Zimbabwe president attacks West at food summit

Published on Tuesday 3rd June 2008

Rome: Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Tuesday accused the West of trying to cripple his country through economic sanctions.


He, however, defended his agricultural policies against widespread accusations he was pushing a country once known as the breadbasket of Africa into starvation.

"My country's primary agriculture policy objective remains that of ensuring national and household food security through our own production," he said in a speech to a U.N. food summit in Rome, where he was snubbed by many participants.

Most Western representatives at the summit said they would have no contact with Mugabe. Some expressed outrage he was allowed to attend a summit on a global crisis of soaring food prices and shortages, given that many blame him for plummeting farm production in his own country.

But Mugabe, in his speech to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), defended his land redistribution policy of seizing white-owned property to give it to black farmers, agency reports said.

Mugabe, who faces a June 27 presidential election run-off, was the only leader to read his speech with a bodyguard standing just behind him on the podium.

"The United Kingdom has mobilized her friends and allies in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand to impose illegal economic sanctions against Zimbabwe," Mugabe told a world summit on food security, hosted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

"All this has been done to cripple Zimbabwe's economy and thereby effect illegal regime change in our country," he added.

Mugabe said western countries have been using non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and opposition political parties to topple his government.

"Funds are being channeled through non-governmental organizations to ... opposition political parties which are a creation of the West," he said, "Further, these western-funded NGOs also use food as a political weapon with which to campaign against (the) government especially in the rural areas."

Mugabe's attendance at the food summit was heavily criticized by several western countries, which blamed his land reform for the country's economic difficulties and widespread poverty.

The high-level conference was called at a time when the world is experiencing a dramatic increase in food prices, aimed at winning donor pledges for urgent aid as short-term solutions and also to generate longer term strategies to safeguard food production.

But national delegates differed on certain causes behind higher food prices, notably the increasing demand for biofuels.

Mugabe said climate change and the use of crops for bio-fuels by some western countries should be responsible for the food prices hike.

"Thus, over the past decade, Zimbabwe has democratised the land ownership patterns in the country, with over 300,000 previously landless families now proud landowners," he said.

Critics say the policy has failed because he neglected to equip resettled farmers with adequate skills and equipment.

The European Union has a long-standing travel ban on Mugabe, but since the FAO summit is taking place under a United Nations umbrella he was invited along with other world leaders.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Zimbabwe's food problems were for the most part due to the "ruinous" agricultural and economic policies enacted by Mugabe's government and that he served as an example of "what not to do".

Britain's International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander said: "Mr Mugabe's empty words here in Rome will do nothing for the empty stomachs of millions of his fellow citizens who have been left impoverished and hungry by his misrule."

Mugabe, on his first official trip abroad since March 29 parliamentary elections which his ruling party lost, last month announced his government had bought 600,000 tonnes of maize to ease food shortages.

He attacked former colonial power Britain and its allies including the United States and Europe, accusing them of trying to "cripple Zimbabwe's economy and thereby effect illegal regime change in our country."