Zimbabwe Under Siege

by Gregory Elich

August 26, 2002


     As Zimbabwe descends into anarchy and chaos, land is irrationally seized from productive farmers, we are told. President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is portrayed as a dictator bent on driving his nation into starvation and economic disaster while benevolent U.S. and British leaders call for democracy and human rights. These are the images presented by Western news reports, intended to persuade the public to support an interventionist policy. As always when the West targets a foreign leader for removal, news reports ignore complexity and context, while the real motivations for intervention remain hidden. Concern for democracy and human rights is selective and it is always the nation that displays too much independence that evokes concern, even in cases of a functioning multiparty system and wide ranging media. On the other hand, no one calls for democracy and human rights in oppressive nations as long as the political environment is conducive to Western investment. Saudi Arabia, for example, holds no elections and imposes an abusive oppression on the lives of its women. The pattern is consistent. Any nation that embarks on a path diverging from Western corporate interests and places the needs of its people over the demands of Western capital finds itself the target of destabilization, sanctions and intervention. History and context are essential for understanding political events, and it is precisely these aspects that are lacking in Western news reports.

The Legacy of Colonialism and Land Reform

     In 1888, representatives from Cecil Rhodes' British South Africa Company induced Lobengula, king of the Ndebele people, to sign an agreement allowing the company to mine gold. This agreement granted the company "the complete and exclusive charge over all metals and minerals" in the region, as well as "full power to do all things that they may deem necessary to win and procure the same," which the company was to interpret as permission to seize land. Unable to read the document he had signed, a dismayed King Lobengula sent a protest letter to Queen Victoria in which he objected that he was deliberately misled by British negotiators. "A document was written and presented to me for signature. I asked what it contained, and was told that in it were my words and the words of those men. I put my hand to it. About three months afterwards I heard from other sources that I had given by that document the right to all minerals of my country." Lobengula declared that he would "not recognize the paper, as it contains neither my words nor the words of those who got it." The unsympathetic response from the Queen's Advisor to Lobengula was that it was "impossible to exclude white men." (1)

     It soon became apparent to the British South Africa Company that little gold was to be had and the company's outpost in Mashonaland found itself in financial straits. Land seemed a more promising venture, and in October 1893 British troops and volunteers crossed into King Lobengula's core territory of Matabeleland. The entire region rapidly fell into their hands as they inflicted heavy casualties on the Ndebele. Under terms of the resulting Victoria Agreement, each volunteer was entitled to 6,000 acres of land. Rather than an organized division of land, there was instead a mad race to grab the best land, and within a year 10,000 square miles of the most fertile land had been seized from its inhabitants. White settlers confiscated most of the Ndebele's cattle in the process, a devastating loss to a cattle-ranching society such as the Ndebele. The large tracts of land now run by relatively few white settlers required workers, and the Ndebele became forced laborers on the land they once owned, essentially treated as slaves. The Shona also saw their cattle confiscated by white settlers, and were driven into poverty through the imposition of onerous taxes by the new British rulers. (2) The inevitable uprising by the dispossessed Ndebele and Shona in 1896 was finally crushed over one year later by the British at the cost of 8,000 African lives. The region was established as a new colony in the British realm and named Rhodesia in honor of Cecil Rhodes.

     Passage of the Native Reserves Order in 1899 created reserves on the most arid land, on which the indigenous inhabitants were to be herded. By 1905, nearly half of the indigenous population was confined to reserves. From 1930 onwards, Africans were not allowed to own land outside of the barren reserves. During the twenty-year period beginning in 1935, the Rhodesian regime forced an additional 67,000 African families from their homes and transported them to the reserves. As the Africans were beaten and herded into trucks at gunpoint, their homes were levelled by bulldozers. The reserves soon became overcrowded with people and cattle, and the colonial government decreed in 1944 that 49 of the reserves were overstocked. During the next thirty-some years, well over one million cattle in the reserves were either killed or confiscated for use by white settlers. As the long liberation struggle grew, Rhodesian Security Forces became increasingly repressive, executing civilians, burning villages and crops and shooting cattle. (3)

     When it was clear that the apartheid Rhodesian government could not long remain in power, the Lancaster House Conference was convened in 1979. Land was the core issue for the liberation struggle, and British and American negotiators ensured that independence would not be granted without the imposition of certain conditions. One provision stipulated that for a period of 10 years, land ownership in Zimbabwe could only be transferred on a "willing seller, willing buyer" basis, which effectively limited the extent of land reform. Whites were also allotted a parliamentary quota of 20 seats, far exceeding their actual percentage of the population.

     Passage of the Land Acquisition Act in 1992 finally permitted a more flexible approach to land reform, but progress continued to be constrained by outside pressure. Despite real progress, by the time the latest round of land reform was launched, 70 percent of the richest and most productive land still remained in the hands of a mere 4,500 white commercial farm owners. Meanwhile, six million African peasants eke out a precarious existence on small farms averaging 3 hectares [1 hectare = 2.47 acres] in the "communal areas," formerly native reserves. Due to the historically imposed overcrowding in the communal areas, the already barren land was further depleted by deforestation and over-grazing. (4) Over one million landless blacks were engaged as hired labor on white commercial farms, condemned to work for low wages on the land their ancestors once owned. (5) Agriculture is the most significant sector of Zimbabwe's economy. Western news reports encourage the view that land reform is harming economic performance, implying that efficient farming is best left in the hands of 4,500 wealthy white farmers, while ignoring the millions of blacks barely able to survive. The unspoken assumption is that only white farmers are capable of efficiency. The concern expressed in the West for "efficiency" is in reality a mask for the preservation of white privilege. Temporary economic dislocation is an unavoidable byproduct of land reform, but genuine and lasting progress can only be achieved through land redistribution. In the West, the gross imbalance imposed by colonial theft is accepted as the natural order in Zimbabwe, with the indigenous population lacking any claim to the land. Fast track land reform is intended to rectify historical injustices and to ensure a more equitable division of the land.

When Zimbabwe had a Model Economy

     There was a time when the management of the economy in Zimbabwe was highly regarded in Western circles. Throughout its first decade of independence, Zimbabwe's economy grew at an average of 4 percent per year, and substantial gains were made in education and health. Zimbabwe was handling its finances well, and between 1985 and 1989 had cut its debt-service ratio in half. (6) However, the demise of socialism in Europe resulted in an inhospitable environment for nations charting an independent course, and Zimbabwe felt compelled by Western demands to liberalize its economy. In January 1991, Zimbabwe adopted its Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP), designed primarily by the World Bank. The program called for the usual prescription of actions advocated by Western financial institutions, including privatization, deregulation, a reduction of government expenditures on social needs, and deficit cutting. User fees were instituted for health and education, and food subsidies were eliminated. Measures protecting local industry from foreign competition were also withdrawn.

     The impact was immediate. While pleasing for Western investors, the result was a disaster for the people of Zimbabwe. According to one study, the poorest households in Harare saw their income drop over 12 percent in the year from 1991 to 1992 alone, while real wages in the country plunged by a third over the life of the program. Falling income levels forced people to spend a greater percentage of their income on food, and second-hand clothes were imported to compensate for the inability of most of Zimbabwe's citizens to purchase new clothing. A 1994 survey in Harare found that 90 percent of those interviewed felt that ESAP had adversely affected their lives. The rise in food prices was seen as a major problem by 64 percent of respondents, while many indicated that they were forced to reduce their food intake. ESAP resulted in mass layoffs and crippled the job market so that many were unable to find any employment at all. In the communal areas, the rise in fertilizer prices meant that subsistence farmers were no longer able to fertilize their land, resulting in lower yields. ESAP also mandated the elimination of price controls, allowing those shop owners in communal area who were free of competition to mark prices up dramatically. In 1995, the IMF cut funding to the program when it felt that Zimbabwe wasn't cutting its budget and laying off civil service employees fast enough. Furthermore, the IMF complained, the pace of privatization wasn't rapid enough. But implementation of ESAP was quite fast enough for the people of Zimbabwe. By 1995, over one third of Zimbabwe's citizens could not afford a basic food basket, shelter and clothing. From 1991 to 1995, Zimbabwe experienced a sharp deindustrialization, as manufacturing output fell 40 percent. (7) According to an economic writer from the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), "There is a general consensus among the people of Zimbabwe that ESAP has driven many families into poverty. The program only benefited a privileged minority at the expense of the underprivileged majority." (8) As intended by Western financial institutions, one could argue.

