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What the West Doesn't Want to Know - Zimbabwe's Fight for Justice

These conclusions were confirmed by another study that surveyed nearly 400 resettled households in 1983-84. Follow-up interviews took place in 1987 and then again annually from 1992 to 1998. The study found that "there has been an impressive accumulation of assets," for resettled families while "increases in returns to these assets" were "important in generating the dramatic increase in crop incomes observed in these households." The authors noted that this "finding is robust to a wide variety of econometric concerns." Despite a significant increase in household size, per capita incomes in the surveyed farms grew about 160 percent, which the authors pointed out, "is impressive in the context of a country in which per capita incomes have been stagnant since 1980." Much of the reallocated commercial farmland was uncultivated prior to resettlement, thus requiring extensive clearing and stumping before planting could take place. Time constraints meant that fields could only be partially cleared and it often took years to complete the process. "Without full clearing and stumping," the authors of the study reported, "ox-plowing cannot be done efficiently." The same problem arose for many farmers resettled under fast-track land reform in 2002, given the large percentage of underutilized land on commercial farms. Over time newly resettled farms gain expertise in plowing, use of inputs and learning which crops grow best on the land. These are some of the factors that lead resettled farmers to steadily increase efficiency and realize greater incomes.

Difficulties in the first years of resettlement are to be expected and match historical patterns. "Experience shows that welfare levels are almost universally lower following resettlement than before," found Bill Kinsey of the University of Zimbabwe in one of his studies. "The period following resettlement is one of stress and adjustment from which most ­ but not all ­ households will recover. There is then an upturn as farmers complete the post-relocation adjustment process and begin to reap benefits from their enhanced resource base. As experience accumulates and collaborative efforts begin, benefits continue to grow ­ often quite rapidly." However, a crucial factor is the degree of growth in the national economy. Unless growth is dynamic enough to absorb a growing rural population, then the increase in the size of resettled households will tend to bring down the standard of living. Unfortunately, Western sanctions act as a drag on the economy, and as long as they remain in place, urban economic growth is unlikely to be strong enough to absorb excess rural population. The success or failure of land reform is heavily dependent on a second factor as well, one that is also adversely affected by sanctions. Kinsey emphasized that the degree of "growth of welfare is extremely sensitive both to specific interventions," such as "timely delivery of inputs" for example, but also "to the wider economic environment." The ability of the government of Zimbabwe to provide the necessary inputs to support resettled farmers has been hampered by the Western sanctions. The success of land reform can only be judged over an extended period of time; thus all Western condemnations of its effect on productively are essentially meaningless except in terms of propaganda. A proper assessment of land reform should also take into consideration sanctions-imposed constraints, which directly hinder the very factors that are so necessary for success. Ironically, those in the West who most loudly complain about the effect of land reform on productivity are also the most committed to the continuation of sanctions.

Western criticism of land reform predated the fast-track program. Already by the late 1990's, land reform was receiving a heated reception in Western circles. Kinsey argued that such "negative assessments of Zimbabwe's land reform have both been premature and have used inappropriate criteria." The passage of time necessary to evaluate the results of land reform "has yet to be achieved even for Zimbabwe's earliest resettlement schemes," observed Kinsey, "yet sweeping judgments on the program began to appear within just a few years of its inception." Compounding the rashness of the rush to judgment was the fact that Zimbabwe's land reform program "has been more complex and diverse than most." It is a paradox, Kinsey wrote, "that no critique to date actually focused fully on the program's original set of objectives," among which were poverty alleviation, providing opportunity to the landless and bringing abandoned or underutilized land back into productive use. "Instead most appear to have been sidetracked unwittingly into the vacuous debate on agricultural productivity." Although Kinsey made these observations at the beginning of 1998, the pattern since that time has remained unchanged in all respects differing only in that detractors have become more emphatically cocksure. Kinsey's research and surveys of resettled farmers demonstrated to him "that radical land redistributions do, after a lag, result in both more equally distributed incomes and higher incomes." Furthermore, there is "substantial evidence that poverty reduction through land reform is indeed growth-friendly."

