Resettled farmers vis-a-vis post-COVID-19 reconstruction

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By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

FORMER President of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo and former Prime Minister of Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn Boshe have authored an important paper on African agriculture in post-COVID-19 recovery which Zimbabwean policymakers should heed.  

The paper is titled ‘COVID-19 response must target African Agriculture and the rural poor’.

Among many other things, the two African leaders point out the fact that: “Agriculture contributes 65 percent of Africa’s employment and 75 percent of its domestic trade.  However, the rich importance of agriculture as a tool to promote food security and fight poverty is at risk from the effects of COVID-19.”

While it can be argued that, comparatively speaking, Africa is likely to suffer a smaller loss in terms of deaths from COVID-19 in relation to other regions, the impact on survivors from the aftermath of the pandemic is likely to be far worse than in other parts of the world, unless African countries foreground investment in agriculture and food security.

This warning is true in Zimbabwe, although Zimbabwe has been ahead of many other countries due to its recent revolution in land tenure and land redistribution.  

The problem is that, in terms of finance and investment, the profound meaning of the land revolution in Zimbabwe is daily being lost to new generations and leaders. 

The bottleneck preventing the land revolution from progressing smoothly into an agrarian revolution in agribusiness and national food security is the result of three critical obstacles which remain to this day:

λ The illegal sanctions represented by the US sanctions decree, the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA); 

λ The financialisation of the economy which, in agricultural terms, tends to overvalue and foreground dealers, speculators and producers of cash crops ahead of those producing food crops for the majority; and.

λ The inherent elitist bias against revolutionary change which began in the war of liberation and continues to grow to this day.

As a result of the first problem (sanctions), Zimbabweans often hear donors saying they want to help Zimbabwean farmers produce food and guarantee food security for the country but they will not assist any farmer occupying ‘disputed land’  

That disclaimer automatically cuts off half-a-million resettled households from receiving assistance.  

It means any NGO or agency receiving funds from any of the hostile European or Northern American governments will use that disclaimer to exclude African resettled households from receiving assistance.  This also means that, that sort of assistance is then limited to the poorest of the poor who have not been resettled and who, therefore, will have little impact on agricultural production and food security on a national scale.  

But the frequently stated epithet against the resettled farmer also means that donors and NGOs share a common bias against the best initiative on land in the history of Zimbabwe and they help to spread and strengthen that same bias among young Zimbabweans who grew up after 2000.

The second problem, the financialisation of the economy, means that Zimbabwe is dominated by fugitive economics, which means economics which has little to do with the needs and productive activities of the majority. 

The worst feature of this problem is the fetishisation of the US dollar as the best ‘store’ of value by elites who are not engaged in creating any value but are in fact just dealers and speculators.

The production which has resulted from the indigenisation and empowerment programmes which began with land redistribution has been turned into a real liability because the empowered people now need adequate liquidity to progress to the next step.  

As David Korten clearly stated in The Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism:

“Money serves a useful social function as a medium of exchange.  In the hands of speculators, however, it becomes an anti-democratic, anti-market instrument of instability and unjust extraction… Holding virtually any real asset involves a cost to the holder.  Forests, factories, farmland and buildings must be protected or maintained… Even holding gold involves costs for secure storage.  Only those who hold money as a future claim against the wealth that others are creating and maintaining expect a secure, cost-free effort on their part.  This feature of money encourages the conversion of real wealth to money to be held in inflating financial assets, though the interests of (real community and real) society are best served by encouraging the creation, stewardship and augmentation of real wealth.”  

Therefore the extraordinary worship of the US dollar in Zimbabwe is a reflection of the power which Treasury and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe have granted, through financialisation, to a small elite who now have “…a claim against the wealth (product) which others (the majority) are trying to create.”

The financialisation of the economy has meant, first, that elites in 2009 rushed to adopt the US dollar and use it as Zimbabwe’s currency with little consideration of its impact on agricultural production among resettled food producers, in particular, and on production, in general. 

Directly tied to financialisation is the bias of urban elites and media against resettled farmers targeted by sanctions.

In this context readers of The Herald on August 27 2019 were surprised by the two paragraphs in the paper’s editorial titled ‘Lets utilise land, boost production’ which read in part as follows:

“Looking at the bruising fight Zimbabwe had to endure for daring by its liberation struggle ethos of empowering the indigenous black majority, it then defies logic why beneficiaries of the land reform are not (productively and efficiently) utilising land allocated to them.