Ditching ESAP

     The government of Zimbabwe felt it could no longer endure this debacle, and by the end of the 1990's, started moving away from the neoliberal program. Finally, in October 2001, the abandonment of ESAP was officially announced. "Enough is enough," declared President Mugabe. "ESAP is no more." A press release issued by the governing ZANU-PF declared, "The termination of ESAP brings to an end the era of control of our economy by the IMF and the World Bank. While we must continue to work with these organizations on agreed projects, they will no longer dictate the direction of policy and the country." Price controls were implemented for basic commodities that soaring prices had made all but unattainable for many poor Zimbabweans, including bread, maize meal, flour, sugar, cooking oil, beef, chicken, pork, milk, soap and generic drugs. To counter the threat of companies closing in protest against price controls, President Mugabe announced, "The State will take over any businesses that are closed. We will reorganize them with workers, and at last that socialism we wanted can start again." Mugabe dismissed claims that government should not interfere with the market as "absolute nonsense," and stated that the nearly hourly price increases for goods and commodities had been unjustified. (9) The 1997 launch of a new phase in the land reform program, in which 1,471 farms were listed for compulsory purchase, triggered British intervention in Zimbabwe. The jettisoning of ESAP four years later, coupled with the statement that sectors of the economy would be placed on a socialist path, only increased the sense of outrage among Western leaders.

     The establishment of a new opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), in September 1999, found instant support from Western leaders. Significant funding from Western sources enabled the party to rapidly grow to the point where it won 57 out of 120 seats in the June 24-25 2000 parliamentary election, less than one year after its creation. Ostensibly based in the labor movement, the program of MDC reads like a call for a return to ESAP. A policy paper issued by the party spelled out its plans for privatization. Upon taking power, the party plans to appoint a "fund manager to dispose of government-owned shares in publicly quoted companies." The boards of all public enterprises would be "reconstituted," and the new boards would be "required to privatize their enterprises within specified timetables...with an overall target of privatizing all designated parastatals [public companies] within two years." The interests of Western capital would not be ignored. "In areas where a high level of technical skill is required, foreign strategic investors will be encouraged to bid for a majority stake in the enterprises being privatized." A primary principle of the program would be that "all sales of major state assets will be conducted through open, international [that is, Western], competitive bidding." In order to counter opposition from workers made redundant, the National Privatization and Procurement Agency would be instructed to "carry out public awareness campaigns regarding the privatization program in order to generate public awareness and support for the exercise." Implementation of its program, the MDC feels, will mean "that foreign direct investment will take place on a substantial scale." (10) As a further incentive for Western investors, the MDC plans to review income and corporate tax levels "for regional competitiveness." (11)

     The MDC appointed an official of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, Eddie Cross, as its Secretary of Economic Affairs. In a speech delivered shortly after his appointment, Cross articulated the MDC economic plan. "First of all, we believe in the free market. We do not support price control. We do not support government interfering in the way people manage their lives. We are in favor of reduced levels of taxation. We are going to fast track privatization. All fifty government parastatals will be privatized within a two-year frame, but we are going far beyond that. We are going to privatize many of the functions of government. We are going to privatize the Central Statistics Office. We are going to privatize virtually the entire school delivery system. And you know, we have looked at the numbers and we think we can get government employment down from about 300,000 at the present time to about 75,000 in five years." (12)

     A press release issued by ZANU-PF presents a contrasting vision for Zimbabwe. "For ZANU-PF, the central question was and still is who benefits from the management of the economy? The answer is simple; it must be the broad masses of our people. That is where we differ with the MDC and with other parties. They want to benefit the employers and the capitalists. We say no, no, no." (13)

Western Response

     As Zimbabwe moved away from the neoliberal path dictated by Western financial institutions, Western hostility grew. On September 24, 2001, the IMF "declared Zimbabwe ineligible to use the general resources of the IMF, and removed Zimbabwe from the list of countries eligible to borrow resources under the Poverty and Growth Facility." The stated motivation for the cutoff was that Zimbabwe had fallen $53 million in arrears on payments. Rather than work with Zimbabwe, as the IMF had elsewhere in similar circumstances, the IMF "urged the Zimbabwean authorities to adopt the economic and financial policies needed to enable Zimbabwe to achieve economic recovery as soon as possible." In other words, the IMF felt nervous at indications that ZANU-PF was abandoning ESAP, and was demanding a return to the neoliberal agenda. The IMF added that it "stood ready to cooperate with the authorities in support of efforts to adopt and implement a comprehensive economic recovery program." (14)

     Three months later, on December 14, the IMF issued a statement regarding recent consultations with authorities in Zimbabwe. The IMF characterized Zimbabwe's efforts to reverse the ESAP-induced economic plunge as "deterioration," and worried that Zimbabwe's "inappropriate economic policies" had "undermined investor confidence." During consultations in Zimbabwe, IMF officials had advocated "significant changes in the government's economic policies," and "underscored the importance of sustained structural reforms aimed at liberalizing the economy." (15)

     IMF policy was only one component in a broad-based Western effort to discipline Zimbabwe and force it to return to a neoliberal economic model in which the interests of Western capital would have primacy over the needs of its people. On December 21, 2001, President George W. Bush signed into law S. 494, the "Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001." The law instructed American officials in international financial institutions to "oppose and vote against any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the government of Zimbabwe," and to vote against any reduction or cancellation of "indebtedness owed by the government of Zimbabwe." The law also authorized President Bush to fund "an independent and free press and electronic media in Zimbabwe," referring to media opposed to the government of Zimbabwe. Six million dollars were granted for aid to "democracy and governance programs," a euphemism for groups seeking to topple the government. (16) The bill was sponsored by Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, who had been a supporter of Ian Smith's apartheid Rhodesia. After the bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 396-11, an African diplomat in Washington remarked, "The passing of the Bill is a triumph of right wing people who have always been against Zimbabwe and do not understand the land issue but would want to safeguard the imperial rights of Britain." (17)

     Zimbabwe's path ran counter to Western efforts to integrate the economies of sub-Saharan Africa in the interests of Western capital. The African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), designed to primarily benefit U.S. textile producers wanting to take advantage of cheap labor in Africa, offered the prospect of expanded trade with African countries the President designates as establishing "market-based economies" and "elimination of barriers to U.S. trade and investment." At the first meeting of the AGOA Forum on October 29, 2001, President Bush announced the "creation of a $200 million Overseas Private Investment Corporation support facility that will give American firms access to loans, guarantees and political risk insurance for investment projects in sub-Saharan Africa." In addition, Bush announced the establishment of a "regional office in Johannesburg, to provide guidance to governments and companies which seek to liberalize their trade laws" and to "improve the investment environment" for U.S. corporations. (18)

