British PM Joins Call for Mugabe's Exit

Catastrophic suffering in Zimbabwe compounded by cholera outbreak.

Dec. 6, 2008 -- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown today followed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a growing list of international leaders in condemning the ruler of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, and calling for his resignation or removal from office.

"You can't allow a government to betray a people in this way," Brown said, adding that it was time for a coordinated international response to the misery of the Zimbabwean people. "We must be of one voice. Enough is enough."

Zimbabwe is now in the grip of a cholera epidemic which has become an international emergency. Aid agencies say there are now 14,000 cases of cholera and at least 600 deaths inside Zimbabwe, affecting nine of the country's 10 provinces. Health workers have been warning about the risk of cholera in the country for more than a year.

Parts of the capital, Harare, and other townships, have been without water for long periods in the past two years. In desperation, people started digging shallow wells, but the wells became contaminated by open sewers, and by burst pipes that were never repaired.

Zimbabwe's hospitals are incapable of controlling the epidemic, because they have been virtually shut down. Nurses and doctors are paid less in a day than the price of a bus ticket, so many of them have simply ceased to come to work. There is no medicine, no reliable water or electricity supply. Health care in Zimbabwe used to be among the best in Africa.

Hyperinflation has reached eye-watering levels. Officially, it stood at 231 million percent in July. But John Robertson, a respected economist in the country, says that between August and October it went through the billions, the trillions, and the quadrillions, until it hit 1.6 sextillion percent last month. (A sextillion has 21 zeros). Zimbabweans are allowed to withdraw a grand total of $7.50 (100 million Zimbabwean dollars) from the bank each week. The government keeps printing new money, but that has only made inflation worse.

In a country that used to be the breadbasket of Africa, people are living on wild fruit and boiled mulberry leaves. In the cities, those who have access to hard currency – mainly the relatives of the 3 million Zimbabweans who have fled to neighboring countries -- are buying food and supplies with U.S. dollars or South African rands in underground supermarkets, stocked with imports from South Africa. Now it's reportedly impossible to buy anything without foreign currency.

To all this the president, Robert Mugabe, is perceived as indifferent. An attempt to share power with opposition leader Morgan Tzangerai, from whom the recent election is widely considered to have been stolen, has collapsed because of Mugabe's refusal to give up any of the key ministries.

Now with the threat of cholera stalking the whole region, Zimbabwe's neighbors are joining Western leaders in saying that Mugabe must go. Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu said in Cape Town recently that if Mugabe doesn't step down, he should face military intervention from his African neighbours.

"If he refuses, they must go in … militarily," Tutu said, adding that Mugabe should face indictment in The Hague for crimes against humanity.

It may not come to that. The foreign minister of Botswana, which supplies Zimbabwe with oil, said today that if those supplies were cut off, the Mugabe government wouldn't last more than a couple of weeks. If so, this would finally answer the prayers of some of the most benighted people on the African continent.

"This is a human catastrophe," Brown said. "This is a bloodstained regime … This cannot go on."