By all accounts of those who have devoted their lives to studying land reform, any short-term assessment of results is both meaningless and misleading. Western critics roundly condemn land reform based on the unrealistic standard of instantaneous total success, against which the first years for resettled farmers are bound to fall short. Despite their rhetoric, it was not productivity that concerned the critics, who were universally indifferent to the gross inequality inherited from the apartheid system and its enormous waste of human potential. What could have been more unproductive than the consignment of millions of people to lives of desperate misery and poverty, condemned to exclusion from any meaningful role in the economic life of the country? No, productivity wasn't the issue; it was the desire to perpetuate white privilege and protect the interests of Western investors. Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the Western demonization campaign against Zimbabwe was that so many on the liberal-left wound up supporting such an agenda under the cover of "human rights." Skepticism about U.S. and British motives in the Middle East wasn't always transferred to other areas of the globe, and many embraced the misinformation they were fed about Zimbabwe, blind to every injustice except those which U.S. and British leaders pointed out.

Land reform is not only a matter of economic imperatives. It is a matter of justice. Zimbabwe could no longer tolerate the grossly unjust distribution of land created by colonial expropriation. The average white farmer owned vastly larger tracts of land than did black farmers and the land he owned was far more suitable for agriculture. White commercial farms usually far exceeded the needs of any one family. White commercial farms averaged 2,500 hectares in size, while black farmers struggled to survive on an average of 2 hectares of arid land. So concentrated was the wealth that a mere 66 white farmers owned a total of 2 million hectares, almost two thirds of the total arable land in Zimbabwe. Perhaps the most striking example was the gigantic Debshan Estate, owned by the Oppenheimer family, which totalled 137,000 hectares and sprawled across four provinces. Many large tracts of land belonged to absentee owners, including members of the British House of Lords and other prominent British citizens, a fact not entirely unrelated to British efforts to derail land reform.

Under fast track land reform, two models of resettlement were implemented. Model A1aimed to create a large number of small farms, a process which it was hoped would decongest overcrowded communal areas. The purpose of the second model, A2, was to establish black-owned commercial farms that were expected to become productive within a short period of time. By the end of July 2002, more than 127,000 households had received land under the A1 model, averaging 33 hectares apiece. The commercial farms that were allocated for this purpose, in contrast, averaged nearly 1,600 hectares. Contrary to the image presented in the West, small black farmers responded with enthusiasm and the take up rate of reallocated land on A1 farms was 97 percent. Resettlement under Model A2 was more problematic, as there were cases where officials had neglected to inform applicants of selection. Former owners in many cases legally contested the process, which often led to the issuance of provisional court orders barring new farmers from taking up allocated land.Because of such factors, the take up rate for Model A2 farms was only 66 percent in the first year of fast-track land reform. In all, more than 7,000 individuals received land under Model A2, with farms averaging 303 hectares in size.

A land audit conducted in early 2003 found that beneficiaries of land under Model A1generally "expressed happiness" with the land allocated to them, and many "stated that even against the unfavorable weather conditions in the 2002 to 2003 agricultural season, they had harvested better yields than in the past." However, beneficiaries pointed out that supportive infrastructure such as schools and clinics were not yet in place. Resettled farmers in Mashonaland Central said that the inability to obtain loans due to lack of collateral was a factor limiting productivity. Other negative factors included a shortage of inputs such as fertilizer and seed, and a lack of tillage services. In most provinces, immediate decongestion of communal areas was minimal, because resettled farmers failed to relinquish old land holdings as a form of insurance, in case former owners were to win legal challenges. More importantly, the lack of infrastructure in many areas made it difficult if not impossible to move one's entire family to newly settled farms. Although construction of schools, roads and clinics in resettled areas was in progress, it was impossible to meet the demand in such a short time frame, leading resettled farmers to split their families and maintain old homes over the short term. At a national level, it was estimated that the decongestion rate in communal areas was 10 percent. Land reform is an ongoing process, so this percentage can be expected to improve over the next few years, but under the circumstances there is a limit to what can be achieved.

