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1/17/03 - FOOD RIOTS IN ZIMBABWE - 2003-01-17

Food riots have broken out in Zimbabwe. Dozens of people were arrested and several were injured as protesters attacked food distribution centers in Bulawayo [boo-lah-WAY-oh] and Chitungwiza [chit-oon-GWEE-zah]. They accused government officials of illegally selling scarce supplies of cornmeal on the black market. "We have had enough of this. We are starving while some people have plenty of maize," said one of the demonstrators. Lovemore Matombo [mah-TOM-boh], president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, called the protests "a tip of the iceberg" of what has been happening throughout Zimbabwe. "The time is coming when there will be no food," he warned.

The crisis is real. Almost seven million Zimbabweans, half the population, are at risk of starvation. Many starving families are subsisting on little more than wild fruit. Malnourished children fall asleep in school or drop out entirely in order to search for food. Weakened by hunger, many Zimbabweans are succumbing to disease.

Food distribution is being manipulated by the Robert Mugabe government. In some areas, Zimbabweans must prove that they are supporters of Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party before they can buy food. Physicians for Human Rights, a monitoring group based in Denmark, has verified numerous reports that the Mugabe regime is deliberately withholding food from members of the opposition.

The crisis is a direct result of Mugabe's disastrous policies. Much of Zimbabwe's farmland has been seized from the lawful owners and turned over to Mugabe's cronies and political supporters. Over one and a half million Zimbabweans who worked and lived on these farms have been forced from their homes and livelihoods. Once an exporter of food, Zimbabwe cannot now feed its own people.

The United States is doing what it can to stem the food emergency. The U.S. has sent more than two-hundred-thousand metric tons of food to the Zimbabwean people. But foreign aid alone will not solve the country's crisis. What is needed is genuine reform -- economic and political. Zimbabweans need a government that respects their rights. They need an economy based on free markets and protected by the rule of law. And they need it now.