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December 10, 2008

Zimbabweans beg, but who can help?

A few days ago I got an email from Wiseman, a young Zimbabwean activist I met in South Africa back in July when I was writing about Robert Mugabe's crackdown on dissidents. He's now back in Zim, along with many pro-democracy activists who hoped that the recent deal on a unity government meant they'd be safe in their country again.

Wiseman's note makes it clear that's far from the case:

i am hiding from CIO agents who are accussing me of leading recent bombings at various police stations,so i am looking for assistance,if i get US$500 i can be able to start a small project of my own with my wife.i am tired of asking for help all the time,it is not good for a person like me with hands ,five senses and feet to be reduced to a mere begger.

In this once-proud country, the continued threats against civil society are a shock to no one, just as no one is shocked that Mugabe has refused to implement his side of the power-sharing deal. Amid reports of worsening hunger and a cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 800 people, international human rights groups said today that leading opposition activists have been kidnapped by Mugabe agents. Human Rights Watch reports that "evidence points to officials working on behalf of or with the acquiescence of the Zimbabwean authorities," suggesting a rerun of the terror campaign waged against opposition supporters before the June election.

Calls for Mugabe to resign grew louder this week with strong statements by President Bush and even by some leaders in South Africa, who usually keep quiet on the issue. But there are still few good options to intervene without making life worse for ordinary Zimbabweans. And the latest attacks indicate that Mugabe won't give up control of the security structures that allow him to rule the country more or less unchallenged.

The AP story was long on world outrage but short on possible solutions, noting near the end, with a trace of hopelessness, "The only viable solution for Zimbabwe may be for the parties to make a reality out of a unity government deal stalled since September over the allocation of Cabinet posts." In other words, Zimbabwe, you're still on your own for now.


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Somewhere in Africa was written by McClatchy correspondent Shashank Bengali, who covered sub-Saharan Africa from 2005 to 2009. He's now based in Washington, D.C., as a national correspondent.

Read Shashank's stories at news.mcclatchy.com or send him a story idea.


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