The development of irrigation projects was of particular importance for the success of land reform. Existing irrigation systems were primarily located on large commercial farms and designed for single users. One of the challenges inherent in land reform was the unsuitability of these irrigation systems for multiple users, entailing the need for their redesign. In the short term, the lack of clear-cut rules for cooperation and sharing of a single irrigation system among resettled farmers, as well as difficulty in accurately assessing the allocation of water and electricity bills, often led to lack of cooperation and the development of disputes. To make matters worse, former owners and disgruntled farm workers vandalized a significant amount of irrigation equipment on commercial farms. Switching to a redesigned irrigation system presented its own difficulties. Smaller farms require more modestly sized pumps and transformers, which are in short supply.

As important as it was to revamp the irrigation system in resettled areas, the development of irrigation in the arid communal areas was a more pressing exigency. Prior to fast-track land reform, only six percent of the land in communal and earlier resettled areas was irrigated, as compared to 73 percent of the land on large-scale commercial farms. Since commercial farms were situated in regions more favorable for agriculture, the location of irrigation systems was in inverse proportion to need. The government planned to establish 36 irrigation schemes in dry land communal and resettlement areas. The irrigation project was expected to rely on water in existing dams and it was hoped this would lead to increased yields in dry land areas and allow nearly year-round farming. Irrigation would also help to limit or delay the loss of farmland due to rising temperatures. Unfortunately, progress on the irrigation schemes was held up by the lack of foreign exchange due to Western sanctions. Budgetary limitations slowed but did not halt progress on irrigation systems. In Masvingo Province, a total of US$2.36 million was allocated for construction of the Nuanetsi irrigation scheme and what was to be the nation's largest inland dam, at Tokwe-Mukorsi. The project was launched in 1997, but has since lagged behind schedule due to a shortage of foreign currency.Late payments to the Italian joint venture engaged in construction on the project led to a number of work stoppages, and the project's budget ballooned alarmingly with the passage of time. Consequently, this project, which was initially slated to be finished in 2002, can now be completed no earlier than 2006. Once the project is fully operational, it is estimated that Masvingo Province alone would yield an annual bounty of 2.1 million tons of maize, substantially exceeding current production levels for the entire nation. Eight other major dam construction projects currently underway have been similarly plagued by erratic funding and frequent work stoppages, as the government sought to juggle expenditures of its limited supply of foreign exchange among numerous competing needs.

The situation was no different in the fertilizer industry, where difficulties in maintaining production levels and distribution directly impacted on agricultural productivity. Despite a downturn in production, demand for fertilizer more than doubled as a result of land redistribution, and the industry responded by sharply increasing prices, putting its products beyond the reach of the least affluent farmers. The fertilizer industry blamed foreign exchange shortages for its inability to import sufficient quantities of necessary raw materials such as sulfur, ammonia, potash and chemicals, as well as spare parts necessary to keep its factories running at full capability.

Newly resettled farmers often had to cope with reallocated land that had lain unused and would require years to clear completely. Furthermore, by the time the deadline had passed for former commercial farm owners to vacate their farms, more than two thirds were refusing to do so and remained on the land. This led to major delays for new farmers who hoped to take up the land in time to plant for the next crop season, and the legal process further tied up many farms where commercial farmers filed court challenges. The legal system lagged badly in confirming transfers, and almost one year had passed, only seven percent of the allocated farms in Mashonaland East and five percent in Mashonaland West had been legally confirmed. The situation was not much better in the other provinces, and many resettled farmers could not take up the land because the farms had yet to be vacated. By mid-2003, slightly more than half of the farms in Mashonaland Central were still occupied by dispossessed commercial farmers. In Mashonaland East, a total of 349 farms remained in the hands of commercial farmers. Under such circumstances, there was little or nothing a newly settled farmer could do if he or she hoped to produce a crop for the season.

