U.S. Senator Russ Feingold calls for Zimbabwean president to resign citing humanitarian crisis
Time's up for Robert Mugabe
By U.S. Senator Russ Feingold
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and I don't always agree on the issues, but when it comes to her take on the crisis in Zimbabwe, I couldn't agree more.
Last week, Secretary Rice was right to call the June 27th election in Zimbabwe, as well as the power-sharing negotiations to this point, what they are — a sham.
European Union leaders, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga among others have echoed this message. And with Zimbabwe
facing a severe humanitarian crisis, it's time now for all leaders in the region as well as throughout the international community to join that call and stand up to
The elections held on March 29th of this year offered a chance to turn the page on what has become a very tragic chapter in Zimbabwe's history. Although
it fell short of international democratic standards, observers reported that the election expressed the general will of the people. Rather than respecting that will,
however, the Mugabe regime chose — as they have done time and time again — to repress it. In the weeks after that election, Mugabe's supporters launched a
deliberate campaign of state-sponsored violence against opposition leaders, supporters and their families. Mugabe then unsurprisingly won the run-off
presidential election on June 27, with the opposition boycotting and the country in a state of fear.
In response to international pressure, Mugabe agreed to negotiations with the opposition under the mediation of South Africa. In September, after torturous
delays, the parties signed a power-sharing agreement that paved the way for a unity government with Mugabe as President and Tsvangirai as Prime Minister, and
control of the ministries split between the parties. Yet once again Mugabe turned to manipulation and backtracking on commitments including sharing control
of key ministries and security agencies, which has created a crippling impasse.
While Robert Mugabe continues to stall and uses bullying tactics to avoid compromise, Zimbabwe has devolved into a full-fledged humanitarian crisis. A
cholera outbreak has already killed more than 500 people and nearly half the country is facing starvation. The capital city of Harare is in disarray with hospitals
and schools closed, soldiers looting, and union activists being beaten by police. If this deterioration continues, it could lead to a wider humanitarian disaster
that costs many more innocent lives and spill into the surrounding countries.
To avoid such a catastrophe, leaders in the region and the international community must take action now to ensure that clean water, food and medication
reach the most vulnerable populations in Zimbabwe, and to remove any barriers to the importation of these necessities. It is important that South Africa is
sending a delegation to look at the humanitarian needs, but those efforts, while critically important, are only a stopgap measure to save lives. We cannot forget
that Zimbabwe's humanitarian problems are the direct result of the lack of a legitimate government, for which Mugabe is responsible. Until he and his cohorts
accept a negotiated solution that fully respects the will of the people, Zimbabwe's nightmare will continue.
The tide is beginning to turn against Mugabe; regional leaders' patience is wearing thin as this humanitarian crisis worsens. The challenge now, though, is to
translate public criticism into concerted pressure that raises the stakes. Leaders in the region, working with the international community, should together put forth
a comprehensive package of incentives and punitive measures to press Mugabe to step aside. This includes both new targeted sanctions and a specific
economic recovery plan that will be put into motion as soon as Mugabe departs. We must finally put aside the distractions and divisions that have hindered
united action in the past. And in doing so, we can make it clear to Mugabe once and for all that his time's up.
Senator Feingold is the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs.