President Robert Mugabe has raised the spectre of banning the operations of non-governmental organizations in Zimbabwe, a threat he implemented in 2008 after the worst maize harvest on record.
"We have now a phenomenon of NGOs, or shall I call them phenomena, for they really are a type of government in the background of a formal government. I don't know whether this creature is for the better or for the worse, but in our country we have seen a situation where they have exceeded their terms of reference, and perhaps we might have to reconsider the advisability of having NGOs."
Mugabe raised the question while speaking on the theme of "Inclusivity and national visions" at the Global 2009 Dialogue conference at the Munyonyo resort on the shores of Lake Victoria on 27 July.
|I don't know whether this creature is for the better or for the worse, but in our country we have seen a situation where they have exceeded their terms of reference, and perhaps we might have to reconsider the advisability of having NGOs|
Fambai Ngirande, advocacy and marketing manager of the National Association of Non Governmental Organisations (NANGO), an NGO umbrella organization, told IRIN: "If NGOs are banned then that would jeopardize the livelihoods of millions of Zimbabweans to the point of being catastrophic. Millions of Zimbabweans depend on NGOs for food, medication, education, human rights and democracy support."
Mugabe banned all NGO operations on 4 June 2008, a few weeks before the presidential run-off election - although he later excluded organizations concerned with HIV/AIDS, children, the disabled, and care of the elderly - after accusing NGOs of supporting the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
The ban was lifted on 29 August 2008 after Mugabe was re-elected unopposed to the presidency. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai - now prime minister - won the first round of the presidential election but withdrew from the run-off in protest over the murder of his supporters and the high levels of violence.
The ban disrupted preparations by the donor community for emergency food assistance to nearly 7 million Zimbabweans.
In September 2008, Mugabe's ZANU-PF and Tsvangirai's MDC signed the Global Political Agreement, which laid the foundation for the formation of the unity government in February 2009.
"It's obvious that the coalition government has failed to demonstrate that it can preside over donor money in a transparent manner, which is why some organizations and governments which want to support the people of Zimbabwe would rather channel their money through NGOs," said Ngirande.
Tsvangirai received pledges of about US$500,000 for humanitarian relief on his recent trip to Europe and the US, but the money is to be distributed via humanitarian organizations and NGOs.
Ngirande dismissed Mugabe's comments comparing NGOs to a parallel government. "It is certainly true that more Zimbabweans are depending on the NGO community for support, an activity which should be carried out by the government."