Mugabe at UN food summit, as Zimbabwe goes hungry

HARARE, Zimbabwe — There were wry smiles at many Zimbabwean breakfast tables this week when it was announced in the government press that President Robert Mugabe is attending the Rome summit of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Zimbabweans — black and white alike — see the irony of Mugabe grasping at the chance to attend an international conference where the theme is food security. Mugabe's policies have turned Zimbabwe from a nation with bountiful harvests to a country perennially dependent upon international food aid.

Nobody has done more to wreck Zimbabwe’s post-independence record of food production than Mugabe. Under his direction one of Africa’s most productive agricultures has been transformed into a wasteland. Vast acreages of corn, fruit and horticulture have been seized, plundered and in many cases willfully destroyed by Mugabe’s supporters. Forests have been cut down and river systems polluted as the president’s land redistribution policies have wreaked havoc on the land.

As if enough damage has not been done, the violent seizure of the few remaining white-owned farms continues. And about 152 of the estimated 400 remaining white commercial farmers have been prosecuted recently for continuing to occupy their homesteads and farm their land. This while Zimbabwe is dependent upon handouts for its destitute rural population.

White farmers such as Ben Freeth in Chegutu, southwest of the capital Harare, and his wife’s elderly parents have been badly beaten by Mugabe’s thugs and their bones broken for refusing to leave their home.

“It appears there has been no move to re-establish the rule of law,” Freeth declared last week, “and there have been no repercussions for the perpetrators or even investigations into police participation in lawlessness.”

Freeth’s invective is directed more at Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s failure to act decisively than Mugabe’s predictable rampage. Even black resettled farmers suspected of opposing Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party are having their farms repossessed and given to the 85-year-old leader’s adherents.

The anarchy on the land is impacting negatively on food security, employment and economic growth, Freeth pointed out as Mugabe strutted upon the international stage in Rome.

After much prodding by Zimbabwe’s regional neighbors in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Tsvangirai has returned to cabinet meetings following his boycott of the government of national unity over Mugabe’s failure to honor terms reached last year.

But the heat is on Mugabe as well. As a result of a recent SADC deal in Maputo, Mozambique, the president is under increased pressure from his peers to accept the conditions he signed up to despite his repeated claims that he has fulfilled all requirements.

Outstanding issues include the removal of Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono and Attorney General Johannes Tomana. Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) holds Gono responsible for monetary delinquency and Tomana for selective application of the law of the sort MDC treasurer Roy Bennett has been subjected to. But Mugabe has adamantly insisted that these two loyalists will stay where they are.

Ministers from Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia, who were in the country in October to assess the power-sharing deal, expressed concerns about the management of the police force. They reported to SADC that although ministers from the two main parties were working together well at the Ministry of Home Affairs, management of the police remains a problem.

Senior police officers have been openly defiant of the new order, even to the extent in one case of refusing to meet the MDC co-minister, Giles Mutsekwa, during a regional tour.

Another problem area identifed by the SADC ministers was security. The National Security Council was set up under the so-called global political agreement between the parties last year and it contains the army, police and prisons service. It has only met once since the government of national unity was formed in February. It is widely seen as an instrument of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party. Similarly, a National Economic Council has not been constituted despite an urgent need for consensus on economic policy.

The whole point of the SADC-mediated political detente in Zimbabwe has been to prevent Mugabe damaging the economy to the extent that Zimbabweans become poorer and neighboring countries suffer collateral damage. With his announcement two weeks ago that the widely reviled Zimbabwe dollar will be reintroduced before Christmas, regional observers will have received some indication of both his capacity for damage and his detachment from the real world.

The Zimbabwe dollar is associated with 10-digit inflation, uncertainty, bank lines and corruption. Zimbabweans hate the unit as emblematic of all that was rotten and painful in their daily lives. It is however unlikely to reappear anytime soon despite the best efforts of Mugabe and Gono. It is the one issue that is calculated to unite the nation against Mugabe and his followers seem to know it. Not a single member of his party has spoken up to support the president’s plan.

Meanwhile, President Ian Khama of Botswana, a forthright critic of Mugabe, said that free and fair elections are the only avenue out of Zimbabwe's perennial crisis.

“There can be no substitute,” Khama told the Botswanan parliament in Gaborone, “for free, fair, and credible elections where people elect representatives of their choice and not have them imposed on them through rigged elections, brutalizing opponents , military interventions, constitutional amendments to stay longer in power and one-man rule that goes on for decades.”
Khama left his audience in no doubt who he was talking about.

“One thing which I fear may become a trend in Africa if not stopped is where an individual or party in order to stay in power engage in unconstitutional and undemocratic actions to achieve this which, as we have already witnessed, result in power-sharing arrangements and one-man rule.”