- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2008



The United States and other G8 countries can set things right in Zimbabwe not by demanding that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai have the presidency, but by the United Kingdom conflating their debt to that country.

As a part of his priorities for the G8, President Bush asked the world’s richest countries to “pay up” to Africa. Stating that “we need people who not only make promises, but write checks,” Mr. Bush made accountability a major theme for the meetings. Instead of shouts of “Mugabe the madman,” the G8 should set the pace toward honoring an international obligation due the people of Zimbabwe.

Irrespective of who is heading Zimbabwe’s government, the British have a duty to fulfill their residual role of former colonial power. Instead of joining Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s meddling in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs, Mr. Bush should force the Prime Minister to write checks to pay the costs of positive land resettlement in Zimbabwe. This is the most crucial political issue in Zimbabwe.

“Power sharing” and a “transitional government” process have less to do with the progress of Zimbabweans than does the issue of land reform. Land reform began in an effort to more equitably distribute land between historically disenfranchised blacks and minority whites who ruled Zimbabwe from 1923 to 1979. First and foremost, the G8 should make Gordon Brown fess up to Britain’s obligation to settle Zimbabwe’s land question.

The challenges currently facing Zimbabwe cannot be fully understood without reference to the country’s history, and the structure of land ownership. Land in Zimbabwe is an important productive asset. Over 80 percent of the population earns its living directly from the land. Agricultural production contributes 25 percent to GDP and provides close to 40 percent of wage employment. A considerable part of the manufacturing industry - most notably foodstuffs, drink and tobacco, textiles and wood and furniture - depend on the output of the agricultural sector.

The debt can be traced to the 1979 Lancaster House Agreement. The conference was chaired by Lord Carrington, then secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs of the United Kingdom. The three-month conference almost failed due to Robert Mugabe’s disagreements on land reform. Both the British and American governments offered to buy land from willing white settlers who could not accept reconciliation (the “Willing buyer, Willing seller” principle) and a fund was established.

The funding for purchasing the farms of whites fell by the wayside and in 2000 Mr. Mugabe confiscated the land. The results have been disastrous for Zimbabwe. Prior to land redistribution, white farmers had large tracts of land and utilized economies of scale to raise capital and purchase modern, mechanized farm equipment. The reforms broke land into smaller tracts and gave it to former black farm workers and peasants, who had little knowledge of how to run the farms efficiently or raise productivity. Further, the refusal of banks to lend them money limited their ability to purchase equipment or otherwise raise capital. This is the basic reason that a country so rich in agricultural produce that it was dubbed the “bread basket” of Southern Africa is now a “basket case” struggling to feed its own population.

Internal politics is not what ails Zimbabwe. It is the land-reform issue and crippling sanctions. Black farm workers, who worked the land for whites, have not measurably benefited from Mr. Mugabe’s land seizures. The inflation brought on by sanctions is at a scale virtually unimaginable in economics.

The dilemma for those of us who support the Zimbabwean population revolves around positive steps we need to take. Those who support Zimbabwe’s people should not follow the bombast of President Bush or Mr. Brown, unless they band together to put the right people back on their land. Opposing Mr. Mugabe should not just mean supporting the Movement for a Democratic Change (MDC). The future Zimbabwe will be enhanced if the Brits support all the people of Zimbabwe with funding similar to what they poured into the MDC and its opposition to Mr. Mugabe.

William Reed is president of the Black Press Foundation and co-founder of the Give Peace A Chance Coalition.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More

Click to Hide