Zimbabwe: The Spark
...Claire Short's letter of November 1997

by Baffour Ankomah

March 31, 2003


New African: Over the Christmas period, Claire Short, the British international development minister, led the British government's effort to stop the English cricket team from playing in Zimbabwe "because of the political crisis in the country." Nothing could be more tongue in cheek! We publish below the full text of Claire Short's letter of 5 November 1997 that sparked the political (and now economic) crisis in Zimbabwe for readers to judge for themselves. [See also, What Future For Morgan? as well as "The Land Has Come Back" and "A Conservative Government Would Never Have Done That"]

"5 November 1997
From the Secretary of State

Hon Kumbirai Kangai MP
Minister of Agriculture and Land

Dear Minister

George Foulkes has reported to me on the meeting which you and Hon John Nkomo had with Tony Lloyd and him during your recent visit. I know that President Mugabe also discussed the land issue with the Prime Minister briefly during their meeting. It may be helpful if I record where matters now rest on the issue.

At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Tony Blair said that he looked forward to developing a new basis for relations with Commonwealth countries founded upon our government's policies, not on the past.

We will set out our agenda for international development in a White Paper to be published this week. The central thrust of this will be the development of partnerships with developing countries which are committed to eradicate poverty, and have their own proposals for achieving that which we and other donors can support.

I very much hope that we will be able to develop such a relationship with Zimbabwe. I understand that you aim shortly to publish your own policies on economic management and poverty reduction. I hope that we can discuss them with you and identify areas where we are best able to help. I mentioned this in my letter on 31 August to Hon Herbert Murarwa.

I should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe. We are a new Government from diverse backgrounds without links to former colonial interests. My own origins are Irish and as you know we were colonised not colonisers.

We do, however, recognise the very real issues you face over land reform. We believe that land reform could be an important component of a Zimbabwean programme designed to eliminate poverty. We would be prepared to support a programme of land reform that was part of a poverty eradication strategy but not on any other basis.

I am told Britain provided a package of assistance for resettlement in the period immediately following independence. This was, I gather, carefully planned and implemented, and met most of its targets.

Again, I am told there were discussions in 1989 and 1996 to explore the possibility of further assistance. However that is all in the past.

If we look to the present, a number of specific issues are unresolved, including the way in which land would be acquired and compensation paid - clearly it would not help the poor of Zimbabwe if it was done in a way which undermined investor confidence.

Other questions that would need to be settled would be to ensure that the process was completely open and transparent, including the establishment of a proper land register.

Individual schemes would have to be economically justified to ensure that the process helped the poor, and for me the most important issue is that any programme must be planned as part of a programme to contribute to the goal of eliminating poverty. I would need to consider detailed proposals on these issues before confirming further British support for resettlement.

I am sure that a carefully worked out programme of land reform that was part of a programme of poverty eradication which we could support would also bring in other donors, whose support would help ensure that a substantial land resettlement programme such as you clearly desire could be undertaken successfully. If is [sic] to do so, they too will need to be involved from the start.

It follows from this that a programme of rapid land acquisition as you now seem to envisage would be impossible for us to support. I know that many of Zimbabwe's friends share our concern about the damage which this might do to Zimbabwe's agricultural output and its prospects of attracting investment.

I thought it best to be frank about where we are. If you think it would be helpful, my officials are ready to meet yours to discuss these issues.

Yours sincerely

Claire Short."

· · · · · ·


Zimbabwe: What Future For Morgan? - by Baffour Ankomah (March 2003)

Zimbabwe: Life After The Election - by Baffour Ankomah (Sept. 2002)

Wholly Derelict Journalism: Letter to the Editor - by Alex Jay Berman (Sept. 2002)

My Journalistic Dereliction: Response to Mr. Berman's Letter - by Gregory Elich (Sept. 2002)

The Anti-Mugabe Brigade - by Gilles d'Aymery (Sept. 2002)

Zimbabwe Under Siege - by Gregory Elich (Aug. 2002)


Baffour Ankomah is the Editor of New African, a British-based magazine published by IC Publications, an international publications company, founded in London 40 years ago. With offices in New York and Paris, the IC group specializes in producing newsletters, magazines, special supplements and reports on Africa and the Middle East. In addition to New African the IC Group publishes two other magazines, African Business and The Middle East. In April 2002, Baffour Ankomah made a "world exclusive interview" with President Mugabe which was published in the May issue of New African. Parts of the interview were extensively reported by all the major agencies -- AFP, Reuters, BBC, CNN and scores of other newspapers and magazines around the world. In addition, New African published extensive excerpts of Gregory Elich's article, Zimbabwe Under Siege, in its October 2002 issue. Earlier this year Ankomah returned to Zimbabwe. This article was first published in the February 2003 issue of the magazine. It is republished here with the generous and kind courtesy of the author.

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Zimbabwe: "A Conservative Government Would Never Have Done That" - by Baffour Ankomah

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Published March 31, 2003
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