It was an elaborate dress rehearsal. Everything was planned to the last detail. There would be 12 to 15 journalists. The two United States diplomats would sit as planned with the US and Zimbabwe flags behind them. The press would be seated in a semi-circle because the effect sought was conversational.
But that was not all. Even the headline for the following day had been thought of in advance. “Food crisis worsens- Hall urges policy changes and more international support”.
This was typical propaganda at work. After all Zimbabwean journalists were good at distorting stories. They were very polite and not terribly aggressive – read could easily be misled.
Viewing cable 02HARARE2211, Press Conference Briefing Notes for
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 06 HARARE 002211
ROME PASS TO AMBASSADOR TONY HALL, MAX FINBERG,
AND TIM LAVELLE AT FODAG
STATE FOR AF/S
USAID FOR DCHA, OFDA, FFP AND AFR
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Press Conference Briefing Notes for
Ambassador Tony Hall’s visit to Zimbabwe,
October 8 – October 11, 2002
¶1. (U) The following offers briefing notes for
Ambassador Hall’s press conference in Harare, Zimbabwe,
scheduled for Friday morning, 11 October 2002. The
press conference will be held at the conclusion of
Ambassador Hall’s visit to Zimbabwe.
Goal of the Press Conference:
¶2. (U) The ideal headline the day after the press
conference would be along the following lines: “Food
Crisis Worsens – Hall Urges Policy Changes and More
International Support.” We hope you can convey the
urgency you and the USG feel in addressing the crisis
and the critical importance of urgent GOZ accompanying
actions. The field trips you will take will give you
additional information to provide a real-life
perspective on the humanitarian crisis. Below is some
background information for the press briefing and
questions and answers on specific issues that may arise.
Scene Setter and Suggested Media Themes:
¶3. (U) The Press Conference will be held in the
auditorium of the Public Affairs Section’s (PAS)
offices. PAS has separate offices from the Embassy and
is located in the city center near the Meikles Hotel.
We expect a minimum of 12 to 15 journalists. Ambassador
Hall and Ambassador Sullivan, will be seated at a draped
table in front of the black backdrop with the US and
Zimbabwean flags behind them. The press will be seated
in a semicircle facing the principals. The effect
sought is “conversational,” that is, something less
formal than a stand-at-the-podium-style press
¶4. (U) The Public Affairs Officer, Bruce Wharton, will
introduce you (we will also distribute copies of your
bio) and you will be expected to make an opening
statement prior to taking questions. In your opening
statement, we suggest you speak about your field visits
and highlight the following themes:
1) Zimbabwe’s food crisis is becoming increasingly
2) The Government of Zimbabwe should make policy
decisions to permit the private sector and a larger
number of NGOs to play a role in addressing the nation’s
3) Among the policy issues we believe are exacerbating
the food crisis are the Grain Marketing Board’s monopoly
on grain imports and sales, unrealistically low price
controls on staple foods, ponderous bureaucratic
procedures for clearing donated food through Zimbabwean
customs, and limitations on the NGOs permitted to
participate in food distribution programs.
4) The United States has been the principal donor to
Zimbabwe’s food crisis, with generous contributions also
coming from the United Kingdom and the European Union.
Additional assistance from other donors is needed to
meet Zimbabwe’s food needs.
5) While Southern Africa’s drought is a factor in the
food crisis, the Government of Zimbabwe needs to face
the fact that it also bears responsibility for the
situation. Macroeconomic mismanagement (including
deficit spending, a grossly overvalued currency,
multiple exchange rates, and unrealistic price
controls), a violent and chaotic land redistribution
program that has badly damaged the nation’s agricultural
sector, and a disregard for the rule of law that has
driven foreign investment away, have all played a
substantial role in creating conditions under which more
than half of all Zimbabweans need food aid.
6) The United States will not politicize its food
assistance to Zimbabwe. In spite of our serious
concerns about the actions and policies of the
Zimbabwean government, we will not abandon the people of
Zimbabwe at this time of need.
7) We are working closely with the World Food Program
and our bilateral NGO partners to make sure that the
food we provide is distributed on a non-partisan basis.
