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Last Updated
Tuesday 03 August 2021, 12:07 pm.
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When a president deliberately starves his people

It has been clear that, for a long time now, the government of Zimbabwe has not been able to feed its people.
By Tanonoka Joseph Whande (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: When a president deliberately starves his people








Drought aside, there is also the short-sightedness of Robert Mugabe's ill-advised policies, notable among which were the farm seizures, the economic instability and the violence in rural areas, all deliberate outcomes of Mugabe's directionless politics.

The government continues to harass people who are supposed to be busy in the fields. Like in other countries around the world, there have always been organisations that came to the rescue of the disadvantaged, the elderly and the children in Zimbabwe.

Since independence, Zimbabwe, like most countries of the developing world, has always been served by a horde of non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

There were times when it was clear that the NGOs were doing a lot of good work until Mugabe, because of desperation, started using food to win votes and to punish those perceived to be opposition party supporters.

In 2003, CARE International, one of the world's largest private international humanitarian organisations committed to helping families in poor communities improve their lives and achieve lasting victories over poverty was registered as a welfare organisation (CARE Zimbabwe) under the Welfare Organisations Act and, like all other NGOs, was always harassed by the government. This was largely due to their abundant access to the people and the rapport they had cultivated with them, along with the ensuing trust from the masses - something that the government no longer has.

On its website, CARE International said this week that their country office in Zimbabwe had been ordered by the government to suspend all field operations pending an investigation into allegations of political activism. CARE said it has complied with the order and has recalled all field staff.

CARE has strict policies against political involvement and categorically denies the organisation has encouraged or tolerated any political activity, it said. CARE is committed to providing independent, impartial, apolitical relief and development assistance on the basis of need to improve sustainable livelihoods for vulnerable populations, according to the Code of Conduct for non-governmental organisations and to CARE International's Code of Ethics.

At least two other NGOs, Save the Children and ADRA, were also asked to suspend work in one area with the other asked to stop work immediately.

The relationship that NGOs have with the people makes the unpopular government nervous because people seem to be beholden more to the caregivers than to the violent government.

There was nothing particularly unique about NGOs presence in Zimbabwe although some, like the US Peace Corps, were rumoured to be an arm of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

But if so, so what?
Information about a country, most of its secrets or the vulnerability of some of these presidents is a matter of public record, especially in Zimbabwe where Mugabe and his motorcade (once dubbed Bob and the Wailers) announce his arrival and departure with deafening sirens. Those loud sirens will tell you where he is at any given time if he so much as fidgets.

But it is the timing that gives the government's game away. Mugabe has always used food as a weapon to threaten or coerce people to vote for him.

And now, exactly three weeks before he faces a run-off election, Mugabe has caused CARE and other NGOs to stop distributing relief food. This means that people will not be getting food aid and, with these NGOs out of the way, ZANU-PF can go in these areas and dangle food in front of starving people. The message is clear: vote for me or you starve to death.

And Mugabe can starve people to death; he has done it before. This malicious, some would say evil, behaviour has been Mugabe's hallmark for sometime. When he himself cannot help or correct the situation, he will not allow anyone else to do it. We see that even Thabo Mbeki adopted the unfortunate behaviour when, having dismally failed to normalise the situation in Zimbabwe, he stalled and continues to stand in the way of those ready, willing and able to

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help the suffering masses in Zimbabwe.

However, CARE has pledged ̉to cooperate with the government of Zimbabwe in resolving the situation so that humanitarian operations may be resumed as soon as possible.

One of the reasons NGOs are popular is the excellent salaries they pay. And most NGOs in Zimbabwe paid extremely well and, in later years when Zimbabwe's currency was less valuable than used toilet paper, some even started paying their employees in foreign currency.

I recall an incident in 1991 when I sat in a cabinet minister's office and a directive came from the President's office to the effect that no ministry should request or use any foreign currency in that particular week because the president was trying to collect enough for a trip to nearby Zambia.

And at about that time, the government started taking a harder line towards NGOs, accusing them of spying on behalf of foreign countries.

The government started to harass NGOs and their job became more and more difficult as more and more regulations were introduced to curtail the use of their money, movements and activities.

For example, the government wanted NGOs to hand over their foreign currency so that the government would then give them the equivalent in Zimdollars.

Of course, the NGOs resisted since they needed the money to source for material, items and goods peculiar to their activities among the people.

In the early 90s, when Mugabe and ZANU-PF's popularity began to wane, the NGOs again were suspected of being unfriendly to the government and of trying to undermine it.

Things became much worse for the NGOs when the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) came onto the scene.

In denial over his evaporating support, Mugabe accused the NGOs that had been distributing and feeding people in the rural areas, of using food to campaign for the MDC at his expense and ZANU-PF.

Mugabe then ordered that while NGOs could source for the food, only the government could distribute it. The NGOs refused and some of them were closed down only to be allowed to continue with their work a few weeks later.

But even then the government did not let up, it insisted that its people, village development committee members along with chiefs be present whenever food was being handed over to the people.

The NGOs resisted this because party slogans were chanted with insinuations that the food was coming from Mugabe. In the end, the NGOs put their foot down and flatly refused to have any government or party official anywhere nearer. They were emphatic and strict about their refusal to allow party slogans.

Apart from the fact that Mugabe, ZANU-PF and the government had nothing to do with the food being distributed, the NGOs wanted to avoid politicising food aid and wanted people to come forward to be helped not to think that food aid had something to do with Mugabe and ZANU-PF.

Having failed to have access to the food distribution, Mugabe continued to harass NGOs and accuses them of politicizing food aid and for campaigning for the opposition, a ridiculous accusation he used to shut down CARE Zimbabwe this week.

Mugabe has been withholding food aid to the people for decades and paranoia misleads him into thinking that if he is a thief, everybody else is a thief too.

CARE Zimbabwe started operations in 1992 and it, along with numerous other NGOs, saved Zimbabweans from starvation on numerous occasions, before, during and after the chaotic farm invasions. So-called war veterans, who were allocated the confiscated farms, are always seen in queues with rural folks jostling, pushing and shoving for food handouts.

What, however, pains me the most is that while other leaders run around the world looking for food at affordable prices for their citizens, Mugabe attends such gatherings to hurl insults at people while his government deliberately withholds food aid to starving citizens, men, women and children.

It has taken Mugabe to prove that senility is dangerous.

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