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Zimbabwe Under Siege 10/13

In August 2002, The European Union said it would be providing Zimbabwe with about $34 million in aid, while blaming the political situation in Zimbabwe for the food crisis. Great Britain had earlier announced a $33 million program of aid, and the United States $33 million. However, much of the American aid intended for Zimbabwe was instead sent to other countries due to a dispute with Zimbabwe over genetically modified (GM) maize. (77) Zimbabwe balked at accepting a shipment of 10,500 tons of gene-modified maize because of fears that it would ruin Zimbabwe's beef exports to the European Union. Joseph Made, Minister of Lands and Agriculture, pointed out that there was concern that some farmers might use the imported grain as seed rather than for consumption. "This could have created many problems for us. Biotech maize, if eaten by livestock, would have jeopardized future Zimbabwe's beef exports to Europe." The European Union currently bans the import of GM food. There were also concerns that the spread of GM strains of maize would result in Zimbabwe losing its certification to export hybrid maize throughout Africa. Portrayed in Western reports as an act of arbitrary childishness, Zimbabwe's reluctance to accept GM maize was based on real concerns over its potentially adverse effect on exports. Zambia also rejected shipments of GM maize, refusing to distribute the maize that had already been imported from the U.S. American officials applied heavy pressure on southern African states to accept GM maize, for this was an opportunity to help U.S. corporations start to break down barriers to the export of GM food in general. Zimbabwe insisted that it mill the maize before distribution, precluding the possibility that farmers planting the grain would spread GM strains throughout Zimbabwe. The U.S. and the UN, however, refused to allow the government of Zimbabwe to be involved in the distribution of the grain. In the end, a compromise was reached in which the U.S. and UN agreed to allow Zimbabwe to accept the maize on the condition that the government provide the UN an equivalent amount of maize from its stocks which the UN would then pass to NGOs for distribution. (78) For Western officials, it was important to prevent the government of Zimbabwe from distributing food, and to ensure that NGOs active in trying to overthrow the government appear to be responsible for providing food to the hungry. Food aid from the West was motivated more from its utility as another weapon in the effort to overthrow the government of Zimbabwe than it was by a concern for human suffering.

Meanwhile, Western officials were playing other political games with food aid. During meetings with United Nations Development Program (UNDP) coordinator Victor Angelo in New York in May 2002, U.S. and European Union representatives claimed that the food crisis in Zimbabwe was "two-thirds a result of wrong economic policies." Angelo was attempting to organize an aid package of $80 million from Western governments and aid agencies, but the donors told him that unless Zimbabwe agreed to devalue its currency, "no significant food aid will be given to Zimbabwe." Other demands Western officials placed included the abandonment of the current land reform program. Without the protection of "property rights," they indicated, foreign investment in Zimbabwe was unlikely. One European diplomat revealed, "We told the UNDP to first convey our concerns to the Zimbabwe authorities. Food aid can come but there have to be associate measures that must be taken that would ensure that there will not be a repeat of this same situation we are dealing with now." (79) When the IMF and World Bank announced in August 2002 that they would be reviewing current assistance to drought-stricken countries in southern Africa to plan expanding financial arrangements to help fill the gap with donor assistance, they pointedly excluded Zimbabwe. (80)

The state-owned Grain Marketing Board has sole responsibility for the purchase and sale of strategic commodities in Zimbabwe, including maize and wheat. Commercial farmers hope to break the monopoly on the distribution of key commodities in order to capitalize on scarcities and realize high returns. When some permits were illegally issued to private firms to purchase grains, commercial farmers who had earlier told the Grain Marketing Board that they had nothing for sale were offering to sell to private firms. Many farmers refused to sell to the Board, leaving it with dwindling stocks, while private firms drove up the prices, causing hardship for ordinary citizens. When the government finally cancelled all illegal private permits, it sought to recover the lost stocks. Over 16,000 tons of maize was impounded in initial efforts, and it is thought that this is a small proportion of the total grain that found its way outside of official distribution channels. (81) Prior to the issuance of permits to private firms, many commercial farmers were hoarding food, refusing to sell to the Board in hopes of realizing greater profits elsewhere. At the end of a six-week period in January 2002, during which the Grain Marketing Board impounded 36,000 tons of hoarded maize, Minister of Lands and Agriculture Joseph Made declared, "We cannot have a situation where people are starving while others are withholding maize." (82)

In August 2002, American officials proposed setting up a $85 million fund which would allow private firms in Zimbabwe lacking foreign currency to obtain and sell Western food aid. Western officials are withholding food aid to Zimbabwe until it relents and allows private firms to purchase and speculate in strategic food commodities. One aid official said his agency was waiting for Zimbabwe to agree to "allow private sector players a bigger role in importing food." Zimbabwean officials reject this demand, arguing that in a time of scarcity, private speculation in food would drive the price of food beyond the reach of most people. The United Nations Development Fund has also joined Western officials in attempting to force Zimbabwe into permitting the establishment of the fund. Western officials are also insisting that private firms be allowed to purchase strategic food commodities whether or not they participate in the proposed fund. (83) By halting food shipments, the West was using food as a weapon to pry open a key state-owned sector of Zimbabwe's economy and coercively ensure its privatization. Throughout the food crisis in Zimbabwe, the U.S. has maintained its focus on what it feels matters most: privatization and an economic environment in Zimbabwe friendly to Western investors. Where others might see hunger and poverty, U.S. leaders see dollar signs. A U.S. government analysis of the economy of Zimbabwe complains, "Privatization of state-owned companies, liberalization of foreign exchange policies, removal of price controls from food staples and energy are areas where progress has been sub-optimal. The local ownership requirement and the large areas of the economy where foreign investment is not allowed are other hindrances to business establishment and free cross-border capital and equity flows." Note the desire for the removal of price controls, which would result in greater numbers of starving people. Profits always come first. At the time of the 1980 revolution in Zimbabwe, 70 to 80 percent of the corporate sector was foreign-owned. Today, Zimbabwe's efforts to shift the economy towards the interests of its people has reduced this to about 30 percent. According to this same U.S. government economic analysis, "The vast majority of foreign investment predates independence and is held by British and South African interests." The central goal of U.S. and British policy is to return Zimbabwe's economy to those fondly recalled days of apartheid Rhodesia, when there were no impediments to Western investment. (84)

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