Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Archive for the ‘Agriculture’ Category

What the experience of the less successful of Zimbabwean white farmers in Nigeria tells us about developing commercial agriculture

Posted by CM on October 15, 2009

Much has been written about the small group of white Zimbabwean farmers who have relocated to Nigeria to seek a new start after being dislocated from their home country. Among the elements that regularly feature in the stories done about them are their pioneering spirit, ready to carve out new farm land where there is mostly bush and where the support infrastructure is rudimentary.

Particularly in Shonga, Kwara state, where the governor actively sought out the Zimbabwean farmers to give a kick-start to commercial agriculture in the state, the farmers have enjoyed top-level political support. This has helped them considerably in their efforts to obtain bank finance, electricity set up and so forth.

Despite the difficulties of adjustment to a new environment, the articles that have been written about these farmers suggest they are making good progress in beginning new lives and in introducing a model of large-scale farming that has not previously taken strong hold in Nigeria, nor indeed in too many other countries in Africa. It is an interesting experiment…read full article

Posted in Agriculture | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Zimbabwe’s continuing land contestation and the symbolisms of ex-farmer Roy Bennett’s legal troubles

Posted by CM on February 15, 2009

So Roy Bennet, MDC ‘treasurer general’ and deputy agriculture minister-designate in the new unity government has been arrested. First a standing treason charge that kept him in exile in South Africa for three years was revived. Many Zimbabwe opposition politicians over the years have dubiously been charged with treason, with the charges almost always then failing to stand up in court.

Then awkwardly, the treason charge was suddenly dropped and replaced with a charge of ‘terrorism.’ Whatever the charges preferred against Bennett, it remains to be seen what sort of evidence will be presented. But it is widely considered that the charges are false and little more than harassment...read full article


Posted in Agriculture, People | 1 Comment »

Yet another lost Zimbabwean farming season

Posted by CM on November 26, 2008

This is wishful thinking on my part, but it would have been nice to imagine that even in the midst of the long-running political stalemate, someone in the Mugabe government would have been paying a lot of attention to agriculture. It’s neglect accounts for a lot of the reason where are where we are today. And a well-functioning agriculture still offers the best hope of reducing the country’s many economic and social ills, and laying the foundations for eventual recovery when the politics are finally sorted out.

But of course, political survival by the Mugabe regime now comes before everything, although I would have thought that repression aside, success in agriculture would have strengthened the government’s hand rather than leave it as embattled and friendless as it has become. Political attention and economic resources are now mainly taken up by fighting off the many real and imagined enemies of the regime.

And when one or another grand agricultural scheme has been announced over the years, it has floundered for one or more of the many reasons that the rest of the country is in such a mess. Even when an idea has been good on paper, there are now so many other things wrong in the economy for such interventions to work as they would in relatively normal times. Hyper-inflation, fuel shortages, the high cost of forex, lack of security of tenure on farms, lack of trust and confidence in the political leadership: all these and more  have conspired against all the best laid plans of Mugabe fixer Gideon Gono and the rest of Mugabe’s machinery to try to kick-start agriculture.

Perhaps partly as an inducement to ZANU-PF and the MDC to find a resolution to their embarrassing sparring over how to divide political positions, the South African government recently announced having budgeted a $30 million assistance package  for Zimbabwean agriculture. At the beginning of the rain season, this was one of the most friendly gestures any government could offer to Zimbabwe at this time of great hunger and suffering.

Weeks after the offer, our politicians seem no closer to resolving their differences than they were months ago and quite  reasonably, the South Africans are not willing to sink support into a situation of such un- certainty and dysfunction.

The withdrawal of loan, grants and other kinds of agricultural assistance that Zimbabwe would normally expect has been described as part of “illegal sanctions” by Western countries by the Mugabe government. But it is not quite so easy to make the same charges against a South African government that has often seemed to bend over backwards to support the Mugabe government when much of the world was urging it to instead take a ‘get tough’ stance.

Years after the political fat cats of all parties have satisfied themselves that their personal needs have been taken care of in any settlement they reach with each other, Zimbabwe will still be paying for the ruin and neglect it has brought on its agriculture.

Posted in Agriculture | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

MDC agriculture and lands position paper avoids the tough issues

Posted by CM on August 10, 2008

What the MDC refers to as its policy document on lands and agrarian reform is remarkable for how little it says about one of the most crucial issues on which its performance would be judged if it gets into power.

The paper promises to tell the reader ‘how we will attend to the issue’ but really does nothing of the kind. The MDC’s positions on many of the day to day agricultural issues are hard to fault, and are not different from what any other government anywhere in the world would be expected to do. But this is precisely why the document is underwhelming. The centrality of the issue of land to the problems in Zimbabwe particularly require the MDC to boldly and clearly show how its stance is different from that of ZANU-PF.

The MDC says it would “rationalise” a land reform process that was “chaotic and outside the rule of law.” But “there will be no return to the pre-2000 status nor will the present regime of wastage, corruption, under utilization and multi-ownership be preserved.”

This is perhaps the only bold and clear-cut statement in the whole document. Over the years the MDC has been pilloried by ZANU-PF over its wishy-washiness in regards to what it would do about the controversial land takeovers that have taken place since 2000. Morgan Tsvangirai and his party have never been able to live down the image of them being partly representative of the hopes of white farmers to reclaim their farms. The image of white farmers excitedly surrounding Tsvangirai in the early days of the party’s formation to offer him financial support backfired very badly for him. It gave ZANU-PF plenty of propaganda ammunition against Tsvangirai and lost him credibility in much of the black world that to this day he struggling to regain.

