At least 2.5 million rural Zimbabweans are facing food shortages, a situation which has forced President Robert Mugabe to declare a ‘state of disaster’. Analysts say land must be redistributed to competent farmers.
In the past Zimbabwe was known as the breadbasket of Africa, but President Mugabe’s controversial land redistribution programme in 2000 that evicted white farmers has forced the country to rely on neighbors for grain because of low yields. This has led to the decline of both the country’s economy and agricultural output. Many black Zimbabwe farmers who took over the farms did not have enough training and experience.
Joy Mabenge, a political analyst, told DW that Mugabe’s declaration of a state of disaster had been highly anticipated because most countries in southern Africa are facing drought and accompanying food shortages. However, he said the drought situation shouldn’t be attributed to current sanctions slapped on Mugabe and other senior government officials by the international community because of the country’s human rights record. “For Mugabe to always talk politics even in situations like this particular one does not help the nation,” he said.
“It’s a shame that our agricultural production has gone down yet Zimbabwe is an agricultural society and our economy is centered on agriculture. The low productivity that has affected our economy has nothing to do with sanctions, but is rather the failure to optimally use the land that has been allocated to the so-called new farmers,” he added.
Mabenge believes strongly that, land must be redistributed to those who can utilize it irrespective of their skin color. He thinks the way the land has been dished out along partisan lines will further aggravate the situation.
Regardless of the fact that an El Nino-induced drought has affected most countries in southern Africa, critics also said there had already been signs that the country would face food shortages, if it didn’t have reserves in place. Tendai Biti, a former finance minister, told DW that during his tenure, the country was able to keep at least 500,000 tonnes in its reserves which was used in later years. Which he thinks is no longer the case with the current government.
The current situation that Zimbabwe is facing has arisen out of 91 year-old President Mugabe’s “lack of planning, his indifference and not caring for his people,” Biti said. “This is not about El Nino, it is about lack of planning and lack of oversight and foresight by a tired gerontocratic regime.”
One way to avert similar situations in the future is for President Mugabe to resign so that private companies from all over the world can begin to export grain to Zimbabwe, Biti says. He also advised the government to appeal to the international community and the World Food Program for support.
Residents speak out
“This drought was long overdue. I have been out there in the affected areas and all crops have dried up. People are scrounging for food,” one resident in Harare told DW.
“It’s unfortunate that Mugabe is fundraising for his [birthday]. It shows that he is not serious and not concerned about what people are going through.”
For Blessing Vava, a rights activist, it’s good that the government has realized that there’s a crisis in the country, however this insight comes too late. “It was known since last year that the rains will be scarce this year, so it’s quite problematic that every time our government responds late to issues like this one,” he said.
“If you look at how the government prioritizes its issues it appears to be out of touch with what people are facing on the ground,” Blessing added.
Commenting on the situation Zimbabwe’s Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere told dpa: “We have to mobilize funds domestically and internationally as a matter of urgency.”