8) The food crisis will also significantly aggravate
the health conditions for people who are HIV positive
and people living with AIDS. Zimbabwe is at the
epicenter of the epidemic with the second highest HIV
prevalence in the world – 35%. It is estimated that
over 2,000 people a week are dying from complications
due to AIDS in Zimbabwe.
Background on the Media:
¶5. (U) The Zimbabwean media are deeply polarized. The
privately owned media are generally critical of the
Government of Zimbabwe and sympathetic to U.S. policy
and programs in Zimbabwe. The state-owned media are
slavishly pro-Government and reflect the GOZ’s distrust
of the West. Both media camps will distort stories to
reflect their points of view, but distortions in the
private media are generally less extreme. Zimbabwean
journalists from both camps are polite and not terribly
aggressive. International media will also be present
and will be important for re-broadcast into Zimbabwe as
well as for the international audience. Specifically,
we expect representatives from the Associated Press,
Reuters, Agence France Presse, Voice of America, the
South African Broadcasting Company (SABC), the Times of
London and the Guardian to be present.
¶6. (U) The Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) has deliberately
and successfully limited media freedom and the flow of
information into and out of Zimbabwe. The majority of
Zimbabweans must rely on heavily propagandistic
government media for news and analysis of local and
international events. The flow of news out of Zimbabwe
has been restricted through the expulsion of once-
resident foreign journalists and refusals to grant visas
to international journalists wishing to visit.
¶7. (U) Radio is the most influential medium in Zimbabwe.
The GoZ has a monopoly on local broadcast media and they
offer only unrelenting pro-government propaganda. One
independent broadcaster, Voice of the People, maintained
offices in Zimbabwe and provided news and information
via Dutch short wave facilities until its Harare office
was completely destroyed by a sophisticated firebombing
in late August 2002. Another short wave broadcaster,
Short Wave Radio Africa, provides news and information
from studios in the United Kingdom. Anecdotal
information indicates that short wave broadcasters have
only small audiences.
¶8. (U) Urban Zimbabweans have access to a courageous
independent press consisting of one daily and three
weeklies (the Daily News, Financial Gazette, Zimbabwe
Independent, and the Standard). Prices, logistical
challenges, and the fact that pro-government forces have
banned the distribution of independent newspapers in
rural areas means that most rural Zimbabweans (60% of
the population) have no access to these publications.
The independent press is under steady pressure from the
GoZ and pro-government forces. Arrests of editors and
reporters are common and the Daily News has twice been
bombed, most recently in January 2001 in a sophisticated
attack that completely destroyed the paper’s presses.
No arrests have been made. The Daily News recently
replaced its presses. A new media registration law, to
come into force later this year, is likely to result in
increased arrests and harassment of journalists working
for the independent press.
¶9. (U) The GoZ owns and exercises tight editorial
control over two dailies and three weeklies (the Herald,
Chronicle, Sunday Mail, Sunday News and Manica Post).
Although the circulation of these papers has seen a
steady decline, they are generally the only newspapers
available in rural Zimbabwe. There is a distinct double
standard in the application of media control laws to the
independent and government-owned media.
¶10. (U) Over the last 18 months, non-Zimbabweans working
for the BBC, Agence France Presse, the Mail and Guardian
(South Africa) and other international media have been
forced to leave the country. BBC has explicitly been
banned. The new media registration law is likely to
result in the closure of the Associated Press, Reuters
and AFP bureaus in Zimbabwe, all currently staffed by
Zimbabwean citizens. The GoZ routinely denies visas to
journalists who openly apply to visit the country for
Questions & Answers:
What do you see as the critical challenges the GOZ and
donors face in dealing with the humanitarian crisis?
One of the biggest challenges being faced right now is
NGO capacity to efficiently and effectively distribute
food aid. The World Food Program (WFP) needs to
increase the number of NGOs who can deliver food aid
and, in this regard, the GOZ must expeditiously review
and process NGO registration applications to improve
WFP’s ability to distribute food to vulnerable
Zimbabweans. The second challenge relates to the amount
of available food. The latest Vulnerability Assessment
indicates that the number of people in need of food
assistance in Zimbabwe has increased from 6 million to
6.7 million; the amount of food aid requested has risen
to 486,000 mt from the initial requested amount of
453,000 mt. The GOZ has also committed itself to import
at least 650,000 mt. It is critical that these food
requirements be met. Otherwise, we will experience a
severe food gap and the situation will deteriorate
What is the effect U.S. “sanctions” (under the Zimbabwe
Democracy and Economic Recovery Act) against Zimbabwe on
the U.S. program to respond to the humanitarian crisis?