The situation was not helped by confusing statements from party officials about their position on farms expropriated from white farms. “Outside the rule of law” seemed to reduce the issue to ‘lets see who has title deeds’ but the complexity of the land issue in Zimbabwe means it is far more than merely a legal matter. It is that in part, but it also involves un-avoidable issues of race, history, economics, politics, emotion and many others, which is why it is so intractable.

The fact of the matter is that no matter how ‘chaotic and outside the rule of law’ the ZANU-PF driven expropriations were, and regardless of the so far disastrous results, the idea of them retains much support amongst Zimbabweans across the many divides in the country. A wholesale reversal of them is not politically tenable, and the MDC statement is simply a reflection of how the party has come to accept this reality.

The MDC says it will seek to set up a commission to deal with land issues, and that this proposed statutory body would have the task of dealing with the nuts and bolts of what exactly to do about the many vexing issues. According to the position paper, this commission would, amongst other things, carry out a land audit to determine who has what land and what is being done with it. It would “ implement and coordinate a rational and participatory all inclusive and well planned resettlement programme,” whatever that means. It would also set out allowable sizes of land holdings and find ways to discourage multiple farm ownership.

All this is general enough that it cannot be said to constitute policy. These are all things that would need to be done in one form or another by any government, including eventually by ZANU-PF itself if it continues to rule. Apart from telling us they will not try to go back to the pre-2000 pattern of land holdings, the MDC position is to essentially say “the land commission will look at things after we get into power.”

It may be politically wise of the MDC to not allow itself to be pinned down to specifics on a complicated issue, but the lack of clear signs of fundamentally new thinking about land and agriculture is not an encouraging sign.

In typical MDC-speak, the party says it would ‘internationalise’ the issue of how to compensate farmers whose land has been expropriated since 2000. No doubt Britain, for one, would now be willing to be part of funding the pay-off of white farmers. This would be for ‘kith and kin’ reasons, as a reward to an MDC government for deposing a Robert Mugabe the British have come to hate with a passion, and to be seen as part of the solution to the resolution of this long-standing problems, rather than as part of the problem, as Mugabe has repeatedly, stridently argued. The EU and others may have their own reasons for wanting to contribute to a compensation fund under an MDC government.

But is expressing a commitment to compensation based on external funding not potentially problematic? The party reasonably argues that ‘the Zimbabwean economy does not have the capacity to offer just and equitable compensation while at the same time driving the economy forward.’ What happens if  ‘internationalising’ compensation does not yield the required funds? There could be many reasons for this: donor fatigue or unhappiness over one thing or another about the terms of the compensation, or the way forward politically or economically. These are after all parts of the reasons for why previous plans to raise money to buy the white farmers out did not materialise.

The ZANU-PF government’s stance has been that it would pay compensation whose value it determined, and based only on ‘improvements to the land, rather than including the value of the land as well, because of the history of colonial plunder. The white farmers who purchased their land rather than received or inherited it as part of the process of colonial subjugation of the Africans obviously take a dim view of this.

Yet even if the ZANU-PF position was one extreme that cannot meet the demand of ‘just and equitable compensation,’ what is the thinking that will go into meeting that requirement of justice and equity? The MDC could have used the opportunity presented by setting out its basic philosophy in regards to this, even if the details are to be worked out later.

That the white farmers lost money, assets, livelihoods is not in doubt. But if one looks at violent dispossession in its historical context in the country, it is hardly a new phenomenon. Previous violent dispossessions by colonial authorities against the Africans were done according to the ‘rule of law’ of the time, but it was stacked against the Africans and in favour of the white settlers. This happened within the lifetimes of people still living today, so it can hardly be considered as ancient history which can simply be written off. ‘Lawful’ and ‘just’ are not necessarily one and the same thing, which is why the innocent-sounding ‘rule of law’ can be a nebulous, loaded term.

Is the recent dispossession of the white farmers more horrific than previous one of the natives? If so, why and how? Is the fact that the white farmers had paper title deeds in a way that Africans did not when their land and cattle were grabbed from them the salient issue? If Africans have been expected to let colonial bygones be bygones, why would it be too much to ask the white farmers to accept the injustice of their loss in a similar light? Why is the native expected to live with his or her wounds of colonial dispossession as the price of moving forward and yet the white farmers of today are not?

The MDC is probably too beholden to western interests to be expected to broach this subject this way, but that is a shame. It should be an entirely legitimate part of the discussion over compensation. Of course there are many other things to consider than just the wounded feelings, lost property and investments of the white farmers. One of those would be the negative message that would be sent to potential investors in not compensating the farmers for their lost investments. But if the idea to scrap or to limit compensation were considered, it could be sold as part of a process of wiping a very messy, complicated slate clean in order to start another more just phase of the country’s development. Qualifying what ‘just and equitable’ compensation means in this case need not be taken to mean that in future expropriations would become routine, the way they have been for a good part of the nation’s recent history, although an ahistorical, jaundiced Western media often gives the impression that they were only began eight years ago by the ‘evil’ Mugabe against the innocent, hard working Christian white farmers.

Having discussions like this, even if they ended up with conventional ‘rule of law’-based compensation of the white farmers, rather than some resolution which looks at the issue in less conventional, more historically holistic terms, would show that the MDC was committed to dealing with the issue of agrarian reform from the roots, rather than from just the apparent surface.

