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Zimbabwe Situation; Calling for Darfur Action

Aired December 6, 2008 - 12:30:00   ET


ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to INSIDE AFRICA, your weekly window to the continent. I'm Isha Sesay.
On the program this week, disease, and discontent in Zimbabwe. A cholera outbreak rages and disgruntled soldiers go on a rampage. What does it mean for the Mugabe regime?

And the International Criminal Court presses the president of the U.N. Security Council for action on Darfur.

We begin with Zimbabwe, where a lack of clean drinking water is causing a national emergency to overflow. Hundreds have died of cholera; thousands more are suffering, and hospitals along the South African border are filled with infected patients. All this adding to mounting discontent facing the Mugabe government. Robyn Curnow's following the story from Johannesburg -- Robyn.


Well, there was a whiff of rebellion in Harare this past week. As disgruntled soldiers took to the streets rioting, they looted shops and stole foreign exchange from many traders. In fact, civilians joined in, and they were egged on by the soldiers.

Now, this civil disobedience, this lawlessness on the streets of Harare by members of the military is perhaps one of the surefire indications, say many here in South Africa, that perhaps the political crisis in Zimbabwe is about to reach a tipping point.

Just to explain further, one eyewitness told CNN that the scenes on the streets in Harare resembled a kung fu movie at one stage, because the police were brought in to quell the rioting soldiers, and at one stage the police and the army were battling each other on the Harare streets.

And the fact that these two institutions, the two institutions that have effectively propped up Robert Mugabe's regime through brute force -- the police and the military -- were actually turning on each other, literally, is perhaps an indication that Robert Mugabe's grip on power is loosening.

And to add, of course, destabilizing elements to all of this is the fact that Zimbabwe is in the middle of a deadly health crisis, and our Nkepile Mabuse now explains much more.


NKEPILE MABUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A toddler narrowly escapes death. A mother worries about the welfare of her unborn child. Grown men in diapers, all victims of Zimbabwe's latest crisis, cholera, a water-borne disease that causes diarrhea, dehydration, and if not treated, death in a matter of hours.

Doctors worry about this woman from Mashringa (ph) in Zimbabwe. Eight months pregnant, she maybe too weak to give birth to a healthy baby. She is among hundreds being treated in South Africa, where the disease has now spread.

It all began in Zimbabwe's capital Harare, where raw sewage from burst pipes have been left to flow into wells, rivers and streams, the only sources of drinking water for many in Zimbabwe.

A deadly outbreak has now engulfed the whole country. Lacking even the most basic facilities, Zimbabwe's main hospitals have practically shut. Help is available, for those who make it there alive, at overcrowded clinics equipped by aid agencies.

This porous border between South Africa and Zimbabwe has become a barrier between life and possible death for many. Scores of Zimbabweans cross this fence illegally every day, seeking better fortune. But now, the economic and political crisis in Zimbabwe is not just exporting refugees to its neighbors, but also disease.

Inundated with cholera patients from Zimbabwe, this South African hospital near the border has had to set up tents to accommodate the sick. At first, the ill were Zimbabweans who had crossed the border for medical attention, but now these makeshift wards are filled with Zimbabweans living in South Africa -- and locals, too.

And just a few kilometers away from where this disease is being treated is yet another magnet for its potential spread. Close to 1,000 Zimbabwean asylum seekers live and sleep in this open field, in the conditions ideal for cholera to flourish. The taps may be crowded, but a cholera carrier who neglects to wash his or her hands can easy pass the bacteria that lives in human feces.

SABOLO SIBANDA, LAWYERS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: There is no one who is safe, there is no one who is immune.

MABUSE: Human rights activists are appalled this is happening in the midst of a cholera outbreak.

SIBANDA: Definitely, the disaster is happening. It's -- all that we are waiting now is the actual explosion, unless and until someone decides to nip it in the bud.

MABUSE: The South African government says it's working on addressing the public.

