Africa: Politics and Societies South of the Sahara

‘The Land Reforms in Zimbabwe Are Still Popular’

Posted in African Politics, Zimbabwe by ruben eberlein on March 24, 2009

Interview with Prof Sam Moyo, Director of the African Institute for Agrarian Studies (Harare) and President of Codesria (Dakar). He talks about the relationship between Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown and land redistributions and explains his view on what has to be done in order to get agriculture in the country started again.

Zimbabwe’s economy is in a shattered condition today. Is this exclusively a consequence of the ‘fast track’ land reform?

The economic decline began slowly, before the fast track, between 1997 and 1999. It then declined sharply during the 2001/3 drought period, and followed the land reform and the escalation of sanctions. Besides drought and the effects of the land reform transfers, the withholding of external loans, of aid and trade credit played the biggest part as financing agriculture, infrastructure, fuel and raw material imports declined. This affected industrial capacity and farming inputs supply: the key constraint to farming today.

Do you think that the government reacted adequately?

Reactive policies such as price controls, exchange rate controls and excessive printing of money fuelled inflation and then hyperinflation by 2005. This led to further production declines at a time when sanctions were expanded. A complex co-incidence of factors, including disinvestments, led to the current situation.

Mahmood Mamdani recently called the land reform a ‘democratic revolution’ in social and economic if not political terms. Do you share his opinion?

Yes, I share this view. Socially the racial and class outcome of the redistribution creates a more inclusive and thus democratic context of land property ownership, yielding a greater degree of equity. Economically the redistribution implies greater opportunities for more poorer and middle class blacks to participate in the economy. It creates a platform for more socially relevant use of land as food will be produced first of all for the home market and a potential for the more efficient use of labour, energy and land, if inputs can be mobilised. This can result in a wider income distribution and a less wasteful consumption or use of incomes, for instance for foreign holidays, boats, planes and the like.

How do you assess the political consequences of the redistributions?

They offer a more democratic political resolution of the historical grievances over land and limit the continued unequal power relations based on historical racial and class privilege. However, we must recognise the negative effects of the violence that occurred during the land transfers, and that some ‘reasonable’ compensation is yet to be paid to most of the former landowners. Hopefully this would involve the UK in meeting its colonial obligation. Past political settlements, aid and land reform negotiations had failed to address this problem.

There is a widespread perception in the West that most of the best land ended up with elites. Is that true?

The elites did get some land, and a number of them got good pieces of land. However, in proportion of land provided to a larger number of recipients – we talk about over 150,000 households – this problem tends to be exaggerated. Our survey shows that 135,000 poorer households benefited from redistributions. 10,000 of the remaining 15,000 are lower middle class persons, and only about 3,000 are ‘real’ elites. Other researchers are finding similar trends.

Didn’t the parliamentary election in March 2008 show that the legitimation for Zanu’s land policy is dwindling? Even in rural Zanu strongholds, the party had to accept setbacks.

To the extent that one could tie Zanu PF’s legitimation and earlier electoral results mainly to land redistribution, then that point might be correct. However, I think that the declining vote is a product of more complex processes. They include the wider hyperinflation and the economic collapse which escalated in 2007, farm inputs shortages over the last three years and the food shortages in 2008. Moreover, electoral campaigns had begun to more effectively link the existing social hardships to the external sanctions. So, many thought that a change of government was required to reverse the poor people’s misfortunes. Corruption among some Zanu PF leaders in the face of social hardships also played a role. It was becoming unacceptable to voters and led to a protest vote among supporters. Relatedly, a division among Zanu PF elites weakened their electoral campaigns, and the well financed MDC electoral campaign was more effective under the above mentioned conditions.

How strong is the public support for land reform today?

In general the land reform is still popular, even among those who voted against Zanu PF. The pressing issue for the constituency is mainly to get access to food at affordable prices, to get the economy, especially the farming, going.

What has to be done now by the government of Zimbabwe to kick start smallholder agriculture?

There is, firstly, the need to allocate a greater amount of public resources for the small farmers to procure on subsidy improved seeds for maize, small grains, ground nuts and cotton as well as fertilisers and materials to treat their livestock. Secondly there is need to de-control grain marketing, especially maize. That would mean that the small farmers get a better return in local markets, and that small cotton producers get a better share of the international prices. The residual marketing role of the public grain marketing board has to be strengthened in order to compete with rampant usurious private traders, especially in remote smallholder markets. The social costs, especially health and education, of the small rural producers should be subsidised in order for them to stretch their incomes for their wider productive livelihoods. Moreover, they need access to cheap credit, better agricultural information and improved links to input suppliers. As for the urban areas, food subsidies are appropriate for a few years in order to strengthen the demand for various small producer products.

What should the donor community do vis-à-vis agriculture in Zimbabwe?

The donors need to completely shift from their previous stance. So far, the EU says that they will not provide social and food production assistance to newly resettled areas. This must change. Donors shouldn’t focus their resources exclusively on food aid, but also on extensive inputs support. The state capacity building initiatives shouldn’t be avoided. They and the government itself need to prioritise food smallholders over exporters and larger farms in the allocation of its resources.


A shorter version of this interview had been published in the German daily Neues Deutschland (17 March 2009).

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