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11/16/02 - ZIMBABWE’S NEED FOR FOOD - 2002-11-18

For twenty-years, Zimbabwe was viewed by many as a model for post-colonial Africa, with strong civic institutions and a diverse economic foundation. In the span of three shattering years, the government of President Robert Mugabe has created a new model -- of how to methodically unravel the social, economic, and political fabric of a nation.

As recently as 1999, Zimbabwe could rightly boast one of the most promising economies on the African continent, with robust foreign investment, a booming tourist industry, and an agricultural economy that annually exported thousands of tons of food to its neighbors. Today, Zimbabwe can only be described as an unfolding human tragedy, with half its population in need of food aid, three-quarters of its adults unemployed, and a government intent upon denying its people their basic human rights and dignity.

While regional drought has worsened Zimbabwe’s food shortfall, it is the actions of the Mugabe government that have placed a large segment of the Zimbabwean people in danger of starvation. Through its brutal and often extralegal program of land seizures, the government of Zimbabwe has crippled a once vibrant agricultural sector in the name of land reform, and in the process forcibly displaced more than a million farm laborers and family members, stripping them of their livelihoods, their homes, their possessions, and their futures.

Evidence is mounting, meanwhile, of a systematic campaign by the Mugabe regime to direct food aid to its political supporters and away from those perceived as opponents. As Mr. Mugabe should realize, no government possesses the sovereign right to starve its own people.

The United States is profoundly concerned about the actions of the Mugabe regime. Nonetheless, the U.S. will continue its efforts to provide critically needed food aid to Zimbabweans, and will work with United Nations agencies and other international donors to closely monitor the distribution of food to ensure that efforts to politicize food aid are exposed.

The U.S. once again calls on the government of Robert Mugabe to halt its assault on the people and democratic institutions of Zimbabwe. And the U.S. urges regional leaders to apply to Zimbabwe the principles of respect for human rights and civil liberties embodied in the charter of the South African Development Community.