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7/23/04 - FOOD FOR ZIMBABWE - 2004-07-23

Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s president, says he expects his country will produce more than enough food to feed Zimbabweans this year, with enough left over for export. Mr. Mugabe is lying -- and Zimbabweans will suffer the consequences.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says that despite Mr. Mugabe’s claims of a bumper crop, the United Nations and others say that Zimbabwe faces “severe food shortages”:

“The government has a crop estimate of two-million-four-hundred-thousand metric tons of corn. That’s a great difference from the U-N Food and Agricultural Organization’s estimate of nine-hundred-fifty-thousand metric tons of corn.”

For the past four years, food assistance has been given to the people of Zimbabwe. But now, non-governmental organizations that distributed food are being forced to close their doors. Mr. Boucher says the Mugabe government is “trying to curtail donor activity and engagement in Zimbabwe”:

“We’ve been deeply concerned the Mugabe government is using its monopoly on food distribution to manipulate food availability for political ends and that there needs to be another track of food distribution available to people.... [In] April of this year, five-million Zimbabweans needed food assistance. We’re concerned that another similar number might need food assistance in the coming months.”

It hasn’t always been this way in Zimbabwe. Up until four years ago, Zimbabwe was a food exporter. But the Mugabe government began a campaign of land expropriation aimed at white farmers that destroyed Zimbabwe’s agricultural production. What Mugabe has done is destroy Zimbabwe’s economy and leave hundreds of thousands of black Zimbabweans homeless and unemployed. Moreover, those who benefited from the massive land grab were senior officials in the ruling ZANU – P-F party, military officers, and their wives and friends.

Since then, the U.S. has been the leading provider of food assistance to Zimbabwe. State Department spokesman Boucher says the U.S. will “continue to try to establish proper mechanisms for distribution of food to the people who need it, despite the government’s efforts to manipulate and to hamper those efforts.”