Zimbabwe is not a nice place to be right now, just from an economic standpoint alone. Inflation last year was 112%, and the Zimbabwean Dollar now only buys 1.8 US cents (at the official exchange rate - on the street, even less). Prices of certain staple foods have been pegged by the government, with the result that only a fraction are now available through shops as producers try to find alternative channels to avoid having to sell at a loss (the government doesn't compensate producers for any shortfall in costs).
The "disruptions" on the farms (that's a topic in itself) have meant that this year's grain and maize harvest is about 40% of what it has been in the past - not enough to feed everyone, and there's no money in the treasury to buy from outside the country. To say that famine threatens sounds almost like an understatement. Unemployment is about 66%, and about the same percentage of the population are living below the poverty line.
The South African Government's Department of Home Affairs has estimated that up to 500 Zimbabweans are crossing (legally or illegally) into South Africa PER DAY. And you think the Aussies have a refugee problem...
Refugee centres are being prepared in the border areas for the anticipated flood of refugees that will occur when the results of the to-be-crooked presidential election next month are released, and the violence that will follow.
Should the presidential election go off under free and fair conditions, there is little doubt that leader of the opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai, will win it. Unfortunately "free and fair" is not in Mugabe's plan for this election.
The ordinary Zimbabwean people know who is REALLY to blame for their current woes, and it's not Britain or any other Western country, it's their own corrupt leadership, particularly Robert Mugabe. Even his own political party, ZANU-PF, knows that he is a liability (note the rebellion within the ranks last week when ZANU was unable to get a majority to approve the media bill at first attempt, and several members spoke out against its unconstitutionality).
The political madness in Zimbabwe is almost comical at times. Just this week a 17-year old activist for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Mark Spicer, was abducted and beaten up by some ZANU thugs. He was found the next morning tied to a tree, and promptly arrested by the police ... the charge: kidnapping and assault.
It seems that only in Zimbabwe is the victim charged with the very crime that has been visited upon them.
The leaders of the SADEC (Southern African Development and Economic Community) region are mostly muted in their criticism of Mugabe. They tell him what they don't like him doing, he tells them he will stop, they go away, he carries on regardless.
Many people (especially Westerners) have been calling for President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa (the regional "superpower") to denounce Mugabe once and for all and pull the economic plug on him (South African sanctions brought down the previous regime in that country within months, the Rhodesian government of Ian Smith). This is not going to happen, though - the African National Congress (governing party of South African) has two qualities which are irritating (for a lack of a better word) to a Westerner, but are part and parcel of the party's culture: they value loyalty above principle (Mugabe was their ally during the anti-apartheid struggle) and decision-making is a collective activity (which means that consensus on divisive issues is often unattainable).
Should the US get involved? Beyond the "smart sanctions" being mooted at the moment by Colin Powell, definitely not! This is not a situation that requires Western military or physical intervention. Humanitarian aid for the soon-to-be-starving Zimbabweans, yes, but the neighbouring countries are quite capable of handling the situation should it get completely out of hand.
SADEC has a mutual agreement that permits military intervention in member states where the democratic process in that country has been derailed. A few years back this happened in Lesotho (a military coup), and within 48 hours troops from South Africa and Botswana crossed into Lesotho and took control back from the usurpers. Should the Zimbabwean presidential election result in a civil war, these same two countries would be ready to send in their troops. The consequence of such an action, though, would be that, just as in Lesotho, some of the soldiers will be going home in body bags.
There are no winners in this situation in Southern Africa. The biggest losers are the poor (in both senses of the word) people of Zimbabwe. They are the legacy that Robert Mugabe's 22 years of rule leaves. May he, and not them, rot in the hell he has created.