The MDC document has its share of absolute twaddle. A prize gem is ‘the ultimate economic liberation of Zimbabwe will only occur after the destruction of the dual enclave economy and the transition of our country into a modern industrial State.’ Apparently what this means is a glorious, miraculous process of renewal ‘to free the country from direct reliance on land and agriculture but an (sic) industry and technology and software.’

The paper in some parts reads like a high school essay more than a serious work by a party hoping to run the affairs of a country. The sweeping, hopeful statement of how the MDC will lead Zimbabwe into being a technological powerhouse no longer dependent on agriculture directly is not backed up with any detail whatsoever about how this will be accomplished and it seemed un-necessary in a paper purportedly outlining the party’s agricultural policy. It is the kind of grand statement whose hopefulness one cannot disagree with but in the current context makes the MDC appear like a typical over-promising political party rather than one that has seriously engaged with how to address the pressing issues of today. Just reviving commercial agriculture would keep the MDC busy long enough that mentioning a hoped for future technology-based Zimbabwe in an agriculture position paper today does not make the MDC appear like a far-thinking party, but one throwing around platitudes in place of specifics about the great issues of the day, of which land and agriculture are two.

The MDC briefly lectures about the distinction between land reform and agrarian reform before promising us that under the latter, the party would ‘and industrialize the rural areas to make them productive and wealth generating.’ Assuming that it is a given that this would be a desirable thing to do, how would the party take us to this industrial promised land? No specifics are again, so I suppose this is another rabbit the land commission will be expected to pull out of its magic hat. These sweeping sorts of statements of the wonderful great things you would do as a ruling party when you clearly have not thought them through in any detail should be avoided.

The come a raft of promises to do the kinds of things that any government should do. The MDC mentions support for agricultural training and research institutions, provision of inputs and so on. They would all be good things to do, but probably beyond the capacity of any government to carry the full responsibility for. This has been the experience of most countries, and the MDC would have to make an above average commitment to agriculture to merely do most of what it promises in its paper.

In seemingly promising everything to everybody, the MDC comes off like any other political party. This is of course what it is, but even that is not good enough at a time when the depth and complexity of Zimbabwe’s problems requires unusual commitment and thinking power to solve. Getting Zimbabwe out of its current doldrums will require the kind of fresh, out-of-the-box thinking which the MDC’s policy paper on land and agriculture does not suggest the party has embarked on.

Posted in Agriculture | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Who is minding Zimbabwe’s agriculture?

Posted by CM on July 13, 2008

by Chido Makunike

One of the most alarming things about the total pre-occupation on maneuvering for power of Zimbabwe’s political parties is the continuing neglect of of the country’s agriculture.

This is dangerous not only because of the worsening hunger, but of the generally agreed on idea that a dramatic improvement in agricultural production is still the most realistic means of stemming the economic slide and eventually helping to reverse it. If serious enough attention were paid to agriculture to just get the country to feed itself, that would be an important achievement with wide-ranging benefits for the rest of the economy.

The question of what to do about land reform is a long-term issue. The question of who is “running” the country’s agriculture is posed here in the immediate term, the planting season that will begin this coming October/November. It is already getting late for that season to not have plans in place for seed, fertilizer, fuel, equipment and so forth. Yet it is hard to imagine that in the current uncertainty over everything anything is being seriously done in this regard.

The large scale commercial farming model has largely been destroyed and there is no prospect of that situating turning around tomorrow even if the political parties pulled a miraculous rabbit out of the hat of their negotiations. But it must be remembered that even at the height of commercial farming as practiced by large scale white farmers, it was small scale farmers who produced most of the nation’s maize, which is the main food security crop in Zimbabwe. The small grains like sorghum and barley have also been grown mostly by small scale farmers, as have most vegetables for local consumption.

So while reviving commercial agriculture is important for supplying industry many raw materials and for export, achieving food security does not necessarily depend on settling the difficult question of what to do about the large scale commercial agriculture model that has been mostly dismantled within the last 10 years. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that diligently enabling the small scale producers with the appropriate inputs, incentives and sense of security could in one season have a dramatic effect on the country’s food security situation.

Year after year there have been the announcement of plans to ensure all inputs were in place for the country’s main cropping season. And year after year those plans turned out to have been much less than announced, or to have floundered for one of many reasons to do with the economy’s many inter-linking crises.

One of the things that is so puzzling about the Mugabe government’s failure to seriously tackle this issue is that it would be the most effective way of justifying a land redistribution exercise that has been largely judged to be a colossal failure, and to be characterised by cynical cronyism.

Yet there is no sign that there is any re-doubled commitment to addressing the problems of agriculture.

Zim agriculture now a disgrace in the Financial Gazette makes sad reading:

When the (tobacco auction) floors opened for sales in May this year, farmers almost staged an ugly riot over poor prices and there was no activity for days. Since then, after the sales resumed and stopped only to restart again, just over 26 million kilogrammes have been delivered at the country’s three auction floors. Overall, a mere 75 million kg are expected from farmers by the close of sales later this year compared to a seasonal flow of well over 200 million kg before the year 2000.

“Right now it’s dark. You can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” says Jabulani Gwaringa, the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union director, trying to forecast the country’s grim agricultural future. But he believes that in terms of food security Zimbabwe can recover in a single season if the farmers, especially those in communal and A1 resettlement areas make preparations in time, with timely access to inputs, because they have since independence in 1980, supplied more than 90 percent of the staple maize to the Grain Marketing Board.

