INCERITY and sanctimony are familiar tunes played by the United Nations. This week some 40 heads of state and government gathered in Rome for a three-day conference to discuss the worsening global food crisis.
The core business of the summit –to find ways to produce more food for the ever growing number of mouths to feed – was superseded by rude irony.
It came in the form of President Mugabe whose land reform programme is credited with the current food shortages in the country. Zimbabwe, once self-sufficient in food production is now donor-dependent.
While the European Union has banned Mugabe, the UN has not. Therefore Mugabe this week had his place in the sun – deep in enemy territory, albeit to fight a battle he can’t win.
From the day Mugabe arrived on Tuesday, European leaders and even Third World diplomats regarded him ominously, declaring that they would not shake his hand or talk to him. Press reports from Rome said Mugabe’s name was missing from the list of heads of state who were invited to a dinner hosted by the Italian government and United Nations secretary- general Ban Ki-moon.
Mugabe exercised his right to address the summit and produced his usual soporific monologue crafted to situate himself as a victim of Western conspiracies designed to effect regime change in Zimbabwe. Even the current food shortages in Zimbabwe have their roots in the grand plan by Britain and the United States to remove the Zanu PF government, according to Mugabe.
He has become a parody of himself. But he still wants to be regarded as a hero in Western capitals because he has been there before. In the 1980s they celebrated him as a liberator, a thinker and a champion of social progress. In 1988 Mugabe was named as winner of a prize given to African leaders who had worked to increase food production and end hunger. The prize was awarded by the Hunger Project, a New York-based international philanthropic organisation committed to fighting world hunger.
Then Mugabe basked in the international limelight. The citation read on the day he was awarded the prize described Zimbabwe as “the agricultural success story’’ of Africa. In praise of Zimbabwe’s self-sufficiency in food production, the citation said Mugabe’s agricultural programmes ‘’pointed the way not only for Zimbabwe but for the entire African continent’’.
The Hunger Project said the prize was intended to call attention to the largely unnoticed efforts of Africans who are making a contribution to the fight against hunger. At a banquet held in his honour at the New York Hilton Hotel, Mugabe credited his country’s agricultural successes to the resettlement programme which his government had embarked on after Independence in 1980.
‘’The struggle against hunger and malnutrition is also a function of democracy,’’ Mugabe said. “Under majority rule, Zimbabwe had reversed a situation where deprivation and hunger existed side by side with affluence and opulence.”
He said the rural resettlement programme had succeeded by bringing ‘’the peasant and the small landholder into the cash economy on terms and conditions favourably comparable to those of the large-scale commercial farmer’’.
Ideally Mugabe should have gone to Rome this week as senior statesman who had walked the path of success in food security. His word on food security would have been law as a leader who had led Zimbabwe to be a great African success in producing food. Twenty years ago, the world listened when Mugabe spoke on food security.
The country had full silos, abundant and affordable food in supermarkets and we exported grain to the region. But Mugabe today has to fight for recognition. His resettlement programme is universally regarded as a disaster. Yet he still expects to get the kudos even without food on the shelves and the country surviving on imports from Malawi and Zambia and handouts from donor states.
When our dear leader spoke in Rome this week his was a diatribe ringing with bitterness and exhibiting stunning disengagement with the situation on the ground. Mugabe still believes that the failed policy on farming can still return this country to the prosperity of 20 years ago.
In Rome he presented the inventory of goodies his government has dished out to farmers in the hope of spurring productivity. There are more goodies in the pipeline for the farmers and predictably more pressure on the fiscus to import maize and wheat.
Last week in Victoria Falls at the Chamber of Mines AGM, one speaker, Ray Gowera, drove home the point through choice punch lines like “purposeful social systems are capable of recreating their future. They do so by redesigning themselves”.
He added: “Designers seek to choose rather than predict the future.” To this end he surmised: “A bumper harvest is not predicted, it is planned. A country which wants to achieve a bumper harvest must find a way to control water and not rely on rain.” well said