     In the period leading up to the March 2002 elections, Western leaders attempted to tighten the screws on Zimbabwe, hoping to affect the outcome. Already a sort of de facto sanctions regime was in place, in that Western officials were actively discouraging trade with Zimbabwe, while overheated news reports painted a picture of instability and unreliability, which also tended to deter trade. In November 2001, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw revealed that during the past few months he had been "building coalitions" against Zimbabwe. (19)

     As the Extraordinary Summit of the South African Development Community (SADC) opened in Blantyre, Malawi on January 14, 2002, Great Britain threatened to withhold $18 million in budgetary support from Malawi, the chair of the SADC, unless it agreed to direct the SADC towards the imposition of sanctions against Zimbabwe. This was a significant portion of Malawi's budget. Some sources also indicate that Great Britain held the threat of withholding aid for Malawi's food crisis. Similar threats to withdraw budgetary support were wielded against Mozambique. (20) At the summit, President Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania announced that British Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Baroness Amos telephoned him directly and urged him not to support Zimbabwe at the SADC and at the upcoming meeting of the Commonwealth. When that call failed, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw then telephoned and attempted to bully him. (21)

     Emotions were running high in Zimbabwe itself, as the fate of the nation rested on the outcome of the election. Supporters of both ZANU-PF and the MDC engaged in violent acts against each other, including a few cases of murder. (22) Complaints from both Zimbabwe and the SADC concerning hostile Western intervention in the political process in Zimbabwe were sent to the European Union. Under Article 98 of the Cotonou Agreement, disputes between the European Union and African Pacific Caribbean (ACP) countries must be taken to the joint EU-ACP Council of Ministers for resolution or arbitration proceedings. Zimbabwe's invocation of Article 98 was simply ignored by the European Union, prompting President Bakili Muluzi of Malawi to write to the EU on behalf of the SADC. Muluzi complained that Zimbabwe's "legitimate concerns had received neither a response nor an acknowledgment from the EU," and that the EU had instead threatened to impose sanctions against Zimbabwe. (23) Zimbabwe remained steadfast and President Mugabe declared, "We will resist the sanctions. We cannot bow to them. I know Tony Blair and the British are waging war against me and my government. I will fight against their colonialistic attitude without giving up." (24) Mugabe's firm resolve disappointed British officials, who hoped to make him grovel, and on February 18, 2002, the European Union's foreign ministers voted unanimously to impose sanctions against Zimbabwe. Under terms of the sanctions, The European Union suspended budgetary support to Zimbabwe and terminated "financial support for all projects" except "those in direct support of the population." All financial aid would be "reoriented in support of the population, in particular in the social sectors, democratization, respect for human rights and the rule of law," by which the EU meant that financial support would be funnelled to groups seeking to overthrow the government of Zimbabwe. (25) Additionally, a visa ban was imposed on 20 Zimbabwean government officials and their spouses, forbidding travel within the European Union, and overseas assets held by the targeted officials were frozen.(26) Zimbabwe Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, among those listed in the EU's sanctions, sharply criticized the EU. "It is very clear that what we are now dealing with is organized economic terrorism whose aim is clear and is to unseat a legitimately elected government which has decided to defend its national independence and national sovereignty." (27)

     Four days after the EU imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe the United States followed suit, expanding the list of targeted individuals to include not only Zimbabwean government officials, but prominent businessmen as well. The Bush Administration even added church leaders to the sanctions list, including Anglican Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, who had merely praised President Mugabe. (28)

     Despite intense pressure from Great Britain, African leaders at the March 2002 Commonwealth meeting rejected the demand for sanctions against Zimbabwe. President Mkapa of Tanzania revealed that members of the Commonwealth had endured a "bombardment for an alliance against Mugabe." (29) British Prime Minister Tony Blair petulantly insisted, "There can be no question of Mugabe being allowed to stay in power with a rigged election," considering any result other than a win by the MDC as "rigged." In response to the British propensity for constantly lecturing its former colony on "democracy," President Mugabe pointed out, "There is no one who can teach us about elections. There is no one who can teach us about democracy and human rights. There was no democracy here, no human rights at all until the people of Zimbabwe decided to fight." (30)

     After the polls closed at the end of the March 9-10, 2002 election in Zimbabwe, there were still people in Harare who had not yet voted, so voting was extended for a third day to accommodate them. The MDC's base of support is largely urban and ZANU-PF's rural, thus the extension of the voting period benefited the MDC. Although the election law was bent in favor of the urban vote, President Mugabe won the presidential election by a convincing margin of over 400,000 votes. Predictably, Western leaders cried "foul," outraged that the millions they had poured into the MDC's campaign failed to pay off. While President Bush was saying, "We do not recognize the outcome of the election," the South African Observer Team, which monitored the election, concluded that the "elections should be considered legitimate." Namibia announced that its observers judged the election "watertight, without room for rigging," while Nigerian observers claimed that they had not witnessed anything that would affect the integrity of the vote. Similarly, an observer from the Organization for African Unity characterized the election as "transparent, credible, free and fair." The first-hand reports by observers were simply dismissed out of hand, as U.S. and British officials loudly accused President Mugabe of fraud, motivated by their desire to use the accusation as ammunition on their continuing campaign against Zimbabwe. (31) Great Britain wasted no time in acting. A three-member panel representing Australia, Nigeria and South Africa decided to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth for a period of one year. The vote came as a startling surprise, given the assessment of the South African Observer Team. Behind the scenes, Tony Blair had subjected South African President Thabo Mbeki to intense pressure, threatening to kill plans for the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) if Mbeki did not vote as instructed. Mbeki harbored great hopes that NEPAD would become the engine of African development, and could not bear to see his dream shattered. Tony Blair, aware of his sentiments, extorted Mbeki's compliance, telling him that NEPAD would be "dead in the water," unless he voted against Zimbabwe. (32)

     If British diplomatic behavior appeared overweening, it was not unconsciously so. Shortly after Tony Blair's hijacking of the March Commonwealth meeting, an essay was published by his foreign affairs advisor, Robert Cooper, calling for a new imperialism. "The challenge of the postmodern world is to get used to the idea of double standards," wrote Cooper. "Among ourselves," by which he meant the West, "we operate on the basis of laws and open cooperative security. But when dealing with more old-fashioned kinds of states outside the postmodern continent of Europe, we need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era -- force, preemptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary to deal with those who still live in the nineteenth century world of every state for itself. Among ourselves, we keep the law but when we are operating in the jungle, we must also use the laws of the jungle." Rather than charting a new course, Cooper's bluntly stated paper merely provided the ideological underpinning for Western policy as it is actually practiced. The citizens of Iraq, Yugoslavia, Cuba, Zimbabwe and others who attempted to defend their sovereignty against the imperial onslaught would no doubt feel that it is Cooper who is living in the nineteenth century. "[T]he opportunities, perhaps even the need for colonization is as great as it ever was in the nineteenth century," suggests Cooper. "What is needed then is a new kind of imperialism, one acceptable to a world of human rights and cosmopolitan values." Only the haughtiest imperial mind could claim "human rights and cosmopolitan values" only for the West and "force, preemptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary" for subject peoples in the Third World and Eastern Europe. (33)

     Reports from Zimbabwe claim that the British government was involved in planning a mass action to force President Mugabe from office, following the scenario that was implemented against former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The British High Commissioner to Zimbabwe, Brian Donnelly, was said to be instrumental in formulating the plan, and it should be noted that he had been the ambassador to Yugoslavia for two years and undoubtedly played a role in Western covert operations there. (34) It is highly probable that he was selected to the position in Zimbabwe entirely because of the experience he gained in undermining the Yugoslav government. Local security forces uncovered attempts by members of the MDC to smuggle weapons into Zimbabwe at three border crossings in preparation for a plan to stage incidents. Communications with an armed MDC group calling itself Mumvuri waDavid Coltart were intercepted by government security forces and revealed that the group was planning to murder MDC officials and members of the MDC youth organization in order to create disorder and affix blame on the ruling ZANU-PF. Other armed MDC groups were believed to be planning to assassinate ZANU-PF district leaders. White activists close to large landowners and former members of the Rhodesian security forces were said to be tasked with coordinating the murders, and they were supplied with mobile communication stations by the British. (35) The plans never came to fruition, though, as the MDC was forced to back down in the face of a show of force by the police and National Guard.

