't exist in Mugabe's Zimbabwe.

If the whole presidential campaign was marked by persecution of and violence against opposition activists, the proposed presidential run-off later this month lost its credibility after Mugabe repeatedly vowed not to accept the outcome of the poll if he were defeated. Not to mention the crackdown on the opposition party led by Tsvangirai that has already killed nearly 100 people and scores injured and homeless. Clearly, the situation in Zimbabwe has got completely out of control. And even though this paper has always been opposed to external interference and imposition of foreign agenda, especially by the big powers, in the affairs of developing countries, Zimbabwe appears to be an exception.

The African Union, especially big players like South Africa who are taken seriously by Mugabe, must break its silence and take more proactive steps to help the people of Zimbabwe.

The United Nations and even countries like Russia and China have strongly condemned the goings-on in the African country. The concern over Zimbabwe cuts across the East-West divide. UN chief Ban Ki-moon has urged Mugabe to postpone the presidential run-off. But it's not just the matter of a presidential election.

More drastic measures are needed to help Zimbabwe to its feet. And that begins only President Mugabe steps down or steps aside to usher in a more meaningful, and much-needed change. If he is not prepared to hand the baton to Tsvangirai, he could be persuaded to pass the mantle to one from his own party as a stopgap arrangement to hold a free and fair election. Mugabe cannot be part of any solution to Zimbabwe's problem. Because he is the problem.

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