The factors required to make this happen again are not completely independent of the country’s present crisis. For instance, hyper-inflation, fuel shortages and the overall sense of fear and uncertainty would affect the best laid production plans in many ways. But it is also true that a more serious commitment to addressing the production constraints would likely result in dramatic gains in a single good rain season.

Besides agriculture being crucial to Zimbabwe’s food security, farming should bring good returns for all the hard work farmers put into it , be they communal or commercial. Many communal, small scale resettlement and commercial farmers have already sold this year’s produce and spent the cash on items that have no bearing on the coming season while hyperinflation is fast corroding the cash still in hand.

It is unfortunate that for the nation’s many eager farmers, agriculture is fast becoming a futile enterprise. At the tobacco auction floors farmers are paid in part by cheque plus $200 billion in cash. Cashing their multi-trillion-dollar cheques is a living nightmare.

“There are some retail shops that are very keen to accept our cheques, but they double the price of any item we buy. It’s a take it or leave it game. They say by the time our cheques mature they will have devalued due to inflation,” said a farmer from Guruve who chose to remain anonymous.

“We are buying useless items that don’t help us to continue farming just to convert our cheques into cash. I would not mind the retailers doubling the price if they were selling me fertiliser because it is a critical ingredient in tobacco farming. But if you go around, there is no fertiliser and our money is losing value every minute,” he lamented.

In February this year, the government distributed, among other things, hundreds of tractors, ploughs; thousands of animal-drawn scotch carts, harrows, grinding mills, generators, planters and cultivators; as well as combine harvesters and diesel.

While these efforts to revive the ailing sector are commendable, some farmers have accused the government of somewhat misplacing its priorities. “If the government imported and supplied the local fertiliser manufacturing industry with all the critical inputs such as potash required for fertiliser manufacturing, would it not be cheaper and make more economic sense than importing the fertiliser?” asked one industry expert who declined to be named.

As commendable as the move to promote greater efficiency and productivity through mechanization was,  there are several factors that mean that even those well-intentioned efforts could not on their own cause a dramatic turn around in the country’s agricultural fortunes, and they didn’t.

Tractors and other such equipment are mainly meant for the benefit of the very few present and aspiring medium to large scale farmers. The problem is that in the present climate, there are many other things working against the success of these farmers: fuel is hard to come by, hyperinflation makes operating difficult at every level, they need credit which is hard to get, labour is a problem because wages are not worth the effort in the hyper-inflationary environment, and so forth. Tractors and other such equipment are not the most important limiting factor to production. Therefore, it is possible to have them and still not see big productivity gains, because the real, most significant current constraints to production are still in place and largely unaffected by whether a farmer has a tractor or not.

For now, the tractors would be much more useful if they were used to till for large groups of small scale farmers than they are in the hands of individual medium to large scale farmers who cannot presently use them optimally even if they are very committed. The present mess in the country simply means that for many reasons, the best hope of production gains in agriculture rests with supporting the small scale farmers, who do not have the crippling costs and many other burdens of large scale farmers.

Small scale farmers often rely on family labour, they often use their own rather than commercial seed, they have small enough holdings that for some crops they could rely on manure and compost for fertility enhancement, rather than expensive and hard to get fertilizer. They use inefficient, back-breaking hand cultivation, but in the present climate where a farmer with a tractor can’t get fuel for it, obviously the small scale farmer can get on with business in a way the other farmer cannot.

Various ways of helping the small scale farmer on whom the nearest prospect of food security rests include favorable overall policies and market-driven prices (or the total lifting of crop price controls to spur production, although this is controversial because of the effects on the consumer. But in Zimbabwe, shortages caused by depressed production have shot prices sky-high anyway. So we have shortages and high prices, hardly an ideal situation for the consumer.)

There are many other things one would have on a wish list for aiding small scale farmers, such as affordable transport to market, better storage facilities, etc. But these and many others are not realistic in the current environment. Yet even with minimum assistance, or even just minimum interference in the things that make small scale farmers want to work hard to produce, yields of many crops would boom, with positive effects on food security, inflation and an overall revival of confidence in the country’s future by its own people.

Continues the FinGaz article, “Agriculture used to generate a lot of foreign currency, but other sectors such as mining and tourism propped it up too. So, is the government properly channelling the little available foreign currency to the key areas that need a little investment to make them tick again? There might be other impediments, but internal co-ordination is lacking. Proper organisation is lacking and mired in too much bureaucracy,” the agricultural expert said.

He cited the involvement of the military, under the Operation Maguta programme, as being absolutely unnecessary since there are structures in place such as the Agricultural Extension Services and farmer organisations that can perform better if empowered.

“A farmer will think twice before entering an army barracks to collect seed or fertiliser. Why doesn’t the government give these responsibilities to those who have agriculture at heart? “Some politicians take advantage of this disorganisation. They delay the distribution of inputs to farmers until the people are desperate, just to gain political mileage.”

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, extricating agricultural issues from politics at present is impossible, as the two have become wedded in unholy matrimony that has left millions on the verge of starvation.

It is ironic and tragic that the ‘politics’ that were said to guarantee wider ’empowerment’ and greater possibilities for food security and wealth creation have done the exact opposite.

Posted in Agriculture, Economy | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Positive development in Zimbabwean biofuels

Posted by CM on July 10, 2008

by Chido Makunike

Surely “positive” and “Zimbabwe” cannot belong in the same sentence, I can hear you say.

That Zimbabwe is in a mess in many ways is indisputable, but this blog will never tire of pointing out how very few aspects of The Zimbabwe Crisis can be viewed in quite the simplistic black and white terms painted by most of the media we are assaulted by every day.

