THE news from Zimbabwe worsens by the week. Any hope that the basic legal and political rights of its people could be maintained disappeared some time ago. More than two million rural Zimbabweans will need food aid during the coming year. The UN World Food Programme and other organisations are able to provide the food but the government in Harare is preventing them from entering the country. According to President Mugabe there will be a bumper harvest, despite the land reforms which have decimated once productive farms.

A new voice on the plight of Zimbabwe has been heard this week, that of Vaclav Havel, the President of Czechoslavakia and the Czech republic from 1989 to 2003. Havel knows something about repression; for years, until the “velvet revolution” of 1989 he kept the idea of individual freedom alive despite the influence of the Soviet Union on his country. He is a member of the International Crisis Group, an international institution which has just published a report detailing the breakdown of democracy in Zimbabwe and the ill-treatment of opposition members of Parliament. A series of repressive laws have silenced journalists and a Public Order and Security Act restricts the freedom of association and facilitates random arrests by the state police.

UNFORTUNATELY, no one seems to know how to bring relief to the suffering people of Zimbabwe and for so long as Mugabe remains in power things will only get worse. The Commonwealth has suspended Zimbabwe from membership yet such influential African members of the organisation as Nigeria and South Africa want it to be re-admitted. Failing unthinkable military action by Britain or the United States, the solution rests with other African countries to persuade Mugabe to stand down. But they are unwilling to act.