U.N. Decision Angers Zimbabwe Opposition

Mattias Karen, AP, Nov. 14, 2006

Leaders of Zimbabwe’s beleaguered opposition said Tuesday a U.N. decision to scale back food distribution to their country would lead to “tragic” consequences while strengthening autocratic President Robert Mugabe’s control over the population.

The World Food Program said Monday that the aid reduction was a result of a shortage in donor funds following repeated assurances by Zimbabwe that it would be able to feed itself ahead of the next harvests in March.

The agency estimated 1.4 million Zimbabweans are in critical need of food aid now and predicts the number will rise to nearly 2 million in coming weeks because of soaring inflation and shortages of food on the local market.

Leaders of Zimbabwe’s opposition said the aid cut would hurt the population, while strengthening Mugabe, whose policies have helped exacerbate Zimbabwe’s deep economic crisis.

“The decision is tragic, in that it will affect the ordinary man and woman in … some of the most inaccessible areas of Zimbabwe,” Tendai Biti, a secretary general for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, told The Associated Press.

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Welshman Ncube, another MDC secretary-general, said the U.N. decision would allow Mugabe’s government to use its own food distribution schemes as a “political weapon . . . and therefore in fact weaken people’s capacity to resist the dictatorship.”

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The WFP said the poor donor response followed repeated assurances by the government that Zimbabwe would be able to feed itself without aid.

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Zimbabwe needs about 1.8 million tons of corn a year, but in the last harvest produced less half that amount, according to independent surveys.

The country is suffering its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980, with more than 1,000 percent inflation, the highest in the world, and acute shortages of hard currency and gasoline.

The crisis has been largely blamed on the chaotic and often violent seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms since 2000 in Zimbabwe, a former regional breadbasket.

Mugabe blames drought, sanctions and his government’s isolation by Western nations, donors and investors for the economic crisis.

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