Three questions to ask about Zimbabwe’s cholera outbreak

Angola reported 82,000 cases of cholera last year and over 3,000 deaths – five times as many cases as Zimbabwe has experienced this year and four times as many deaths. [1] The West, which has substantial investments in Angolan oil, did not say that Angola was approaching failed state status, call for its government to step down, or seek authorization to forcibly remove it.

The Nigerian Supreme Court recently ruled that the country’s April 2007 elections were marred by widespread voting irregularities. Election observers declared the elections to be fraudulent and criticized the government for using violence and intimidation. Despite being the second wealthiest country in Africa, most Nigerians have no access to clean drinking water and basic healthcare. Western oil firms have substantial investments in Nigeria. They profit, while most Nigerians live in abject poverty. [2] The West has not said that Nigeria is approaching failed state status, called for its government to step down, or sought authorization to forcibly remove it.

By Gowans

Western powers have tried many ways to bring down the Mugabe government of Zimbabwe. They’ve created a political party, the MDC, whose policy platforms they’ve had a hand in shaping, to contest elections. They’ve nurtured human rights and other civil society groups to oppose the Mugabe government. They’ve funded community newspapers to spread anti-government propaganda. They’ve financed short-wave radio programs to broadcast anti-Mugabe programming. [3] They’ve materially backed campaigns of civil disobedience, in failed attempts to foment a color revolution. [4] And they’ve blocked, through the US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 (the act), Zimbabwe’s access to balance of payment support and development aid. [5] All of these attempts to force the Mugabe government into submission have failed.

I’ve elaborated elsewhere on the reasons why Western powers have sought Mugabe’s ouster. [6] The reasons can be briefly summarized as follows: the Mugabe government has acted to thwart imperialist designs on the Democratic Republic of Congo; it opposed the pro-foreign investment policies of the International Monetary Fund; it expropriated income-producing property (farms owned by Europeans and descendants of white settlers) without compensation — an affront against private property that the United States, the guarantor of the imperialist system, could not let stand.

The way the Western media tell the story, Zimbabweans are eager to see Mugabe go. But despite Western powers acting to poison public opinion against Mugabe, the Zanu-PF government retains considerable popular support. One indication that Mugabe commands the backing of at least a sizeable minority of the population is that the United States has acknowledged that “a popular Zimbabwean uprising against Mugabe is unlikely.” [7] In elections earlier this year, which featured massive Western interference on the side of the opposition, Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party won roughly half of the legislative assembly seats and roughly half of the Senate seats. In the first round of presidential voting, Mugabe got over 40 percent of the vote – despite the considerable pressure Western powers put on Zimbabweans to reject the national liberation hero. With the president retaining strong backing, Western powers are now using a cholera outbreak — a not uncommon event in poor countries — to argue that Zimbabwe has become a failed state. By making the case that Zimbabwe’s government is no longer able to provide its citizens with basic hygiene and access to safe drinking water, Western powers hope to either secure a United Nations Security Council Resolution authorizing the use of force to oust Mugabe, or to pressure Zimbabwe’s neighbors to close their borders to the landlocked country, starving the government – and the people of Zimbabwe — into submission. “The closure of the borders, literally, in a week, would bring this country to its knees,” said a US official. [8] The readiness to escalate the misery Zimbabweans already endure with a total blockade undermines the Western powers’ own claim that they are galvanized to act by humanitarian concern. One needn’t be reminded that the greatest existing humanitarian catastrophes – to wit, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo – have been authored by the United States and Britain (directly in Iraq and through Rwanda and Uganda in the Congo). These are the very same powers that claim a “responsibility to protect.”

According to the World Health Organization, there were over 16,000 cases of cholera in Zimbabwe as of December 9, and 775 deaths. The WHO attributes the outbreak to an under-resourced and under-staffed health care system, and to inadequate access to safe drinking water. We should ask three questions. [9]

1. How common are cholera outbreaks in the Third World?

2. Have Western powers sought to forcibly remove governments in other countries that have suffered comparable or greater cholera outbreaks?

3. Why is Zimbabwe’s health care system under-resourced and under-staffed and why do Zimbabweans have inadequate access to safe drinking water?