     There is always more than one arrow in the Western quiver, and when the mass uprising failed to materialize, moves were made to exert increased economic pressure and to broaden sanctions against Zimbabwe. On June 13, 2002, the IMF issued a declaration of non-cooperation and announced that it was suspending "the provision of technical assistance" to Zimbabwe and "urged the Zimbabwean authorities to adopt an economic adjustment program." Once again, the IMF was urging Zimbabwe to revive ESAP. As usual, the IMF was all too eager to offer "to assist the authorities in designing the necessary policy measures." (36) The following month, the European Union announced that it was adding the names of a further 52 Zimbabwean officials who would be banned from travel in the EU, and whose assets abroad would be frozen, or in effect, seized. The wanton nature of the list can be gauged by its inclusion of such persons as the Health and Child Welfare Minister; the Education, Sports and Culture Minister; the Secretary for Gender and Culture; the Deputy-Secretary for Disabled and Disadvantaged; and others who had little if any influence on economic policy in Zimbabwe. (37)

     Meanwhile, de facto sanctions continued to press Zimbabwe, as foreign trade continued to slump. Rapidly dwindling foreign currency reserves severely restricted the import of fuel, causing manufacturing and mining operations to go into a tailspin. (38) Zimbabwe, which has no natural gas or oil reserves, must rely entirely on imported fuel supplies, leaving it vulnerable to economic pressure. At the end of June 2002, the black-market exchange rate for the Zimbabwe dollar went into free fall. (39) Zimbabwe Financial Holdings Limited, a commercial bank, reported that the nation's entire foreign currency supply was sufficient to cover only three days of imports, and that "shortages have worsened in the past few weeks." The IMF's declaration of non-cooperation was expected to discourage lending by other financial institutions, resulting in a further squeezing of Zimbabwe's economy. (40) Due to the evaporation of foreign trade and the denial of credit, unemployment in Zimbabwe has soared to 70 percent while three fourths of the population is classified as poor. Finance Minister Simba Makoni reports that since 2000, one third of the jobs in Zimbabwe have vanished. "Workers are living from hand to mouth," says Lucia Matibenga, vice president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. "Business people are struggling in a collapsing economy and employees can't survive with the current high prices." (41)

     By the end of June, there was a wave of panicked withdrawals from foreign currency accounts at banks, further depleting reserves. (42) In an effort to raise foreign currency for the purchase of food to feed its people, Zimbabwe was compelled to seek money in the black market, which exacerbated its economic difficulties. A Zimbabwean economic analyst pointed out, "The recent decline of the Zimbabwean dollar and the massive escalation of the black market has been necessitated by the government which is sourcing forex (foreign exchange) on the black market. It has sourced over US$55 million for the Grain Marketing Board to import maize over the last three weeks." (43)

     On July 30, 2002, Daniel Maviva, management services officer at the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority, reported that sanctions had caused the firm to lose $18 million. The elimination of foreign funding by the World Bank, the European Investment Bank and other institutions had dealt a crippling blow, forcing the firm to use its "own resources due to the withdrawal of those financiers under targeted sanctions." (44) As sanctions continue to tighten the noose around Zimbabwe, electrical power blackouts may become a frequent occurrence.

A Plague of NGOs

     British and American foreign policy has increasingly come to rely on the use of proxy organizations to carry out specific tasks involved in destabilizing other nations. The use of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) was a very effective tool in the campaign to overthrow the government of Yugoslavia, and much is expected from NGO operations in Zimbabwe. Although NGOs may appear to be independent organizations operating outside of government, many receive the bulk of their funding from Western governments, shape their policy in consultation with Western officials, and act in every way to further Western interests. As they work to undermine and destabilize nations and to further Western corporate interests, they cover their hostile actions with nice-sounding phrases such as "human rights" and "civil society." It is a perfect arrangement. For U.S. and British leaders, it allows them to engage in illegal and hostile actions against another nation while assuming a pose of innocence. Zimbabwe is cursed with a plague of NGOs, all operating with the self-righteous sense of mission that they have the right to meddle in the affairs of a Third World nation and with the colonial attitude that they should dictate how others are to think and live.

     One of the more active NGOs in Zimbabwe is the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), which defines its purpose as providing "assistance in building and strengthening pluralist democratic institutions overseas." As always, terms such as "pluralist" and "democratic" actually signify parties and organizations that are willing to take orders from Western leaders and give primacy to Western corporate interests. The Westminster Foundation currently receives around $6 million from the British government, and is also tasked with "selected extra-budgetary technical assistance projects," so the true scale of government funding is much higher. The WFD may be the most perfect example of an NGO that is a government operation in every way except name. Sitting on its Board of Governors are representatives from each of the three major British political parties, along with representatives of business and other sectors of the society. Staffed and funded by the British government, it is no surprise that its policy happens to coincide with that of the British government. WFD has been involved in over 80 projects aiding the MDC, and helped plan election strategy. It also provides funding to the party's youth and women's groups. (45) The Foundation considers "the development of political parties as one of the key areas for our support and assistance," (46) and in 2000 it provided the MDC with $10 million. (47) No figures are available since then, but the flow of money has continued unabated, and some ZANU-PF officials indicate that the MDC had received at least $30 million by the beginning of 2002. (48) According to analysts, the majority of the MDC's funding originates from abroad. (49) Passage of the Political Parties (Finance) Act in Zimbabwe in 2001 made it illegal for political parties to receive financing from abroad, thus requiring the MDC to be more circumspect about the extent of its financial support from Western sources. The need for such legislation was urgent, as the influx of Western money was grossly distorting the political process. The effect, however, was merely to drive such contributions into the shadows.

     The Westminster Foundation works closely with the major British political parties to assist in efforts to "strengthen individual political parties or movements with which they have a political affinity," and also provides training and consultation to parties such as the MDC. In all, the WFD spends fifty percent of its "project budget towards work which assists individual parties abroad," and the money is channelled through British political parties who then see to it that it ends up in the hands of its intended recipients. Propaganda is an important aspect of any destabilization campaign, and the WFD gives "direct support for media organizations" abroad. This support can include funding "production costs including equipment, training, expansion of circulation, radio and TV coverage," as well as a range of other activities. (50) The Foreign Minister of Zimbabwe, Stan Mudenge, claims to have "documentary evidence" that the WFD not only bankrolls the MDC, but also opposition media as well. (51) British and American leaders would never countenance a foreign power attempting to buy their elections or funding hostile media within their countries, yet they arrogate to themselves the right to engage in such activities against others.

