Sibusiso Moyo is Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade for the Republic of Zimbabwe.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Hilal Elver is right: Zimbabwe is staring down the barrel of a food emergency. By the end of January 2020, up to eight million citizens could be in need of assistance, with women and children disproportionately impacted. Elver, following her visit to my country, identified natural disasters, corruption, and economic sanctions as some of the causes of this crisis. The situation is urgent.
How exactly did Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of Africa, arrive here? From a narrow perspective, the latest drought is deep and severe and has halved the maize harvest, the country’s staple. In March, preceding the drought, a tropical cyclone battered the nation. Wherever it struck in the fertile Eastern Highlands and the South, crops were almost entirely destroyed.
Climate change hasn’t caused extreme weather just this year—droughts have become periodic. Though we experienced a normal season in 2016, when we also recorded our highest harvest of maize since 2000, the annual rains during four of the past five years have been erratic, with significant consequences for yields. No longer freak events, this seems to be the new normal.
In the longer term, economic mismanagement, policy missteps and the scourge of corruption have also yielded the current crisis. Unfortunately, given their contribution over the years their impact has been widely felt and, in some cases, structural. Corruption in particular will take years to expunge from the system. Still, we hope the new Anti-Corruption Commission's recent high-profile ministerial arrests signals that the era of impunity is over.
That said, there are certain actions that fall beyond the government’s control. We cannot, for instance, limit other countries’ carbon emissions. Not today, not tomorrow, not—as most keenly experienced now—in the past. But what we can change within our own country, we are attempting to do so. And I believe the invitation for Special Rapporteur Elver’s visit indicates this.
Her criticism is welcome. It not only points to the challenges we have to address but their prioritization. Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade Ministry, together with the Justice Ministry, facilitated the meetings for Elver because we appreciate this engagement. Though her observations paint a distressing image of the current situation, they enable us to see it more clearly. And only when a problem is in focus can it be properly addressed.
Amongst the remedies, Elver’s report stressed the need for reforms in farming, though these will take some time to take full effect. In September, before Elver’s visit, the government announced that banks in Zimbabwe have agreed to help finance small-scale farmers. Under the loans-for-seed program, the government will provide guarantees to encourage the process. Specialized agricultural equipment is also being imported to boost production, with recent large orders to agricultural machinery producers in the US and Belarus. And investment is being sought for new dams and downstream irrigation infrastructure—which currently cover just five percent of Zimbabwe—to protect my country against droughts in the future.
In tenure and property rights, farmers whose land was expropriated under the previous administration are being compensated, and racially-discriminatory leases have been abolished. This action should help redress injustices of the past, while also encouraging experts to return to agriculture; a significant amount of Zimbabwe’s arable land is currently underused.
The report also states that the international community should remove unilateral sanctions. This, in principle, does not require any active assistance: simply the voiding of legislation. Yet it would grant Zimbabwe a fair chance to take its economic destiny in its own hands. Elver reported that sanctions negatively affect the perception of the country, to the extent that international humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe in the wake of Cyclone Idai last year was lower than surrounding countries. Imagine the effect these decisions have on prospective business and foreign investment.
This government is cognizant of these modern realities. And the reality of the 21st century is interconnectedness. Without reintegration to the international community, we may never be able to deliver on Zimbabwe’s promise. We therefore call on other nations and international organizations to reunite with us. Surely the best route to prosperity and fulfillment of rights lies in cooperation, partnership, and friendship.
To anybody who believes that freedom precedes economics, they should read Elver’s comments. Stable economies do not automatically develop out of the upholding of human rights. We must strive for both. But a struggling economy strips away human rights. As Elver made clear, “In a desperate effort to find alternative means of livelihood, some women and children are resorting to coping mechanisms that violate their most fundamental human rights and freedoms.” Economics and human rights therefore reinforce one another.
The hunger emergency in Zimbabwe is man-made, though its causes are many; some are easier to fix than others. Carbon-driven climate change is an existential threat facing the globe and requires global action. As our representative made clear at the General Assembly of the United Nations this year, the necessary coordination will be extremely difficult. Efforts like reforming governance after some 20 years of neglect, inattention, and impunity may be equally challenging.
However, others are easy. Voiding sanctions–which hurt Zimbabwe’s economy, and by extension, its food security–requires no inventive thinking, nor time or resources.