Monday, June 23, 2008

Depressing anecdote of the day: Zimbabwe food truck

This is the kind of thing that I see in the news, and for a split-second, I think, "Oh, good, I can totally blog that!" But then I think, "Oh, yet another example of adults the world would be better off without, considering how they think it's acceptable to treat children."

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the dilemma of sending humanitarian aid to foreign countries that might not go to good use. It's not clear that foreign aid sent to evil regimes is worthwhile even if it is used appropriately, let alone if it gets siphoned off by dictators.

That post was about Burma, but then I saw this more recent instance of the same general problem in Zimbabwe:

Zimbabwean authorities confiscated a truck loaded with 20 tons of American food aid for poor schoolchildren and ordered that the wheat and pinto beans aboard be handed out to supporters of President Robert Mugabe at a political rally instead....
As background: "agricultural production has collapsed over the past decade and millions of people would go hungry each year without emergency aid."

It's hard to imagine a more descipable handling of a humanitarian crisis ... but the Zimbabwe government has come up with a way. You see, they didn't just divert food earmarked for the hungry to use as political bribes. No, they went the extra mile and claimed they had to stop the humanitarian aid because Mugabe's opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, was using the aid as bribes!

That happened a couple weeks ago. Just yesterday, Tsvangirai withdrew from the election, saying that Mugabe was rendering it impossible to remove him from power.

In the end, the food-truck incident is probably a negligible piece of the overall problem. The immediate factor in cutting short the election seemed to be more overt violence. At a rally yesterday (right before the opposition withdrew), "rowdy youths, armed with iron bars and sticks, beat up people who had come to cheer for Mr. Tsvangirai." (See that link for a photo.) It's a war, not an election, the opposition leader said.

Marwick Khumalo, the leader of a watchdog group, helpfully explained: “How can you have an election where people are killed and hacked to death as the sun goes down? How can you have an election where the leader of one party is not even allowed to conduct rallies?”

A bit of perspective for Americans, with our endless back-and-forth whining about which side is suffering from worse media bias. For all the outrage over supposed unfairness, the fact is that we're free to say and do whatever we want in political campaigns. Our hair-trigger reactions to trumped-up injustices do a disservice to people in the world whose liberties are actually being curtailed.

And if you think that's pointing out such an obvious distinction that it goes without saying, well, remember that Hillary Clinton had a hard time seeing the difference between our elections and Zimbabwe's. Oh, that reminds me -- Hillary Clinton -- I'll get back to her soon...

(Photo of children in Zimbabwe by Steve Evans.)