The politics of food relief


Food relief agencies were put in a quandary in 2002 over allegations that food was being distributed along political lines with those opposed to the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front being denied food.


But, according to a cable released by Wikileaks, the dilemma was that investigations tended to indicate that such abuses were episodic rather than centrally manipulated.

The situation was compounded by hardliners like Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo. In a speech on May 18 in Binga town, he ordered the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace to close down its operations in Binga because it had created structures that competed with the government’s.


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Reference ID 






2002-06-11 06:08

2011-08-30 01:44


Embassy Harare

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 HARARE 001398 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/07/2012 
Classified By: Political Officer Todd Faulk for reasons 1.5 (b) 
and (d) 
1. (C) Summary: Assertions of humanitarian food aid 
manipulation for political purposes have been increasingly 
frequent in recent weeks. Investigations have tended to 
indicate that such abuses are episodic rather than centrally 
manipulated. However, recent reports from the Matabeleland 
town of Binga have confirmed a serious and significant 
attempt to deprive the needy of food aid for political and 
historical reasons. This is worrisome in the context of 
recent discussions between staff members of the House 
International Relations Committee (HIRC) and Minister of 
Public Service, Labor and Social Welfare July Moyo (reftel), 
who implied that the GOZ is willing to accept food aid, but 
only on its owns terms. There is the appearance that the GOZ 
is playing poker with the donors, staking the welfare of 
food-vulnerable Zimbabweans against donor demands for 
responsible policy reform on the assumption that the donors 
will fold in the face of impending humanitarian catastrophe 
for which they will be blamed. This approach, if pushed to 
its limit, poses a serious dilemma for U.S. policy toward the 
humanitarian relief program in Zimbabwe. It will be 
important to continue to do what we can to prevent human 
suffering, but simultaneously we cannot lose sight of the 
fact that yielding to GOZ demands that we play by their rules 
will be at best a palliative, but not a curative, measure. 
End Summary. 
Situation in Binga 
2. (C) In an effort to assert greater control over who 
receives increasingly scarce food in Zimbabwe, the 
Government, with the aid of war veterans and others, is 
disrupting food deliveries in Binga, a predominantly Ndebele 
district and opposition stronghold in Matabeleland North 
province. In a speech on May 18 in Binga town, Local 
Government Minister Ignatius Chombo ordered the Catholic 
Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), an NGO distributing 
food relief in Binga, to close down its operations in Binga 
because it had created structures that compete with the 
government's, according to the June 5 edition of the 
independent "Daily News." War veterans subsequently 
surrounded the CCJP's food warehouse in Binga town, at the 
southern end of Lake Kariba, to prevent any food supplies 
from leaving the premises. The CCJP feeding program 
distributes food purchased by the British Catholic charity 
CAFOD. (Note: U.S. assistance distributed through WFP and 
cooperating NGOs has not been similarly affected as yet. End 
note.) On June 5, poloff spoke to Tarcisius Zimbiti, acting 
director of CCJP, who verified that the story is essentially 
true, and added that the war veterans took action only after 
Chombo made his speech. Zimbiti stated that although CCJP 
cannot get any more food out of the warehouse in town, it is 
still able to conduct limited food relief operations in rural 
areas of Binga district using whatever supplies were already 
outside the warehouse. Zimbiti was unsure of the number of 
people affected in the district because of the war veterans' 
actions, but confirmed that CCJP was unable to continue 
supplying hospitals and schools in the district. CCJP is 
seeking a court injunction against the war veterans to compel 
them to lift their siege, and it has repeatedly sought a 
meeting with Minister Chombo, only to be told he is 
"unavailable" until next week. An American priest based in 
Binga and the Apostolic Nuncio have also expressed concern 
about restrictions on church feeding programs. The Nuncio 
intended to inform the Vatican and complain to the Foreign 
3. (C) The disruption of Binga food deliveries is not only a 
Government attempt to control food distribution but it is an 
extension of the Government's hostility toward Catholic and 
other religious institutions critical of the Government's 
human rights abuses, according to Shari Eppel, director of 
Amani Trust/Matabeleland, a widely respected human rights 
organization based in Bulawayo. In addition to the CCJP 
warehouse, the war vets barricaded the Catholic church in 
Binga and prevented the priests there from leaving for 
several days.   Nearly every day, the government-owned 
Bulawayo "Chronicle" comes out with an article blasting 
Bulawayo Archbishop Pius Ncube or the Catholic Church for 
their critical statements, Eppel stated. According to 
another embassy source, the current standoff in Binga may be 
an extension of a long-time feud between local war veterans 