     Another so-called NGO active in Zimbabwe is the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust (ZDT), which claims to "advance the cause of freedom and democracy." Sponsored by prominent Western politicians and businessmen, the ZDT hopes that with a change in government, Zimbabwe will become "a magnet for investment." Western investment, of course. The patrons of the ZDT include former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker, architect of the "Constructive Engagement" policy with apartheid South Africa during the 1980s. (52) Crocker has very specific financial interests in seeing Zimbabwe move to a more business-friendly environment, occupying a seat on the board of directors of the Ashanti Goldfields Company. Ashanti Goldfields owns seven producing gold mines located in four African countries, including Zimbabwe. The company brags that it is "managed predominantly by Africans," yet 9 of its 13 board members are either American or British. (53) Three former British foreign secretaries are listed as patrons of the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust: Sir Malcom Rifkind, Lord Douglas Hurd and Lord Geoffrey Howe. (54) The primary mover in the organization is reputed to be Sir John Collins, the Zimbabwean chairman of National Power, the largest British energy company which happens to have sizable investments in Zimbabwe. Rifkind is involved with an Australian company which owns a mine in Zimbabwe. Political analyst John Makumbe, a supporter of the MDC, admits, "It is largely white Rhodesians who are backing the trust." (55) To put it plainly, the ZDT receives much of its support from former officials and supporters of Ian Smith's apartheid Rhodesia.

     The Southern African Media Development Fund (SAMDEF) focuses its attention on supporting "independent private media enterprises." In Zimbabwe, SAMDEF directs its aid, predictably enough, to opposition media. Among its projects was issuing a loan to the publisher of the opposition Mirror. The loan was "primarily aimed at making the newspaper competitive and improving its market share." When financial difficulties brought Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, publishers of the major opposition newspaper Daily News, to the point of bankruptcy, SAMDEF stepped in and loaned the publishers $526,000, enabling it to stay afloat. The publisher proved recalcitrant in repaying its loan, however, and this failure was only recently resolved in court. It remains to be seen whether the loan will ultimately be repaid or turn out to be a gift. (56) The total budget of SAMDEF's financial assistance fund stands at almost $3 million, but is expected to expand by $2 million per year over the next three years. (57) SAMDEF lists among its partner organizations other NGOs working in Zimbabwe, such as the Media Development Loan Fund, which assists "independent news organizations working in difficult economic and political climates," and the U.S. Agency for International Development. SAMDEF is owned by another NGO, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA). An umbrella organization claiming 100 members, MISA's mission is to promote and support regional media friendly to Western interests. A significant portion of its funding is provided by the U.S. Government through the U.S. Agency for International Development. (58)

     Closely involved in SAMDEF's operations in Zimbabwe is the Communication Assistance Foundation (CAF), which openly admits giving "financial support" to "independent media initiatives" and "media organizations." (59) CAF also participates in Zimbabwe Watch, a consortium of several NGOs from the Netherlands seeking to "influence policies," and "coordinate efforts to support Zimbabwean Civil Society," once again that widely used euphemism for organizations seeking to topple President Mugabe. A primary objective of Zimbabwe Watch is to "influence governments and government networks" such as the European Union, the Commonwealth and the United Nations "to put pressure on the Zimbabwean government to hold free and fair elections," a term that is understood by NGOs as any election the opposition wins. "Political and economic sanctions could be useful means" of applying pressure, Zimbabwe Watch helpfully suggests. (60)

     Yet another of the myriad NGOs executing Western policy in Zimbabwe is International Media Support (IMS), funded by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The intent of IMS is to be an "action-oriented" organization providing "technical and practical assistance" to media as well as working to build "diplomatic pressure at the political level." (61) It is rather commonplace for an NGO to not only engage in practical mayhem but to also devote considerable time and resources urging more extreme measures from Western governments. Among its recent "interventions," IMS lists Zimbabwe. (62)

     The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) bankrolls sixteen "civil society organizations" in Zimbabwe, with emphasis on supporting MDC's parliamentary activities. (63) One of the departments of USAID, the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), was said to be funding a new short-wave radio station recently established in Great Britain, SW Radio Africa, to the tune of millions of dollars. According to diplomatic sources, SW Radio Africa utilizes the studios, transmitters and frequencies of "a global communications provider." The operating expenses for SW Radio Africa are covered by OTI. While the specific station hosting SW Radio Africa has not been identified, it is either Voice of America, with transmitters located throughout southern and central Africa, or the BBC, with a transmitter located in South Africa. According to Radio Netherlands, BBC Radio 4 recently rebroadcast a program that had originally appeared on SW Radio Africa, "suggesting that there is some contact between them at [the] editorial level." (64) OTI gained experience in destabilizing nations through its involvement with covert operations in Yugoslavia, funding the printing of over four million newspaper and magazines, as well as supporting opposition radio and television. (65) Zimbabwe's Minister of Information Jonathan Moyo reacted sharply to the inflammatory tone of the illegal broadcasts by SW Radio Africa, accusing Western nations of "fanning tribal divisions and ethnic hatred among Zimbabweans," in order to render Zimbabwe ungovernable. (66)

Drought, Famine, and Food Aid

     From January through April 2002, Zimbabwe experienced its worst drought in 20 years. The drought affects several countries in southern Africa, and the UN World Food Program (WFP) estimates that 12.8 million people may require urgent food aid in order to avert the threat of famine. Jean-Jacques Graisse, Deputy Executive Director of the WFP says, "We see this as a crisis of enormous proportions. The situation worsens with each day." Western news reports focus their gaze on Zimbabwe, attributing the drop in agricultural output primarily to disruption caused by land redistribution. While it is a normal pattern for land reform to cause some temporary dislocation, clearly drought is the major factor in the decline of agricultural output. All of the other countries the WFP identified as being at risk have seen their crops suffer, none of which are undergoing land reform, while the crisis is thought to be worst in Malawi. (67)

     In Malawi, Western demands forced that nation to dispose of its grain reserves in order to conform to the neoliberal economic model. The IMF then halted new loans and the United States and Great Britain severed aid in response to questions over the accounting of the sale of the grain reserves. Left without grain reserves, Malawi had nothing to fall back on when the drought deepened. Western officials also pressured Malawi to eliminate food subsidies, again according to neoliberal prescription, and the subsequent escalation in prices meant that maize very rapidly reached the point of unaffordability for most people. February 2002 saw the first reports of people dying of starvation in Malawi. The WFP concludes that the elimination of the grain reserve and "the dramatic price increases played a critical role in the humanitarian crisis last year." Malawi was in a food crisis even before the onset of the drought, and the situation has since become far more troubling. (68)

     Severe weather in Lesotho has affected crop output for two years in a row, and cereal production for 2002 is calculated at 33 percent less than the already reduced output of the previous year. Crop production is declining, reports the WFP, "and could cease altogether over large tracts of the country." The total area planted is only sixty percent compared to normal. Here too, escalating food prices have driven more and more people into poverty. (69) Similarly, in Swaziland, agricultural output has declined by a startling 60 percent and half of the farmers will have nothing to harvest. In Zambia, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports, "People are turning to desperate measures including eating potentially poisonous wild foods, stealing crops and prostitution to get enough for their families to eat." (70)

     It is estimated that cereal production in Zimbabwe will drop by 57 percent, while output of maize, the primary staple in the diet of Zimbabweans, could drop by as much as two thirds. The overall agricultural sector is expected to contract by nearly 25 percent. A mission from the WFP and FAO determined that the "major cause of collapse of the 2002 main season" has been "a severe prolonged drought between January and March, which wiped out crops in most parts of the country. Land reform activities contributed to the steep fall in production." (71) It should also be pointed out that severe fuel shortages have also limited agricultural production, and that international sanctions are responsible for Zimbabwe's lack of foreign currency to import sufficient quantities of fuel. The extent of the net effect of land reform has been exaggerated in Western reports, which operate on the premise that only white commercial farmers are producing a meaningful supply of food. In actuality, black small-scale farmers account for 70 percent of Zimbabwe's production of maize, while the main crop grown by the large white commercial farms is tobacco. (72)