The multiplicity of organizations at various levels that managed the land reform process, including such tasks as identification of land, planning, demarcation of new plots, infrastructure development, selection of applicants and assistance to new farmers, inevitably led to unintended consequences. President Mugabe formed a land review committee to investigate and examine the land review process, identify its successes and failures, uncover abuses and recommend actions. The land review committee found that irregularities resulted mainly from "unwieldy" implementation of the program. "The welter of ministries, departments, parastatals (state-owned firms), committees, subcommittees, informal groups, task forces and related organs that somehow had a role to play in program execution," the committee reported, "made for a dispersed authority and decision-making arrangement." This in turn "opened the way for some individuals to exert influence on the process of program execution beyond what might have been possible under a more close-knit and centralized structure." The loose structure was a deliberate policy choice, intended to devolve decision-making down to the local level as much as possible on the belief that local leaders could best administer the program in their immediate areas. The drawback to that approach, unfortunately, was that it created opportunities for unscrupulous individuals and distortions by persons of influence. Land auditors found that in some cases, provincial and district officials had personally allocated land to favored individuals and failed to deliver notification letters to successful applicants. There were also instances where prominent local and national officials directly interfered in the selection process. Some provincial governors, district officials and chiefs bypassed the selection process to ensure through unofficial channels that they and favored individuals would receive land. Because there was no single authority responsible for the allocation of land, it was not unusual for authorities at different levels to assign the same plot of land to two or more individuals.

The land review committee identified individuals who had taken multiple farms. At the ceremony marking completion of the report, Mugabe vowed to "take full cognizance" of its findings and recommendations and to take "urgent action."ZANU-PF Chairman John Nkomo was tasked with implementing the recommendations of the land audit committee. Nkomo approached his job with serious determination and recovered more than 200,000 hectares in just a few months. President Mugabe made the anti-corruption drive a national priority, announcing on April 18, 2004, "In the drive to end corruption, no one will be too big or too small. The law is rough with criminals and we shall shed no tears for them." Mugabe made clear that corruption had hurt the nation's recovery."

The anti-corruption drive succeeded in netting a number of officials and businessmen who had been engaged in illegal financial dealings, and land was confiscated from those who had abused the land reform process. The campaign to eliminate corruption made truly impressive strides in a very short period of time, but Minister John Nkomo faced a barrage of disparagement as his crusade to clean up government succeeded in winning him powerful enemies. Vain attempts were made to discredit him by spreading the rumor that he was restoring land to white commercial farmers. Lashing back at self-interested officials who were doing their best to hinder and impede the anti-corruption campaign, Nkomo proclaimed, "I won't be intimidated, perturbed or frustrated by those causing all this hullabaloo. There are some people now abusing ZANU-PF for personal ambitions and gain. As chairman of ZANU-PF and, indeed, as minister, I will stand firm in defense of the party. ZANU-PF has come a long way and at different times it has had infiltrators and people planted within ­ the fifth columnists ­ but they have always been flushed out." Nkomo said he would not engage in mudslinging, and illegally seized farms would simply be confiscated. "Sooner or later ZANU-PF shall cleanse itself of these elements." Nkomo announced that "we have since moved to repossess some of this excess land. Those on the waiting list will be offered this land. There is a lot of resistance but I can assure you the process is going on." At the Fifth Session of the Fifth Parliament, President Mugabe promised that irregularities which "occurred in the process of land reform are now being attended to so they can get corrected. The Presidency is dealing with this matter and at the end of the exercise, some measure of justice and fairness will have been attained." Mugabe affirmed that his "Government will remain resolute in its efforts to eradicate the cancerous scourge of corruption in all its manifestations."

It was Zimbabwe's jettisoning of the structural adjustment program and its implementation of a non-market based land reform triggered U.S. and British hostility and the imposition of sanctions. The effect of sanctions was so harsh that the economy nearly collapsed in the difficult years of 2002-3. Measures have been taken to reverse the decline, and Zimbabwe has made remarkable strides. The road ahead remains difficult under the continued onslaught of Western sanctions and pressure and the unwelcome return of drought this year, which wiped out a major portion of the nation's crops.

