Open Letter to the Next US President: Get Tougher on Mugabe's Despotic Government, But Send Aid for the Suffering Zimbabweans
by Constance Manika
- Zimbabwe -
The Zimbabwean government introduced an ambitious Antiretroviral Drugs (ARVs) program in 2004, but Ropafadzo Kondo, who tested HIV positive in 1999, got no benefit from the new program.
“When elephants fight, it is the grass which suffers.” – African Proverb
When this program was launched, the Minister of Health and Child Welfare, Dr David Parirenyatwa, openly admitted that his government had no resources to expand. Rather, Zimbabwe was counting on the assistance of the international donor community to provide more people with the ARV treatment.
According to the World Health Organization in 2005, 565 adults and children are infected with HIV in Zimbabwe every day. That’s one person every three minutes.And of the more than 1.8 million people living with HIV and AIDS, only 40,000 have managed to access HIV drugs from the state run programs. More than 600,000 people remain in urgent need of the life prolonging drugs.
This is the figure that Zimbabwe’s government touted in 2004 hoping the donor community would assist. Currently, an additional 20,000 people are estimated to be buying the drugs on their own at private pharmacies or have relatives in the Diaspora who are sending them from abroad.
But three years later, Ropafadzo and many others are still on the waiting list; their hopes of ever accessing these life-prolonging drugs are slowly fading away. With a CD4 Cell Count of just 60 instead of the recommended 200 or more, Ropafadzo is living on borrowed time. To make matters worse, being on a teacher’s salary of only $20 USD a month, she can’t afford to buy the drugs on her own in the private sector, as they are prohibitively expensive.
So what really is the problem?
No supplemental funding is coming to Zimbabwe as the international community continues to protest against the Mugabe led government’s maladministration and poor human rights record. This is why the government program has not grown to accommodate more HIV positive Zimbabweans.
Infuriated by Mugabe’s expulsion of Pierre Schori, head of the European Union (EU) Observer Mission to Zimbabwe, during the controversial 2002 presidential elections, the western powers “officially” (because even as far back as the late 1990s international funding had already started drying up) imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe.It is entirely acceptable for the international community to put pressure on Mugabe’s government by freezing funds on Zimbabwe’s economic programs or by imposing sanctions, but why should ordinary and innocent people like Ropafadzo be caught in this struggle? Other than toil for a pathetic salary month in and month out, what have they done to deserve this?
The truth of the matter is that Mugabe and his cronies who are responsible for wrecking the economy and isolating Zimbabwe are not even feeling the slightest pinch of these EU Sanctions!
Even though they are banned from traveling to Europe and have had their “off shore” accounts frozen, they are still well able to afford three meals or more a day. They still cruise around town with the latest, most expensive, bullet-proof cars with full fuel tanks while the majority of people queue for hours to refuel their cars at service stations or pay exorbitant prices from black market dealers.
And while they may be banned from Europe, they are still able to send their children abroad for a “decent” education, but only after bribing the Registrar General for a change of surname to evade the EU travel bans. And, even when they are unable to send their children abroad, they are able to escape the rot and decay they have caused in the public education system by sending their children to expensive private boarding schools. The rest of us, unfortunately, are left with few choices because our pockets are not deep enough.
This is the cruel and heartbreaking reality on the ground in our country. Ordinary people are suffering in the name of sanctions and because of donor fatigue. It is the hardworking Zimbabweans, who will go mad trying to figure out what to eat, how to pay the bills and fees for their children, and for people like Ropafadzo, where to get money to buy ARVs.
I, along with many other Zimbabweans, hope that as the people of the United States choose their next president in February 2008, they will elect someone who can look beyond politics, adopt a tougher stance on Mugabe’s despotic government and force it out of power. But whatever actions the new president may take, one must also remember that ordinary, innocent Zimbabweans do not deserve to suffer.
Zimbabweans like myself pray for world powers, the US included, to intervene, to put aside the politics that prevent them from caring about the kind of impact their actions will have on innocent women and children, the sick and the old. There should be no strings attached to humanitarian aid, not because Mugabe will profit, but because the general population has, up until now, unfortunately been caught in the cross fire.
