Food as a political weapon. Ukrainians can remember very
well when Stalin used food as a very effective political weapon
and starved over seven million in Ukraine to death in 1932-1933.
We hope the whole world can remember what happens when
food is used as a political weapon.
"MUGABE WITHHOLDING FOOD"
David R. Sands
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Saturday, August 31, 2002
Zimbabwe's government is using a policy of "selective
starvation" to punish political opponents, enrich supporters
and ensure a victory in local elections next month,
according to an American researcher who just completed a
weeklong visit to the south African country.
John Prendergast, who heads the Africa program for the
Belgian-based International Crisis Group, said in a
telephone interview yesterday from Kenya that the policy of
manipulating the food supply has proved even more effective
for the government of President Robert Mugabe than direct
violence and intimidation of his political opponents.
"What we saw was selective starvation, the use of food as a
political weapon," he said.
"Local officials were told that if they didn't deliver the
vote, they wouldn't get food for their districts. That's a
pretty frightening message in a region that's already facing
a major food shortage," Mr. Prendergast said.
Mr. Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for 22 years, has feuded
bitterly with Britain, the United States and other Western
governments in recent months over a disputed March
presidential election and a land redistribution program that
has forcibly displaced about half of the 4,500 white
Zimbabwean farmers who were the backbone of the country's
With southern Africa in the grip of a 4-year drought, U.S.
Agency for International Development chief Andrew Natsios
said in South Africa he was "very, very alarmed by what is
happening" in Zimbabwe.
"The wrong policies are in place, and things are sliding
fairly rapidly there," Mr. Natsios told reporters on the
sidelines of the U.N. summit on development now under way in
Mr. Mugabe has defended the evictions of white farmers as a
necessary step to address inequalities in land ownership
dating back to colonial times under Britain.
He has also rejected criticisms of the March elections,
widely denounced by outside monitors for intimidation of the
opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and for
newly imposed restrictions on the press and criticism of the
Mr. Prendergast, who has written extensively on Zimbabwe,
declined to detail where he had traveled in the country last
week, saying it could endanger the people he met with.
But he said he saw clear evidence that the government was
using its control of both foreign food aid supplies and the
commercial food and grain distribution networks to its
"The most affected areas weren't the MDC strongholds like
Matabeleland, but swing districts which might have voted for
either [the government] or the MDC in the past," he said.
"Because government suppliers have a monopoly of the
distribution networks, cutting back supply sends prices
through the roof and is just one more way for the Mugabe
government to steer money to its friends. Put that on top of
the lack of nutrition, the high unemployment and the general
economic decline, and you have a train wreck on the way."
Zimbabwe holds district elections Sept. 28-29, and Mr.
Prendergast said the government is pushing to run up even
bigger majorities than it recorded in the March presidential
vote, an election the Bush administration denounced last
week as "illegitimate."
The United Nations World Food Program warns that up to 13
million people across the region could begin to face famine
by the end of this year if emergency food aid is not
forthcoming. At least 6 million Zimbabweans, half of the
country's population, could face crippling food shortages
and starvation, according to U.N. figures.
Based on his tour of Zimbabwe, Mr. Prendergast said
mortality rates among AIDS sufferers in Zimbabwe have
already spiked because of the declining food stocks. At an
estimated 35 percent of the population, Zimbabwe has the
second-highest infection rate in the world after Botswana.
While much of the Western criticism has focused on the
struggles of the white farmers, Mr. Prendergast said the
government's food policies have been far more devastating
for the 1.5 million black farm workers and their families
who have been ousted from their plots as the white-owned
farms are seized.
Although the drought is real, the researcher said the food
crisis in Zimbabwe was fundamentally a result of the
government's control of the aid and commercial distribution
"If you broke the government's monopoly on the commercial
food distribution chain, you could avert the famine
tomorrow," he said.
The Washington Times
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