In Zimbabwe itself, President Robert Mugabe has announced plans to use vaccines from China to address his country's latest crisis. But experts say what Zimbabweans desperately need is clean water and proper sanitation, without which hundreds and maybe thousands more will die in the coming months.

Nkepile Mabuse, CNN, on the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe.


SESAY: Well, the total collapse of Zimbabwe's health care system is driving sick Zimbabweans to neighboring countries in search of treatment. Dr. Primrose Matambanadzo is with the Zimbabwean Association for Doctors for Human Rights. She says the cholera outbreak is putting unexpected pressure on regional powers to take action.


PRIMROSE MATAMBANADZO, ZIM. ASSOC. OF DOCTORS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: The situation in Zimbabwe now more than ever has real implications on SADC countries. South Africa got a slap in the face. They woke up, and cholera had hopped the border, you know. Things like diseases and bacteria, they don't know no border. They don't need visas.

And the situation is getting to a point that it's increasingly puts pressure on South Africa, on Botswana. Part of the stance that Botswana has taken really comes from their failing to cope with the absolute volume of Zimbabweans that cue every day to the border with Botswana and go there. And so, it's -- it's -- not ever talked about as it should be, which as a threat to regional stability and regional security. That is a conversation that needs to be going on with SADC leaders. It's not about them feeling like dealing with Zimbabwe or worried about their relationships from the days of liberation struggles and the, you know, anti-colonial struggle. It's about valuing African lives in the SADC, in the southern African region, and realizing that not dealing with the Zimbabwean situation is posing a threat to the region.


SESAY: Meantime, on another front, Human Rights Watch says that Zimbabwean government continues to target activists inside the country. HRW reports that about 15 armed men, who identified themselves as police, took human rights activist Jestina Mukoko from her home in Harare. Mukoko spoke to our Robyn Curnow shortly before Zimbabwe's elections in March. At that time, she described the campaign of intimidation, targeting opponents of the Mugabe government.


JESTINA MUKOKO, DIR., ZIMBABWE PEACE PROJECT: They use a lot of harassment, a lot of intimidation, and I would say it's a lot of subtle forms of violence that people are undergoing at the moment.


SESAY: Human Rights Watch says it is concerned that Mukoko's detention is part of a campaign by police to persecute human rights defenders.

The ICC's chief prosecutor is gearing up for a fight, up next on INSIDE AFRICA. Luis Moreno-Ocampo renews his call for justice in Darfur.


SESAY: Welcome back to INSIDE AFRICA. The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor says Sudan's president is guilty of war crimes, and the world can no longer ignore it. Luis Moreno-Ocampo addressed the U.N. Security Council, urging it to take action on the conflict in Darfur.

He first asked in July for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, and he is trying to make sure the Security Council does not succumb to pressure to quash that warrant. Moreno-Ocampo warned members to prepare for reprisals against U.N. officials and displaced people by the Sudanese government, and told them they have a responsibility to see justice done.


LUIS MORENO-OCAMPO, ICC PROSECUTOR: President al-Bashir's criminal actions should not be ignored. Statements of cease-fire followed by bombings, denial of massive breaks or promise of justice while torturing the witness should not be supported. The international community cannot be part of any cover-up of genocide or crimes against humanity.


SESAY: Well, no matter what happens with the ICC case against al-Bashir, human rights activists are optimistic that the incoming U.S. president will help resolve the Darfur crisis. Jerry Fowler is the president of the Save Darfur Coalition. I asked him what he expects from Barack Obama's foreign policy team.


JERRY FOWLER, PRESIDENT, SAVE DARFUR COALITION: I think it's part of a very important window of opportunity to finally end the crisis instead of continuing to manage it. If you look at the people who are now shaping up as being the national security team, starting with President-elect Obama himself, the vice-president elect, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, these are all people who have been very engaged on the issue of Darfur and Sudan for years, and they get, they've spoken strongly. I think they could well be the dream team for resolving the conflict and the crisis in Darfur.

