- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 3, 2002

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa A defiant Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe yesterday blamed Britain and other rich countries for the poverty and despair in his country.
Mr. Mugabe, speaking at the World Summit, also defended his seizure of white farms, saying the program pitted the majority against an "obdurate" racial minority " supported and manipulated" by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
"We have not asked for any inch of Europe," said Mr. Mugabe. "So, Blair keep your England and let me keep my Zimbabwe."
But some here said Mr. Mugabe's Zimbabwe offered delegates a troubling glimpse of the future and the human cost of failure to confront the huge global problems faced by the summit.More than half of Zimbabwe's 12.5 million people face imminent starvation. Its once vibrant economy teeters on the brink of collapse. More than 70 percent of its people live in poverty. Most are unemployed. They lack proper housing, basic health care, clean water, sanitation, electricity and quality education for their children.
"We regard Mugabe's attendance as an affront to the whole concept of sustainable development," said Tendai Biti, the shadow foreign minister for Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
In just five years, Zimbabwe has fallen from a relatively prosperous and stable country to one wracked by economic despair and government-sponsored political violence.Zimbabwe government statistics indicate the economy has shrunk by 28 percent and per capita income has been cut almost in half to $380 a year.
Inflation last month reached an annual rate of 123 percent, and independent economist John Robinson in Harare predicted it could reach 1,000 percent by the end of the year.
Mugabe's Education Ministry said school enrollments and literacy have declined by a third in the past decade. In 1990, Zimbabwe was the pride of Africa with a literacy rate of 70 percent.
Access to clinics and medicine was also declining rapidly, Mugabe's Health Ministry said. Since 1998, malnutrition was associated with half of all childhood deaths.
Despite a looming famine in southern Africa, Mugabe has continued with the seizure of 95 percent of the white-owned farmland in Zimbabwe, bringing to a standstill an industry that once helped feed southern Africa and accounted for a third of Zimbabwe's foreign exchange earnings.
Even U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a speech last Tuesday, urged Zimbabwe to change its land policies to help stave off famine. Annan also called on Zimbabwe to observe its own laws and compensate displaced farmers.The United States has called it "madness" to seize farms and arrest farmers at a time when starvation threatens more than 6 million Zimbabweans.
Mr. Mugabe claims the seizures are necessary to correct lingering colonial injustices and to empower thousands of poor, black, landless Zimbabweans.
But while his government has given thousands of poor Zimbabweans access, though not title, to small plots of land, many of the biggest and best farms have gone to Mr. Mugabe's relatives, government ministers, ruling party officials and even journalists in the state-run media.
One large farm went to Mr. Mugabe's wife Grace, another to his sister Sabrina.
Mugabe dismissed the criticisms of his government as attempts by some countries and regional blocs "bent on subordinating our sovereignty" to their ambitions.
"The real objective is interference in our domestic affairs. The rule of law, democracy and governance are indeed values that we cherish because we fought for them against the very same people who today seek to preach them to us," said Mr. Mugabe.


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