CONGRATULATIONS Dr Agostinho Zacarias on your appointment as the new United Nations Development Programme resident representative to Zimbabwe. I hope you will find the stay at your well-ap
pointed offices at Takura House comfortable.
I believe that you have started to settle in and are evaluating the tasks you have to execute. It is good to note that you are positive in your quest to see things done. The release sent from your office this week says if, together with your staff, you “remain committed to our principles, our programmes and our mandates, remain within the law and work to defend our principles, we are likely to succeed”.
It is also heartening to note that you are keen to fight the HIV and Aids scourge. You have come at an opportune moment when the country is in real need of international assistance. Unlike your predecessor Dr Victor Angelo, who was European and therefore unacceptable to the ruling order here, the Zimbabwe leadership will give you a warmer welcome because you are an African brother. Better still, you hail from a very friendly country just on the other side of the mountain.
On the day you meet our dear leader, be prepared to be reminded that relations between Zimbabwe and Mozambique date back to the days of the liberation struggle — or indeed Munhumutapa. This is notwithstanding the fact that you are here as a representative of the UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and not President Armando Guebuza.
Dr Zacarias, you are therefore expected to behave like a true African brother and not what the state media calls the “discredited” Dr Angelo.
I found nothing wrong in his conduct but he was pilloried by government functionaries for simply telling the truth.
On the eve of his departure, the Sunday Mail and Herald took turns to fire potshots at him with one columnist branding him a “devillo”. He was accused of working with the opposition to effect regime change in Zimbabwe. He was accused of initiating a project to export dispossessed white farmers to other African countries. In short, he had become an inconvenient diplomat.
But I recall him warning of serious food shortages last year and censuring government for barring a food assessment team and preventing aid agencies from distributing food. Let me quote what he said in an interview with AFP.
“We are concerned that the government’s decision to scrap a mission to assess food stocks could complicate emergency aid deliveries that may be needed later.”
At the time the government was telling all and sundry that it would produce 2,4 million tonnes of maize of which it needed 1,8 million tonnes to feed all of us and our livestock.
That was a bare-faced lie because we are scraping the bottoms of our silos and the highest office has finally admitted that there is no food. When Angelo sounded the warning, he was accused of meddling in the country’s politics. He was told: hands off.
But Dr Zacarias, the government will be coming to the UNDP soon to ask you to co-ordinate relief efforts. The country needs food, medicine and support to the agrarian reform which I am sure our rulers will tell you was a major success. They will still require you to mobilise assistance all the same!
There is also the unenviable task of convincing donors to support the government. The relationship between them and government has soured in the past few weeks after some of their co-operating partners were accused of supporting the opposition MDC. I do not see international donors being as forthcoming as they were in 2003 when the country faced its worst humanitarian crisis. You have to convince them on President Mugabe’s behalf. As a brother, you are expected to deliver.
Then there is the problem of the agrarian reform. Part of the reason why there is no food is the sector has been ruined. You will be told that irrigation cannot take place on farms because retreating white farmers looted and vandalised important gear. You will also be told that international sanctions have deferred the completion of dams and key irrigation infrastructure. There will be explanations for all the failures.
International donors have not fallen for this subterfuge hence they have not moved an inch since the international conference called in 1998 to discuss possible funding for land reform.
Angelo stuck to that position up to the time he left which was very simply that land reform should include all stakeholders in planning to boost production rather than diminish it. Only that way would donors come on board.
“Donors would be very supportive of a well-designed and properlyimplemented survey of the agricultural situation,” he said. “Before this has been achieved we can’t even talk about the next step.”
One other crucial role of the resident representative is to promote and support effective dialogue and interaction between the different UN agencies and government. Under this brief Angelo had set in motion a process to promote national dialogue between the opposition and the Zanu PF government. I understand that he intended to achieve this indirectly — through the National Economic Consultative Forum. There was not much progress on that front.
This is unfinished business for the office of the resident rep. In post-election Zimbabwe, accomplishment on this score would be a huge achievement. But first of all Dr Zacarias, we need food urgently, not spurious solidarity.