Reports abound of resettled farmers who are not utilising allocated land, but instead boast in pubs of being land owners intermittently waving the offer letters in the face of imbibers just to prove that they indeed own land.

Such attitudes are an albatross to the development of Zimbabwe which needs to increase its production in line with the Transitional Stabilisation Programme and Vision 2030.”

The editorial then referred to Western sanctions as if they then were in the past; and yet it was just days after the 39th SADC Summit had, in fact, named the same racial sanctions as the real albatross on Zimbabwe’s shoulders.  The Herald was already suggesting that the real albatross was the attitude of resettled farmers who supposedly spent most of their time in pubs!

Yet if SADC economies were being affected by the same sanctions, what about Zimbabwe’s resettled farmers who were the primary target of the racial sanctions in the first place?  

The fact that there was no uproar against The Herald’s editorial at the time is an indication of the erosion of the ethos of the Third Chimurenga among the new generation.  

This erosion is what the two African leaders are warning Africa about:  Resettled farmers may continue to be marginalised even after the sanctions originally targeting them have been lifted.

The person directly in charge of Zimbabwe’s foreign policy at the height of the western economic war to stop the country’s land revolution was the late Dr I. S. G. Mudenge.  In his 2004 paper delivered at The Former Liberation Movements’ Conference dubbed ‘The Struggle Continues’, Dr Mudenge reported the following among other things:

“To the capitalist world in general, the action by Zimbabwe of reclaiming African land (stolen by settlers over 100 years) undermined the principles of (white) property rights and raised the spectre of indigenous people reclaiming their land rights everywhere as well as the assertion of the authority of developing countries over their natural resources.  These radical concepts could be tolerated as (theoretical) debating points and not as practical policies.  They simply had to be stopped.” 

And illegal sanctions were the weapon with which to stop both the ideas and the policy practices arising from them.  

In other words, from the point of view of the white Anglo-Saxon countries who ganged-up on Zimbabwe by imposing illegal sanctions on its new farmers, African land reclamation could be allowed only as a theoretical and debatable idea but would not be allowed to succeed as a practical economic development policy.  

That is to say:  

The white powers had to do everything to ensure that African land reclamation would never result in an agrarian revolution leading to the full mechanisation and industrialisation of the resettled farms.  

To this day, donors influenced by the same powers still swear that all African farmers resettled on ‘contested land’ should not receive aid or investment, directly or indirectly.  

And there is a growing African elite who do not mind that restriction.

The late former Minister of Foreign Affairs in the same paper cited above emphasised that the former white Rhodesian settlers and their mother country Britain unashamedly “…appealed to race solidarity wrapped in high sounding innocent concepts like good governance, human rights, economic management etc, and unleashed a vicious campaign of vilification and demonization through (their) control of weapons of mass deception like the BBC.”  

Unfortunately, the African victims of that vicious propaganda have done nothing to reverse its effects.  In fact, many of them have internalised it as their own.  

And it remains a clear hindrance to proper agricultural investment in Zimbabwe.  

It is therefore shocking to see that the same vilification of resettled Africans continues in local media here.

So, the first reply to The Herald editorial is that the image of the resettled African farmers it used on August 27 2019 is a neo- Rhodesian caricature.

The second reply is that, of all sectors of the Zimbabwe economy, resettled African farmers were the primary target of sanctions.  

Traditionally and world-wide, the finance and manufacturing sectors of the economy have discriminated against agriculture.  

That is why governments all over the world intervene in agriculture to ensure that it is capitalised and mechanised.  

Obasanjo and Desalegn Boshe are telling us via their paper that this investment, capitalisation and mechanisation has not yet been carried out.

The key objective of sanctions against Zimbabwe is to deny capital to the country, knowing very well that if capital is scarce throughout the economy, then common small-scale agriculture will get nothing at all.

In addition to that traditional bias against agriculture, finance, industry and commerce were the heart of Rhodesian neo-colonial rump economy at the time of our land evolution.  

They viewed the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) as their prime client and they sided with it against the African land reclamation movement. Moreover, the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, that is the US sanctions law on Zimbabwe, was drafted to meet the wishes of the white CFU.

To demonstrate how really mistaken most attacks on resettled farmers are, it is important to refer to two observers who wrote to the Daily News at the time of riots and stay-aways organised by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) against the land revolution between 1999 and 2008.

