n Conflict Trends - Food aid, village politics and conflict in rural Zimbabwe : the case of the Tandi chiefdom

Volume 2019 Number 2
  • ISSN : 1561-9818


Much has been written on the politics of food aid. In the literature, food aid has been variously depicted as necessary to address the chronic food insecurities in poor countries; an instrument of foreign policy by donor countries; destroying local agriculture while securing markets for subsidised farmers in donor countries; entrenching the dependency syndrome; and fuelling the rampant practice by politicians of using food aid to reward supporters and punish opponents. A little known, if not more insidious, dimension of the politics of food aid is its impact on communities at the grassroots level.

This article focuses on the Tandi chiefdom in rural Zimbabwe and critically examines the dynamics, impacts and politics of food aid distribution at grassroots level. The article shows that the food aid distribution system is flawed and is abused by villagers, and that village politics determines who gets food. It identifies the inherent flaws and popular criticisms of the food aid distribution system. Specifically, it shows that the selection of food aid recipients is not always based on the “poorest and most vulnerable” principle as espoused by donors, but is oftentimes determined by the village politics of kinship, alliances and power. Consequently, some of the poorest and most vulnerable fail to get food aid, while some of the rich get it. Even worse still, food aid  tends to exacerbate community conflict, promote laziness and entrench the dependency syndrome. The article ends by considering policy options to address some of the challenges of the food aid distribution system.

Analytically, the article provides a micro-level analysis of the relationship between village politics and food aid distribution, and of the unintended consequences of free food aid. It exposes the underlying oppressive structures that produce egoistic and violent behaviour exhibited during food aid distribution. Methodologically, it is based on critical observations and interviews conducted by the author during the 2008–2009 food aid distribution in the Tandi chiefdom.

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