Mugabe must go

The calls for Robert Mugabe's departure from the helm of a country, the ruination of which he has presided over, continue to grow daily.

Botswana's Foreign Minister, Phandu Skelemani, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu have called for an end to his corrupt and brutal regime.

Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, has gone further and called for Mr Mugabe to be brought to account.

"The time has come for Robert Mugabe to answer for his crimes against humanity, against his countrymen and women and for justice to be done. The winds of change that once brought hope to Zimbabwe and its neighbours have become a hurricane of destruction, with the outbreak of cholera, destitution, starvation and systemic abuse of power by the State . . .

"Robert Mugabe and his henchmen must now take their rightful place in The Hague and answer for their actions. The time to remove them from power has come."

Strong words perhaps, but there has been manifest provocation: Zimbabwe, by all reasonable accounts, is veering towards collapse.

Food stocks are depleted to the point of non-existence; the health system is a bad joke; unemployment has reached more than 80%; and the official inflation rate is an extraordinary 231 million percent, with prices doubling every 24 hours, putting basic foodstuffs out of the reach of ordinary citizens.

On top of this, the cholera outbreak affecting about 13,000 people, of whom up to 600 have died, is set to get worse - and possibly spread to neighbouring countries.

At least a quarter of the population has fled the country, many to South Africa and Botswana, and this mass movement of Zimabweans is creating further issues for the host countries.

Further, there is little cause for optimism that the power-sharing agreement with the Movement for Democratic Change and its leader Morgan Tsvangirai is likely to be able to affect the drastic changes needed if Zimbabwe is to pull out of its alarming and tragic downward trajectory.

There are, finally, some signs that Mr Mugabe's vice-like grip on power is beginning to weaken.

Soldiers went on a looting rampage in the capital Harare last week upon not receiving their paychecks.

This breakdown in morale within one important arm of the country's security apparatus is indicative of the crumbling of Mr Mugabe's assiduously constructed ramparts.

The leader himself continues to blame Britain and other Western forces for enforcing sanctions, and mustering neo-colonialist forces against him, a ploy that once held greater sway with a fast-diminishing audience.

Many Africans leaders have been accused of soft-pedalling on Mr Mugabe, widely perceived as a hero of the African liberation struggles.

But as some have died or lost power a new realism seems to be afoot.

Leading the charge is Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who has urged the African Union to call an emergency meeting to authorise armed intervention.

"If no troops are available then the AU must allow the UN to send its forces into Zimbabwe with immediate effect," he said, "to take control over the country and ensure urgent humanitarian assistance to the people dying of cholera."

Whether or not and under what circumstances the UN, or the AU for that matter, can claim a mandate to invade Zimbabwe - and liberate it from itself - is ill-defined and problematic.

The complexities of the situation are further heightened by the promises of aid for Zimbabwe's diseased and suffering, aid which is the only plausible response from a world faced with a humanitarian disaster on a scale unimaginable in this formerly wealthy African nation.

The terrible irony is that such aid probably serves only to prolong the terrible dictator's increasingly tenuous grip on power.

Almost everyone agrees that Robert Mugabe must go.

The big question is how to make him.

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