- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

Just what will the world do about Robert Mugabe, architect of Zimbabwe's despair? Zimbabwe's raging food crisis has recently been reassessed, and experts now say the country's food crisis has advanced into an impending famine.

Meanwhile, America's options for dealing with Zimbabwe's president-by-fraud range from the unattractive to the whimsical to the potentially catastrophic. Choosing the best course of action from this menu is tricky enough. Getting other countries to follow in kind implies another set of challenges.

Thanks principally to Mr. Mugabe's land expropriation policy, 12 million Zimbabweans are facing the threat of starvation in Zimbabwe, according to the World Food Program. If this hunger-dictator scenario seems too familiar (think Somalia), it's because Africa has seen much too much of it. With visions of dead American soldiers being dragged through the streets of a far-away country still fresh in the collective memory, sending in forces to halt the hunger in Zimbabwe is an unlikely policy. So, if America isn't going to literally wage war on hunger and those that perpetuate it, the Bush administration must weigh its other options.

Mr. Mugabe's seizures of white-owned land represent the most destructive and self-serving approach to dealing with the country's colonial legacy. Rather than attempt a negotiated settlement with white farmers, such as phasing out ownership or immediate forfeiture of some land, Mr. Mugabe has sought to seize virtually all of the thousands of white-owned commercial farms. And, when the best land is taken, it's not given to the people. Instead, it goes to Mr. Mugabe's family and Cabinet members. When ordinary Zimbabweans have been given land, they have received minimal or no assistance in managing it. Meanwhile, white landowners are banned from farming the land they have owned for years.

So, eventual famine was virtually a foregone conclusion in Zimbabwe. Joblessness has reached 60 percent, and homelessness is rampant. And, the hunger has prompted an exodus. At least 1 million Zimbabweans are estimated to be living in neighboring South Africa, about 600,000 in Britain and many more are working or studying elsewhere in Africa, and in Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe and the United States. About half of the nation's 60,000 whites are estimated to have emigrated since the seizure orders began.

The Bush administration could cut all aid to Zimbabwe in official protest of Mr. Mugabe's reckless endangerment of his own people, in the hope that the people will rise up against the government. But starving people aren't effective revolutionaries, and cutting food aid could lend fraudulent credibility to Mr. Mugabe's hate-mongering, racist tirades against the United States in Zimbabwe and beyond.

America's food aid, on the other hand, is surely lengthening the lifespan of Mr. Mugabe's rule. That negative impact could be tempered, though, by ensuring food is distributed by private organizations, rather than Mr. Mugabe's cabal. That has been the Bush administration's approach, but Mr. Mugabe may be gearing up to counter this distribution system. Three weeks ago, Zimbabweans calling themselves war veterans detained, interrogated and robbed a delegation from the U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe that had been assessing the condition of displaced workers. The Zimbabweans escorting the delegation were beaten. Amazingly, Mr. Mugabe's response was to summon the U.S. ambassador, Joseph Sullivan, for an explanation of why embassy employees had traveled outside the capital without permission.

"[W]e have not and need not apologize for normal activities in fulfillment of our diplomatic and humanitarian mission," said U.S. Embassy spokesman Bruce Wharton, adding that the administrations had no plans to reduce its presence. "We make a clear distinction between the government and the people of Zimbabwe. We will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to all Zimbabweans who need it." Meanwhile, Mark Bellamy, a State Department official, said recently that America was willing to take "very intrusive interventionist measures" to ensure food aid was delivered.

Fortunately, African countries are beginning to voice clear condemnation of Mr. Mugabe's thuggish policies. In Brussels late last month, legislators from Ghana, Botswana and Mozambique harshly criticized Mr. Mugabe. Sadly, South Africa and other countries spoke out in support of Zimbabwe and were able to scuttle a planned meeting between the African, Caribbean and Pacific States and the European Union (EU) in Brussels, after EU officials said Zimbabwe was barred from participating in the meeting.

U.S. diplomacy should vigorously encourage greater momentum for these condemnations. And, if the administration can continue distributing food without Mr. Mugabe's control, it should continue to do so. Hopefully, Mr. Mugabe won't take away Zimbabweans' last hope. It is an outrage that this former breadbasket of Africa should turn into a starvation field.

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