Friday, January 25, 2013

(STICKY) (GUARDIAN UK) Britain's Mugabe-phobia has obscured the good news from Zimbabwe

COMMENT - This article refers to the newly published book,
Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land, by Joseph Hanlon, Jeannette Manjengwa, and Teresa Smart. A similar book was published on Zimbabwe's land reform and it's New Farmers, which is a collection of essays and articles, by Prof. Ian Scoones et al, Zimbabwe's Land Reform: Myths and Realities. This article is reproduced here at

Britain's Mugabe-phobia has obscured the good news from Zimbabwe
With elections looming the media will resume their old crisis lines, ignoring the positive results of the land occupations
Jonathan Steele, Wednesday 23 January 2013 19.30 GMT

Elections will be held in Zimbabwe later this year, leading with grim predictability to another bout of Mugabe-phobia in the British media. The trigger for the presidential and parliamentary poll was the deal struck last week between the 88-year-old president and the leader of the rival Movement for Democratic Change, the rime minister Morgan Tsvangirai, on a new constitution.

After months of wrangling the two men, who have been running the country in an uneasy coalition for the last four years, agreed on a text. It has not yet been published, so doubt remains on whether it reduces the president's power in favour of parliament, as the MDC wanted. But whatever it contains, the document will have to be put to a referendum.

Then follow elections, and there are already strong hints that they could again be marked by violence. Mugabe seems determined to stand once more, admitting he is vulnerable but saying he will fight like "a wounded beast". Meanwhile, a group of 58 civil organisations last week condemned what they called a "well-calculated and intensive" assault on human rights activists and journalists as voter registration gets under way.

As passions risk becoming inflamed again and the old battle positions resume in Britain's media as well as Zimbabwe's, the danger is that long-term trends get overlooked. Good news has just emerged from Britain's last former African colony that shows that the land occupations and evictions of white farmers by angry veterans of the liberation struggle that was the big Zimbabwe story of a decade ago did not destroy the country's agriculture, as so often claimed. Far from it, production is now back to the levels of the late 1990s and more land is under cultivation than was worked by white farmers.

The evidence is contained in Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land, a book based on several research studies in various parts of the country. The authors look at Zimbabwe's first land reform right after independence in 1980, which was not so fiercely contested, as well as the changes sparked by the veterans' occupations in the late 1990s, which Mugabe's Zanu-PF party originally ignored but later took over and turned into a political weapon.

The authors criticise Mugabe's economic mismanagement, which led to hyperinflation between 2005 and 2008.

[Actually it didn't. I am sure that the authors are unaware of the existence of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001, S.494 of the 107th US Congress, because media like The Guardian, BBC, CNN and other corporate owned media do not report on the economic sanctions that have been in place against Zimbabwe for the last decade. ZDERA destroyed the Zimbabwe Dollar, by severing the Zimbabwean government's access to lines of credit from the global financial system. This left the government with no recourse other than the national currency, over which they did have control, and printed money to save foreign currency. This was the intent of ZDERA, because the Rhodesian elements in the MDC knew the importance of financing in establishing Rhodesian agriculture, which was the monopoly of whites.

To cite the relevant portions of ZDERA, specifically Section 4C:


(c) MULTILATERAL FINANCING RESTRICTION- ... the Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States executive director to each international financial institution to oppose and vote against--

(1) any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the Government of Zimbabwe; or
(2) any cancellation or reduction of indebtedness owed by the Government of Zimbabwe to the United States or any international financial institution.

This bill came into force on Jan. 1st 2002. Predictably, this freeze out of the international financial system had a terrible effect on the Zimbabwe Dollar, which can be seen from for instance the Zimbabwe Dollar/US Dollar chart, courtesy of the anti-Mugabe Economist Intelligence Unit. See chart here.

