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Mugabe bars food aid distribution until after Senate polls
October 08, 2005

HARARE – President Robert Mugabe’s government will allow international relief agencies to feed an estimated four million hungry Zimbabweans only after Senate elections in November, ZimOnline has learnt.

Authoritative sources said the government wanted to maintain monopoly on food aid distribution and use it to maximise votes in the election set for the end of next month.

The government, which accuses non-governmental organisations (NGOs) of backing the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, also wanted relief agencies shut out of food aid distribution for now because it feared the NGOs might use the exercise as a pretext to mobilise support for the MDC.

"The Ministry of Finance and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe have been ordered to use the bulk of the foreign currency they have to import more grain. The grain would be distributed in the rural areas to shore up support for ZANU PF," said one government, official, who declined to be named.

State Security Minister Didymus Mutasa, also in charge of food aid distribution, confirmed the government had held back until after the Senate polls a decision on whether to invite international relief agencies to help feed starving Zimbabweans.

But he denied that this was because the government wanted to manipulate food aid to win more votes in the election whose exact dates are yet to be made public.

Mutasa said: "Most of these NGOs play politics with food and they might as well use the food handouts to influence our people to vote for the imperial lapdogs, the MDC. We are busy with the Senate elections and after that we will look at the situation. But it should not be lost that we have the capacity to feed our own people."

Finance Minister Herbert Murerwa in August told Parliament that the government was suspending its Grain Marketing Board’s monopoly over maize and wheat trade to allow private firms to also import the staple grains. But to date private firms are being allowed to import only stockfeed.

Mugabe, who in July told World Food Programme (WFP) director James Morris that Harare would accept aid from the organisation, also promised United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan last month that he was not opposed to international help although the Zimbabwean leader said he was not happy with some NGOs he said politicised food aid.

The cash-strapped Harare government has however refused to formally appeal to the WFP for help and has also not permitted NGOs free reign to feed hungry people insisting it has the capacity to ensure every Zimbabwean has food.

The WFP and other international relief agencies are allowed to feed only selected groups of people living with HIV/AIDS, orphans, school children and the elderly.

The MDC, churches, human rights and civic groups have in the past accused Mugabe and his government of denying food aid to opposition supporters as punishment for not backing the government. The government denies the charge.

Zimbabwe has faced severe food shortages since 2001 which critics say are in large part because of the seizure by Mugabe’s administration of productive land from white farmers and giving it over to landless black villagers.

Failure by the government to give skills training and inputs support to the black villagers to maintain production on the former white farms has seen food output plummeting by about 60 percent. The government however denies its land reforms are responsible for Zimbabwe’s food problems instead blaming this on poor weather. - ZimOnline

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