ALEX COHEN, host:
This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Cohen.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And I'm Madeleine Brand. This week, we're doing a series on Africa. Today, Zimbabwe, once a thriving stable country, now, it has completely collapsed. People are starving to death, and they are dying from a lack of clean drinking water. There is no running water in the capital, Harare. Desperate people are drinking contaminated water, and now, there is a cholera epidemic. Some 600 people have died. Thousands more are sick, and the disease is spreading to other countries. With me now is the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee. Welcome to the program, sir.
Ambassador JAMES MCGEE (U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe): Thank you, Madeleine, happy to be here.
BRAND: Well, I understand you have just come in from Zimbabwe. Describe for us what you've seen in Harare and in the countryside.
Ambassador MCGEE: Madeleine, the situation in Zimbabwe has tipped over. There are no hospitals open in the capital city of Harare. The three major hospitals are all closed. The health system throughout the country has totally fallen apart. Very, very little running water, everyone who has one is depending on a borehole or well to get their water.
And we all know that the cholera situation has gone totally out of control in the country, and the government has no means to deal with that situation. So, it's a humanitarian situation that is out of control, but this humanitarian situation is totally manmade. It's the unwillingness of the government to do anything about this situation that is a real problem in Zimbabwe.
BRAND: And an unwillingness on the part of President Robert Mugabe to form this promised power-sharing agreement with the opposition?
Ambassador MCGEE: That's absolutely correct, Madeleine. The situation now - we've been going since September the 15th without a resolution to what should have been a very, very simple remedy to this power-sharing agreement. But the government refuses to relent. The government refuses to share power, and the outcome is what we're seeing with this humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe.
BRAND: And what can you, what can the United States, what can other countries do?
Ambassador MCGEE: We continue to put pressure on Zimbabwe. We continue to put pressure on the regional bodies, such as SADC. SADC is the South African Development Committee. It's a body comprised of 16 different countries in the southern African region, and there are some very, very strong voices there.
South Africa, of course, is the preeminent voice, and if there's going to be a solution, if there's going to be a rapid solution to this, I think that the regional bodies are going to have to step up and force this illegitimate regime of Robert Mugabe to do the right thing by its people.
BRAND: What would that mean, a military intervention?
Ambassador MCGEE: I don't think that we're anywhere close to that yet, but there are - I think there are many, many other things. Especially in the diplomatic circle, we can continue the negotiations. We can continue the talks that we should have had going on over these last two months. Those need to come back again. We need to get the government of Zimbabwe to operate in good faith, and again, SADC, I think, is the best body to do that.
BRAND: Well, what do you want South Africa to do specifically? What can they do specifically to force President Mugabe to either resign or to enact any kind of steps to help his people?
Ambassador MCGEE: All nations have signed onto protocols with SADC, and Zimbabwe is breaking just about every SADC protocol that it has signed up to. There are no human rights in Zimbabwe.
We've had activists, a dozen or more activists kidnapped in the last two weeks. A two-year-old child disappeared along with his mother, and these folks have not been seen for the last two weeks. Just last Thursday, we had a very prominent human rights activist who was kidnapped from her home at five o'clock in the morning, and when I left the country on Saturday, she still had not been located. So, we need to step up and say, these types of things are not acceptable.
BRAND: And so, there are humanitarian supplies getting in. I understand, though, that the UN World Food Program is having some financial difficulties and is not able to send in as much supplies as is needed.
Ambassador MCGEE: That's correct. Again, you know, this is a manmade situation in Zimbabwe, and as recently as six years ago, when my old friend, James Morris, was the head of the World Food Program, he actually was coming to Zimbabwe to get food from Zimbabwe to send to other countries.
And now, that situation has reversed itself in six very, very short years, and we're desperately seeking food to feed the people of Zimbabwe. If we don't find relief by the end of this rainy season, this crop season, there could be up to five million Zimbabweans at risk of food insecurity.
BRAND: I've read accounts where you have the people of Zimbabwe actually combing through mounds of trash alongside baboons looking for scraps of food.
Ambassador MCGEE: Yes. Yes, I mean the situation - I made a trip, a road trip from South Africa back to Zimbabwe about three weeks ago, and the situation is really out of control. I saw a lot of people in the countryside feeding off of fruit trees. I don't really know the name of this tree, but it's a very sweet but non-nutritious fruit. You fill up, but it does nothing to give you the nutrition that your body actually needs. So, you know, we're at risk of starting to see the distended bellies, the typical signs of malnutrition in Zimbabwe that we've seen in other parts of the world.
BRAND: And I understand people actually are dying of starvation there, children are dying?
Ambassador MCGEE: The situation is getting very, very dire. We have our folks from USAID, our United States Agency for International Development, were out doing a household survey in the countryside right now trying to ascertain the extent of the problem and what we can do to assist with that problem.
BRAND: Have you spoken to the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, and where is he, and what is he doing?
Ambassador MCGEE: I haven't spoken to Mr. Tsvangirai in probably a week. He is still on the African continent, exactly where I cannot say at this moment. He is moving around trying to do his diplomatic thing. He's meeting with leaders from various countries trying to get them to step up and assist in righting this ship, this sinking ship that is Zimbabwe.
BRAND: Now, former President Jimmy Carter and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan were actually turned away at the border there in Zimbabwe recently. They weren't allowed in. Now, you have been an outspoken critic, a vocal critic of President Mugabe. How are you able to still be allowed into the country?
Ambassador MCGEE: Well, so far, I am accredited. President Mugabe accepted my credentials back on Thanksgiving day, 2007, and, you know, I continue to work to assist the people of Zimbabwe. As I said, our humanitarian assistance programs in Zimbabwe are second to none. The United States taxpayer put over $300 million total into that country last year.
You know, we will continue to be vocal. We'll continue to say the things that we need to say about this government not taking care of its people, and we'll see where that leads.
BRAND: Is it possible that you could be expelled?
Ambassador MCGEE: Anything is possible. So far, you know, I think the government realizes I'm doing nothing more than telling the truth.
BRAND: That's Ambassador James McGee. He is the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe. Thank you very much.
Ambassador MCGEE: Thanks, Madeleine.