IT SOUNDS preposterous, even outrageous. Zambia recently rejected international emergency aid, even though food had already been shipped to that African country, where 3 million people are faced with starvation. The reason: The president described genetically modified corn as "poison."
The United States, which donated most of the food, has voiced its displeasure. Inside Zambia, controversy rages. Foreign aid organizations say they don't have enough unmodified corn at their disposal. The situation is explosive: Some famished people have looted warehouses containing genetically modified corn.
Half a dozen other African countries have expressed strong reservations about accepting genetically modified corn. But they have overcome their misgivings, recognizing that starving people must come first.
Zambia's apprehension makes little sense -- unless the controversy is not really about genetically modified corn at all, but about Africans' resentment toward the dominant role foreigners play in their affairs.
As Zambia's food crisis has worsened, the local media have singled out the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as scapegoats. Zambia owes billions of dollars to them; they are now blamed for nearly everything, from poverty, hunger and disease to corruption, extravagance and lack of priorities. The two organizations' call for the privatization of Zambia's deficit-ridden state-owned companies has come under particularly vehement attacks from the media and politicians.
The theme of this campaign is that supranational organizations want to subjugate Zambia into neocolonialist dependency. Critics see the importation of genetically modified corn as an attempt to force Zambian farmers into the arms of multinational conglomerates, which market such foods and the special fertilizers they require.
Such conspiracy theories may sound silly, but many Africans take them seriously. Nonetheless, when the alternatives are famine or food, Zambia ought to set aside its suspicions about the West.
Starving people should not be used as pawns by a resentful debate in a country that cannot feed itself.