From The Herald of July 4:

ZIMBABWE’S biggest sugar cane producer, Triangle Sugar Corporation, has resumed ethanol production at its plant in the Lowveld, in a milestone development that is expected to ease serious fuel woes that have been afflicting the country over the past decade.

The ethanol is blended with petrol and the biofuel allows Zimbabwe to “grow” up to 15 percent of its own petrol.

The resumption of ethanol production by Triangle was also expected to meet all the blending requirements by State’s sole fuel procurer Noczim and save Zimbabwe millions of dollars in foreign currency every year.

The ethanol plant at Triangle was decommissioned in the early 1990s following a severe countrywide drought but Government has of late been calling on Triangle to recommission the plant in the wake of prevailing fuel shortages in the country.

Triangle chief executive officer Mr Sydney Mtsambiwa yesterday confirmed that his company had resumed ethanol production, adding that commissioning of the plant to produce fuel-grade ethanol was scheduled for middle of this month.

Triangle produces over 35 million litres of ethanol a year but the figure was expected to rise with increased sugarcane hectarage in the Lowveld.

The completion of Tokwe-Murkosi Dam in Chivi could also further boost ethanol production in the Lowveld as sugarcane production was expected to increase by between 15 and 20 percent in Chiredzi.

The Herald having become a shameless propaganda sheet over the years, one must be cautious about treating anything in it as absolute gospel. The optimistic projections about the contribution the ethanol will make to the country’s fuel requirements must be taken with a grain of salt.

Providing a little more detail about the development, business newswire Bloomberg said well-known sugar cane growers Hippo Valley Estates and Triangle Limited would provide the feedstock, and that their South African parent company, Tongaat Hulett, was in the process of “converting a plant in Zimbabwe for ‘a small amount of capital’ to allow it to switch between producing potable ethanol and fuel-grade ethanol.”

I think large scale ethanol production and blending with petrol first took off in the country in the 1970s, during the sanctions against Rhodesia for declaring UDI in 1968. Biofuels are globally controversial now because of charges that the widespread switch of farm land and agro-resources from food to biofuel feedstock crops has significantly contributed to the current “global food crisis” of escalating agro-commodity prices.

But clearly, for a country like Zimbabwe that has largely been cut off from international credit and facing close to a decade of serious fuel shortages, biofuel production is an excellent idea that should be encouraged and expanded.

Hopefully the country’s politicians have enough economic sense to prevent the political disruptions of farming production we have seen over the years, including at the sugar estates that are now turning sugar cane into fuel grade ethanol.

Posted in Agriculture, Economy | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Are Peta Thornycroft’s Zimbabwe articles for the UK Daily Telegraph news or opinion?

Posted by CM on March 24, 2008

Peta Thornycroft, a political editorialist who somehow gets away with being considered a reporter, has written an article headlined, “Robert Mugabe turns the screw on Zimbabwe’s dwindling white farmers” for the UK Daily Telegraph.

Mr. Mugabe is a cold-hearted, violent despot who has shamefully brought Zimbabwe to ruin under the guise of a black empowerment that has gone horribly wrong. He is brilliant at turning people off and revels in his notoriety in the Western world. He is now stuck in the rut of justifying trying to stay on in power long after his usefulness expired by invoking racial bitterness at what he considers his spurning by a Britain whose approval he once so slavishly sought.

Mugabe’s Western notoriety is fed by the shrill racial emotionalism of people like Ms. Thornycroft and publications like the Daily Telegraph. The opposing shrillness of Mugabe and his supporters on one side and Thornycroft and papers such as The Telegraph on the other encapsulates the racial, political and historical bitterness of what Zimbabwe symbolically represents.

In her latest article, Thornycroft relates the experiences of white farmers battling government efforts to evict them from their farms. What struck me about the article is her almost palpable bitterness and outrage at what the subjects of her article are undergoing. And indeed, countless numbers of Zimbabweans have suffered all manner of hardships and indignities in the county’s extremely violent history, of which the last few years at the hands of its latest government is just the most recent episode.

Thornycroft’s writing is heart-felt and gripping to read, but it is not reporting. It belongs in the editorial/opinion section of The Telegraph, not its news pages. The outraged emotionalism of her main theme, the treatment of white farmers at the hands of Mugabe, has become as raw and knee-jerk as Mugabe’s uncontrolled, apoplectic rage at the mere mention of the word “Britain.”

Writing about a white farmer on trial for resisting eviction from his dairy farm outside Harare, she mentions that “the property has been targeted by Elias Musakwe, an executive of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.” She then goes on to mix giving us information and opinion with sentences like, “He has planted maize, which will never germinate (my italics), on the cattle pasture, and is intimidating the family by parking a tractor against the Therons’ daughter’s bedroom window.”

While Thornycroft does not help her non-agricultural readers by explaining why the maize “will never germinate,” there are indeed several reasons why this could be the case. But without stating what they are in this particular situation, the insertion of that phrase here not only is her opinion in what is ostensibly a news story, my suspicious mind detects a sneer behind it.

How is that important? As a way of bolstering my refrain about the subjectivity and emotionalism of a large section of the British media in writing about Zimbabwe.