If one traces the history of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Zimbabwe, the decline in humanitarian assistance began in 1998, when signs of an economic meltdown under Mugabe’s rule began showing. Previous allegations of his government’s corruption and misuse of taxpayer money had been surfacing repeatedly long before then.
USAID’s program of development assistance to Zimbabwe dates back 27 years, to when Zimbabwe gained its independence in 1980. USAID drew up its plan for financial assistance to Zimbabwe into three phases. The first phase (1980-1989) was for post-Liberation Struggle Reconstruction.In the second phase (1990-1997) funds were committed for economic reform and development. In this period, USAID’s support included the growth of the informal sector, provision of private sector housing and expanding the role of the private sector in providing family planning methods.
In the third phase (1998 – 2002) funds were committed for political reform and HIV and AIDS Mitigation. In this period, USAID strategy shifted to meet “increasing changes in Zimbabwe’s political, economic and social arenas”. USAID says by focusing its funding on HIV/AIDS prevention, it hopes to increase dialogue between civil society and government institutions.
In the third period, the decline in funding, especially for humanitarian needs, was very evident. In the period just after independence, USAID funding for humanitarian needs was $29 million USD. In the second phase, USAID committed $164 million USD for humanitarian needs, which allowed Zimbabweans to get through the 1992 drought, our worst ever, without any casualties.
The third phase marked a decline in funds: just $115 million USD was committed. Then from 2002 to 2006, a time when 80 percent of Zimbabweans were living in poverty as a result of successive droughts and the worsening economy, there was a huge dip in funding: just $85 million USD was committed.
Before relations between Harare and Washington soured, funding for Zimbabwe’s various programs was enormous. Although the US government still has an embassy here in Zimbabwe and continues to offer funding for various programs, the truth is that the US could offer more humanitarian assistance, if it wanted.
Last month US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Christopher Dell, donated about $18 million USD worth of ARVs to Zimbabwe, which will benefit at least 40,000 Zimbabweans over a three-year period. This was Dell’s “farewell present” to our citizens and came as a big surprise to many of us.
Without sounding ungrateful, many AIDS activists attending the function said the US government could provide drugs for the 600,000 people in urgent need of treatment, if it really wanted. They added that if the US delegation feared the government would abuse the drugs, then the US could channel the funds through a number of reputable networks which service people living with HIV and AIDS. While at this function, a friend of mine who works at the US embassy here in Zimbabwe told me in confidence that they had been forced to cancel a planned media tour for Laura Bush to Zambia. Why? His “bosses” feared that we would see how little Zimbabwe was getting in aid, in comparison to the amount of money Laura was giving Zambia. Zambia receives $187 US dollars for every person infected with HIV, compared to the $4 USD Zimbabweans receive, according to Avert, an AIDS organization.
Dell’s three-year mission in Zimbabwe can be described as very “eventful”! He crossed paths on many occasions with state security agents for his open criticism of the Mugabe regime and became the most unpopular envoy in Harare. Mugabe even threatened him with expulsion for “meddling in the affairs of Zimbabwe” but has been silenced. Dell recently predicted that Zimbabwe’s inflation was going to reach 1.5 million percent by the end of the year and drive Mugabe out of power.
Ultimately, I know I speak for many Zimbabweans when I say “YES!” for sanctions against Mugabe and his corrupt government ministers and supporters, but don’t sacrifice humanitarian assistance for ordinary people like Ropafadzo. This is my open letter to the next US president.
About the Author
Constance Manika is a journalist who works for the independent press in Zimbabwe. She writes under this pseudonym to escape prosecution from a government whose onslaught and level of intolerance to journalists in the independent press is well documented.
In Meltdown in Zimbabwe, an exclusive and ongoing series at The WIP, Constance provides continued on-the-ground reporting from her embattled country where Zimbabweans struggle daily for democracy, economic sustainability and human rights.