Where do we stand now?

The much awaited AU summit has closed, African leaders have spoken and resolved to take up the Zimbabwe crisis in a certain way - but where does that leave the region and Zimbabwe right now?

In summary, the June 27th election has been pretty roundly condemned as not meeting continental standards, not representing the views of the people and not being 'free and fair'. A number of major figures on the continent have spoken out and called for not only withdrawal of recognition for Mugabe as a Head of State but in several cases armed intervention. The leadership of the AU had little choice but to condemn the election and call for dialogue leading to a Government of National Unity.

So far so good - realistically we could not have expected more from the AU working as it does by consensus. But the issue is where does that leave us in Zimbabwe and in the region as a whole?

The first point to note is that after the March and June elections we have an illegitimate government that is not recognised by any major nation - including for the first time China, Russia and South Africa. Recognition by fellow dictators in Africa and elsewhere does not matter. The main issue here is that for any administration in Zimbabwe to get to grips with the economic and humanitarian crisis it must get the support - political and financial, from the donors who have the capacity to provide the required funding. Apart from this - the fact of non-recognition simply makes our position that much more critical and urgent.

The second point is that an urgent humanitarian crisis is developing in Zimbabwe so serious that if it is not addressed in a matter of days or weeks, will make life simply impossible for every Zimbabwean not hooked up to the Zanu PF gravy train. I spoke to the Headmaster of a school today and his salary - paid last week, bought 4 bananas. Inflation at more than 2 million percent is simply wiping out the accumulated capital assets and companies in a matter of weeks. If they do not have access to hard currency, these individuals and companies simply will not survive.

Basis essentials from soap to food staples are simply not available - I passed the largest supermarket in Bulawayo yesterday and it had two cars parked outside. The largest wholesaler in the country is close to closure. People can only withdraw Z$25 billion a day from the banks - not enough for one kilogram of dog food. Cash is in very short supply so that cash rates for foreign exchange are now a third of the business rate. This impacts on millions who rely in remittances at about US$100 million a month from outside Zimbabwe.

Add to this harsh reality and take into account that the State has stopped all food aid for a month now - depriving about half the country of their basic needs and you get the picture. We are in meltdown and the only way out is across the Limpopo to South Africa - or anywhere. A fiend of mine opened his factory on Monday to find that 11 of his staff had left the country for South Africa. This is taking place across the country - what is making this migration different is that many are taking their whole families - they have been terrorized for three months by this regime, their homes burnt, their physical safety threatened and their assets destroyed. They cannot even buy food if the money is available and the new developments in the money market make remittances much less valuable. The only answer is to leave and to take your whole family with you.

If this is not addressed and soon, the consequences will be catastrophic. South Africa is already struggling to cope with millions of economic and political refugees. Squatter camps and high-density townships are packed with people - all living on the margins of society, many by crime. They simply cannot absorb a fresh wave of humanity from beleaguered Zimbabwe but they need to know it is on its way.

The third point to note is that Africa is being judged by its peers in the international community and by the global business community in how it is going to deal with what is a clear violation of all democratic and human rights in Zimbabwe. This is not a problem for the west - no strategic interests are involved, just questions of principle and governance. This is an African problem - and solutions must come from African leadership. If we fail then we must suffer the consequences. We will be judged as not being committed to democracy or universal legal and human rights. We will be judged as not being sound partners for global enterprise and investment.

The most dramatic evidence of such a judgment will be the World Cup in 2010. Very much a symbol of African capacity to host a global event and one that captures the imaginations of millions of African soccer fans, the controlling authority of FIFA on Friday stated that they had a contingency plan to move the World Cup away from Africa if, in their judgment, conditions were not right. It was a signal, not seen by many, but it was a clear indication that African leadership is on notice. Much less public but just as significant are the many decisions being taken behind closed doors in business diverting effort, skills and capital away from the continent.

The AU has tossed the ball straight back into the SADC court, in the SADC the responsibility now rests with regional leadership and South Africa remains a key player as well as the most vulnerable to the regional crisis now being played out. The question is what will they do with the ball? Time is not on their side - the crisis here is escalating rapidly, the options are limited.

Any solution will only fly if it has the support of the MDC and Civil Society here in Zimbabwe as well as the full endorsement of the international community and in particular the donor group on Zimbabwe. The illegitimate and criminal regime headed by Mugabe does not have a great deal to offer such a grouping - they clearly will not voluntarily agree to any solution that meets the criteria laid down by the above three groups. They will have to be brought to the table by force - not military but simply by the combined weight of the SADC region and especially our immediate neighbors.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 2nd July 2008