What we're encouraging the new administration to do is to be ready to start from day one to act on Sudan, the first day in office, and to launch a sustained peace surge, a really multilateral diplomatic effort to coordinate with the chief mediator, Djibril Bassole, and with key parties - - China, the United Kingdom, France, South Africa -- to really push forward an effort to end the crisis. And so, I would expect that Susan Rice would be at the -- at the forefront of those efforts, working in the United Nations.

SESAY: What are conditions like on the ground right now?

FOWLER: Well, unfortunately, they continue to deteriorate. Something like 300,000 people have been displaced this year. Humanitarian access is at the lowest that it's been in two years, which means that people who can't survive without outside assistance are not getting access to that.

So -- so the situation is -- is unfortunately going in the wrong direction.

The information comes from the United Nations. It comes from independent journalists. It comes from organizations that are operational on the ground, humanitarian organizations, so -- and it's reporting facts, basically, that have been broadly reported elsewhere about the -- the only source of information that contradicts what is in that report is from the government of Sudan. And, of course, they've maintained since the beginning that there's never been a problem, whereas the United Nations says hundreds of thousands of people have died, millions of people have been displaced, and their lives are still hanging in the balance.


SESAY: As for the International Criminal Court's case against Sudan's president, Fowler says he believes the U.N. Security Council will not stand in the way of an arrest warrant, and he says Khartoum's effort to lobby against the warrant is, quote, "not making much headway." A panel of judges is evaluating the evidence and is expected to make a decision after the 1st of the year.

Now, human rights groups say more troops are urgently needed in eastern Congo. Up next on INSIDE AFRICA, we'll hear what peacekeepers who are already there are doing to protect civilians.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Making business news in Africa. South Africa's state- run power utility Eskom is ready to receive a loan worth up to $5 billion from the World Bank. Now, while the two sides say they're in advanced talks over the details, a senior World Bank official told Reuters a final deal is still months away. Eskom plans to spend billions over the next five years in an attempt to ease the country's chronic power shortages.

Botswana is also looking toward the World Bank for outside funding. The country has agreed to borrow nearly $49 million from the bank to help finance its fight against HIV/AIDS. Botswana has the world's second highest HIV infection rate.


SESAY: You're watching INSIDE AFRICA. Welcome back.

Human rights activists are clamoring for a so-called bridging force to temporarily boost 17,000 U.N. peacekeepers in eastern Congo. About 3,000 planned reinforcements aren't expected to arrive for months. Some 250,000 people have been displaced in the region since fighting between rebel groups and government forces surged in August.

Malik Dechambenoit is a U.N. political officer for the Great Lakes region, and just returned from eastern Congo. I asked him to describe the situation on the ground.


MALIK DECHAMBENOIT, U.N. POLITICAL OFFICER, GREAT LAKES: We have actually established a number of humanitarian corridors to bring food, water and shelter to the people who have been displaced, a lot of which have been displaced several times over the past year. In total, there have been 1.6 million displaced since December 2006, when the fighting started, and more recently 250 people -- 250,000 people have been displaced. So we're really trying to make sure that those people are in locations where they're safe and where we can provide the assistance that they require.

SESAY: Malik Dechambenoit, you -- you give staggering figures there, 1.6 million displaced since December 2006. The U.N. has the largest peacekeeping mission in the world, 17,000 MONUC forces there on the ground in Congo. Yet atrocities continue to be committed against civilians. Has the U.N. and its peacekeeping mission failed the people of DRC?

DECHAMBENOIT: No, the U.N. hasn't failed the people of DRC. I think the situation would be much worse without the U.N.

SESAY: But some would say the situation is woeful as it is now. The Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter allows it to use all necessary means to protect civilians, yet there seems to be this sense -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- that the U.N. hasn't done everything it could to protect the civilians. Where is that coming from, if that is not the situation on the ground?