The attempt was consciously and knowingly made to 'take down Zimbabwe' and 'blame Mugabe' or more generically 'Mismanagement By Mugabe' (TM). Clearly, this is a highly unspecific political slogan, and yet breathlessly repeated by the BBC, CNN, etc., tapping into the well established racist conceit that as soon as Africans do something, it must 'somehow' fail. What is this 'mismanagement by Mugabe', again? Because clearly, it was not the land reform process itself which collapsed the Zimbabwe Dollar in 1999, 2000 or 2001, during the so-called 'farm invasions'. Here are the 2002 effects on tobacco exports and the trade surplus - notice the dramatic change in the year 2002, and not before:

Tobacco Exports:
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
548.8 594.1 434.6 321.3 226.7 203.8

Trade Deficit in million US$
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
-295.6 -322.5 18.2 108.3 305.2 387.9 231.3

The negative trade deficit numbers are a trade surplus. Notice that the trade surplus was growing during 2000 and 2001, uninhibited by the 'farm invasions'. It is only in the year that ZDERA came into force, that we see a rising trade surplus turn into a trade deficit - that is ZDERA, not the farm invasions.

Source: Special Report, FAO/WFP Crop And Food Supply Assessment Mission To Zimbabwe, 5 June 2007
Table 1: Zimbabwe - Key economic indicators, 2000–2007

- MrK]

It was not the land reform that caused hyperinflation, but bad economic decisions. They say the introduction of the US dollar by the unity government four years ago brought a quicker economic recovery and hence greater benefits for farm producers than anyone expected.

They have the courage to criticise Amnesty International for exaggerating the plight of farm workers who were forced off formerly "white" land taken over by Africans, and say that by 2011 the number of people working on resettlement land had increased more than fivefold, from 167,000 to over a million.

They have a go at a prominent BBC report which, they say, fell for the myth of a cornucopia when white people ran most of commercial agriculture and a "black disaster" thereafter. White farmers never used all the land they had taken. In the years just before minority rule collapsed, in spite of generous government subsidies, 30% of white farmers were insolvent and another 30% only broke even. Some 66% of arable land was lying fallow.

After the occupations in 2000, although some new African farmers reverted to subsistence agriculture, a growing number have been moving into commercial farming and there has even been a healthy return to the land by urban black people. In part this is because land is still highly prized in Zimbabwe and the desire to recover it was so crucial an element, ideologically and emotionally, in the struggle against white settlement.

Indeed, the authors start their book with an arch reminder of an earlier generation of war veterans who evicted farmers and burnt their houses. They included the former Rhodesian white minority leader Ian Smith and other champions of white minority rule who got their economic start in life in 1945 by defining African farmers as squatters and throwing them – without compensation – off land that the foreign settlers' government designated as the exclusive preserve of white people.

"Regaining the land was central to the independence struggle in a way that was never the case in Mozambique and South Africa … Mozambique's urbanised elite simply do not think of farming," they write.

[That is because in Mozambique, the leaving settlers destroyed everything of value. They also nearly immediately were faced with a South African and CIA sponsored rebel movement called RENAMO. In South Africa, there has not yet been an effective land reform program put into place, 18 years after the ANC came into power. Part of the hostility to effective land reform in Zimbabwe was the prospect of similar land reform in South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Botswana and other countries. - MrK]

In spite of the progress of recent years the book argues that Zimbabwean farming still faces major challenges of investment shortages and training. It takes a generation for farmers to master their land and 10 years is too short a period to judge the complete success of the occupations.

But the record is far better than the outside world gives credit for. While Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land focuses on a specific controversy, its challenge to conventional wisdom and stereotyping offers wider lessons. It is a reminder that crisis coverage, even when accurate, is only a part of what the media should be about. Follow-ups and reports on long-term trends are equally needed.

• Jonathan Steele covered Zimbabwe's elections in 2000 for the Guardian
[Read more about the sanctions that are in place against Zimbabwe here and this review of a hatchet job of an interview by Christiane Amanpour with President Mugabe on CNN. - MrK]

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