President Robert Mugabe’s government is using food as a weapon ahead of Zimbabwe’s June 27 presidential run-off election, United States-based group Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.
The accusation came a day after Care International said the government had ordered it to suspend its operations in Zimbabwe over allegations it was backing opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s presidential campaign. It denies the charge.
The government has declined to comment on the suspension of work by Care or the accusation of using food as a political weapon.
”The decision to let people go hungry is yet another attempt to use food as a political tool to intimidate voters ahead of an election,” Tiseke Kasambala, the rights group’s researcher for Zimbabwe.
”President Mugabe’s government has a long history of using food to control the election outcome.”
Zimbabwe’s once prosperous agricultural sector has collapsed since 2000, when Mugabe’s government began seizing thousands of white-owned farms as part of a land redistribution policy designed to help black Zimbabweans.
Many of the farms have ended up in the hands of senior officials with Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party and other supporters, while others have been tilled by farmers who lack experience and capital.
Zimbabwe now suffers chronic shortages of meat, milk, bread and other basic foodstuffs and relies on imports and handouts from foreign governments and relief agencies to feed its people.
Mugabe blames the country’s economic collapse on sanctions imposed by foes in the West.
Care had planned to start a food distribution programme in Zimbabwe before it was suspended last week, said Ken Walker, the group’s communications manager for Africa. He said Care had 300 people working on various projects in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe faces a tough battle in the election run-off against Tsvangirai, who defeated the veteran ruler in the March 29 presidential poll, but did not win enough votes to avoid a second round.
The opposition accuses Mugabe’s supporters of a campaign of violence and says more than 50 people have been killed since the first round vote. Mugabe and his Zanu-PF say the opposition is responsible for violence. – Reuters