Cholera outbreaks are hardly rare in the Third World. Between 13 February 2006 and 9 May 2007, there were over 82,000 cases of cholera and almost 3,100 deaths in Angola [10]. Since May, there have been 13,781 cases of cholera in Guinea-Bisseau, with 221 deaths as of November. [11] There were 14,297 cases and 254 deaths in Tanzania in 2006 [12]. Last year, there were 30,000 cases of cholera in Iraq [13], almost twice as many as in Zimbabwe this year. In 2005, cholera swept through Western Africa, affecting 45,000 people in eight countries. [14] In none of these cases did Western powers call for the governments of the affected countries to step down, or seek authorization to remove them by force.

The inadequacies of Zimbabwe’s health care system are due, in part, to doctors being lured away by the higher wages and better working conditions of the West. There are more than 13,000 doctors trained in sub-Saharan Africa who are now practicing in the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia. [15] This, according to the British medical journal, The Lancet, has led to the “dilapidation of health infrastructure” and has threatened to produce a “public health crisis.” The West’s pilfering of sub-Saharan Africa’s doctors is “an international crime.” [16]

Zimbabwe’s health care system is also affected by the economic devastation wrought by the United States denying the country access to balance of payment support and development aid. If doctors are lured to the West under the best of circumstances, the incentives for abandoning a Zimbabwe in a virtual state of economic collapse are irresistible. Add to that the reality that hyperinflation – a by-product of Harare’s attempts to deal with foreign exchange shortages caused by the act – has eroded the purchasing power of Zimbabwe’s currency, deterring medical staff (and employees generally) from showing up for work. The act has also undermined the government’s ability to secure funds to make needed repairs to water and sewage treatment infrastructure and to import water purification chemicals. While the purveyors of misinformation at the New York Times and other Western media outlets attribute the cholera outbreak to what are called Mugabe’s “disastrously failed policies,” the origins lie closer to home.


2. Will Connors, “Legal victory can’t erase Nigerian leader’s troubles,” The New York Times, December 13, 2008.

3. ;




7. US Government, “Zimbabwe approaching ’failed state’ status, U.S. ambassador says,” December 11, 2008.

8. Ibid.







15. The Lancet, cited in Reuters, February 22, 2008.

16. Ibid.

11 thoughts on “Three questions to ask about Zimbabwe’s cholera outbreak

  1. I do not deny the effects of economic sanctions on our country, Sean, and I never will. I think I made that clear. But there is also a clear issue of priorities here. The government has been warned for years that this would happen, and now it has. Instead of standing up sevarume chaivo, admitting that they made a mistake, they come up with the ridiculous claim that the British left cholera behind in 1979. Walk down the streets of Chitungwiza. Walk down the streets of Mbare. Walk down the streets of Budiriro (if you dare). It smells like shit. There is shit everywhere. Did the British leave a 25 year time-bomb full of shit?

    The actions of the west are indefensible. No doubt. Bbut our leaders seem to be more interested in plunder than they are in developing the country, much less in “socialism”. Just because they took the land doesn’t absolve them of guilt in this matter. How else to explain the importation of millions of dollars of weapons at a time when there are no water treatment chemicals? Which is more important to our much-heralded sovereignty? Clean water for the povo or childish wet-dreams of fighting british troops in Zvimba?

    No excuse. No excuse. Vaora. They’re rotten. An acquisitive lot of capitalist fascists in leftist garb. The proof, as they say, is in our shit-filled water.

  2. Hi Carl,Have a read of the act that has imposed the particular financial/economic hardships on Zimbabwe[its available on the net].They cease all development aid and/or loans from the US and EU and all banks with US links[wich is most of the banks world wide].They are designed to make zimbabwe ungovernable.They are aimed at ending the land reform program in particular and overthrowing the mugabe government and replacing it with a government more friendly to foreign and domestic capitalist interests.In order for them to work they MUST inflict pain on the populace of the intended country[medical supply sanctions killed 250,000 Iraqi children alone].As for Cuba,the USSR for many years helped Cuba with most things thus reducing the effects of the blockade.With the collapse of the USSR a ”special economic period” began wich forced much hardship on the Cuban people,something that is slowly been overcome by the determination of Cuba,s people and its socialist system.Cuba is a socialist society led by its communist party.Zimbabwe is an economically nationalist country with a nationalist government that is struggling to maintain its independance from attacks that are largely[but not exclusively]financed backed and supported by former collonial powers,that land reform has caused dislocation is no reason not to undertaken its implementation,it adds substance to independance.The reforms have had some succsses aswell as some failures,but the point is that it is Zimbabwe,s doing,not a tiny minority of the population or a collonial power.In the end this comes down to wether or not one supports the independance of zimbabwe and the rights of the indigenous black majority to run and control thier own affairs.Maybe China,Venezula and Bellarus could help more,I understand Cuba has allready sent medical teams and water purification supplies.I am not a doctor so i dont know much about this dreadful disease,what Gowans seems to be saying is that many countries in the region have suffered from cholera even with the wests financial institutions operating and friendly relations with the west,and there are no call for regime change and no sanctions against those regimes,wich is true.

