Wednesday, January 28, 2009


With 191 countries in the world, there seem to always be elections happening every year which is good news for people who volunteer as international election observers. The big election people were watching last week was Ghana. This is because of the previous controversial elections in places like Zimbabwe and Kenya. This was supposed to be a test in the eyes of some “journalists” (sometimes I wonder if they make a mountain out a molehill) of Africa’s ability to have peaceful elections. Well if you are in Africa’s corner the best country you want “at bat” is Ghana. They are not the economic leader, not the most populous, not the most developed. But Ghana was the leader in the liberation movement across the continent and received her independence relatively early. That doesn’t mean they had a pure democracy the whole way. No; they have had dictatorships or military governments, but they have had relatively longer to work at it than other countries. They are considered peaceful. Actually they are peaceful. Religious tensions that exist in places like Nigeria or Sudan or ethnic tensions that exist in many countries like South Africa, Sudan, DRC, or Rwanda are absent in Ghana.

Seventy percent turned out to vote this year compared to 85% in 2004, but it was still peaceful. They will have a run-off after Christmas (on the 28th) because Nana Akufo-Addo, got 49% in the presidential race, while John Atta Mills of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), got nearly 48%. You need 50%.

Outside of the ongoing conflict in the DRC and Sudan, the biggest story seems to be the ongoing saga and crisis in Zimbabwe. People are dying there. Of course, people were dying before, but now there is public health situation with cholera spreading around the country (some cases have even come across into South Africa). This is one of those situations that is completely preventable. Cholera is not some untamable beast, but Zimbabwe’s public health and sanitation infrastructure is completely broken. With 9 million people still left in the country (others have fled or emigrated), massive amounts of aid are still needed in Zimbabwe. The UN estimates it must provide food for over half of them, roughly 5.5 million in the coming year.

Many survive on subsistence; others, handouts or bartering. If you’re lucky you have family and friends abroad who are supporting you and sending over non-Zim dollars to use. The inflation is still well above 200 million % and shows no signs of stopping as Mugabe has reappointed the head of the Zim Central Bank which likely indicates more of the same economic practices. Because the money is worthless, public services have stopped which is why many are begging for handouts or food.

That’s not the worst of it. Cronyism still looms large as members of Tsvangirai’s team and the MDC have still recently been abducted. This is now December and the power-sharing deal was signed back in September. Since then talks have stalled on how to separate the powers of the government between the prime minister (Tsvangirai) and the MDC and Mugabe and his party, Zanu-PF. Meanwhile people are dying.

Mugabe has even refused entrance visas to Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, and Graca Machel (Mandela’s wife) who wanted to enter Zimbabwe on a fact-finding mission to assess the severity of the crisis for aid purposes. The three are part of a group known as “the Elders” and perhaps their refused entry may spur the UN to more action.

There was talk of sanctions on Mugabe and some of his closest people by the UN Security Council but China, Russia and South Africa voted against it (only China and Russia have veto power though). Perhaps now they may push for it. Right now, no one is willing to use military force or wants to. Some view it as premature. So we watch and wait, but even now cracks are beginning to form.

Before I left, on TV I watched, unpaid soldiers (actual soldiers) rioting in the streets. Though they were only junior soldiers who work for Mugabe, it represents a slight turn in the tide with Mugabe’s henchmen turning against him. So now even the soldiers were unpaid. There were no midlevel or upper level officers but it is something different.

I believe Mbeki is still trying to mediate, but some want him gone and would like Kofi Annan to take over. Tutu has called for military action while others like Odinga of Kenyan are harsh critics of the regime. The Botswana president wants oil sanctions. So the question on everyone’s mind still looms: How do you get Mugabe out of there?

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