DECHAMBENOIT: Well, we're doing everything in our power with the mandate and with the resources that we have to protect the civilians. You have to understand that what is going on, on the ground, is really a very difficult conflict situation in a terrain that is very rough. Our peacekeepers are putting their lives at risks for the people of the Congo, and that's what we're there to do. And we're really doing our best.

But we need certainly additional capacities. The Security Council has recently approved an additional 3,000 troops for MONUC. We're trying -- we're trying everything in our power to make sure that those troops are on the ground as soon as possible. The question is not so much a question of numbers; it's also a question of capabilities. We need the troops -- troops that are flexible.

SESAY: Just again, clarify something for me, if you would, because our viewers will -- will be -- be asking these questions of themselves. Is the U.N. prepared to use aggression to respond to either side, it would be putting the lives of civilians in jeopardy.

DECHAMBENOIT: The U.N. is not prepared to use aggression. Aggression is not -- is not a mandated task of our peacekeeping forces. But certainly, we're prepared to use what we call robust actions. We're prepared to use the actions that are within our mandates, within the purview of our -- or the framework of our rules of engagement, to protect populations in areas where they are in immediate danger.

Certainly, we have to be clear. There is no military solution to the conflict in the Congo at this moment. There is -- it has -- the solution lies in political negotiations between the governments, between those that are fighting the government, with the implication of regional players that have a stake in this conflict.


SESAY: Dechambenoit promises that 3,000 additional U.N. peacekeepers will be, in his words, a strong and capable force.

Well, Somali pirates have developed a reputation for efficiency and audacity, but apparently, not all of them are good at what they do. Up next on INSIDE AFRICA, the unusual story of a band of suspected pirates that had to be rescued at sea.


SESAY: Welcome back to INSIDE AFRICA.

Pirates are keeping up their audacious attacks in the waters off the Somali coast, and many of them are bringing home large ransoms. But as David McKenzie reports, it seems not all of them are good at the bad things they do.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Danish navy has captured seven suspected pirates, because the bumbling bandits needed rescuing. The patrol craft Absalom responded to a distress call by the armed men who were stuck in the Gulf of Aden for days. The outboard motor on this skiff broke. They have now been handed over to Yemeni authorities.

The pirates that nabbed this vessel were far luckier. The MV Centauri, a Greek ownership, packed with salt, returned safely to Kenya's port of Mombasa after being released on ransom. The Kenyan police were eager to get onboard and have their say.

JOHN NYANZIWIL, MOMBASA PORT CID OFFICER: Nobody was injured during the hijacking incident. The crew and the pilots say the pirates were friendly, at times, and they were cheerful, and they weren't short of food.

MCKENZIE: Despite the apparent camaraderie, they were held hostage at gunpoint for over two months. Only a ransom would release them safely.

Independent Somali expert Rashid Abdi, of the respected Crisis Group, a conflict resolution organization, says ransoms are only a shot-term solution.

RASHID ABDI, CRISIS GROUP: Ransom is a double-edged sword, in a sense that it sort of encourages more -- more abductions, more kidnapping, more sieges of ships. But let's think that -- let's say, you know, that no ransom is paid. Then it means the cargo is in danger. Then those of the crew who are being held as -- is danger.

NYANZIWIL: The navies are also hamstrung by geography. A pirate reaches over a million square miles, and navies can't monitor that entire stretch of ocean. So Somali leaders are asking for assistance, not just out at sea, but on land too.

NUR HUSSEIN, SOMALI PRIME MINISTER: I think Somali government alone cannot fight the piracy. Definitely the Somali government needs to be supported and to be -- I mean, able to organize the security forces who can confront the piracy -- I mean, organization.

NYANZIWIL: While experts believe that the only way to tackle piracy is on the ground in Somalia, Western governments are unlikely to put boots on the ground because of the disastrous peacekeeping missions there in the early `90s. So the only lasting solution would be an effective Somali government, a tall order indeed in the short term.

David McKenzie, CNN, Nairobi.


SESAY: And there we must leave it. I'll be back with a brand new INSIDE AFRICA next week. Thank you for watching.