OUTGOING United States assistant secretary of state for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner has fired a broadside at President Robert Mugabe for human rights abuses and repression.
In a parting shot, Kansteiner told journalists in Washington this week that Zimbabwe was on “the brink of disaster” and its people had endured untold suffering due to Mugabe’s policy failures.
“It is a country on the brink of disaster. I regret that the people of Zimbabwe still do not have a voice,” Kansteiner said on his last day in office this week.
“The body politic is still muffled, and I regret that. I think the people of Zimbabwe have suffered enough economically, politically,” he said. “From a human rights point of view, it’s a tragic place.”
Kansteiner, together with President George Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell, have led the assault on Mugabe over the current situation.
He said “carrot and stick” measures should be used to force Mugabe and his regime to jettison tyranny. Zimbabwe has in the past few weeks seen a renewed crackdown on the independent media and civil society.
“There need to be carrots for Zanu PF, demonstrating that if in fact there is flexibility and a willingness to reach a new dispensation that there will be some reward for that. Likewise, if there is recalcitrance and unwillingness to move, there need to be some sticks on that too,” he said.
“I think the smart sanctions that we have in place right now have sent the signal, have done the ostracising, have done the isolation. The world knows where we stand as far as Mugabe and his cronies are concerned. I am not sure that additional sanctions are the answer.”
Kansteiner said Zimbabwe’s crumbling democratic institutions, civil society groups, and the besieged independent media should be salvaged from authoritarian onslaught.
“There needs to be support for the civil society because it is that civil society from whence Zimbabwe will in fact flourish again some day,” he said.
Earlier this month, President Bush said he was “not satisfied” with efforts to promote human rights and political reform in Zimbabwe, and urged its neighbours to keep up pressure for change.
Kansteiner said neighbouring countries like South Africa had reacted slowly and weakly in trying to resolve the Zimbabwe situation.
“It’s taken a long time for them to acknowledge the problem,” he said. “It’s not only problematic for the Zimbabweans, it is problematic for the region.”
Kansteiner visited Africa in July in the company of President Bush and senior US officials. The Zimbabwe crisis featured prominently in Bush’s talks with South African President Thabo Mbeki and Botswana President Festus Mogae.
Washington, which has imposed travel restrictions and an asset-freeze against Mugabe and his associates over the current crisis, has been agitating for a regime change in Zimbabwe.