We will not stand by and watch Mugabe destroy Zimbabwe
He and his henchmen are gearing up to try to steal the election
I BELIEVE there is a duty for the strong to help the weak; that to walk by on the other side is just not an option. Thankfully, after 10 years in which development and the alleviation of poverty have been at the heart of this government's agenda, nobody can accuse the people of this country of that crime. And yet Robert Mugabe, having dragged his country down into the slough of poverty and deprivation, is compounding his.
His people are suffering. The international community stands ready to help and indeed has been helping. And now, having abused and impoverished his fellow Zimbabweans, he is blocking the help they so desperately need. Having tried to crush his people he is now denying them a cure.
Up to four million people in Zimbabwe rely on food aid supplied by international aid agencies. By ordering those agencies to suspend their operations, Mugabe is putting lives at risk. He is, quite simply, using hunger as a political weapon as he tries desperately to cling to power. This deliberate decision to target the poorest and most vulnerable people is beyond contempt.
All this comes at the end of the week when Mugabe had the effrontery to try to lecture world leaders at the international food summit in Rome. I travelled back to Glasgow this weekend from that meeting and talks in Cape Town with the South African finance minister, Trevor Manuel, and the president of the ANC Jacob Zuma. In my discussions I stressed the need for aid agencies to be allowed free and unfettered access to the people most in need.
The truth is that, despite his claims in Rome, Mugabe's ruinous land reforms have brought Zimbabwe to its knees and left his people in desperate straits. Once the breadbasket of southern Africa, the fertile soil of Zimbabwe now lies fallow, untended and unfarmed. Mugabe blames the collapse of agriculture on Britain, the old colonial power. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Department of International Development spent 40m on humanitarian aid last year – bypassing the abhorrent regime to deliver help to the people.
Most international aid is delivered by non-governmental organisations, such as Oxfam and Save the Children. But, in past weeks, the security forces have made it nearly impossible for the aid agencies to do their job. The reason is simple: if Mugabe can limit the access of foreigners to large swathes of the country, he can also limit the information reaching the outside world.
That would mean the appalling violence and intimidation which is scarring preparations for the run-off in the presidential elections could carry on without fear of consequences. The suspension of aid is a deliberate political strategy. At the same time, opposition activists are being beaten up and Mugabe's opponent Morgan Tsvangirai faces constant harassment. British and US diplomats trying to check reports of intimidation were this week blocked from doing their work.
No wonder the Zimbabwean government has still not said it will let independent observers monitor the long delayed final phase of the elections. The game plan is obvious: Mugabe and his henchmen are gearing up to try to steal the election. No amount of recounts could change the result of the first round voting. That left the opposition Movement for Democratic Change as the biggest party and gave Tsvangirai a clear lead over Mugabe. The result clearly stunned Zanu-PF, which has governed since independence in 1980. But its hardline leadership was not ready to release its hold on power.
Over the coming weeks the crisis is likely to get worse. If Mugabe wins the run-off, I fear for the future of his people. They are the real victims of his despicable political manoeuvring. In the coming days, Britain and the international community will continue to do all we can to keep aid flowing.
We will work with our partners in the EU and the UN to ramp up the pressure on the regime to allow the aid agencies to feed the hungry. We will continue to press for international observers to be permitted to monitor the elections and we will continue to encourage the efforts by neighbouring countries to seek a solution to this crisis.
As he has become more despotic, Mugabe has shown even greater disregard for his citizens. It doesn't have to be this way.
We in this country and the international community are not walking by on the other side – yet Mugabe seeks to push us aside. Our aid is not for him, but for the Zimbabweans he makes suffer. But he will find our path is straight and our resolve will not be deflected.
Douglas Alexander is the UK's International Development Secretary
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