Feeding a famine

"Feeding a famine" Continued...

Issue: "Who is Tom Daschle?," Oct. 12, 2002

"This is not a black/white issue. This is not a native/colonial issue. This is not a land issue. This is an issue of Mugabe holding onto power," said Mr. Carlsen.

During this year's election campaign, parliament (led by the president's ZANU-PF party) made it a crime to criticize the president. Mr. Mugabe banned foreign journalists from covering the election. Police crushed opposition rallies, beating and even killing some participants. Leading opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai, who is black, was arrested and charged with treason one day before polls opened.

Mr. Carlsen wrote an open letter to Mr. Mugabe protesting the intimidation. Police promptly took him in for questioning, but he was not arrested. An international observer mission concluded that the election was fraudulent but was powerless to prevent Mr. Mugabe from continuing in command. And, despite threat of sanctions from European nations and the United States, since elections "the situation has only worsened," according to Mr. Carlsen.

Mr. Carlsen is white but leads a congregation that is 80 percent black. Its numbers are dwindling as the food crisis deepens. "The church is holding together with difficulty. The mood is one of depression and despondency-a resignation. We have tried everything and we will never get rid of this man."

Opponents believe the president is thwarting relief efforts because he wants to winnow growing opposition to his rule-even if by starvation. "Will the country be better off without 6 million people? 'Yes,' says the Mugabe regime," according to Mr. Carlsen.

Last month Mr. Carlsen brought his case to the United States, visiting churches and meeting with lawmakers in Washington. Mugabe government forces arrested opposition party leader David Coltart last year when he returned to Zimbabwe after a similar trip to the United States. But Mr. Carlsen, who was scheduled to return on Oct. 9, said he did not anticipate an incident this time. Church leaders, he said, have to draw international attention to the suffering of their people.

World Relief's Mr. Calver says the church has a unique role to play in the food crisis. Churches are prevalent in every town and village, he said, and one-fifth of Zimbabweans say they are evangelical Christians. Last week, Zimbabwe seemed close to giving a go-ahead for food distribution through churches under a program directed by World Relief, which operates under the National Association of Evangelicals. If it wins approval, it will be a departure from government-only aid-and a way to deny Mugabe thugs the power to decide who eats and who does not.

Humanitarian agents like Mr. Calver, however, are careful not to complain about the Mugabe regime while it stands between famine victims and famine relief. "I am not against sanctions over the long term," Mr. Calver told WORLD, "but Mugabe is not going to die. Sanctions won't touch him. There are hundreds who will eat nothing yesterday, today, or tomorrow unless we step in."

The Bush administration is taking a carrot-and-stick approach, talking tough about Mr. Mugabe while at the same time sending food. Congress already approved legislation restricting travel to the United States for government officials and paving the way for sanctions against the Mugabe government. But for now, the United States is supplying 80 percent of the overseas grain-500 metric tons so far-shipped to southern Africa this year. U.S. Agency for International Development head Andrew Natsios warned: "Unless the commercial markets in Zimbabwe are freed of the restrictions the Mugabe government is putting on them, we will not be able to respond adequately to the famine." He told an August press conference, "If I had to list five things that a government could do to turn a drought into a famine, the Mugabe government is doing all of them exponentially."


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