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Zimbabwe Under Siege 9/13

Yet another of the myriad NGOs executing Western policy in Zimbabwe is International Media Support (IMS), funded by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The intent of IMS is to be an "action-oriented" organization providing "technical and practical assistance" to media as well as working to build "diplomatic pressure at the political level." (61) It is rather commonplace for an NGO to not only engage in practical mayhem but to also devote considerable time and resources urging more extreme measures from Western governments. Among its recent "interventions," IMS lists Zimbabwe. (62)

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) bankrolls sixteen "civil society organizations" in Zimbabwe, with emphasis on supporting MDC's parliamentary activities. (63) One of the departments of USAID, the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), was said to be funding a new short-wave radio station recently established in Great Britain, SW Radio Africa, to the tune of millions of dollars. According to diplomatic sources, SW Radio Africa utilizes the studios, transmitters and frequencies of "a global communications provider." The operating expenses for SW Radio Africa are covered by OTI. While the specific station hosting SW Radio Africa has not been identified, it is either Voice of America, with transmitters located throughout southern and central Africa, or the BBC, with a transmitter located in South Africa. According to Radio Netherlands, BBC Radio 4 recently rebroadcast a program that had originally appeared on SW Radio Africa, "suggesting that there is some contact between them at [the] editorial level." (64) OTI gained experience in destabilizing nations through its involvement with covert operations in Yugoslavia, funding the printing of over four million newspaper and magazines, as well as supporting opposition radio and television. (65) Zimbabwe's Minister of Information Jonathan Moyo reacted sharply to the inflammatory tone of the illegal broadcasts by SW Radio Africa, accusing Western nations of "fanning tribal divisions and ethnic hatred among Zimbabweans," in order to render Zimbabwe ungovernable. (66)

Drought, Famine, and Food Aid

From January through April 2002, Zimbabwe experienced its worst drought in 20 years. The drought affects several countries in southern Africa, and the UN World Food Program (WFP) estimates that 12.8 million people may require urgent food aid in order to avert the threat of famine. Jean-Jacques Graisse, Deputy Executive Director of the WFP says, "We see this as a crisis of enormous proportions. The situation worsens with each day." Western news reports focus their gaze on Zimbabwe, attributing the drop in agricultural output primarily to disruption caused by land redistribution. While it is a normal pattern for land reform to cause some temporary dislocation, clearly drought is the major factor in the decline of agricultural output. All of the other countries the WFP identified as being at risk have seen their crops suffer, none of which are undergoing land reform, while the crisis is thought to be worst in Malawi. (67)

In Malawi, Western demands forced that nation to dispose of its grain reserves in order to conform to the neoliberal economic model. The IMF then halted new loans and the United States and Great Britain severed aid in response to questions over the accounting of the sale of the grain reserves. Left without grain reserves, Malawi had nothing to fall back on when the drought deepened. Western officials also pressured Malawi to eliminate food subsidies, again according to neoliberal prescription, and the subsequent escalation in prices meant that maize very rapidly reached the point of unaffordability for most people. February 2002 saw the first reports of people dying of starvation in Malawi. The WFP concludes that the elimination of the grain reserve and "the dramatic price increases played a critical role in the humanitarian crisis last year." Malawi was in a food crisis even before the onset of the drought, and the situation has since become far more troubling. (68)

Severe weather in Lesotho has affected crop output for two years in a row, and cereal production for 2002 is calculated at 33 percent less than the already reduced output of the previous year. Crop production is declining, reports the WFP, "and could cease altogether over large tracts of the country." The total area planted is only sixty percent compared to normal. Here too, escalating food prices have driven more and more people into poverty. (69) Similarly, in Swaziland, agricultural output has declined by a startling 60 percent and half of the farmers will have nothing to harvest. In Zambia, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports, "People are turning to desperate measures including eating potentially poisonous wild foods, stealing crops and prostitution to get enough for their families to eat." (70)

It is estimated that cereal production in Zimbabwe will drop by 57 percent, while output of maize, the primary staple in the diet of Zimbabweans, could drop by as much as two thirds. The overall agricultural sector is expected to contract by nearly 25 percent. A mission from the WFP and FAO determined that the "major cause of collapse of the 2002 main season" has been "a severe prolonged drought between January and March, which wiped out crops in most parts of the country. Land reform activities contributed to the steep fall in production." (71) It should also be pointed out that severe fuel shortages have also limited agricultural production, and that international sanctions are responsible for Zimbabwe's lack of foreign currency to import sufficient quantities of fuel. The extent of the net effect of land reform has been exaggerated in Western reports, which operate on the premise that only white commercial farmers are producing a meaningful supply of food. In actuality, black small-scale farmers account for 70 percent of Zimbabwe's production of maize, while the main crop grown by the large white commercial farms is tobacco. (72)

Agricultural Technical and Extension Services (Agritex), which performs crop forecasting in Zimbabwe, reported in March 2002 the "early planted crop" of maize "to be a complete write-off, with the late crop at temporary to wilting point in Kwekwe." "Complete" means both on black farms and on white; both on farms listed for redistribution and those that are not. Agritex also noted that the maize crop in Umguza, Tsholotsho and Bubi districts was a complete failure, while in Masvingo and Manicaland provinces the crop was a near total failure. "Lack of sufficient moisture during the critical flowering and grain-filling stages is the cause of the poor crop condition," the report said. It wasn't only drought that was causing problems. Termites and grasshoppers destroyed crops in Gokwe and Matabeland South, while elephants ruined maize crops in Binga. Another survey in Manicaland province concluded that most crops were a complete write-off, and that very little remained to be harvested. Conditions were so dry, one farmer claimed, that one "can light a match and it will take a few minutes to burn the whole field." (73) Adverse weather conditions affected both white commercial and black small-scale farmers, although the situation was more dire in the always arid communal regions where most black-owned farms operate. The situation does not seem noticeably better in surrounding countries. "There was no land grab in either Malawi or Zambia," points out a Zimbabwean diplomat, "yet their people suffer the consequences of the drought and famine threatens their neighbors as well." (74)

Projections indicate that Zimbabwe will need to import up to 1.2 million tons of grain through May 2003. At current import prices, this would cost $165 million. The WFP's aid program to Zimbabwe has set a target of half that amount, but so far has managed to raise only about a third of its goal. (75) Although the government of Zimbabwe has been importing maize to compensate for the crop deficit, its ability to meet the demand is constrained by its depleted foreign currency reserves. International sanctions also prevent the country from obtaining loans to cover the import of food. To partially ease the pressure, half of the funds the government had set aside for reviving closed companies were shifted to the purchase of food. It was announced that additional funds would be transferred from other programs to help meet the demand for food. "We had to take such an action because of the need to feed the nation in the wake of the drought," a government finance official announced. "We cannot leave people to die." (76)

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