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Impact of Sanctions Downplayed in Zimbabwe Crisis

Final Call, News Analysis, I.K. Cush Posted: Dec 29, 2008

NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) - John Holmes, the United Nations under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, recently said sanctions imposed by the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union on Zimbabwe are a side issue and have nothing to do with the spreading cholera epidemic engulfing the small southern African nation.

Mr. Holmes, who is also the UNs emergency relief coordinator, spoke at a Dec. 5 press conference here at the UN headquarters. By Dec. 12 there were 16,700 new cases of cholera recorded in Zimbabwe with nearly 800 deaths, mainly children and the elderly who are the most vulnerable. The World Health Organization reported an upward trend in new and suspected cases of the disease in the country.

The degradation of the water supply and sanitation systems is one of the root causes of the cholera outbreak. There are not sufficient safe sources of drinking water, observed Mr. Marcus Bachman, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) emergency coordinator in Harare, Zimbabwes capital.

The government of Zimbabwe has been unable to borrow money from international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank since 2001. Because of this, it cannot upgrade its sanitation and sewerage infrastructure which is necessary to halt the spread of cholera.

The Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001, legislation enacted by the United States Congress, empowers the treasury secretary of the United States to instruct the U.S. executive director of each international financial institution to oppose and vote against any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit or guarantee to the government of Zimbabwe. The effect of this infanticidal and unconscionable piece of legislation, according to economists, is the refusal of all banks to extend credit and loans to the government to pay for the countrys medical and infrastructural needs.

I dont think that the sanctions which are essentially imposed on individuals and particular entities can be said to be a major contributory factor to the cholera epidemic. The cholera epidemic comes from basic things like the lack of clean water and the collapse of the health system. Any link between individual sanctions and the cholera epidemic is pretty remote, Mr. Holmes declared.

According to observers, Mr. Holmes ignorance of the particulars of the U.S. sanctions legislation is startling. The sanctions are not essentially imposed on individuals. They are imposed on the entire country. When asked whether or not he was familiar with the U.S. sanctions legislation, he admitted that he was not familiar with the bill.

Even after being appraised of the specifics of the legislation, Mr. Holmes obsequence to the political agenda of the U.S. towards Zimbabwe was palpable. Without offering any evidence, the under secretary-general said that, The government of Zimbabwe has had plenty of opportunities in different ways to access goods or lines of credit from different places in the world if it chose to do so.

Some UN diplomats, requesting anonymity, observed that only an unabashed sycophant or a blissfully ignorant individual could make such a statement. They pointed out that banks shun any country that has been blacklisted by U.S. legislation. This is so because if they engage in any commercial transactions with such countries, they will be penalized both civilly and criminally, starting with exclusion from the U.S. banking system.

Mr. Holmes posture towards Zimbabwe is regrettable but understandable given his political pedigree. Prior to his appointment as UN Under Secretary-General in January 2007, Mr. Holmes was the private secretary of former UK prime minister, Tony Blair. It was during Mr. Blairs administration that relations between the UK, U.S. and the EU deteriorated, culminating in the 2001 U.S. legislation cutting off Zimbabwe from the global financial markets.

Whats unsettling is that Mr. Holmes attitude vis--vis Zimbabwe is at stark variance with his public pronouncements relating to how other humanitarian crises in other parts of the world should be solved.

Humanitarian relief is no substitute for political action and the active search for conflict prevention and resolution. Which is why as humanitarians we must go on pressing the politicians for more proactive searches for solutions, Mr. Holmes asserted at a conference in Dubai earlier this year.

U.S. President George Bush ought to read the above. His response to the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe was to call on the countrys president, Robert Mugabe, to resign. Across the continent, African voices are bravely speaking out to say now is the time for him to step down, Mr. Bush crowed.

Not so was the sharp response from the African Union. Only dialogue between the Zimbabwean parties, supported by the AU and other (African) regional actors, can restore peace and stability to that country, said Salva Rweyemamu, spokesman for AU chairman and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.

According to press reports, President Rweyemamu said sending peacekeeping troops or removing President Mugabe by force as proposed by South African Bishop Desmond Tutu and Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who expressed personal opinions, were not options. We have a serious humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe. We have cholera. Do they think that we can eradicate cholera with guns? he asked, incredulously.

UN diplomats say the political action the U.S. government must take to halt the spread of cholera in Zimbabwe is the rescinding of the sanctions legislation. The shibboleth of bad governance often attributed to Zimbabwe is nothing but political prestidigitation, they added.

When Iceland went bankrupt in Novemberthe country couldnt repay its external debts, the Icelandic currency, the krona, lost all of its value, the banking industry collapsed and businesses could no longer pay for importsthere was no call for Icelands president, Olafur Grimsson, to resign. There was no charge of bad governance attributed to the government of Iceland. Instead, the global community responded generously with loans totaling $10 billion. Thats about $33,000 for each of Icelands 300,000 citizens. Out of that $10 billion, $2.1 billion came from the IMF.

Unless it is the opinion of the UN that Icelands children are more worthy of being saved than the children of Zimbabwe, UN diplomats say Mr. Holmes needs to dispense with his obfuscation and call on the United States to rescind its inhumane sanctions legislation so that the children of Zimbabwe can live.

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