|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
|07 April 2003
Mugabe Government Has Done "Enormous" Damage to Food System
(USAID Natsios testifies before Congress) (880) By Charles W. Corey Washington File Staff Writer Washington -- The ongoing repression of the Zimbabwean people by the Mugabe government and the ill-advised land and agriculture polices have done an "enormous amount of damage" to the country's food security system, warned Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). In testimony before the Committee on International Relations in the U.S. House of Representatives April 1, Natsios said "the government seems not to understand that the confiscation of the large farms by the state and then the giving of those farms to members of the inner circle of the ruling party and relatives of President Mugabe has done an enormous amount of damage..." to the nation's food security. The seizure of the farms, combined with bad management, has resulted in an 80% reduction of food crops for this year, a "massive reduction of food production in the country to a disastrous level," he warned. The USAID administrator also told the lawmakers that in a relatively prosperous country as Zimbabwe once was -- people can usually survive one year of drought without suffering mass casualties. "They cannot do it for two years," in a row, he warned, and the second year has begun. The Zimbabwean people, Natsios told the committee, were among the best educated in Africa with a 92% literacy rate along with an advanced infrastructure and agricultural system. Mugabe "literally destroyed that." Mugabe's Zimbabwe, he said, now stands as "one of the worst examples in African history of gross mismanagement of predatory government policy and of tyranny over its own people." Natsios also accused the Mugabe regime of using food as a weapon as has been the case in Matebeleland. "Matebeleland is a region of the country that has traditionally been in opposition to Dr. Mugabe and his party. They have never liked him and never voted for him." The government, he said, has "attempted to shut off all food distributions in those areas and prevents reporters from going in to see what the consequence is. We are not seeing mass starvation yet," he said, "but with the second year of reduced harvests, we are going to face famine conditions." Malnutrition rates are rising, he warned, "We have examples in some provinces...of children whose parents are of the opposition being pulled out of feeding lines and told they will not eat because their parents supported the opposition candidates in the last election. "There is a politicization" of food distribution going on but, he stressed, the Mugabe government has not been able to use U.S. food aid as a weapon. U.S. food aid, Natsios told the lawmakers, "has gone through NGOs and the World Food Programme, and none of it has gone through the government, nor will it go through the government. " Underlying the Zimbabwe crisis is the general African problem of agricultural development. Natsios stressed the importance of helping African nations wean themselves from emergency food aid and break the constant cycles of famine through consistent agricultural development. Although he cited recent increases in U.S. funding for agricultural development, Natsios characterized them as woefully short of what is truly needed. In 2001, USAID spent $113 million (on agricultural development); there has been a $50 million increase this year to $163 million, he said, but that is still not enough. And there are other competing interests for funding such as HIV/AIDS or environmental issues that rely on their stronger constituencies to siphon money from agricultural development. "If you ask African heads of state, prime ministers, finance ministers -- not the agricultural ministers who have a vested interest -- and other ministers where we should be putting money in Africa, they will all tell you agriculture because 80% of poor people in Africa live on the farms. "If you want to reduce poverty, you have to invest in agriculture," he stressed. AS an example, Natsios cited three things that need to be institutionalized to help Africa and especially Ethiopia survive its current crisis: -- Greater use of irrigation on a small-scale. Citing India as an example, he said that country has not had a famine since its independence, largely because it practices widespread agricultural irrigation. -- The utilization of new varieties of drought-resistant wheat and maize now being developed through biotechnology in South Africa that are specifically targeted to the African markets; -- The education of the next generation of African scientists to conduct appropriate research focused on what is needed in Africa. One of the key factors in the last item, Natsios said, are the USAID agricultural scholarships that once played so large a role in improving agriculture in Africa and around the world. "In 1980, the United States funded 20,000 scholarships a year in agriculture. Today, that number has shrunk to 900," he lamented. "I think it is scandalous that there has been such a dramatic reduction in the number of scholarships to people from the Third World in American universities -- to take that technology back to their own countries and use it for their own benefit. So we are putting a new investment into [agriculture] scholarships in the United States." (The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
MDC supporters tried to stop police arresting Nyathi
MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi was detained as he attended the bail hearing for MDC vice president Gibson Sibanda.
The two were arrested in connection with last month's two-day anti-government strike.
Mr Sibanda was freed on bail of 1m Zimbabwe dollars ($1,200) after spending eight days in custody.
His bail hearing last Thursday was postponed until Monday because the magistrate's daughter was ill, according to the privately-owned Daily News.
He was barred from leaving the country, meaning that the MDC's top three leaders are all unable to leave Zimbabwe.
Leader Morgan Tsvangirai and secretary general Welshman Ncube had to surrender their passports after being charged with treason ahead of last year's controversial presidential election.
"The regime's actions are symptomatic of a regime that is panicking," Mr Ncube said.
Riot police had to be summoned to disperse angry MDC supporters who were trying to stop the police from detaining Mr Nyathi, reports the French news agency, AFP.
Some 600 MDC activists have been arrested since the strike - many say they were tortured.
The authorities say that the MDC planted explosives on a bridge and bombed offices of the ruling Zanu-PF party and this is why people are being arrested.
They deny that anyone was tortured.
The MDC says it is still to decide on what action to take after President Robert Mugabe ignored a 31 March deadline for him to stop persecuting political opponents.
Last week, Mr Nyathi told BBC News Online that the MDC was carefully considering the "risks" of embarking on more anti-government protests.
"We don't want to draw our people into an ambush," he said.