The United States Government is committed to providing
food assistance to help the most needy affected by the
food crisis in Zimbabwe. We do so, however, with our
eyes open to the fact the Government of Zimbabwe bears
much of a responsibility for the growing humanitarian
crisis in Zimbabwe and the region.
Feel free to defer the remaining part of the answer to
The Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA)
is not a sanctions bill. It is a set of incentives
designed, as the New York Times reported, to “lure
Zimbabwe back to democracy.” The bill offers US$26
million (Z$1.4 billion at the official exchange rate) to
support land reform, basic human rights and economic
development. To gain this support, the Government of
Zimbabwe was asked to restore the rule of law; create
conditions conducive to free and fair presidential
elections; and make a commitment to an equitable, legal
and transparent land reform program inter alia.
Since the Government of Zimbabwe chose not to accept
ZDERA’s recommendations, in February 2002 President Bush
implemented targeted measures against a number of
selected Zimbabwean officials. These measures include
travel and financial restrictions. These measures do
not include any actions to hurt the people of Zimbabwe.
U.S. Government programs, including humanitarian food
donations, the Ambassador’s Self-Help Program, HIV/Aids
prevention and treatment efforts, and educational and
cultural programs, remain intact.
Will the U.S. sanctions against Zimbabwe result in the
termination of the USAID development program?
Feel free to defer this to Ambassador Sullivan.
Again, I note that ZDERA does not impose any broad-based
sanctions against the people of Zimbabwe. Rather, it
targets senior members of the government of Robert
Mugabe and other Zimbabwean nationals who formulate,
implement or benefit from policies that undermine or
injure Zimbabwean democratic institutions. ZDERA also
affects persons who, through their business dealings
with Zimbabwean government officials, derive significant
financial benefits from policies that undermine or
injure Zimbabwe’s democratic institutions. Spouses of
affected persons also face travel restrictions.
The U.S. Government remains committed to assisting the
people of Zimbabwe in their hour of need and will not
curtail humanitarian assistance as a result of ZDERA.
What is the USG’s position regarding allegations of
partisanship or political manipulation in the
distribution of food?
The United States condemns the political manipulation of
food aid. Although to the best of our knowledge there
has been no interference with USG-donated food, many
credible reports exist of politicization of GOZ-supplied
food. We are deeply concerned about such allegations
and urge the Government of Zimbabwe to work
collaboratively with the UN and the international
community to assure that all food is distributed in an
impartial and transparent manner.
Why is the U.S. providing biotech food to Zimbabwe and
what effect will this have on the USG’s ability to
respond to the humanitarian crisis? Why can’t the U.S.
simply sign the GM certificates requested by the
Government of Zimbabwe? The USG keeps saying that
“there is no evidence that biotech food is harmful,” but
that is not the same as saying that biotech food is
guaranteed to be safe. The issues of transgenic
mutation and unintended side effects do not seem
completely resolved. Why can’t the US avoid these
concerns by providing non-biotech maize, or providing
money so that relief agencies can buy non-biotech maize
from other sources?
To begin with, we are very pleased that the Government
of Zimbabwe and WFP have worked out an arrangement for
the acceptance of the first shipment of whole kernel
biotech maize. We urge that this agreement be followed
quickly by others to accept all the food that we are
prepared to donate to alleviate the food crisis in
Zimbabwe. We believe this arrangement recognizes that
the food provided by the U.S. to Zimbabwe is the same as
that consumed by Americans. Biotech crops are subject
to a rigorous safety review by the USDA, FDA, and EPA.
The food is eaten by millions of Americans and to date
no evidence has shown any negative health implications.
This has been stated categorically by the WHO and WFP.
Countries all over the world, including South Africa,
China and Brazil, produce biotech food. This advanced
technology has helped make seeds more resistant to such
ravages as pests and drought, and holds great promise
for increased agricultural productivity in Africa.
What is the U.S. position on the causes of the current
food crisis in Zimbabwe? What should the GOZ be doing
to address the crisis?
