June 09, 2004


Is everyone else following the fascinating events taking place in Zimbabwe? The NY Times carried an article today, buried in the middle of the paper, entitled Zimbabwe Announces a New Plan to Seize Land.

A little background, from memory, is in order. Forgive me if I make any mistakes, but this is all from memory.

Mugabe is killing if not already killed his country. He, in order to correct what he perceived to be inequities in land distribution and the legacies of White rule, nationalized many farms. The plan was to give them out to landless peasant types to farm. The result was that most of the farms seized were given to high ranking government and party figures, including, in one memorable instance, Mugabe's wife.

So what happened and why is it interesting to me? It's interesting to me because for over four years now, I've read good British reporting detailing the step by step collapse of civilization as we understand it in Zimbabwe. It's like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

First, the land distribution scheme destroyed the economy. All of the main exports from Zimbabwe were agricultural based. Cut flowers, tobacco and beef were high in that list. These things require expertise to grow for international markets. The ability to produce these things was destroyed as the farmers who could do it were terrorized into leaving their land. Result? No hard currency for Zimbabwe. As the NY Times reports today, inflation is at 620%! Can you even imagine that? As the agricultural sector collapsed, so did the chemical and machine sectors.

Second, as the economy spun out of control, Mugabe faced political pressure for reform from an opposition party and from the newspapers. Result? Beat and jail the opposition. Kill the ones you can't intimidate. Shut down the newspapers and pack the courts and threaten the judges if the editors are stupid enough to sue. Bring out the army if people protest. Create youth wings of your political parties and use them to commit acts of political violence. So, political freedom disappears at the same time that prices go up by 620%.

Third, I am stunned still by the refusal of South Africa to criticize Mugabe. M'bake won't do it and he won't permit it. All in the name of African solidarity against former colonialism. Meanwhile, the hospitals in Zimbabwe have no money for supplies and all the nurses and doctors are leaving to go to Canada. That is coming close to criminal behavior by South Africa, in my opinion.

Fourth, international political pressure fails. The only countries willing to pressure Zimbabwe in public are England and the United States. Of course, there is the Commonwealth which has either excluded Zimbabwe or criticized Zimbabwe thus causing Mugabe to resign from the Commonwealth. Either way, lots of nice words and nothing done about it. Well, nothing accomplished. I do seem to recall that Britain offered to pay for the land taken by farmers to allow Zimbabwe to buy it, but that came to nothing and the terror and violence against the white farmers continued.

So, here we are today. Zimbabwe on the brink of total meltdown and the government acts swiftly and decisively to preempt the crisis. How, you may ask? Well, first, "Zimbabwe's government says its economic problems have nothing to do with the land seizures and can be laid to drought and a Western plot to restore colonial rule." Did you get that? The government is the victim of an evil conspriacy and the weather. So, clearly the best thing to do is to nationalize all the remaining land.

The "government planned to take control of remaining farmland, abolishing all deeds, and turn it back to farmers under 99-year leases. Leases on wildlife conservancies would be limited to 25 years, he said, because that land is considered more valuable than farmland".

May I point out that nationalization and collectivization of farm land in the Soviet Union was a stunning triumph for the State Planning School of Economic Thought?

Here is a further complication, by the way. No deeds to the property mean no one will lend to the farmer. No title, no collateral, no lending. Simple, no?

"At present, none of those awarded portions of seized white commercial farms have title to their lands. Those peasants' inability to raise money to begin commercial farming on their own has been blamed by some for the nation's dismal harvests over the last three years." There is a fascinating book about the role property rights and of title to land in economic development by Hernando De Soto called, The Mystery of Capital.

Of course, there is another, even more sinister explanation for this move by the governing party. "The opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, expressed concern that state ownership of all land would merely give the government another means to exert control over the population."

Why don't more people seem to care about Zimbabwe?

Posted by Random Penseur at June 9, 2004 08:20 AM
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