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Published: Tuesday, 12/9/2008

From riches to ruin

ROBERT Mugabe s misrule of Zimbabwe has now descended to the level of virtually killing his own people.

Since 1980, Mr. Mugabe has taken the African nation from independence with a healthy mixed economy that provided the population with a relatively high standard of living, based on agriculture, mining, industry, and tourism, to a truly desperate state.

The economy has been ruined by his policies. Inflation is so high as to be inestimable.

The latest preventable calamity is a deadly cholera epidemic, with more than 12,000 cases reported since August. One reason for it is that, in Harare, the capital and largest city, there is no clean public water because the Mugabe government has not bought chemicals to treat the water and sewage.

Doctors, nurses, and other medical technicians are not paid and are on strike. The government s response was to order security personnel to use force in dealing with the strikers. An estimated one-fourth to one-third of the Zimbabwean people need food relief not to starve.

Zimbabwe held elections this year, which turned into a tragicomedy. Mr. Mugabe probably lost the presidency, but in the end was not forced to leave offi ce. Instead, he appeared to agree to a power-sharing arrangement with the winner of the elections, which he then sabotaged by not sharing power.

The Southern African countries, which until now have been left by the rest of the world to cope with Zimbabwe, have been ineffectual and spineless with the aged tyrant. South Africa, which, as the most powerful country in the region has been the most conspicuous failure in dealing with the problem, is now really feeling the heat as Zimbabweans cross the border to seek medical care in South Africa.

In response to the cholera epidemic, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has called for Mr. Mugabe to be forced out of power and has proposed that international African peacekeepers be introduced to Zimbabwe. Since Mr. Mugabe s own army benefi ts from his rule, it probably would have to be action from outside. It is hard to imagine that occurring, given the hitherto general toothlessness of Zimbabwe s neighbors.

The United States continues to deplore the Zimbabwe situation Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called for Mr. Mugabe to quit. Unfortunately, the United States is in no position to act, given its commitments elsewhere and its habitual wordy indifference to African crises such as Rwanda, Darfur, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At the moment, the world is pretty much left in the position of watching to see how much the Zimbabweans can take.

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