Ms. Thornycroft, who has publicly talked about how she gave up her British citizenship in order to be able to retain her Zimbabwean one, is not only getting more emotional in her reporting, she is also getting sloppy. The man whose name she gives as “Musakwe” is not only an RBZ executive, he is also a public figure, well known as a music producer in Zimbabwe. Ms. Thornycroft has lived in Zimbabwe for many years and it is presumably the expectation of The Telegraph that she corresponds for about Zimbabwe that she will be knowledgeable, thorough and authoritative on her subject. Given all this, to me it is an example of the kind of blind, emotional sloppiness to which she has descended that she could not spell this well known man’s name correctly as “Musakwa.”

She mentions another besieged white farmer, Doug Taylor-Freeme, who “has a gang of men allied to the ruling Zanu-PF party camped outside his kitchen door, ordered there by Chief Wilson Memakonde, a Zanu-PF senator who has already taken possession of five white-owned farms.”

The chief has recently gained infamy as a “multiple farm owner” in mockery of the Mugabe regime’s stated one-person one-farm policy. Apart from his notoriety in this regard, he would obviously also be well-known as a politician and a traditional leader, being a senator as well as a chief. It is therefore astonishing to me that Thornycroft, with her long experience and deep, quite obvious emotional ties to  Zimbabwe would mis-spell a Shona name as well known as Nemakonde.

The Telegraph and British readers for whom Thornycroft writes are too far from ground zero to catch these errors that would be inexcusable in a cub reporter’s story, let alone a famous “foreign correspondent” such as Madame Thornycroft. I can also understand how even when pointed out, those readers would consider these errors as really minor issues that in no way change the import of Thornycroft’s main point: how Mugabe is persecuting the white farmers.

Besides, surely everyone understands that those awkward African names are so difficult to remember and spell! How big of an issue can it be that Thornycroft can’t tell the difference between Musakwe and Musakwa, or between Memakonde and Nemakonde?

“Geez, you Africans are so sensitive, such a chip on your shoulders!”

Perhaps, but imagine the derision an African reporter who has lived in Britain for decades would get for not being able to know what a faux pas it was to not understand the weight of an error like spelling the name “Brown” as “Crown.” The error is far more significant than the misplacement of one letter.

My point is not to dispute the substance of Thornycroft’s article. I am in no position to know the veracity of her accounts, but it is not in doubt that white farmers have had a torrid time at the hands of the Mugabe government in recent years.

I am using this example of Thornycroft’s writing to re-iterate my point about how professionalism, accuracy and objectivity about Zimbabwe have largely gone out the door in much of British media reporting.

Posted in Agriculture, Economy | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

White Zimbabwean farmers highlight Nigeria’s agricultural failures

Posted by CM on March 24, 2008

Every few months there is some story about how white Zimbabweans whose farms were expropriated by the Mugabe government and moved to start over in Nigeria are faring.

The latest such article describes…(full article)

Posted in Agriculture | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

Christina Lamb “explains” Africa to her British readers

Posted by CM on March 23, 2008

by Chido Makunike

Christina Lamb, a British journalist, has carved out a niche for herself as some sort of “Zimbabwe expert,”  supposedly brilliantly able to explain the intricacies of “the Zimbabwe crisis” to her fellow Britons and Westerners.

It has not been hard for her to do, as Western readers seem to like to have puzzling-to-them Africa “explained” to them by one of their own, rather than actually listen to what the Africans have to say about their own reality.

Lamb cemented her image as Africa-expert/explainer-to-the-British with her book ‘Zimbabwe, House of Stone.’ The publisher’s online blurb describes it as a “powerful narrative (which ) traces the brutal Rhodesian civil war and the hope then despair of the Mugabe years, through the lives of two people she met who find themselves on opposing sides.” It chronicles the perspectives of a white farmer besieged by war veterans at the height of the farm takeovers in 2002, as well as that of one of his African employees.

I may come back to the book another time, but for now, Ms. Lamb has written an article for the Sunday Times (UK) about Mike Campbell, a white farmer who has been fighting attempts by the Mugabe regime to take over and evict him from his Zimbabwean farm at the SADC Tribunal, based in Namibia. The tribunal was set up in April 2007 as part of  a peer review mechanism within SADC. It aims to ensure that the objectives of the SADC Treaty to which Zimbabwe is a signatory, such as human rights and property rights, are upheld.

I have a lot of trouble with Ms. Lamb’s writings on Zimbabwe, as I do with those of many other British writers. She tries, particularly in her book, to be careful to treat the racial and historical aspects of what has brought Zimbabwe’s to its present pass with objectivity. But to me, her understandable sympathies for the white farmers and revulsion for Robert Mugabe stick out like a sore thumb that makes much of her work, including the present article, an expose of white feeling about Zimbabwe/Africa as much as it claims to be just attempting to tell us about the genesis of “the problem.”

There is no sin in this. Similarly, much of black/African sentiment to “the Zimbabwe issue” is also informed by racial/political feelings that go deep into the past.

Coming back to Lamb, the kinship that she so clearly displays with the white farmers makes her, for me, an opinionist more than a journalist just relating what is going on. For many blacks all over the world the symbolism that “Zimbabwe” represents is far more complicated than just the issues of economic decline or political repression. Likewise for some white people, especially of British extraction, “Zimbabwe” has another set of racial, political and historical symbolisms. The contrasting symbolisms are not monolithic for either group, and obviously there are some white and black people who see and interpret the wide array of symbolisms “Zimbabwe” represents in similar ways.

I have long maintained that writers like Lamb and much of the British media have become so emotional about “Zimbabwe” that much of their reportage is more post-colonial catharsis than it is just reporting about a country in deep distress. This is not only because of the colonial link between Britain and Zimbabwe, but because of the presence of a continuing, though now very small, white “community” there, and also because of how Mugabe has so consistently, mercilessly hurled British “sins” in their faces.

