Mugabe: Yeah, OK, people are starving ...

… but guess who’s fault it is? If you said “evil colonial empires,” then you win free copy of Das Kapital. (You may have to pay 10 million in Zimbabwean dollars for shipping and handling.) Mugabe finally acknowledged the desperate straits of his nation, but somehow managed to blame everyone except the man who has run it for more than the last quarter-century:

Robert Mugabe has, for the first time, admitted that Zimbabwe faces a grave food crisis amid the collapse of the country’s agriculture. But he blamed it on “racist” Britain trying to oust him at this month’s presidential election.

Responding to pleas at a campaign rally in Plumtree, in the province of Matabeleland South, from local officials of the ruling Zanu-PF party “to ensure the speedy distribution of food in the province as people were running out of supplies”, Mugabe accepted there was a crisis.

“There is hunger in the country and a shortage of food,” he said, according to the state-run Sunday Mail newspaper. Mugabe promised to speed up food imports which have so far met only a fraction of the country’s needs.

The World Food Programme says 45% of Zimbabweans are suffering chronic malnourishment because of “poor agricultural policies and a declining economy”. The WFP feeds about 2.5 million people and other agencies are providing food to about 1 million. But large numbers of people are surviving on far fewer calories than they need, leaving them vulnerable to illnesses, particularly the large proportion of the population with HIV at risk of developing full-blown Aids.

It seems that the food crisis has worsened to the point where Mugabe has little choice but to acknowledge the hunger that ravages his nation. He faces a tough election, assuming he can’t succeed in fixing it, and members of his own party may make that difficult. Mugabe needs to provide someone to blame, other than himself, and the former colonial masters make a handy scapegoat.

However, when the Brits left the former Rhodesia, the farms actually produced enough food to feed Zimbabwe and a few other African nations as well. Zimbabwe was a net exporter of agriculture until Mugabe decided to seize the land and redistribute it to his cronies. No one doubted that some manner of land reform was necessary at the end of the colonial period in order to engage black Zimbabweans into the national economy, but Mugabe botched it badly — and now the Zimbabweans starve on some of the best land in Africa.

This again proves something Westerners will do well to remember: almost all famine is political. Even weather-created crises usually pass quickly in systems based on stable and free-market economics. When oppressive regimes start making five-year plans and seizing land from proven producers, one can predict with deadly accuracy the starvation that will follow. In that sense, Mugabe differs little from Mao and Stalin.

The cause of Zimbabwe’s famine is its leader. Zimbabweans should get rid of him at the earliest possible moment and reverse the disastrous economic and agricultural policies that led them to their present pauper status. We’ll soon see if Mugabe can prevent them from doing so. Venezuelans may want to take a few notes as well.