What started in 1997 as company shut-outs organised in co-operation with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) became more elaborate and more sophisticated in 2007 and 2008 as the MDC worked with some companies, the CFU and the ZCTU.

The pattern was widely acknowledged as far back as 2003, following the defeat of the MDC by ZANU-PF in the 2002 Presidential elections.

For instance, on September 4 2003, the Daily News published a long letter to the editor which was called ‘Cathy Buckle can’t fool everyone all the time’.

The letter showed that there were some, within the regime change camp, who were still proud that the MDC had invited Britain and its Anglo-Saxon allies to wage economic war against Zimbabwe in order to coerce the voters to abandon the liberation movement in exchange for sugar, mealie-meal and other handouts.  But there were others, such as Cathy Buckle, who were beginning to sense that openly celebrating an economic war against one’s own people posed serious risks for the opposition.  

The people might become as clear in 2003 as they were in 1978.  

They might reject the short-cuts being offered by the 21st Century equivalent of the Internal Settlement.  

So, Cathy Buckle wrote at length to deny the existence of British-sponsored illegal sanctions altogether and to cover up the MDC role in inviting and enforcing those sanctions.

But Denford Magora, who became Dr Simba Makoni’s advisor and spokesperson in 2008, wrote the reply to Buckle which the Daily News published on September 4 2003.  

His letter stated, among other things, that:

“Britain and America have a tried and tested method of getting rid of regimes they do not like.  

The game plan always involves making sure that the population of a country suffer enough to rise up against the incumbent government.  

That was the plan in Iraq and, when it failed, United States President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair dropped all pretence and invaded that country.

By opposing (financial) bailouts by the international community, the West is imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe.  These sanctions have nothing to do with Mugabe or ZANU-PF.  They are designed to ensure that the people of Zimbabwe do not feel comfortable, with the result that they rise up against Mugabe and chase him out of the country.”

Richard Chauke, who was close to the operations of industry then, wrote another letter to the Daily News to complain about companies who were benefitting from the workers and resources of Zimbabwe using profits from those same workers’ labour and resources to wage an economic war on the entire population.  Richard Chauke wrote:

“Industry really plays politics too, perhaps with more (material) vigour than all the politicians.  Truly, industry cannot be spared for its role in the Zimbabwe crisis.  It is unfortunate that where industry acts politically, economists are quick to jump onto the grand stage to lecture us righteously about laws of supply and demand.

There is no doubt that industry miscalculated badly towards the 2002 presidential elections.  It fired many workers, the so-called downsizing.

Some companies shut down deliberately, expecting to come back to life after the elections.  Others even relocated to neighbouring countries in a bid to frustrate their workers.

The povo in rural areas were not spared either. 

 Some goods seen on the shelves in the evening were not available the next morning.  

Goods on the shelves were deliberately pegged at abnormal prices and many economic excuses were given, such as lack of foreign currency and fuel shortages.

Politics is in the ability to have control and power over the people so that an individual, group or institution even determines what people eat or acquire.  

Therefore, industry played all sorts of games possible to frustrate workers in order to woo them to vote for its crippled baby — the Movement for Democratic Change…. We were branded cowards because we voted incorrectly….”

We quote these passages at length because they were written by people using their own original experiences and observations five years before the 2008 elections.  

Magora emphasised one side of the equation, the role of Anglo-Saxon imperialism and racism in global economic warfare.

 Richard Chauke emphasised the other side of the equation, the role of foreign companies in a small and dependent economy where the people want independence, sovereignty, economic empowerment and indigenisation.  

The African land reclamation movement, with hopes to initiate an agrarian revolution, constituted the core of the dream of indigenisation. 

In other words, the same industry accused in the Daily News by Denford Magora and Richard Chauke of organising stay-aways and shut-outs against its own employees and against the land revolution was expected to manufacture and sell most of the inputs needed by resettled farmers who had displaced the white farmers who were traditional clients of that industry!

If that industry would shut out its own workers in the interest of regime change, how was it going to treat the maligned African resettled farmers? 

This is the history of farming in Zimbabwe which we must take into account before accusing resettled farmers of failing to produce bumper crops.  And Obasanjo and Desalegn Boshe are warning that the same farmers may be further marginalised and impoverished as a result of the effects of COVID-19 on the economy.  

We need a pro-active investment policy in agriculture which is not elitist and financialist.

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