Land reform in Zimbabwe was meant not only to redress the injustice of colonial theft, but also to reduce pervasive poverty and raise the standard of living for resettled farmers and contribute to the economic progress of the nation. Sylvestre Maunganidze, head of political affairs at the Zimbabwe Embassy in Georgia, said, "We realized that unless we maximized production we would not be able to survive the onslaught of the West. We are not a perfect people but we know that there is a group of people outside of Zimbabwe who would only be waiting to pounce on our mistakes but the only response we have for them is to ask them to come back in two years and they would see a transformed Zimbabwe. We thought we had good partners abroad and did not know that we were killing ourselves with this dependency. Now we are winning ourselves from dependency and we want to be independent both politically and economically." Zimbabwe, he said, will no longer be "an appendage of the industrial capitalist system."

It was precisely this independence which made Zimbabwe a target of Western hostility. U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Jendayi Frazer promised the U.S. would take a more active role in trying to effect regime change in Zimbabwe. To all appearances, the U.S. is preparing to ratchet up the pressure on Zimbabwe. In her confirmation hearings for Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice named Zimbabwe as one of the nations she termed "outposts of tyranny." Referring to Rice's statement, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Thomas Woods said that "helping to advance the president's call for greater freedom in the world is our core mission in Zimbabwe."On March 2, 2005, President Bush issued a message to Congress in which he stated that the situation in Zimbabwe "has not been resolved." The "actions and policies" of the government of Zimbabwe "pose a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States. For these reasons, I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency blocking the property of persons undermining democratic processes or institutions in Zimbabwe and to maintain in force the sanctions to respond to this threat." That tiny Zimbabwe posed a threat to the foreign policy of the powerful United States was a laughable assertion, but one which no one in the West questioned. It would be more truthful to point out that it was the U.S. that was threatening Zimbabwe.

Against all odds, Zimbabwe is winning. Despite Western sanctions, diplomatic and economic pressure and meddling in the nation's internal affairs, Zimbabwe is not only recovering but achieving impressive results. Land was given to those who needed it, the economy is rebounding, corruption is being rooted out, and the nation has earned a prominent place as a leader in the fight for justice. Zimbabwe has charted an independent course, determined to serve the needs of its people and not those of Western capital. In the face of unrelenting Western hostility, the transformation of Zimbabwe has set an inspiring example which those in the West who profess to care about justice and egalitarianism should be applauding rather than condemning.

Despite Western hostility, Zimbabwe remains resolute. "We have not sought to quarrel with any nation. We have no other ambition than to remain sovereign as we cooperate and respect the sovereignty of others," President Mugabe declared. "It cannot be the rule of law that is the matter, for here they massacred thousands as they colonized our country and pillaged our resources. We cannot be a nation worth its name if we succumb to and acquiesce in the sheer erosion of our sovereignty."The liberation of African peoples from the yoke of colonialism was an historic and impressive achievement, yet as long as the West continues to impose its imperatives on the continent, true independence has yet to be won. Africa must fight for its second liberation, the right to be master of its own fate, and in this struggle Zimbabwe is leading the way, a beacon of hope throughout the continent. "Through our land reform program," President Mugabe observed, "we have raised the banner of Africa's second struggle, the struggle for her economic emancipation. That is the core of the second African revolution, indeed, of the rebirth of Africa." Western leaders recognize the importance of this struggle, aware of its potential for sending the winds of change sweeping through Africa and perhaps beyond. It is fear of that prospect that is the source of the West's intractable hatred and scorn for President Mugabe and his nation's struggle for economic justice. For all of their talk of democracy, Western leaders recognize that this is in fact a struggle between the needs of African people and the avarice of capital. It is a struggle for the soul and future of Africa itself.

Gregory Elich writes on US Foreign Policy for the Centre for Research on Globalisation. He is the author of a forthcoming book entitled Strange Liberators: Militarism, Mayhem and the Pursuit of Profit.

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