  3. Gowans has done an admirable job of explaining the linkage between sanctions and the cholera outbreak, and I doubt I could make it any clearer for you, Carl and Jones, but let me try to summarize:

    The sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe are not trade-related, but financial. No one is refusing to sell water treatment inputs to entities, private or public, inside Zimbabwe. What the sanctions do cause, however, is an inability to source the FUNDS necessary to purchase those inputs. The US has instructed its representatives within the vast majority of worldwide funding institutions to vote against extending any credit to entities involved in the provision of clean water, both private and public. Since the US holds a controlling vote on the boards of nearly all such institutions, this results in a complete inability to fund the purchases necessary to provide clean water to the population, regardless of where those inputs come from.

    This has similarly affected every other public utility in the same way, which is why my home is frequently without water, electricity, phone service, etc. Also, lack of funds means that employees of those utilities are not paid properly. This leads most of the qualified individuals to seek greener pastures elsewhere, further hindering the ability of the utilities to provide adequate service. There IS incompetence at ZINWA, ZESA, TelOne, etc., there is no denying that. But to blame the government when it has no ability to properly fund these utilities is disingenuous at best. I seem to remember these same utilities being hailed as models of competence some years back when they had no funding issues and if I recall correctly, the government was the same.

    Canada, the only G8 highly-developed country to have NOT been running a deficit year after year for the last decade, has just announced that those days are over and will require the acquisition of $30 BILLION CAD to offset its projected deficit. This is a country with single-digit unemployment, income tax rates as high as 30%, and the second-largest oil reserves on the planet, and it cannot survive economically without funding its budget needs with help from outside the country.

    Somehow you expect Zimbabwe to do it? It couldn’t even do that BEFORE independence, when it spent virtually nothing on 97% of the population.

  4. I’m not sure what bombs in Iraq have to do with the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe. To my knowledge–and I live in Harare–no bombs have been dropped recently. Did the UK have a hand in the creation of ZINWA, a thoroughly inept organisation since the day it was created?

    The whole sanctions-cause-cholera line fails on one key point: Zimbabwe has never sourced water chemicals or machinery from those nations currently imposing sanctions. I challenge anyone to prove otherwise. Until the early 2000’s, much of the water infrastructure was sourced locally, in our own industries, now defunct. Now, much of it is sourced through South Africa. The claim that we would source chlorine, etc all the way from the UK or the US when we can get it next door is preposterous.

    Sanctions have caused many problems in our country, but this isn’t one of them. This is incompetence and corruption pure and simple.


  5. I don’t understand the claim that sanctions are harming Zimbabweans. What commodities cannot be sold to Zimbabwe (other than arms by certain countries) and what exports does the west refuse to buy from Zimbabwe. Are there any restrictions on the import of Zimbabwean agricultural or mining products?

    G&D in Germany no longer print banknotes for Zimbabwe but, frankly, they’re not the only company capable of doing it. There are probably Chinese firms capable of doing it.

    The IMF no longer lends money to Zimbabwe but that was after Zimbabwe stopped repaying previous loans. Mugabe viewed it, at the time, as good riddance.

    Cuba has been under far more punitive sanctions than Zimbabwe and for far longer yet we don’t see the crisis that Zimbabwe is experiencing. This seems to be sheer incompetence by ZANU-PF.

