TCS Daily

This Is Getting Worse Than Darfur

By Roger Bate - June 17, 2005 12:00 AM

As President Bush met five African leaders this week, one topic should have been at the forefront of the discussion -- Zimbabwe. Three of the leaders, from Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia, are from countries that directly border the despotic regime of Robert Mugabe, but none of them has had the courage to voice consistent dissent at the regime that has overseen widespread death and destruction. While understanding the requirement for quiet diplomacy, surely the time has come for stronger words and action -- with a third of the population dead or fleeing the country.

And action can't come soon enough. A few days ago the Zimbabwe government barred humanitarian groups from assisting thousands of families whose shanty homes and informal businesses were destroyed under a controversial government drive to 'clean up' cities and towns. President Robert Mugabe has been exacting retribution against those who voted for the opposition at the last election. And it appears that to control his population entirely he wants to drive them from towns into rural areas. Thousands are dying every week in what is fast overtaking the Darfur tragedy as the world's worst humanitarian disaster.

The current attacks on urban centers are part of a strategy to drive perhaps two million people back onto the land where they can be controlled more easily. Senior officials at the Zimbabwean Social Welfare Ministry, which approves humanitarian assistance, told me that governors of provinces have been ordered to block donor groups from distributing food and clothes apparently because the central Government fears accepting such aid would be tantamount to admitting the shortcomings of its highly unpopular campaign. "By allowing donors, the government would be admitting that its actions have caused a humanitarian crisis. So the donors will be kept away while the government works out solutions to the problem," said one official, who did not want to be named for fear of retribution.

Reports are coming in from the field that 200,000 people have been made homeless, over 25,000 arrested for illegal trading (the kind of trading they've been doing for years). On cold winter nights, the government is denying them any assistance. For example, in the eastern province of Manicaland, governor Tinaye Chigudu stopped non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from distributing medicines and food. He told a local news source that he had done so only because he wanted to consult with his superiors in Harare. Chigudu said:

        "[NGOs] came to me with proposals that included medicines, food and 
        repatriation. I told them to hold on to the assistance because I needed to 
        consult my superiors in government. There is a national policy on donations 
        and I cannot go against that. I did not want to find myself in the unusual 
        situation of being the only governor working at variance with other 
        governors and local authorities. But that does not mean I banned them."

"This is social cleansing to try to eradicate the opposition," said Trudy Stevenson, an opposition MP whose Harare North constituency includes Hatcliffe, where 30,000 people had their homes demolished along with an orphanage for children whose parents had died of AIDS. "It's horrific. They are dumping people in rural areas to get rid of troublesome elements to make sure they can't challenge the regime," she added.

According to informed sources some of the NGOs had resorted to clandestine means to distribute aid to some of the evicted families. Harare last year banned humanitarian groups from giving assistance to Zimbabweans with only a few groups allowed to give limited aid to targeted groups such as orphans, HIV/AIDS patients and the elderly. This month Zimbabwe belatedly accepted World Food Programme help to feed an estimated four million people -- a third of its population -- facing starvation this year. Social Welfare Minister Nicholas Goche denied there was need for the NGOs to get involved in the first place because the government was implementing measures to ensure there was no humanitarian disaster created as a result of the evictions of poor families from towns and cities. "The government is on top of the situation," Goche declared.

But with economic collapse, informal trading illegal, rampant inflation, destabilizing AIDS and malaria, all the Government is on top of is the world's worst humanitarian disaster. Is it not time for a UN Resolution much like the one in Darfur?



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