Mugabe has long sunk into an ugly despot, but a lot of what he says about Britain and its colonial role resonates with Africans everywhere. It just as strongly discomforts the British. All this influences the many disparate and inflamed emotions over the symbolic “Zimbabwe.”

For supporters of Zimbabwe, particularly for many Africans/blacks outside Zimbabwe, this means a “Mugabe is right” posture that transcends the mess he has caused to become of the country he rules. To others, and I would argue that people like Lamb fall into this group, the sting of Mugabe’s utterances, coupled with his repression and the economic ruin he has visited on Zimbabwe, gives them a way to subtly make statements about deeply held negative feelings about Africa and the Africans under the guise of “we are so concerned for their oppression and penury.”

In the short Sunday Times article  in question (Zimbabwe: white farmer Mike Campbell mounts last stand over land grab), Lamb paints Campbell in heroic terms while the Africans, not just Mugabe, are the traditional bad guys in a quite classic way that has become typical of much of the British press.

This is not at all to say that Campbell has not been subjected to shabby, unjust treatment by a Mugabe regime that selectively, cynically interprets and applies its own laws to ride roughshod over anyone standing in its way.

In going so over the top in portraying Campbell as a “white knight” and the natives as evil, shifty characters of low moral worth (obviously Lamb does not say so; this is my own interpretation based on reading her book, whose style is very much reflected in this latest Sunday Times article by her), she simplifies and distorts the complicated reality of the long black-white conflict of Rhodesia and Zimbabwe. She does so in a way I suspect is appealing to much of her readership. But what this pleasingly skewed reportage does is also to leave them with a distorted, limited understanding of the complicated, still evolving African reaction to the whole experience of British colonialism.

Lamb tells us of the trauma of the farm invasions of the early 2000s by the experiences of the Campbell’s horse, Ginger, who was so frightened that “she has followed Campbell’s wife Angela everywhere since she was attacked by Mugabe’s war veterans. ”

I am not in a position to doubt the trauma that Lamb says Ginger suffered at the hands of the purpoted war veterans, nor is it my point to want to do so. My point is that we are being set up by Lamb to understand just what nasty, nefarious characters these war veterans must have been. Imagine ow evil must be a group of people who would so scare the wits out of a nice, sensitive horse sweetly named “Ginger!” It is quite clear that what we are being told at some level is a group of cruel, vicious natives with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. “No wonder the country is such a mess,” is just one of the messages behind the words, unintentionally or otherwise.

This possibly subliminal, un-nuanced but not at all uncommon portrayal of the African is a far more powerful message than the mere recitation of facts. Just as Africans like me recoil at this historical Western stereotyping of our humanity by the likes of Lamb and The Times, The Telegraph and publications of that ilk, I am sure there are many Westerners to whom this stereotypical “reporting” appeals because that is how they see Africa and the Africans. On a certain level Lamb is merely providing modern-day fodder for what the West believes it “knows” about Africa and the African.

But if it is a comforting re-assertion of Western stereotypes, it leaves the really inquisitive non-African reader non the wiser about the complicated, sometimes contradictory reality of African feeling towards the continent’s experiences with the West. It leaves the target audience perhaps somewhat smug about their prejudices towards “those puzzling natives” but with their understanding of them no deeper, and perhaps more twisted and confused than before.

We are told about the skull of a young giraffe that caught its head in a snare. Campbell’s “British son in law Ben Freeth” explains how the skull grew around the wire, eventually cutting into the brain and killing the giraffe. “To me, this symbolises what has happened over the last eight years here – the slow strangulation of everything,” Lamb quotes Freeth as saying. The mention of Freeth’s being a Briton automatically makes the British/Western reader sympathise with whatever the writer is going to relate about his experiences in deep, dark Africa at the hands of the natives. And hearing the “reasoned” voice of a Briton lends an extra authenticity to whatever he says, and to Lamb’s account to her British readers, unlike the utterances of those unreliable, irrational , possibly even pro-Mugabe natives!

I do not disagree with Freeth’s poetically presented description of what Mugabe has wrought in Zimbabwe. What causes me discomfort and suspicion is how that is consistently used to cast pre-land upheavals Zimbabwe as an idyllic country of blameless, hard working white heroes like the Campbells. Again, this is not to question that they are hard working or perhaps even heroic in one way or another. I don’t know them. It is, instead, to say that British writers like Lamb ever so subtly juxtapose positive and negative racial stereotypes in such a way that the whole weight of a long complicated history of inter-racial mistrust and violence that explains the group feelings of whites and blacks about themselves and each other is dispensed with.

To the non-Zimbabwean, non-African reader of narratives like Lamb’s, the stage has been set for them to see the symbolic “Zimbabwe” in its complexity reduced to good, hard working and peaceful white versus shifty, lazy, violent native, a massive distortion of the historical record. Once this mental, psychological stage has been set, the native just can’t win, and all the subsequent details of whatever the particular article is about merely confirms what a loser that native is. And Mugabe serves as the perfect villain to confirm this because of his excesses, not just against the whites, but even against the very people he claims to love so much that he wants to “empower.”

Particularly for observers like Lamb, it becomes very difficult to separate antipathy towards Mugabe from the appeal of much of his message to many Africans. That appeal is only strengthened by the slant of the writings of people like Lamb. Instead of explaining “Mugabe may be a cruel despot but this is why parts of his message have such appeal to many Africans,” Lamb and much of the British press have conveniently simplified things to “Mugabe is a cruel despot so everything associated with official Zimbabwe is bad/negative/wrong/invalid.” They go further to then paint his opponents, and particularly the white farmers, as the therefore all-good opposite of Mugabe.