     Agricultural Technical and Extension Services (Agritex), which performs crop forecasting in Zimbabwe, reported in March 2002 the "early planted crop" of maize "to be a complete write-off, with the late crop at temporary to wilting point in Kwekwe." "Complete" means both on black farms and on white; both on farms listed for redistribution and those that are not. Agritex also noted that the maize crop in Umguza, Tsholotsho and Bubi districts was a complete failure, while in Masvingo and Manicaland provinces the crop was a near total failure. "Lack of sufficient moisture during the critical flowering and grain-filling stages is the cause of the poor crop condition," the report said. It wasn't only drought that was causing problems. Termites and grasshoppers destroyed crops in Gokwe and Matabeland South, while elephants ruined maize crops in Binga. Another survey in Manicaland province concluded that most crops were a complete write-off, and that very little remained to be harvested. Conditions were so dry, one farmer claimed, that one "can light a match and it will take a few minutes to burn the whole field." (73) Adverse weather conditions affected both white commercial and black small-scale farmers, although the situation was more dire in the always arid communal regions where most black-owned farms operate. The situation does not seem noticeably better in surrounding countries. "There was no land grab in either Malawi or Zambia," points out a Zimbabwean diplomat, "yet their people suffer the consequences of the drought and famine threatens their neighbors as well." (74)

     Projections indicate that Zimbabwe will need to import up to 1.2 million tons of grain through May 2003. At current import prices, this would cost $165 million. The WFP's aid program to Zimbabwe has set a target of half that amount, but so far has managed to raise only about a third of its goal. (75) Although the government of Zimbabwe has been importing maize to compensate for the crop deficit, its ability to meet the demand is constrained by its depleted foreign currency reserves. International sanctions also prevent the country from obtaining loans to cover the import of food. To partially ease the pressure, half of the funds the government had set aside for reviving closed companies were shifted to the purchase of food. It was announced that additional funds would be transferred from other programs to help meet the demand for food. "We had to take such an action because of the need to feed the nation in the wake of the drought," a government finance official announced. "We cannot leave people to die." (76)

     In August 2002, The European Union said it would be providing Zimbabwe with about $34 million in aid, while blaming the political situation in Zimbabwe for the food crisis. Great Britain had earlier announced a $33 million program of aid, and the United States $33 million. However, much of the American aid intended for Zimbabwe was instead sent to other countries due to a dispute with Zimbabwe over genetically modified (GM) maize. (77) Zimbabwe balked at accepting a shipment of 10,500 tons of gene-modified maize because of fears that it would ruin Zimbabwe's beef exports to the European Union. Joseph Made, Minister of Lands and Agriculture, pointed out that there was concern that some farmers might use the imported grain as seed rather than for consumption. "This could have created many problems for us. Biotech maize, if eaten by livestock, would have jeopardized future Zimbabwe's beef exports to Europe." The European Union currently bans the import of GM food. There were also concerns that the spread of GM strains of maize would result in Zimbabwe losing its certification to export hybrid maize throughout Africa. Portrayed in Western reports as an act of arbitrary childishness, Zimbabwe's reluctance to accept GM maize was based on real concerns over its potentially adverse effect on exports. Zambia also rejected shipments of GM maize, refusing to distribute the maize that had already been imported from the U.S. American officials applied heavy pressure on southern African states to accept GM maize, for this was an opportunity to help U.S. corporations start to break down barriers to the export of GM food in general. Zimbabwe insisted that it mill the maize before distribution, precluding the possibility that farmers planting the grain would spread GM strains throughout Zimbabwe. The U.S. and the UN, however, refused to allow the government of Zimbabwe to be involved in the distribution of the grain. In the end, a compromise was reached in which the U.S. and UN agreed to allow Zimbabwe to accept the maize on the condition that the government provide the UN an equivalent amount of maize from its stocks which the UN would then pass to NGOs for distribution. (78) For Western officials, it was important to prevent the government of Zimbabwe from distributing food, and to ensure that NGOs active in trying to overthrow the government appear to be responsible for providing food to the hungry. Food aid from the West was motivated more from its utility as another weapon in the effort to overthrow the government of Zimbabwe than it was by a concern for human suffering.

     Meanwhile, Western officials were playing other political games with food aid. During meetings with United Nations Development Program (UNDP) coordinator Victor Angelo in New York in May 2002, U.S. and European Union representatives claimed that the food crisis in Zimbabwe was "two-thirds a result of wrong economic policies." Angelo was attempting to organize an aid package of $80 million from Western governments and aid agencies, but the donors told him that unless Zimbabwe agreed to devalue its currency, "no significant food aid will be given to Zimbabwe." Other demands Western officials placed included the abandonment of the current land reform program. Without the protection of "property rights," they indicated, foreign investment in Zimbabwe was unlikely. One European diplomat revealed, "We told the UNDP to first convey our concerns to the Zimbabwe authorities. Food aid can come but there have to be associate measures that must be taken that would ensure that there will not be a repeat of this same situation we are dealing with now." (79) When the IMF and World Bank announced in August 2002 that they would be reviewing current assistance to drought-stricken countries in southern Africa to plan expanding financial arrangements to help fill the gap with donor assistance, they pointedly excluded Zimbabwe. (80)

     The state-owned Grain Marketing Board has sole responsibility for the purchase and sale of strategic commodities in Zimbabwe, including maize and wheat. Commercial farmers hope to break the monopoly on the distribution of key commodities in order to capitalize on scarcities and realize high returns. When some permits were illegally issued to private firms to purchase grains, commercial farmers who had earlier told the Grain Marketing Board that they had nothing for sale were offering to sell to private firms. Many farmers refused to sell to the Board, leaving it with dwindling stocks, while private firms drove up the prices, causing hardship for ordinary citizens. When the government finally cancelled all illegal private permits, it sought to recover the lost stocks. Over 16,000 tons of maize was impounded in initial efforts, and it is thought that this is a small proportion of the total grain that found its way outside of official distribution channels. (81) Prior to the issuance of permits to private firms, many commercial farmers were hoarding food, refusing to sell to the Board in hopes of realizing greater profits elsewhere. At the end of a six-week period in January 2002, during which the Grain Marketing Board impounded 36,000 tons of hoarded maize, Minister of Lands and Agriculture Joseph Made declared, "We cannot have a situation where people are starving while others are withholding maize." (82)

     In August 2002, American officials proposed setting up a $85 million fund which would allow private firms in Zimbabwe lacking foreign currency to obtain and sell Western food aid. Western officials are withholding food aid to Zimbabwe until it relents and allows private firms to purchase and speculate in strategic food commodities. One aid official said his agency was waiting for Zimbabwe to agree to "allow private sector players a bigger role in importing food." Zimbabwean officials reject this demand, arguing that in a time of scarcity, private speculation in food would drive the price of food beyond the reach of most people. The United Nations Development Fund has also joined Western officials in attempting to force Zimbabwe into permitting the establishment of the fund. Western officials are also insisting that private firms be allowed to purchase strategic food commodities whether or not they participate in the proposed fund. (83) By halting food shipments, the West was using food as a weapon to pry open a key state-owned sector of Zimbabwe's economy and coercively ensure its privatization. Throughout the food crisis in Zimbabwe, the U.S. has maintained its focus on what it feels matters most: privatization and an economic environment in Zimbabwe friendly to Western investors. Where others might see hunger and poverty, U.S. leaders see dollar signs. A U.S. government analysis of the economy of Zimbabwe complains, "Privatization of state-owned companies, liberalization of foreign exchange policies, removal of price controls from food staples and energy are areas where progress has been sub-optimal. The local ownership requirement and the large areas of the economy where foreign investment is not allowed are other hindrances to business establishment and free cross-border capital and equity flows." Note the desire for the removal of price controls, which would result in greater numbers of starving people. Profits always come first. At the time of the 1980 revolution in Zimbabwe, 70 to 80 percent of the corporate sector was foreign-owned. Today, Zimbabwe's efforts to shift the economy towards the interests of its people has reduced this to about 30 percent. According to this same U.S. government economic analysis, "The vast majority of foreign investment predates independence and is held by British and South African interests." The central goal of U.S. and British policy is to return Zimbabwe's economy to those fondly recalled days of apartheid Rhodesia, when there were no impediments to Western investment. (84)

