Zimbabwe: Embattled NGOs to meet government next month

HARARE -- Zimbabwean non-governmental organisations (NGOs) will next month meet top government officials for talks to save the civic society, facing decimation because of a hostile operating environment.
National Association of NGOs executive director Jonah Mudehwe said some NGO groups were already leaving Zimbabwe because of an "unfavourable political environment" and also because of the country's fixed exchange rate that had made it difficult for foreign funded groups to operate in the country.

A tough NGO Bill that was referred back to Parliament by President Robert Mugabe remains a major threat to many civic groups especially those working on human rights and governance-related issues that may be forced to close if the Bill becomes effective law.

Mudehwe said a seminar was scheduled for next month to lobby influential government officials to appreciate the problems the civic groups were facing.

He said: "One of our initiatives would be a workshop next month that will involve senior government officials so that there is an appreciation of how the NGO community works."

"It is true that most NGOs are facing viability problems because of the regulated exchange rate which has seen the cost of doing business in Zimbabwe being prohibitive and unattractive. We are consulting the government to ensure that this is addressed together with the unfavourable political environment," added Mudehwe.

Under the draft NGO Bil, civic groups will be banned from carrying out voter education while those working on human rights-related areas will be barred from receiving foreign funding.

The Bill was passed by Parliament last year but Mugabe refused to sign it into law and sent it back to the legislature. He did not make public his reasons for refusing to sign the Bill.

NGOs have played a key role in helping feed Zimbabweans over the last five years when the country faced severe food shortages.

The civic groups will also be required to help feed an estimated four million Zimbabweans out of the country's 12 million people who will require food aid before the next harvest next year.

Mugabe and his government have however accused NGOs of wanting to use aid to incite Zimbabweans to revolt against their rule. - ZimOnline