November 26, 2002

Discussion on food politicisation

The Malawian government on Tuesday, Novmeber 26, dismissed allegations that it was using emergency food aid to gain political leverage in the country's rural areas.

Some 3.2 million Malawians face acute food shortages due to drought and what some observers call "government mismanagement".

Presidential aide Willie Zingani told IRIN that recent reports suggesting the government had politicised food distribution was "unfounded" and the work of minor opposition parties "aiming to undermine the efforts to deal with an overwhelming challenge. The distribution of food is not the sole responsibility of the government. Several parties including aid agencies, traditional chiefs and members of parliament are involved in registering potential beneficiaries. So to suggest that the government somehow has a stranglehold on who gets food and who doesn't is absurd," Zingani added.

Last week the Pan African news agency (PANA) reported on accusations by opposition parties that the government had manipulated food distribution "to make it seem like it is coming from the [ruling] party". But Zingani refuted this, saying at no point had the government of President Bakili Muluzi inferred that the emergency food aid was coming from the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF).

In a related development, it was told that President Bakili Muluzi had warned that he will start snatching maize from Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) who are politicizing the distribution of the commodity in rural areas. Speaking during a rally in Kafukule Wednesday, November 20, Muluzi had warned that some NGOs who are distributing maize are asking people to choose between receiving maize and following politicians' whims, a thing he said he can not condone. Without mentioning the NGOs Muluzi hinted that he was the one who sourced the money which has been used to buy the maize the NGOs are distributing. 'I am the one who got the money from the UK (British Government) which enabled us to buy the maize these NGOs are distributing. I will not hesitate to snatch all the maize from those NGOs whom I feel are politicizing the whole process,' Muluzi ways cited.

Now, the Malawian government denied this report. Zingani said the president had received a complaint from an MP in Kafukule in the northern Mzimba district that some NGOs had failed to include government officials in the food distribution process. "The president welcomes the assistance of NGOs and implores all of them to work together with local chiefs and officials to make sure that the most vulnerable are fed. There are no plans to take food aid away from the NGOs," Zingani said.

Meanwhile, CARE International said that it had not received any reports of people being denied food aid because of political affiliation. Programme Director Nicholas Osbourne told IRIN: "We are keeping an eye on reports in the media but we [CARE] have not received any reports of beneficiaries being turned away from feeding points. As far as possible CARE, like other NGOs, are working very closely with local community structures to ensure that the feeding process is fair and above board." (The Chronicle Newspaper, Lilongwe / IRIN)

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