Monday, November 20, 2006

Why Are We Not Invading Zimbabwe?

The short answer is naturally that Zimbabwe has no oil. But if our goal is to take down dictators and to stop the suffering of oppressed people everywhere, then Zimbabwe is certainly ripe for an invasion. Note that I'm not advocating for one. I'm writing the sort of sarcasm one writes when there is nothing funny at all about the topic.

The topic is Zimbabwe, and especially the women who live there:

The World Health Organisation has plotted this precipitous fall in women's mortality in the former British colony from 65, little more than a decade ago, to today's low. Speaking privately, WHO officials admitted to The Independent that the real number may be as low as 30, as the present figures are based on data collected two years ago.

The reasons for this plunge are several. Zimbabwe has found itself at the nexus of an Aids pandemic, a food crisis and an economic meltdown that is killing an estimated 3,500 people every week. That figure is more than those dying in Iraq, Darfur or Lebanon. In war-torn Afghanistan, where women's plight has received global attention, life expectancy is still above 40.

This cull is not an act of God. It is a catastrophe aggravated by the ruthless, kleptocratic reign of Robert Mugabe, in power since independence in 1980. The Mugabe regime has succeeded in turning a country once fĂȘted as the breadbasket of Africa into a famished and demoralised land deserted by its men of working age, with its women left to die a silent death.


Amen is 33 years old. Lying on a stained sheet in an Aids hospice outside the country's second city, Bulawayo, she is waiting to die. Her body is covered in the tell-tale sores of full-blown Aids. She has three children staying with her sister in Plum Tree. It is only an hour's drive away but she has not seen them once since checking in four months ago as no one has money for transport.

Anna, 25, gets to see her children. Proud is eight, and out at school, Agrippa, six, is at home along with his sister, 18-month-old Violet. Home is a one-room shack with no running water or electricity. Violet is sitting on the bed that takes up half of the living space. Like her mother and brothers, she is covered in sores, her scalp is ringed with white scabs. There's no money to get a doctor to tell Anna what she already knows - they all have Aids.

With proper health care and access to anti-retrovirals (ARVs) HIV sufferers can now live with the disease for decades.

But in Zimbabwe the health system is disintegrating. Pledges of free ARVs from the government contrast with the reality of corrupt, incompetent and threadbare health care for those with money - for those without it is completely out of reach.

Read the whole article. It is terribly sad, and particularly so because almost all the problems Zimbabweans suffer from have solutions, and this is not true of events in places such as Iraq. And yet we do nothing to take down the dictator who lets his people die of starvation and of AIDS, who has turned the breadbasket of Africa into the killing fields of Africa.

But the women of Zimbabwe still fight, and their fight should make all of us outside the country ashamed of our reluctance to lend them a helping hand:

In this climate of fear and despair, it is a women's group that has consistently defied the regime to go out on to the streets and protest. Women of Zimbabwe Arise (Woza) was set up three years ago and its founder, businesswoman Jenni Williams, has been arrested countless times and had her life threatened on several occasions.

Despite this there are now an estimated 30,000 members, who are demonstrating for basic rights including access to food, education and healthcare. And so far Woza's strict creed of non-violence has made it hard for authorities to crack down on it too viciously. "It's very hard for a policeman to intimidate us when his mum, his sister, or his girlfriend is there as one of us. It's embarrassing for them," Ms Williams says. "I'm very proud to be a Zimbabwean woman right now. Why should a woman carry all these burdens and be silent?"