Zimbabwe’s agrarian revolution a success despite sanctions

By Brother Garikai Chengu


IN 1945, President Truman issued an order for American bombers to drop “Fat Man” and “Little Boy” on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing 140,000 people instantly. The gruesome and grotesque images that emerged from the rubble forced US policy makers to devise a new more subtle weapon of mass destruction – sanctions.

The truth is that sanctions can be far more deadly than nuclear weapons. The United Nations estimates that 220,000 men, women and children died as a result of the atomic bombs dropped in 1945 and their aftermath. The United Nations also estimates that 1,7 million Iraqis lost their lives due to sanctions, 500,000 of whom were innocent children.

Conventional wisdom is that sanctions are preferable to war. Conventional wars are fought between opposing militaries and civilians are caught up in the crossfire. However, sanctions put civilians squarely in the cross-hairs. Today, as we speak, slow motion Hiroshimas and Nagasakis are being inflicted upon the people of Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Zimbabwe.

In 2000, the European Union and America placed sanctions on the people of Zimbabwe for daring to embark on a historic land democratisation programme.Prior to 2000, a staggering 42 percent of Zimbabwe’s land mass was owned by only 4,000 white commercial farmers. The land democratisation programme, spearheaded by President Mugabe, has now benefited over one million black Zimbabweans.

Contrary to the image portrayed by western media, land reform has been largely egalitarian and broad-based. In fact, land previously owned by 4,000 white commercial farmers is now shared between 412,000 families.

Far from only benefiting President Mugabe and his “cousins and cronies” the vast majority of new land owners are from impoverished backgrounds. Over 70 per cent of the redistributed land has benefited 220,000 poor rural families and their urban counterparts, who on average have acquired 20 hectares of land. The remaining land has benefited 80,000 new small to medium-scale commercial farmers with an average of 100 hectares.

A small number of large-scale commercial farmers remain, including both white and black farmers, but their land sizes have been greatly reduced to 700 hectares on average. This is much lower than the average of 2,000 hectares held by the previous 4,000 white landowners.

The United Nations has called Zimbabwe’s agrarian revolution “the largest mass movement of persons in Africa in decades.” Britain fears that landless blacks from all corners of Sub-Saharan Africa will demand that their governments emulate Zimbabwe. It is this fear that has prompted the west to slap sanctions on Zimbabwe in the hope of thwarting an African agrarian revolution.

Lest we forget, prior to the land reform programme Robert Mugabe was appointed as an honorary Knight Grand Cross in the Order of Bath by Queen Elizabeth. Mugabe was welcomed with open arms and red carpets from Brussels to London and Washington to Canberra. However, after taking land from bourgeois landowners and giving it to the landless masses, Mugabe has suddenly become an “evil dictator” and a “terrible tyrant.”

The west’s sudden volte-face on relations with Mugabe and Zimbabwe can be clearly seen by the graphic below. It shows how funding from international institutions to Zimbabwe and its agriculture sector has dried up since the west imposed sanctions in 2000.

The government of Zimbabwe does not only use these loans to fund the agriculture sector of course. President Mugabe uses these loans to build schools, equip clinics, pave roads, pay civil servants, and provide a safety net for society’s most vulnerable.

It is clear, therefore, that western sanctions are not aimed merely at “the regime” as the western media would have us believe. Sanctions are aimed squarely at the people of Zimbabwe.

In a clear attempt to undermine Zimbabwe’s new black farmers, the west has slapped the Agricultural Bank of Zimbabwe (Agribank) with crippling sanctions. American and European individuals, corporations and entities are expressly prohibited from doing business with Agribank and various other Zimbabwean farms and agricultural institutions.

Despite the west’s demonisation of the land reform programme and sanctions designed to stifle agricultural production, new black farmers have on the whole been successful. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, Zimbabwe has boasted the fasted growing agricultural sector in the world since 2008. In fact, land utilisation levels on newly resettled farms have already surpassed the 40 percent mark that prevailed on white farms after an entire century of State subsidies and racial privilege.

Tobacco is one of Zimbabwe’s most lucrative exports and before the agrarian revolution the tobacco sector was dominated by a handful of wealthy white farmers. Over the last decade, the tobacco sector has been racially and economically democratised.

Thousands of newly-resettled small scale farmers have caused tobacco production to almost treble over the last four years. This year’s crop, the largest recorded since 2003, will be worth about $550 million to Zimbabwe. The Finance Minister projects that Zimbabwe’s tobacco output will rise by a staggering 18 percent next year to 170 million kilogrammes.

Even the staunchly anti-Mugabe New York Times newspaper has admitted that the land reform programme has been such a success. “The result has been a broad, shift of wealth in agriculture from white commercial growers on huge farms to small scale black farmers,” the New York Times wrote in an Op-ed. “Last year, new black farmers shared $400 million worth of tobacco. The money that was shared between 1,500 large-scale growers is now shared with 58,000 growers, most of them small scale.”

Never far behind, British newspapers like the Guardian have also acknowledged that President Mugabe’s land reforms have “had successes and are boosting trade.” In fact, the Guardian has cited Land Reform and Indigenisation as the main reasons why opinion polls show President Mugabe enjoying popular support in the run up to elections.

More than 60,000 farmers have so far registered to grow tobacco this season. These registrants form the nucleus of an indigenous agrarian middle class. A burgeoning class that will soon be demanding increasing banking, telecoms, retail and leisure services. This demand and emergence of under-leveraged middle class consumers – even more than the nation’s vast mineral wealth – will become the real driver of foreign investor interest. Thus, the indigenisation of Zimbabwe’s agriculture sector will have the net effect of encouraging foreign investment and boosting economic growth.

On its face, Zimbabwe’s agrarian revolution may appear to be simply about land, but it is about so much more. Land is not merely land. Land is a place to be born, a place to grow up, a place to call home and a place to be buried. Land is not merely land. Land is a source of food, a livelihood and an asset to bequeath to the next generation. Above all else, land is a source of pride.

Garikai Chengu is a research scholar at Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Science


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