  6. Simon.if the sanctions and the undeclared war on zimbabwe are not responsible for MUCH[but not all]of the problems,then why have they been imposed? Surely they are costly to western businesses as they mean no profit from Zimbabwe.Why not let Mugabe simply fall under the weight of his own mess,if you are correct?After all,you do have multiple party elections and can organise and meet relatively freely,compared to places like Colombia,Ethiopia and the Philipines.Why would the west seek to add more pain to the people of zimbabwe?Is it to deter others in Africa from following a similar course? A form of collective punishment?.Are the sanctions not doing exactley what they are supposed to do? There is a continent to be won in this struggle,and the west knows it!.Zanu fell foul of the west when it threw out the IMF and introduced land reform,[Before this he was a poster pin up for the west with an OBE under the belt]this ushered in sanctions that are designed to hurt and divide the zimbabwian people. Why Cholera now? Maybe its been introduced?Its been done to Cuba.[swine fever] Am i right or wrong? Water purification supplies are on the list of sanctioned items?WHY. One would assume that if you are correct,then Zanu has not just started stealing the money now but have always stole the money,why NOW are there problems and why didnt they start 28 years ago?I do not need to go to your home to see what you say,i can see there is much suffering.The Govt webbsite will tell me this as much as anyone else,including you,and i am bombarded with images every day on the TV,be them true or ficticious,i dont know.The wreched conditions that Zimbabwe is in as far as i can see have LARGELY[but not exclusively] been imposed on the people by the former colonial powers in thier struggle to punish zimbabwe for leaving the ”fold”.There is a price to be paid for defying the empire and sadly the toll for zimbabwe is huge.

  7. Hi all
    This is an open invitation to Stephen Gowans and anyone else who strongly believes in the absurd content of this blog he writes to come and stay with me in Zimbabwe and investigate these issues for yourself. I do research (western funded – Mugabe’s own government doesn’t seem so keen to fund us for some reason, probably a conspiracy) into human rights violations here.
    So if anyone is keen, come and see for yourself – you won’t catch cholera and die – I live in a wealthy suburb. You won’t get beaten up, that is reserved for the population in the high density suburbs and the rural areas. You won’t be involved in riots, you will be completely safe. I have internet access for example as evidenced by this post!

    So, come and stay with me and we can go talk to, I don’t know, Jestina Mukoko. Oh! She is still missing! Someone else then.
    I do find it somewhat bizarre that some portion of the “left” should be so determined to defend a criminal ELITE whilst the PROLETARIAT SUFFERS.
    This is a serious invitation to come and stay with me for a week or so – obviously our political views would be very different but I would be delighted to show you round the (western conspiracy funded) ngo community, or some of the former farms, or indeed ask doctor friends of mine to show you round the cholera areas. I will promise to be respectful of your views and put you in contact with both sides of the story.
    So if you do want to come to Zimbabwe and find out first hand for yourself then please do contact me on

    simon UNDERSCORE de UNDERSCORE swardt AT hotmail DOT com.

    Anytime from 10 January onwards would be fine – I am going for a western funded holiday.

    And to answer SG’s three questions:
    1) cholera outbreaks could be very common in the rest of the 3rd world for all I know, for me as a Zimbabwean the real question is: how common were they in zimbabwe a decade ago?
    2)I am sure they probably haven’t. but, the evil west is not calling for mugabe to go simply BECAUSE of the cholera. The cholera is merely symptomatic of the numerous problems besetting our country which have been caused by mugabe and require ZANU PF’s exit from office before they will be solved.
    3)under-resourced: because the government stole all the money. understaffed: because doctors and nurses are all on strike over the lack of facilities and their low wages ie also because the government stole all the money.
    Why do we have inadequate access to safe drinking water?
    Because the government stole all the money for water sanitation.
    Do you guys not find it somewhat ironic that you are defending the greatest arch-capitalists of them all whilst Zimbabwe’s population is slowly (and in some cases quickly) dying because of their actions?
    It’s a bit like saying that the nazi’s have had a bad press.
    come stay and you can see all this for yourself.
    Simon de Swardt

  8. Though highly controversial, another question that needs to be asked is whether Western regimes like the USA and UK had a covert hand in this cholera outbreak itself?

    And I’m not talking about the effects of Western sanctions or economic strangulation policies only.

    I’m talking about Western bioterrorism.

    Western and American covert state terrorism is the dirty little secret that even some Western “progressives” are loathe to broach–as it would expose their own nations as terror states par excellance.

    America in particular has a documented criminal record of engaging in biological and chemical warfare against “disobedient states” like Cuba throughout the Cold War.

    It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if noble Western democracies were involved in bioterrorism against Zimbabwe. After all, there is increasing evidence that terrorist attacks like 9-11 and 7-7 were nothing more than Western false flag terror ops.

    This issue of (Western) false flag terrorism is the proverbial “1000 pound gorilla in the living room” that many do not with to address and desperately attempt to dismiss as “conspiracy theory.”

  9. UK media selectively quoted Mugabe when he denied the outbreak was continuing. They missed out what he said on an invasion: “We need doctors, not soldiers.” This is certainly true – Cuba is sending a team of soctors. We might ask what are the European powers doing to assist the health crisis?

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