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U.S. Urges Zimbabwe's Neighbors To Act


It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. Listen to Zimbabwe's president, and you would think that his country's health crisis is over. Robert Mugabe says that an outbreak of cholera has been contained. He's the man in charge of the country, but his word is not the only one. American officials are contradicting that claim. They say their aid experts in the country are still seeing high death rates for a waterborne disease. It's a disease that killed countless people in ancient times, but is treatable. The U.S. sees this humanitarian crisis as the latest evidence that Zimbabwe's government has failed its people and that Mugabe must go. NPR's Michelle Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: The director of U.S. Foreign Assistance, Henrietta Fore, has sent a disaster-relief team to Zimbabwe to help deal with health crisis in a country where many hospitals are closed and basic services are collapsing.


Ms. HENRIETTA FORE (Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development; Director, U.S. Foreign Assistance): We currently have a report that there are approximately 800 deaths, 16,000 people infected. This is a cholera outbreak that is ongoing and urgent.

KELEMEN: She said the U.S. will spend $6.2 million to help provide clean water and improve sanitation - all things, she said, Zimbabwe's government is not doing.

Ms. FORE: This outbreak is a breakdown of Zimbabwe's government services, pure and simple.

KELEMEN: And a symptom, U.S. officials argue, of the political crisis in the country, which started after disputed elections in March. Mugabe and the main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, did reach a power-sharing deal in September, but they're deadlocked over how to implement it. The U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee, sees one way out: Robert Mugabe, who has lead Zimbabwe for decades, must go.

(Soundbite of press conference)


Ambassador JAMES D. MCGEE (U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe): The situation is truly grim. One man and his cronies, Robert Mugabe, are holding this country hostage, and Zimbabwe is rapidly deteriorating into failed-state status.

KELEMEN: Ambassador McGee has been in Zimbabwe for just over a year and has seen rampant inflation with numbers so high he says he can't get his mind around them. The former bread-basket of Africa is also facing food shortages, and in recent weeks, McGee has raised alarms about opposition figures who have disappeared. Before coming back to Washington on home leave this month, he took part in an award ceremony in honor of an AIDS victim in Zimbabwe.

Amb. MCGEE: The person who was supposed to moderate that awards ceremony was picked up by a dozen people at her home, 5 o'clock in the morning in her bedclothes. She's disappeared. We've not heard from her since.

KELEMEN: That was the case of human-rights activist Jestina Mukoko. McGee says 17 opposition figures, including a baby, were taken over a month ago, and he named several other leading activists who have been abducted by gunmen recently. He says these are the types of things that go on with regularity in Zimbabwe. Ambassador McGee says leaders in Africa are beginning to speak out more forcefully about all of this, but he's still waiting on South Africa, which has the most influence with its neighbor.

Amb. MCGEE: South Africa, as everyone knows, is the - let's call it what it is - it's the big dog on the block, and we expect South Africa to take an active stance on everything that happens in the southern tier of Africa. We do continue to work quietly and behind the scenes with South Africa to make that happen.

KELEMEN: He didn't offer any specific advice, but one U.S. official who asked not to be named said that if South Africa and other neighbors sealed their borders with landlocked Zimbabwe and cut all trade, Mugabe's government would be brought to its knees in a week. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.