Mugabe 'cannot lead Zimbabwe out of crisis'

PARIS – INFLUENTIAL former statesmen have given a damning verdict on Zimbabwe, saying President Robert Mugabe's government cannot lead the nation out of its humanitarian crisis after a cholera outbreak killed nearly 600 people.\r\n

"There is bitter disappointment in the current leadership. This government has not demonstrated the ability to lead the country out of its current crisis," former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan said overnight, according to a statement from the Elders.

"The process of transition to an inclusive government must be accelerated and I urge SADC (Southern African Development Community) leaders to play a more active role in pressing for that to occur," he said in a report released on the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe.

South Africa is sending an official delegation to Zimbabwe tomorrow to assess the situation, while a troika of SADC health and water affairs ministers will meet on Friday in Johannesburg on the cholera outbreak.

"Zimbabwe’s people are the greatest victims of their government’s mismanagement, but the entire region is paying the price. Three to four million people have left, primarily for South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and the UK, while erosion of water and health systems has provoked a potential trans-regional cholera epidemic," the report said.

Mr Annan and two other members of the Elders – former US president Jimmy Carter and rights activist Graca Machel, wife of former South African leader Nelson Mandela – tried to visit Zimbabwe on November 22 and 23 but Harare refused them entry.

Instead, they met Zimbabwe political leaders, civil society and business representatives, donors, aid workers and UN agency heads over three days in Johannesburg.

"Zimbabwe urgently needs the rapid formation of a workable government. The regime has been in denial about what is happening in their country and the region has not really wanted to know either. The cholera epidemic has shown just how serious the situation in Zimbabwe has become," Mr Carter said.

Ms Machel urged SADC leaders to visit Zimbabwe themselves.

"We were not able to enter the country…I would urge all the SADC leaders to visit Zimbabwe to assess the humanitarian situation firsthand. Zimbabwe’s leaders are failing their people and the region cannot ignore the suffering of millions any longer"

Based on the discussions in Johannesburg, "the Elders are strongly of the view that there is a major underreported humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe and the conditions are deteriorating at an alarming rate", the report said.

"The future of the country cannot be in the hands of the present government," said former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, another Elders member.

The Elders called for more food and medical assistance and urged the feuding parties to implement "in good faith" the September 15 power-sharing deal signed in Harare.

The head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Zimbabwe, Roeland Monasch, told the BBC he feared a possible 60,000 cholera cases in the coming weeks.

Such a surge in infections could bring the number of deaths to about 2700, he said.

The Elders meet in Paris tomorrow with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, the current head of the European Union, even as EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels are expected to tighten sanctions against Zimbabwe.

Read Full Report here