President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe said Thursday that a cholera epidemic in the southern African nation had been "arrested," even as the United Nations announced that deaths from the illness had risen to 783.When Barack Obama gets sworn in as President January 20, one of the major tests to his leadership will be how he deals with Africa. It's no secret among conservatives that President Bush has done more to aid Africa than any U.S. president before him and Barack needs to follow the president's lead by not only aiding the impoverished continent financially and developmentally, but also doing whatever he can to rid Africa of Robert Mugabe.
Mugabe credited the World Health Organization for helping contain the outbreak in Zimbabwe, which last week declared a national health emergency.
"Now there is no cholera, there is no cause for war," he said in a speech at a funeral for a ruling party official, news services reported. "We need doctors, not soldiers."
Mugabe, who blames Western sanctions for the country's economic collapse, has accused the West of using the cholera outbreak to plot an invasion.
His assessment of the epidemic was disputed by health-care organizations, which have flooded the economically devastated country in recent weeks with supplies and personnel. On Wednesday, the United Nations called for an additional $6 million to tackle cholera, which it said threatens "the well-being of thousands of people."
"The situation is getting better," said Thomas Merkelbach, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Zimbabwe. But he added, "There are still cases coming in."
Mugabe, Zimbabwe's leader for 28 years, has faced increasing international pressure in recent days to step down as the cholera crisis has grown. Kenya's prime minister, Raila Odinga, and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu have called on African nations to use force to depose Mugabe. This week, President Bush, echoing calls from France and Britain, said it was "time for Robert Mugabe to go."
Indeed, one would think that expectations for America's first Black president would be high in regards to Africa. Not only was Obama's dad from Kenya, but Barack himself visited Africa three years ago and as a Senator took courageous stances criticizing South Africa's record on HIV/AIDS and its quiet diplomacy towards Zimbabwe. Well, as president Obama will need to do much more. Throughout his reign as president of Zimbabwe, Mugabe's policies have brought starvation to the country, a collapse of infrastructure and death to pro-democracy politicians as well as human rights activists. Finally, after years of sitting idly by and doing nothing, African leaders like Desmond Tutu are speaking up urging Mugabe to go. Thanks to Robert Mugabe the people of Zimbabwe have been living in misery for almost decades now. If, as he insinuated before the election that he will first offer to talk to dictators like Mugabe, than Barack Obama will be showing once again that he is not ready to lead.