Monday, December 10, 2007

Corruption fuels hunger in Zim

From the LATimes

....As the government of President Robert Mugabe proclaims plans for the "Mother of All Harvests" this planting season, many rural Zimbabweans are teetering on the edge of starvation.

And a new hunger crisis threatens. Despite predictions of a good rain for planting after last year's severe drought and failed harvest, Zimbabwe's economic chaos has left the country with an acute shortage of seeds.

Just a few years ago, Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of southern Africa, exporting grain to its less blessed neighbors. But in 2000, Mugabe began seizing thousands of mainly white-owned commercial farms and dismantling the inequitable pattern of ownership established under the racist government of Ian Smith.

Cronyism suspected

Some analysts, however, argue that the real motive behind the land redistribution was to share the spoils of power with Mugabe's cronies and liberation war veterans in return for their continued loyalty. Government ministers, security officials and ruling party allies grabbed the land and ran the farms into the ground. The nation's richest export industry collapsed almost overnight.

The national harvest plummeted. Production of maize fell by 74% from 1999 to 2004, according to the Washington-based independent Center for Global Development, while in neighboring Zambia it increased.

Now, about a third of Zimbabwe's population depends on humanitarian food aid.

Just as the government plays favorites in awarding farms, it plays favorites when distributing food. For hungry village people, the threat of starvation is terrifying.

With the presidential election due next year, there are reports from rural areas that the state-run Grain Marketing Board, which has a monopoly on the distribution of maize, is selling only to ruling party supporters or siphoning it to party officials, police and bureaucrats who resell it on the black market at inflated prices.

But the biggest problem, according to human rights organizations monitoring hunger, is that the grain board is distributing very little maize at all in many rural areas.

"We have had a lot of stories about political abuse of food," said Shari Eppel, a human rights activist in the southern city of Bulawayo. "But I think one of the biggest problems around food at the moment is that there isn't any. Even if you have got money, there isn't any to buy, and yet this is a very hungry time of year."....

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