The Struggle Over Land Reform

     Since the triumph of the 1980 revolution in Zimbabwe the promise of land reform has gone largely unfulfilled. For ten years the nation was saddled with constitutional restrictions imposed by British negotiators. Nevertheless, during the 1980s three million hectares were redistributed to about 70,000 families. This was followed immediately by the adoption of ESAP at the urging of the West. Little could be done in the context of the neoliberal agenda to rectify the inequity of the land ownership pattern inherited from the apartheid Ian Smith regime. Investment was offered primarily to white owners of large commercial farms, while the structure of land ownership changed little. Under terms of the Lancaster House Agreement, Great Britain was obligated to provide certain levels of funding to support land redistribution. By 1996, when Great Britain ceased payments, it had only contributed slightly more than half the promised funds. The $45 million contributed by Great Britain paled in contrast to the billions it expropriated from the people and land throughout the colonial period. By emphasizing that land be held in so-called "capable" hands, British officials encouraged the continued dominance of the agricultural sector by white commercial farmers. In 1997, Zimbabwe finally abandoned the "willing buyer, willing seller" formula which handcuffed efforts at progress, particularly given Great Britain's parsimonious attitude.

     By 1998, growing frustration and resentment over the slow pace of land reform induced rural workers, impoverished by ESAP, to take matters in their own hands and occupy land on several large white-owned farms. In many areas, local officials gave their support to these actions. Land occupations, while variable and small in scale compared to the massive land expropriation of blacks under colonial rule, served to put land reform at the political center stage in Zimbabwe. According to one study, "land invasions is the generic term used to denote a negative view of politically organized 'trespass' of farms led by war veterans. Invasions involve temporary visits of a few days and sporadic repeat visits. They do not entail the extended stays." The number of farms experiencing occupations peaked at around 800 in 2000, falling to around 300 the following year. A total of approximately 300 occupations over the years were marred by violence, often the acts of opportunistic criminals engaged in extortion. Several case studies conclude that where grievances existed against specific landowners, their farms tended to be marked for occupation. Landowners who had mistreated workers, paid excessively low wages or exhibited racism were much more likely to experience occupation of sections of their farms. To a certain extent, the recent acceleration in the pace of land reform is a response to the pressure exerted from pent-up anger by the landless. "Past studies had all predicted that inadequate land delivery would precipitate violent confrontations," points out a Zimbabwean economist. "There has been an instrumentalization of violence although the scale of it has been exaggerated and it has been wrongly made the focus of the whole land reform issue. In fact, compared to rural and urban violence in South Africa, Ireland or Brazil, the level in Zimbabwe has been quite low." (85)

     A total of around 2,900 white-owned commercial farms were earmarked for redistribution in the latest round of land reform. Owners of listed farms were notified to stop farming within 45 days, and given an additional 45 days to move from their farms. Land subject to acquisition comprised the following categories: unused land, underutilized land, land owned by absentee owners, land owned by a person possessing multiple farms, land exceeding size limits (varying by region), and land contiguous with communal lands. Owners of farms marked for redistribution will be compensated for improvements made on the land, but not for the land itself, as this land was stolen from its original owners in the colonial era. (86) The government of Zimbabwe has repeatedly stated that those landowners whose only farm is being taken will be given another farm of suitable quality. "All genuine and well meaning white farmers who wish to pursue a farming career as loyal citizens of this country will have land to do so," reiterated President Mugabe recently. (87)

     Western reports repeatedly charge that land reform is an exercise in rewarding President Mugabe's "friends and cronies." With over 125,000 families settled through February 2001 and an additional 100,000-some expected to receive land in the current phase of land reform, one can only conclude that President Mugabe is an extraordinarily popular man to have so many friends and close colleagues. Nor do Western reports have an explanation for why many of those receiving land are members of the opposition MDC. Another oft-repeated myth is that land reform spells ruin for the agricultural sector. Aside from the temporary dislocation caused by land reform, Western reports assert that the break up of commercial farms will lead to a loss of production, subtly, or in some cases not so subtly, implying that black farmers are ignorant and incapable of knowing how to farm efficiently. Aside from anecdotal stories about withering crops without mentioning drought conditions, little evidence is offered.

     One of the popular assertions in Western reports is that land reform is the cause of the drop in maize production, without pointing out 70 percent of Zimbabwe's maize crop is grown by small-scale black farmers. While it is reported that commercial farmland devoted to growing maize has declined due to land reform, what is never mentioned is that the overall level has grown. According to the WFP, "The area planted to cereals actually increased by 9 percent over last year, with maize increasing by 14 percent, mainly due to expansion in the communal and resettled areas." This is a far cry from the arrogant picture we are usually offered of inept black farmers not knowing what they are doing, and either botching the process of farming, or simply sitting idle and confused on empty land. (88)

     It is difficult to separate the effect of drought from that of land reform in determining the overall impact of the process on agricultural production, but it appears that the effect has been deliberately exaggerated and losses due to drought are routinely attributed to land reform by Western reporters. A report by the FAO concludes, "Yields on commercial farms are on average four times higher than on communal farms, in part due to inherent differences in land quality, but mainly because of facilities for supplementary irrigation, greater use of improved technology and management practices, as well as better access to working capital." None of these factors need necessarily be denied to resettled farmers. (89)

     Although Western reports persist in viewing land reform primarily through the prism of its immediate effect on production, understanding the process can only be achieved through judging its long-term results. The widespread economic benefit for recipients of land must also be considered. One study determined that "land reform can generate a sustainable income flow for the beneficiaries, in year 15 reaching 570-690 percent of their incomes before the project." The same study also examined the effect of land reform on production and employment, and concluded that "production achieved by the resettled farmers after 15 years would be significant." Since small-scale farming is more labor intensive than on commercial farms, land reform should also result in a net increase in employment. (90) Increasing wealth throughout a broader spectrum of the population should act as a spur to what has been sluggish growth in Zimbabwe.

     A report issued by four economists, including two employed by the World Bank, states, "Economic theory is very clear on the fact that a one-time redistribution of assets can, in an environment of imperfect markets, be associated with permanently higher levels of growth." Conversely, "inequality in the distribution of land ownership is associated with lower subsequent growth." A survey of resettlement households covering the years from 1983 determined that "the income of resettled households is more than five times as high as that of communal households in similar areas," and their "productivity has increased significantly." Given enough time, the increase in productivity means that crop yield should improve substantially, although it may never entirely match that of commercial farms, due to the greater possibilities for mechanization on large farms. It is important to note, however, that the percentage of underutilized land in large commercial farms averages about 40 to 50 percent in the regions with the best land, and 85 percent where the land is less suitable for farming. Every study finds that resettled farmers plant a far larger percentage of land than commercial farmers. Therefore, the difference in yield between commercial farms and small-scale farming is to a certain extent offset by the greater utilization of land by small-scale farmers. Consequently, the report by the four economists finds that previous land redistribution has had "no negative impact on large-scale commercial farm output." Those farmers who were resettled in the first phase of land reform in the 1980s "represent 5 percent of the population, but produce between 15 and 20 percent of the marketed output of maize and cotton, while also largely satisfying their own food consumption needs." The report concludes, "The best available data show that the performance of resettled farmers in Zimbabwe is better than is conventionally believed," and that a well-designed land reform program "can have a large impact on equity as well as productivity." (91)

