PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has allegedly tightened control over food supplies in the country, starving opponents and manipulating relief aid to soften resistance to his rule ahead of next year’s parl
iamentary election, a UK-based human rights group reported this week.
“The food distribution system has been used to discriminate against supporters of the political opposition,” Amnesty International’s UK director Mike Blakemore said in a report.
The World Food Programme, a major food aid donor to Zimbabwe, has however dismissed suggestions that politicians are hijacking its relief aid.
The agency last year suspended food deliveries in Insiza district, Matabeleland South, after Zanu PF supporters grabbed an aid consignment. A WFP official said there had been no political interference since then.
“If there is any politicisation at all, we immediately suspend operations,” said WFP spokesperson, Makena Walker. “We are making an extremely strong, concerted effort that that does not happen to our food aid.”
The Amnesty International report, Zimbabwe: Power and Hunger, Violations of the Right to Food, is based on extensive interviews in Zimbabwe over the past three months. It alleges that Mugabe has cut off food to opponents who have challenged the power of his ruling Zanu PF.The European Union has also accused Mugabe of using food aid as a political weapon, while the United States has said it might consider measures to guarantee that food aid deliveries are free from political interference.
Half of Zimbabwe’s 12,5 million people are at risk of starvation, according to the WFP.Zanu PF, which blames the country’s food crisis on successive droughts, denies it has politicised food distribution and accuses aid agencies of sending more relief to opposition strongholds.
The AI report says: “There is mounting evidence that people in Zimbabwe are suffering from hunger. In numerous cases only those who can prove membership of Zanu PF have been allowed to access maize distributed by the (state-controlled Grain Marketing Board) GMB. During election campaigns voters’ access to food has been threatened unless they vote for Zanu PF.”
It said the near-monopoly of the GMB on trade and distribution of maize had been used by the government to control food supplies for political purposes, “both to discriminate against supporters of the political opposition, and to force farm workers to work for the newly resettled farmers at low rates of pay”.
The report goes on to say: “By a lowing political motives to interfere with the provision of assistance to those in need, donors may also have undermined the efforts of those humanitarian actors who distribute assistance without discrimination, thus further denying the population of Zimbabwe badly needed help.”
Amnesty said it was concerned that the cessation of most international food aid distribution was leaving millions of people dependent on grain distributed via the GMB.