Africa Starves

In Zimbabwe, the number of people in need of emergency food aid has jumped to 5.5 million.  According to the UN, two-thirds of the country lives on one meal–or less–per day.

And all of this is because of acts of man, not acts of God:

The sophisticated agricultural sector that formed the backbone of the economy has been “stripped for parts”, the irrigation systems destroyed, machinery and storehouses dismantled, he adds. Even if power were to change hands today, farming would take “more than five years” to recover.

Agriculture needs “inputs”, he says, and it needs that at the right time. But the planning and know-how have been systematically dismantled. “This will be by far the worst harvest,” Brian says. This sector was the one that Mr Mugabe, when he was a guerrilla leader, was famously warned by Mozambique’s President Samora Machel not to destroy, otherwise “you will face ruin”.

He heeded that advice, until it was expedient after 2000 to cash in the commercial farms to shore up his political base. The farms, almost all white-owned, were seized and after much anti-colonial posturing the lion’s share of them was handed out to his cronies for them to treat as their playgrounds.

Since then farmland and food have been used as weapons to starve Mr Mugabe’s enemies and enrich his allies. The country is in ruins, but the ruling clique is still in power.


There are already signs that international donors are reluctant to commit funds without a change of political leadership. Save the Children warned this week that there is already a shortfall of 18,000 tonnes of food aid for January.

When talking about the corruption that has consumed the country since independence, Zimbabweans often fall back on the proverb that explains the endless greed of the regime: “You never finish eating the meat of an elephant”. But there are increasing signs that this elephant’s bones were picked clean in 2008. Each sector, from mining to manufacturing and flower farming, has been looted completely. With a cholera epidemic raging, the economy by default now using the dollar, analysts believe Zimbabwe may be hitting the bottom.

Yeah, Zimbabwe needs a change in leadership; Robert Mugabe needs to see the inside of a jail cell–or coffin–as soon as possible.  But right now, the people of Zimbabwe need food; political machinations and negotiations should take a back seat to helping those in immediate need.

We ignored Rwanda. We were all talk and no action on Darfur.  How many African tragedies will occur while the western world watches on? Imagine how much good we could have done if all the billions we spent in Iraq, all the billions we spent on bailouts and stimulus packages for our ruined economy, were spent instead on helping Africa.  Imagine how much good the hundreds of thousands of American soldiers in Iraq could have done ending the genocide in Darfur or delivering food and medicine to the people of Zimbabwe.

George W. Bush’s record on AIDS in Africa is one of the few bright spots in a very dark Presidency, that can’t be denied.  But the foreign policy blunders and economic mismanagement of the past eight years have hamstrung America’s ability to do good where the world needs it most.  There was a time when America would be on the forefront of solving Zimbabwe’s crisis; I look forward to the time when we can provide that kind of moral leadership once again.