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August 25, 2003

Food as a Weapon

According to the Mail & Guardian Online, Robert Mugabe may be beginning a campaign to use international food aid as a political tool.

The Zimbabwean government this week said that it would take control of the distribution of food aid, provoking suspicion that it will be channeled to supporters of President Robert Mugabe’s party, Zanu-PF, to help secure their votes in the forthcoming local elections.

This isn't exactly a surprise, but it is an unfortunate development after Mugabe had been making very public overtures to opposition parties concerning power sharing and the future of his own presidency. What it shows is that Mugabe was not serious about those changes; that he was playing a PR game for the benefit of the West.

It has flatly denied using food aid as a political weapon, but the first-hand accounts of manipulation and intimidation are so numerous that no international agency, or the Zimbabwean public, believes that the government’s distribution is even-handed.

Earlier this month the government admitted that it would need food relief to continue, asking for 450 000 tonnes of grain between September 2003 and June 2004. The fact that Zimbabwe, formerly called “the bread basket of Southern Africa”, needs another year of aid is cited by many agricultural experts as proof that Mugabe’s land seizures have failed dismally and have left rural black Zimbabweans worse off.

In private, aid workers and diplomats reacted angrily to the government’s new rule, saying the restrictions would make them “accomplices” in starving the opposition.

If the UN and other Western sources allow this change in distribution (after such obvious manipulation last year when the government wasn't in charge of the food), then they will be complicit in the deaths that occur.

Food issues aside, what this further underscores is that the UN and the US need to be urging African leaders to take a more aggressive approach in forcing Mugabe into resignation or reform. The US in particular has taken a very soft approach in relation to Zimbabwe, allowing the South African President Thabo Mbeki's slow, diplomatic approach. The eyes of the world have turned to Zimbabwe, and the sense of success in Liberia creates an opportunity to adopt a much more interventionist philosophy if that intervention can garner material support from neighboring nations.

Now is not the time to be timid. Now is the time for a bold act of reconstruction that could serve as a template for other African intervention.

Read the story (free registration required).

Posted by zombyboy at August 25, 2003 05:56 AM
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