Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Dearth of a nation


to an old editorial in the WSJ (heads up from Smash's blog)...

True, Zimbabwe has had a drought. But it's a nation that inherited from colonial days some of the best infrastructure in Africa. There's nothing wrong with the roads, on which Father Finucane traveled hundreds of miles to gather the evidence on which he based his grim findings. In our modern world, with its swift transport, global markets and cheap technology--supplemented in a crisis by a vast network of eager aid agencies--there is no way that famine can be chalked up simply to natural disaster.

Given any reasonable degree of freedom, people faced with dwindling supplies of food will make mighty use of their basic human ingenuity to find ways to survive. It takes a lot of work, by determined tyrants, to starve human beings to death. Stalin engineered a terrible famine in the 1930s to subdue rebellious farmers in Ukraine. Mao in the 1950s and '60s starved some 30 million Chinese to death in the process of consolidating his grip on power. Ethiopians suffered famine in the 1980s under the Marxist rule of Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam, who was finally ousted in 1991 (and retired to luxury digs in Zimbabwe, where he still resides). North Korea's totalitarian Kim Jong Il has forced the starvation of more than one million North Koreans since the mid-1990s, rather than let them grow their own crops, trade in free markets and quite probably save their own lives...

Over the past two years, Mr. Mugabe's bid to boost his waning support has included a "land reform" in which his government ordered white commercial farmers to quit farming and surrender their land to be parceled out to blacks. This was done in the name of redressing racial injustice left over from colonial times. In an independence day speech on April 18, Mr. Mugabe announced triumphantly that the land "has finally come to its rightful owners."

But these huge farms, run with large economies of scale, were the most productive source of the country's food. Their confiscation, carried out in many cases by violent mobs, has brought farming to a near halt. With famine imminent, Mr. Mugabe's regime has ordered almost 3,000 white farmers still on their land to halt all production and leave their property within the next three weeks.

According to sources such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, the parceling out to date has been neither equitable nor productive. London's Daily Telegraph reported in May that vast tracts of land had been "handed out to President Mugabe's closest allies, including 10 cabinet ministers, seven MP's [members of Parliament] and his brother-in-law."Concern Worldwide estimates that yields have plunged 90% from what was once normal. And though the drought ended months ago and many of the reservoirs are now full, Mr. Mugabe's ruinous land "reform" means there is now almost no effective irrigation or new planting. Whatever hardship all this means for the white farmers, by far the worst hit by these ruinous tactics are millions of blacks.

Nor can people simply buy supplies on the open market. The government runs a Grain Marketing Board that has monopoly rights to import and deal in commodities such as corn--the staple food in Zimbabwe. Roadblocks restrict unauthorized shipments into the country. Farmers are forced to sell exclusively to the state marketing board, at well below world price, which further reduces incentives for large-scale planting. The marketing board rations its stocks, funneling food toward Mr. Mugabe's supporters and stinting the opposition, according to USAID head Andrew Natsios. Mr. Natsios describes Mr. Mugabe as "predatory and tyrannical" and says the Mugabe government "has politicized the distribution of food." ....

1 comment:

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