and the CCJP, which drafted the "Breaking the Silence" report 
that exposed the government-ordered "Gukurahundi" massacres 
of the 1980s in which thousands died. 
4. (C) When asked about looming starvation in Binga, Eppel 
iterated that food shortages are very serious throughout 
Matabeleland North. Some areas have not received any 
deliveries for three weeks, and CCJP is now a major source of 
food for many people, especially in areas far from Grain 
Marketing Board silos. People are undoubtedly dying, Eppel 
stated, but so far, it is mainly the sick and elderly. It is 
difficult to say whether AIDS, old age, or the lack of food 
is the primary cause of death. "Would they have lived 
another six months or a year had they had access to adequate 
food? It is hard to tell," she said. 
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
GOZ Puts on Poker Face and Sings "I'll Do It My Way" 
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
5. (C) In a May 31 meeting with Minister of Public Service, 
Labor and Social Welfare July Moyo (reftel), HIRC staffers 
Pearl Alice Marsh and Malik Chaka posed several pointed 
questions about the root causes and likely GOZ responses to 
the growing food aid crisis. Moyo's responses were 
instructive as to government thinking, or the lack thereof, 
on what should be their number-one policy priority for the 
short term. Moyo sought to keep Zimbabwe in the regional 
herd by noting that all countries in the region are suffering 
to some extent from drought, and he downplayed the role of 
farming disruption caused by the ongoing "fast-track" 
exercise. He noted several times that no farmer had been 
forced from his/her land and deprived of the opportunity to 
produce, an assertion that is patent absurdity when examined 
in the light of corroborated fact. Moyo retreated to 
standard ZANU-PF rhetoric, implying that other versions of 
reality were largely a public relations ploy by Commercial 
Farmers' Union (CFU) members seeking to enlist popular 
support for a land reform effort more to the CFU's liking. 
6. (C) True to form, Moyo also saved some criticism for the 
international donor community, characterizing their response 
to the crisis as "low." He acknowledged the severity of the 
crisis and the need for assistance but fell back to the 
position that the GOZ would, absent sufficient outside help, 
do what was necessary to avoid famine and death from 
starvation. He recited the litany of agricultural pipe 
dreams stored in the GOZ's rhetorical pouch - resettler wheat 
production, winter maize, increased agricultural inputs for 
next year - without ever admitting that basic policy reform 
is necessary to reverse the crisis. Moyo did not address the 
potential private sector role in resolving the supply crisis 
and did not link admitted funding constraints caused by forex 
shortages to artificial exchange rates and similar policy 
7. (C) Challenged to explain Zimbabwe's huge grain deficit 
in comparison to other countries in the region, Moyo 
rationalized that Zimbabwe's "fall" from a relatively better 
position than its neighbors exacerbated this impression. In 
perhaps his most shocking statement, Moyo asserted that a 
more robust humanitarian response by donors would provide the 
GOZ resources to rebuild the country. The sub-text was clear 
- the GOZ wants more donor assistance, but without strings 
and on GOZ terms. The refrain was equally clear - if donor 
assistance under these conditions is not forthcoming, the 
international community will share blame with the GOZ for the 
humanitarian disaster that will follow. 
8. (C) The case of Binga, where the GOZ at best is not 
stopping its supporters from preventing humanitarian food 
relief for the vulnerable for political reasons, is 
especially troubling in the context of the responsible 
minister asserting that as far as donor food relief is 
concerned, it's the GOZ's way or it's the highway. While we 
do not want to read too much into his words, Moyo seemed to 
be implying an unstated strategy of calling the international 
community's bluff by demanding that they deliver food aid on 
GOZ terms or be willing to shoulder the blame for the 
disaster that would follow. The implication of this for USG 
food aid policy in Zimbabwe is profound. It is not in our 
interest to permit starvation to spread, but it is not in our 
power to prevent this if food aid, and the ability to use 
this to punish opposition supporters, is left in the hands of 
a government that to date has shown itself obsessed with 
political vindictiveness and totally indifferent to the 
welfare of the population, fairness, or policy reform. To 
yield to an attempted GOZ bluff might be a palliative measure 
for some, but it would not offer any guarantees for all, and 
in the final analysis it could never be curative absent 
necessary policy reform. From where we stand, it is a bluff 
we must call. 
9. (C) Comment continued: For the above reasons, we 
recommend plain speaking now about the reasons for Zimbabwe's 
food crisis, and the need for impartial distribution of all 
food assistance and complementary policy reforms. Unlike its 
neighbors, the GOZ has been unwilling to engage in a 
constructive discussion with donors over how to address the 
emerging crisis. Thus, it is important to maintain a 
distinction between the food crisis in Zimbabwe and that in 
neighboring countries. End comment. 


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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