One small step for Mugabe, a giant leap for land reform.

Author:Boateng, Osei
Position:Zimbabwe - Robert Mugabe - Book review

A new study led by British and South African professors and partly funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) has found that contrary to popular belief, Zimbabwe's land reform programme has not been an "unmitigated disaster", nor did the land predominantly go to "political cronies". The much-maligned programme initiated by President Robert Mugabe has finally been vindicated. Osei Boateng reports.


NOTHING CAN BE MORE FULFILLING than to see your enemies (sorry, political opponents) eat humble pie! That pleasant feeling swept over Harare in late November when a 10-year study led by British and South African professors and partly paid for by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) reported that Zimbabwe's "controversial" land reform programme has not been an "unmitigated disaster" and even more importantly the land did not predominantly go to President Robert Mugabe's "cronies" as Western governments, academics, and the media have told the world.

"Whatever you thought about the land issue in Zimbabwe, be prepared to change your mind," Prof Bill Kinsey of the Free University in Amsterdam, Netherlands, said in the wake of the new report. "Events in Zimbabwe since 2000," Prof Kinsey continued, "have been so coloured by superficial media reporting and obscured by strident political posturing that little attention has been directed to what has become of the thousands of families that received land following the occupations. Despite the unevenness of outcomes to dare, they have succeeded in establishing a base for themselves as serious producers with the capacity to contribute significantly to Zimbabwe's agricultural economy."


Prof Kinsey's view was echoed by Prof Mandivamba Rukuni, the current director of the Wisdom Africa Leadership Academy and former chairman of the Commission of Inquiry into Zimbabwe's Land Tenure Systems. "This [study]," Prof Rukuni said, "represents arguably the most comprehensive empirical evidence challenging the popular myth that Zimbabwe's land reform has been a total failure, attributed to political cronyism and lack of investment. The [study] will be most instructive for South Africa and Namibia as they ponder a way forward with their own land reform challenges."

For Zimbabwe's much-maligned president, Robert Mugabe, Christmas could not have come earlier. The new study, published in a book entitled "Zimbabwe's Land Reform: Myths and Realities", took 10 years to conduct, using one of the country's most important agricultural provinces, Masvingo, as the base. And its findings are extremely good news for the 87-year-old president.

The study team was led by Prof Ian Scoones of the University of Sussex, England. He was assisted by 21 others, including Zimbabwean, South African and European academics and other experts and field workers. The study's report was co-authored by Prof Scoones and five of his Zimbabwean colleagues - Nelson Marongwe, Blasio Mavedzenge, Jacob Mahenehene, Felix Murimbarimba, and Chrispen Sukume--and was published in Britain by the James Currey imprint in late November.

It is vindication writ large for President Mugabe. Because most of the 4,500 commercial farmers who lost their land or part of it in the land reform programme were British or European-descended (there were also white South African and Portuguese farmers involved), Britain, America, the European Union and the white Commonwealth (Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) have been on the offensive for the past 10 years, in defence of their kith and kin, to malign President Mugabe and the land reform he championed.

No adjective or method has been spared in this endeavour. They have used regime-change tactics which very nearly ousted Mugabe in 2008. They have used economic and political sanctions--spearheaded by the American-imposed and cynically dried "Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act" to try to bring the Zimbabwean economy and Mugabe down. The economic sanctions, which are still largely in place, led to a severe implosion of the economy and a meltdown never seen since Germany's era of hyperinflation during the World War years. They have also used a smear campaign, gleefully helped on and amplified by the Western media and academia, to lampoon Mugabe and the land reform programme by creating myths which have now been comprehensively demolished by Prof Scoones' study.

The Scoones report is so profound, unbiased, and thorough that Western academia, seeing its reputation now in tatters, has been going through hoops since it was published to repair the self-inflicted damage to its credibility.

Says Robin Palmer, formerly Global Land Adviser of the UK international NGO, Oxfam: "This is an important, exciting and hugely impressive study which throws original light on the impact of Zimbabwe's controversial fast track land reform programme in one province, Masvingo. It makes a major contribution to our understanding of these complex events, moving away from standard myths and stereotypes to paint a rich and nuanced picture. It is without doubt a major contribution to scholarship which deserves to be widely read."

Ben Cousins, research chair on poverty, land and agrarian studies at the University of Western Cape in South Africa, agrees: "This important study presents compelling evidence that the accepted view that land reform in Zimbabwe has been a total disaster is inaccurate and highly misleading. It breaks new ground in its exploration of livelihood dynamics and the complexities of social differentiation within the redistributive land reform. It is likely to influence both scholarship and emerging policy frameworks in the 'new' Zimbabwe."

The study

To leave no room for doubt about the bona fides of the study (and to avoid accusations of having done Mugabe's ditty work for him), Prof Scoones and his co-authors went to extraordinary lengths to tell bow the study was undertaken.

It started, they say, "under the auspices of the 'Sustainable Livelihoods in Southern Africa' project and subsequently focused on livestock as an extension to the 'Crop-Livestock Integration' project, both supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and coordinated by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex.

"The main...

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