One hundred and forty white farmers from Zimbabwe have relocated to Zambia with the blessing of the Zambian government. In an experiment that is sure to redefine the status of white landholders in Central Africa, Zambian officials concede that while it may not be totally popular, the white farmers and their skills are necessary to breath new life into the country's moribund farming economy.
Agriculture is the backbone of African countries that do not have the mining resources of the DR Congo and Botswana. In order to feed their growing urban populations, some of these countries are now beginning to recognize that the traditional rake-and-hoe methods of their rural people need to be supplemented by modern, large-scale farming enterprises producing commercial quantities of maize, sorghum and wheat.
To do so they require the expertise of black and white farmers with the ability to attract large-scale financing. Seeking to escape the excesses of the Mugabe government, Zimbabwe's white farmers are recognized as having such skills and those willing to move are now being attracted to next door Zambia by its mix of racial harmony and political stability.
"We have learned from our experience in Zimbabwe," white farmer Douglas Watt claims. "We realise that we need to integrate, not just prosper, if we want to be accepted as equals in Zambia."
Douglas Watt and another 140 white farmers believe that Zambia is everything that Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe is not. Racially tolerant, law-abiding and with moderate policies, Zambia is following the example of South Africa: A country that welcomes all, as long as they help in nation building and are not racist in outlook.
Desperate for investment and having learned from its disastrous post-independence policies, the new Zambian government of President Levy Mwanawasa is determined to move forward in its agricultural output. While 60% of this country's 740,724 sq km area is considered arable, only 10% is actively being farmed. In a country of 10m people with 450 commercial farmers (of whom 310 are indigenous Zambians) the opportunities for re-locating white Zimbabweans are therefore enormous.
"There is a large vacuum to fill," Chance Kabaghe, Zambian deputy minister of agriculture says. "That is why we are so open. Adding that the government is: "Encouraging these farmers to respect our norms and mix with the local people," he also confirms that the Zambian government will be watching the...