The food crisis in Zimbabwe is highly complex and
multifaceted. Although the regional drought has
undoubtedly been a real factor in the food shortages in
Zimbabwe, the situation has been greatly exacerbated by
the policies and actions of the Government of Zimbabwe.
Shortfalls in agricultural production in Zimbabwe — due
in very large measure to government-sponsored, chaotic,
and often violent seizures of commercial farms and
failed economic policies — are having a direct impact
on food availability and prices throughout the region.
Other counterproductive Government of Zimbabwe policies
— such as the GMB monopoly on grain imports, price
controls and unrealistic exchange rates — have
hamstrung the private sector and contributed to the food
crisis. Foreign exchange shortages – themselves a
result of counterproductive government policies – also
limit Zimbabwe’s ability to procure and import food and
essential agricultural commodities. All of these issues
also affect Zimbabwe’s ability to resume agricultural
production and, hence, mitigate the crisis.
The United States Government will continue to provide
food assistance to help the most needy affected by the
food crisis in Zimbabwe, but we do so with our eyes open
to the fact that the Government of Zimbabwe bears much
of the responsibility for the growing humanitarian
crisis in Zimbabwe and the region. The GOZ urgently
needs to address the policy problems that have
substantially contributed to this crisis, carry through
on its commitment to import food and distribute food in
an equitable and transparent manner with need as the
How much has the U.S. given in food assistance to
Zimbabwe? Why is the USG doing so much to provide food
to Zimbabwe even as it criticizes the GOZ so harshly?
Don’t you think that your food assistance may be helping
the government of Robert Mugabe to remain in power?
To date, the U.S. has approved the provision of 106,630
MTs of food assistance (valued at US$56 million) to
Zimbabwe (approximately 43,000MT has arrived in country
to date). Within the southern African region, Zimbabwe
is the country that is most severely affected by the
current food crisis. The people and government of the
United States are strongly committed to providing
substantial resources to Zimbabwe to respond to this
crisis. Yes, the GOZ bears much of the responsibility
for the crisis, but we will not abandon the Zimbabweans
who are suffering because of the actions of their
What is the U.S. position on land reform in Zimbabwe and
why hasn’t the U.S. lived up to its commitments to
support land reform made at the Lancaster House
negotiations in 1979 and the 1998 donors’ conference?
The U.S. believes that land reform in Zimbabwe should be
implemented in transparent, equitable and consultative
manner in accordance with the rule of law. That means
it should be done without the illegal occupation of
farms, violence, or the displacement of farm laborers.
The U.S. did not commit, at the Lancaster House
negotiations or otherwise, to provide funds for the
purchase of land. Since 1980, however, we have provided
millions of dollars of assistance to the agricultural
sector, including funding for Zimbabwe to benefit from
the expertise of the University of Wisconsin’s Land
Tenure Center, which is widely recognized as the
preeminent center of expertise in land reform from its
30 years of work throughout the world. The USG also
committed at the 1998 Donors’ Conference to support a
transparent, sustainable and lawfully executed land
redistribution program; the GOZ instead decided to carry
out a land redistribution program in a manner which
violated every one of these principles.
What support is the USG/USAID providing to Zimbabwean
civil society, especially those involved in promoting
Feel free to defer to Ambassador Sullivan.
In 1998, we entered into a grant agreement with
Government of Zimbabwe that established a program to
support Zimbabwean civil society. A big component of
this program involves finding ways to improve dialogue
between Parliament and civil society.
What is your response to rumors that the Government of
Zimbabwe is preparing new legislation to enable it to
have greater influence on the operations of PVOs?
I have not seen the new legislation that you are
referring to and, therefore, I cannot comment on it.
Having said that, in general we believe it is important
for the Government of Zimbabwe to create an environment
in which NGOs can effectively carry out their critical
roles as part of civil society, including participating
in the distribution of emergency assistance during the
current humanitarian crisis. We all know the
tremendously helpful roles that NGO’s, such as World
Vision, Care, CRS and many others, have played here in
Zimbabwe in delivering food assistance, working on
health and HIV-AIDS projects and many other areas. We
certainly would hope that the GOZ not deal with NGO’s as
an enemy to to be hamstrung but as a key support to the
Zimbabwean people. SULLIVAN