     A study examining the effect of global warming on agricultural production in Zimbabwe lends urgency to the land reform process. The study found that maize in Zimbabwe "is increasingly coming under stress due to high temperatures and low rainfall conditions. Projected climate change causes simulated maize yields to decrease dramatically under dryland conditions," that is, primarily in communal areas. Previous studies on the effect of global warming "indicate that smallholder farmers in the marginal semiarid regions of Zimbabwe are the most vulnerable to climate change." The study noted that Zimbabwe has experienced three droughts since 1982 (and now a fourth in 2002, after the study was performed), and that southern Africa is "one of the regions that appear most vulnerable to climate change." As the climate changes, more and more of the land in the arid communal areas will become nonviable for agriculture. Most of the communal areas "are marginal," the study adds, "and will become more vulnerable with climate change." (92) Consequently, without land reform, six million poor black farmers crowded into the communal areas are likely to be driven from their homes as their land becomes increasingly incapable of producing crops. As black small farm owners account for the majority of maize grown in Zimbabwe, climatic change could have a serious effect on agricultural production, and leave millions subject to starvation. Farmers migrating from their no longer viable farms would be left homeless and jobless, with devastating consequences for the economy of Zimbabwe. The lack of land reform, or even a delay in the implementation of land reform, could spell economic and human disaster of grand proportions. The fertile land occupied by the large commercial farms can withstand climate change much more readily than the communal areas. Because land reform is a long-term process, it will take years for resettled farmers to achieve full potential yields. Any delay in implementing land reform would run the risk of production in the resettled areas lagging dangerously behind the rate of loss of production in the communal areas as rising global temperature implacably eliminates farmland in arid communal regions.

     Zimbabwe can no longer tolerate the grossly unjust distribution of land created by colonial expropriation. The average white farmer owns approximately 100 times more land than a black farmer, and the land he owns is far more suitable for agriculture. Farms belonging to the Oppenheimer family alone total an area exceeding the size of Belgium, while a great many large tracts of land belong to absentee owners. (93) Among the absentee landowners are members of the British House of Lords and other prominent British citizens, a fact not entirely unrelated to British efforts to derail land reform.

     The success of land reform hinges on the extent of inputs into the process from the government of Zimbabwe. A major impediment is that the government finds itself in a dire financial situation due to international sanctions, and this is affecting its ability to implement the support structure necessary for the success of land reform. The government has in place plans to establish 36 irrigation schemes in dry land communal and resettlement areas. The irrigation project will rely on water in existing dams and allow irrigation in areas formally lacking access to water. Irrigation would result in increased yields in dry land areas, and allow nearly year round farming. It would also help to limit or delay the loss of farmland due to rising global temperatures. Unfortunately, progress on implementing the irrigation schemes is held up by the lack of funding. An official from the Department of Irrigation commented that some irrigation projects "have been around for more than five or six years, the feasibility studies are done, etcetera. But due to budgetary constraints we have been unable to implement those projects." (94) Once again, it is seen that international sanctions serve to hurt efforts to improve agricultural output.

     The government of Zimbabwe proposes spending a total of $3 billion in support of the land reform process, much of which will be earmarked for building up the infrastructure in resettled areas, including roads, schools and clinics. The initial phase of the plan focuses on immediate support to allow resettled farmers to start farming. Funding the process will be difficult without access to foreign loans. Economist John Robertson warned, "This will place a severe strain on the government's coffers and increase pressure on money supply growth and inflation." (95) Despite these constraints, the government has spent $155 million in initial support for resettled farmers. (96) The intent of land reform in Zimbabwe is not only to redress the injustice of colonial theft, but also to reduce widespread poverty and raise the standard of living not only for the resettled farmers, but for society as a whole. It is also expected that land reform will eventually result in a net increase in agricultural production. Sylvestre Maunganidze, head of political affairs at the Zimbabwe Embassy in Georgia, says, "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." No longer would Zimbabwe be "an appendage of the industrial capitalist system," he affirmed. (97)

     It is precisely this independence that has made Zimbabwe a target. The Western campaign against Zimbabwe will continue to escalate until it achieves its goal of reversing that independence, regardless of the cost to the people of Zimbabwe. Already New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark has advocated "tougher economic sanctions" against Zimbabwe and its "full expulsion" from the Commonwealth, while British Prime Minister Tony Blair is discussing possible further actions with leaders of African countries. (98) U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker implied that the U.S. is considering further punitive action against Zimbabwe when he warned that "it is time to tell President Mugabe that he needs to reexamine these policies in terms of land seizures and go back to the road of democratic norms that Zimbabwe should be on." (99)

     Sanctions continue to take their toll, and Zimbabwe's economy continues to plummet. According to Ken Jerrard, Bulawayo regional president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, the foreign currency shortage has prevented most firms from importing essential capital goods and raw materials necessary to maintain production. He noted that over 100 companies closed down in his province in the previous few months, while others are making drastic cuts in staff to avoid closing. (100) In order to raise foreign currency to meet its budget commitments, the government has been forced to engage in limited and targeted privatization, a painful but unavoidable compromise under the circumstances. A ship carrying fuel intended for Zimbabwe was unable to offload its cargo at the port of Beira in Mozambique. British Petroleum, which owns the fuel storage facilities at the port, refused to accept the fuel because Zimbabwe owed the firm $3 million. Approximately 70 percent of Zimbabwe's fuel is shipped from Libya through the port of Beira, where it is transferred to pipelines. The lack of foreign currency has prevented Zimbabwe from meeting its payments to British Petroleum, and unless a resolution to the dispute can be reached, it could mean a near-total cutoff of fuel, bringing down production in virtually all sectors of Zimbabwe's economy. (101)

     Despite Western hostility and belligerence, Zimbabwe remains resolute in its pursuit of land reform and rejection of the neoliberal economic model. "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 pointed out. "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." (102)

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References and Resources

Due to the length of this essay and the large number of references, we have created a dedicated footnotes page. Each reference is hyperlinked so that the reader can go back and forth between the article and the notes.


Gregory Elich has published dozens of articles on the Balkans and East Asia in the US, Canada and Europe, in such publications as Covert Action Quarterly, Politika, Der Junge Welt, Dagbladet Arbejderen, Science&Society, Swans, and other publications. His research findings on CIA intervention in Yugoslavia was the subject of articles in newspapers in Germany, Norway and Italy, including Il Manifesto. He has been involved in peace activities since the Vietnam War, and was coordinator of the Committee for Peace in Yugoslavia. He was a member of a US delegation visiting Yugoslavia after the NATO war, and a member of the Margarita Papendreou delegation, the first to fly on a Western national airline to Baghdad in challenge to the sanctions. He spoke at the International Action Center's opening session of their Commission of Inquiry into NATO War Crimes on July 31, 1999 and again as a witness at the final session of the Commission on June 10, 2000. He has a chapter in the International Action Center's anthology 'NATO in the Balkans.' His slide presentation on the NATO war has been shown in several cities throughout the Midwest [cf. Geoff Berne's War Against Women and Other Civilians in Yugoslavia: Terror Keyed Triumph of the New Colonialism (January 2001) as well as America in Yugoslavia: Peephole into a Hidden Empire (May 2001)]. Finally, Elich is a member of the collective that wrote the recently published book "Hidden Agenda, U.S./NATO Takeover Of Yugoslavia" which can be purchased on line at leftbooks.com.

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A Flight Against The Iraqi Blockade (March 2001)

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Published August 26, 2002
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