Tracing the kwashiorkor of failed leadership

While there is no doubt that drought is caused by climate change, nobody can question the empirical evidence showing that food insecurity, perennial hunger and famine are the logical outcomes of bad governance.

Exactly two months ago, Hilal Elver, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, delivered a spine-chilling message to the world: “The people of Zimbabwe are slowly getting to a point of suffering man-made starvation.”

In the 1970s and early ’80s, Ethiopia and Bangladesh suffered from chronic hunger and devastating famine which killed many people and left a scar on the conscience of mankind.

But through sound policies, better public investment decisions, strong anti-corruption mechanisms and improved community resilience programmes, Ethiopia and Bangladesh have slashed hunger and banished famine. In today’s Zimbabwe, a country where money meant for Command Agriculture is buying luxury cars and mansions for the ruling elite and their cronies, hunger-stricken villagers are surviving on a wing and a prayer.

During the December holidays, I travelled to rural Matabeleland and what I witnessed has long surpassed the level of crisis and is now a fully-fledged humanitarian emergency.

If nothing is done to rescue the situation, precious lives will be lost. The international community must urgently intervene by providing food supplies before we begin seeing heart-rending pictures of famished toddlers cowering under the blood-curdling gaze of curious vultures. Government officials are misleading the world when they say hunger is under control. As history has taught us, it is untenable to use hunger as an instrument of political propaganda. Hunger is a powerful descriptor of the post-colonial rot which has turned the glorious dreams of liberation into a waking nightmare. Hunger dehumanises, it is violent and gut-wrenchingly visceral.

When the UN repeatedly warns humanity that 7,7 million Zimbabweans—almost half the country’s entire population—are hungry and facing starvation, all people of conscience should pause and reflect. What does it mean for a nation when one-in-two people are perpetually locked in the crosshairs of an adversary as unforgiving as hunger? Urban areas have not been spared, with poor neighbourhoods now resembling Dambudzo Marechera’s “series of hunger-scoured hovels stretching endlessly towards the horizon”. In Harare’s slums, young girls are dropping out of school in alarming numbers and sleep-walking into the deadly clutches of prostitution. Boys are lured into a wretched life of crime and substance abuse.

What is to be done? Bad governance and toxic politics are the causes of “man-made starvation”.

A country led by politicians who loot taxpayers’ funds meant for food security will inevitably suffer from hunger, starvation and even famine. Zimbabweans are desperately crying out for responsive, transparent, efficient and accountable leadership. No society can defeat hunger without first decisively tackling the ruinous kwashiorkor of failed leadership.

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