Famines occur due to war, anarchy, floods, droughts, insects or blights. Yet in the last century the most horrible famines are those planned by the government in the absence of war, to punish their own people, or from a callus attitude that political power is more important than human life. Such famines occurred in the Ukraine in the 1930’s and in China’s Great Leap Forward in the 1960’s.So add to this list of monstrous tyrants who plan the deliberate starvation of their own people the name of Robert Mugabe.The party line in Zimbabwe is that “the West” is to blame for the famine, since the west has a limited embargo on investment in Zimbabwe.

But the reality is that Mugabe has used food as a weapon to keep power in previous elections. It was understood that villages who voted wrong would not get food aid during the periodic famines in their areas.

So in order to distribute food, NGO’s were supposed to be certified by the government, and food aid was supposed to be distributed via government officials: something that would be reasonable if one didn’t know Mugabe’s history and threats.

But after the March elections, where essentially Mugabe lost, things got worse in Zimbabwe.

During that election, after a long delay, officials decided the votes suggested a “close count” requiring a “reelection” for president– translation: he lost so badly that stealing the election by fiat was impossible, so plan B, violence and intimidation against those who voted wrong, was initiated.

The violence was bad enough that Morgan Tsvangirai, the real winner, withdrew from the run off election.

But apparently, the mere threat of violence was not enough to ensure the correct vote: Mugabe also banned the distribution of food aid by NGO’s in early June.

This was a twofold threat: One, it meant that after a poor harvest, villagers would know that if they didn’t vote correctly, no food aid would be coming to keep them alive, and two: It meant that there were fewer outsiders to report on atrocities.

The dirty little secret about missionaries and NGO’s is that they write about what they see. Mugabe is trying to intimidate his population, and keep it a secret. That is why he bans outside reporters from entering the country, and why letters and emails are assumed by locals to be monitored.

So since June, NGO’s have been banned from giving out food aid. After the farce election, and the South African mediated talks to try to get a coalition government, Mugabe agreed to stop the suspension of the NGO’s. This did not happen, although in early August a small amount of food was allowed to be distributed to HIV patients. But if things don’t change, Zimbabwe, which once exported food and with irrigation and modern techniques could be the breadbasket of Africa, will become a state with massive starvation. From the report by the Crisis in Zimbabwe coalition:

“The suspension of humanitarian operations is estimated to have put the lives of more than 1.5 million marginalised Zimbabweans at risk already,” said the report. “Without the immediate resumption of food aid across the country, widespread hunger and worsening malnutrition are unavoidable.”
It noted that the two main international food agencies, the World Food Programme and the Food and Agricultural Organisation, estimate that 2.04 million Zimbabweans in rural and urban areas do not have enough food now. By January, the organisations say that 5.1 million will be at risk of starvation – about 45% of the population.
“The government has always maintained a stranglehold on food distribution with a view to ensuring that those receiving the food associate this generosity with the government, rather than the donors,” the report noted.

In the meanwhile, on the political front, things continue to be bad.

South Africa, representing local African countries, tried to pressure Tsvangirai into signing an agreement that would give Mugabe all the power and make him a patsy without power. Those knowing Zimbabwe history know how a similar “agreement” with Joshua Nkomo led to nothing but misery for the Ndebele who thought they might gain a voice in the government.

So as a “run around”, Mugabe continues to play “pretend”. The first election “was a tie”. Ah, but he “won” the reelection. South Africa pretends the talks mean something, and signals Mugabe they’ll pretend too. So Mugabe calls Parliament into session…while detaining just a couple opposition congressmen, just enough to tip the scales, and by making a pact with Mutambara, the leader of an opposition splinter group…a move that would allow Mugabe to gain a coalition majority without any input from the larger opposition leader Tsvangirai…

But into this pretend playact, a strange thing happened: The “splinter” opposition group in Congress refused to follow their “leader”, whose agreements with Mugabe were made without asking them about it.

And as a result, MDC’s Lovemore Moyo won the position of speaker.

(Zimbabwe’s parliament has a Senate, with little power, and a lower house that runs things. For more information go HERE. Think House of Lords and House of Commons, not the US Senate and House for comparisons).

So although famine is threatening, and the violence continues, the tiny spark of democracy is still alive in Zimbabwe…so far.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket, and she writes about Zimbabwe at Makaipa blog.

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