In a recent article in the Guardian, Alex Duval Smith argues that aid to Zimbabwe must support resettled farmers on so-called ‘contested areas’. These are the 8m or more hectares taken over as part of the ‘fast-track’ land reform programme from 2000. Around 180,000 households, about a million people live in these areas, yet aid – development and humanitarian – is not offering support despite the clear needs and challenges.
Many argue that the UK government and others should boycott such areas, as they are under dispute – sometimes with legal cases in Europe and elsewhere. The Zimbabwe Vigil group, based in the UK, is vehement that sanctions should be retained. The EU argues that the ‘targetted measures’ (notionally focused on individuals, but actually much broader in effect) should be sustained until free and fair elections have been held. But it has been 12 years since the land invasions and the challenges are very real – whether in the area of agricultural production, social services, health and education.
I offered a brief contribution in response to the (yet again) rather ill-informed comments being made on the Guardian’s website:
Alex Duval Smith is absolutely correct to argue that Zimbabwe is missing out on the benefits of land reform by failing to invest in the ‘fast track’ resettlement areas. For sure some areas are not being fully utilised, but our decade-long research study in Masvingo province showed how, particularly in the A1 schemes, most new farmers are producing, selling, investing and accumulating. Most new farmers in these areas are not ‘cronies’, linked to the ZANU-PF elite, but ordinary farmers formerly from nearby communal areas or towns. But equally, as Alex Duval Smith correctly points out, such farmers cannot do everything by themselves. They need support – from government, as well as donors. Their predecessors, the white farmers who occupied the land from the colonial period, received massive support over many decades, and new farmers need this too if the restructured agrarian economy is to thrive. Investment in schools, roads, irrigation, extension services, markets and so on are all essential. Of course the situation across the country varies enormously, as the array of studies now available shows, and thus it will be necessary to tailor support accordingly. But 12 years since the land reform, it must be time to reconsider the aid boycotts and ‘sanctions’. These provide political succour to elements of ZANU-PF, and all sides concur they do more harm than good. Everyone agrees that land reform in Zimbabwe was necessary and, although the manner in which it happened resulted in unnecessary violence, disruption and loss, today Zimbabwe, and its development partners, must look to the future, accepting the need for some compensation for those who lost out, but also supporting the new farmers. A more informed debate about Zimbabwe’s land reform is urgently needed, and this article is an important and timely contribution.
A rethink of ‘sanctions’ is clearly needed. Unfortunately the UK continues to sit on the fence. According to recent reports, the UK High Commissioner, Deborah Bronnert indicated that the UK government had no intention of changing their tune on land reform. “At some point I think we are likely to…support a future settlement but I think we are a long way from it and it will require quite a big political shift and a political settlement here for that to be taken forward,” she said. Farm families on the new resettlements may have a long wait for education and other services.