Zimbabwe: Voting for Food?


For the upcoming U.S. election, both candidates are expending millions of dollars hoping to garner more votes for their side. The public is being inundated with television and radio ads, bumper stickers, and signs planted in people’s yards. But there is one idea neither candidate has tried: trading food for votes.

In Zimbabwe, this tactic may already be in use. Human Rights Watch said the Zimbabwean government may be planning to “use food scarcity as a political weapon” (Guardian, London, August 13). In Zimbabwe, maize—the country’s staple grain—must be transported and delivered by the state Grain Marketing Board. “Many witnesses say grain board officials turn away those who do not have a Zanu-PF card” (ibid.). Zanu-PF is the party of President Robert Mugabe, who has a history of using corrupt election tactics.

Of course, this is only relevant if there is food scarcity in Zimbabwe. Mugabe claims there is not; the government is forecasting a bumper harvest of 2.6 million tons of maize. But the international community disagrees with his optimistic assessment. According to the summary of a report released in June by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee, “A total of 2.3 million people will not be able to meet their minimum cereal needs during the 2004-2005 season.”

Zimbabwe’s presidential elections in 2002 featured this same tactic—food being used as a bribe—along with violence and vote rigging, which have been common for many years. In an effort to improve relations with the European Union and the United States by ensuring these practices do not continue, Zimbabwe’s neighbors met at a two-day summit of the Southern African Development Community in August. “[T]hirteen southern African leaders approved a new regional charter on free and fair elections that specifies how they should be conducted to guarantee democracy” (Agence France Presse, August 18). President Mugabe himself made reference to the “free and fair” parliamentary elections that would be held in Zimbabwe March next year, knowing full well that this charter is aimed squarely at him. His own reelection is coming up in 2008.