10 April 2002

Zimbabwe needs R1,43 bn this year to feed the starving

Zimbabwe needed a staggering Z$16,5 billion (about R1,43 billion) this year alone to feed 7,8 million starving people, bankers have said. This comes amid Zimbabwe's worst foreign currency crisis and reports that the government has decided to introduce an ambitious new economic programme focusing on increased agricultural production. Under the proposed economic recovery programme, the government says about 100.000 ha of land will be put under irrigation for maize production. This land is expected to yield about 400.000 tons of maize, which will be harvested in August this year to meet the maize deficit caused by the drought. The programme boasts it will create over 1 million jobs.

However, bankers said all these statistics were very "optimistic but highly unreliable" because the country was facing a very serious drought. Besides, they said, Zimbabwe's huge domestic debt of more than Z$227 billion and foreign debt of US$700 million made it extremely difficult for the government to pay for various schemes, including food imports. In its monthly economic pointer released last week, Stanbic Zimbabwe said radical policy changes were needed to arrest the economic meltdown, and prospects of recovery over the remainder of 2002 remained bleak, aggravated by a plethora of challenges. It said: "It is inescapable that Zimbabwe will, over the next 12 months, face an acute cereal deficit, closure of which requires at least US$300 million." The bank said other factors that needed tight monitoring and solutions included the foreign exchange shortage, burgeoning inflation and the country risk factor, as well as the "curse of past fiscal slippages".

In his ambitious land scheme, Joseph Made, the minister of lands, agriculture and rural resettlement, said the government had revised upwards the programme and agrarian reform budget from US$1,9 billion to US$3 billion, with the bulk of the money expected to go towards infrastructure and farmer credit support over a five-year period. Last week, however, the minister of finance and economic development, Simba Makoni, said the government would be able to deal with the food crisis only if a supplementary budget was passed by the parliament because the coffers had run dry. The government later said it was finalising a Z$95 billion programme for maize imports, food aid, child feeding schemes and winter crop inputs to "fight the drought".

Meanwhile, President Robert Mugabe is in Libya to scout for more money and oil to lessen Zimbabwe's economic crisis. Mugabe's mission came as talks between Zanu PF and the Movement for Democratic Change kicked off in Harare on Monday, April 8. Mugabe has been increasingly isolated by the world in the wake of his rigged victory in last month's election, and reports say he has virtually mortgaged Zimbabwe to Libya in exchange for oil and money. A 12-month oil deal signed by Mugabe and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi last year for Libya to supply Zimbabwe with oil expires in two months' time, and Mugabe is anxious to get an extension. The R4,3-billion deal, under which Gaddafi supplied oil in exchange for land, agricultural produce and stakes in key state enterprises in the banking and tourism sectors, helped Mugabe to reduce the magnitude of the fuel crisis that has crippled the economy. With the exception of Gaddafi, the rest of the world's suppliers have stopped oil supplies to Zimbabwe due to non-payment. Gaddafi described Mugabe's victory in the presidential election as a "victory for Africa".

Violence in the western Matabeleland province has surged with the arrest of three white farmers on charges of attempted murder. Richard Pascal, Johnny Johnston and Tim Lamprecht were arrested after they came to the aid of Pascal's wife, who had come under siege by a group of Zanu PF militants. The chairman of the Electoral Supervisory Committee, Sobusa Gula-Ndebele, has admitted that the presidential poll was "totally confusing". But he said the committee did not conduct Zimbabwe's election as its mandate was limited to a supervisory role. Twenty-one pro-democracy activists, arrested on Saturday for involvement in anti-government protests, appeared in court yesterday over allegations of violating Zimbabwe's new draconian security law. They were released on bail.

A three-member Ghanaian team that observed last month's elections in Zimbabwe in which veteran President Robert Mugabe was re-elected, said on Monday the election was not transparent and the results were unacceptable. In the statement issued in Accra, the team said it drew its conclusions from a number of factors, including "the visible absence of an independent Electoral Commission in Zimbabwe". It cited state media bias towards the ruling Zanu PF party in a country where private media is virtually absent; a presidential decree, which overturned the judicial ruling and effected electoral law amendment; and non-practice of onsite counting. The team was made up of David Adenze Kanga, Deputy Director, Administration of the Electoral Commission, George Amoo and John Mahama, both members of parliament. (ZWNews)

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