Certainly neat and simple, but also wrong and misleading. Lamb’s Western readers do not know enough about the history, the present it has wrought or the resulting African sentiment to see and question her on the simplicity of her accounts. And as said before, they are not inclined to doubt the depth and veracity of her accounts when they serve to entrench long-held Western stereotypes about the African.

African protests at reportage like Lamb’s can easily be dismissed as the normal complaining of the natives, who are to be studied but cannot be relied on to express their own narratives or explanations. That is best done by Western “Africa experts” like Lamb.

Lamb tells us how Campbell “admits he would not be able to carry on without the support of his family and their strong Christian faith.” No doubt true, and very touching. Call me overly cynical, but here is invoked the Western imagery of the decent, brave and “civilising” missionary out to do good amongst the unruly natives. The subliminal message here goes far deeper than that of a journalist who is merely telling her readers about a farmer attempting to legally defend his interests against a repressive regime.

What these consistent subliminal messages from much of the British media about “the Zimbabwe crisis” serve to do is make me immediately suspicious of their accounts, fairly or unfairly.

The most absurd example of “white-good, African-bad” subliminal messaging in Lamb’s article? The almost comical, “The war vets who took over  Bruce’s (Campbell’s son) farm brought cerebral malaria into the valley, killing 11 workers.”

How on earth could Lamb epidemiologically back up such a claim? And if she can, such an assertion would surely demand that she cite some sort of proof of it. But no, it is not necessary: having already been conditioned to understand what nasty characters the war veterans are, we are not expected to be surprised by or question how these bad guys could be proven to be the source of the malaria that killed the workers of the hero of the piece! Besides, being agents of the hated Mugabe, obviously the war veterans would have been quite up to “bringing” the cerebral malaria that not only wiped out a chunk of Campbell’s work force, but that also “killed Bruce’s wife Heidi (who) was four months pregnant with twins, leaving him a single parent to their five-year-old daughter. ”

Now of course the deaths were tragic, whatever the source of the cerebral malaria. My point here is that Lamb has long gone beyond merely telling the story of Campbell’s court challenge of the attempts to expropriate his farm. Ms. Lamb is in completely different territory now, where she is subliminally (consciously or otherwise on her part) telling the reader other racial narratives.

None of this necessarily suggests that Lamb is a cynical writer with some purposefully diabolical anti-African agenda. It is merely to suggest that in staring into the pool of “the Zimbabwe story,” she is no longer an objective observer/explainer. She has been sucked into the pool and reports from a jaundiced viewpoint, based perhaps  on her own background, just as many defenders of Mugabe view and report the story from other non-objective viewpoints.

Lamb’s work represents tragically horrible stereotypes that distort all the characters of “the Zimbabwe crisis,” both the natives as well as the white farmers whose understandable sympathy for informs so much of her work. Rather than making Zimbabwe any clearer to her readers, she instead caricatures its people and their tortured history and present.

Posted in Agriculture, Economy, People, Politics | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Joseph Made at his wild guessing games about agriculture again

Posted by CM on March 17, 2008

Mugabe minister Joseph Made is a man given to making sweeping statements. Several years ago, as then agriculture minister, he took a helicopter trip around the country and on that basis declared the country was about to enjoy a bumper maize harvest. The maize deficit that resulted and has continued every year since then earned Made much scorn and derision.

He now has the grand title of minister of Agricultural Engineering, Mechanisation and Irrigation. His portfolio may have changed, but not his penchant for wild, optimistic guessing games.

Every gambit by the Mugabe government to revive agriculture over the last eight years or so has been a disastrous failure. Now, two weeks before a crucial election, Made predicts the electioneering tactic of parceling out recently imported agricultural machinery will achieve what every other action of the Mugabe government has failed to do.

From The Herald of March 17:

Business Reporter

THE distribution of various farming implements last week under Phase 3 of the mechanisation programme, coupled with the machinery distributed under phase 1 and 2, will have the net effect of increasing production by no less than 50 percent in the short term.

Agricultural Engineering, Mechanisation and Irrigation Minister Dr Joseph Made said this would, however, depend on the effective use of the equipment, especially tractors.

A total of 500 tractors were distributed under Phase three while 1 200 tractors were distributed under phase 2 and 925 under phase one giving a cumulative figure of 2 625 tractors distributed so far.

Dr Made said if the tractors are used at the right time and in the right manner the yield capacity could go up to as much as 100 percent or 200 percent. The yield per unit for a small farmer receiving assistance from the District Development Fund, he said, should be around 200 percent.

Dr Made said if fertilizer availability improves, the yield capacity could go up by as much as 400 or 500 percent. “I am talking about sufficient quantities of proper base fertilizers, top dressing fertilizer, herbicides, pest control chemicals,” he said.

He added that the increase in production was also dependent on proper care and maintenance of the equipment. This, he said, could be achieved if farmers stick to periodic maintenance instructions prescribed by the manufacturers. “If all farmers are able to do this we will only start thinking about a major massive service after five years,” he said.

Given such a scenario, Dr Made said, production capacity in the next five years could surpass 1 000 percent.

I get the distinct impression the man is just throwing around whatever figures come to his mind! Without any context or details he predicts agricultural productivity will go up by huge, conveniently nice round numbers.

It is good for farmers to get farmers and other farm equipment. Unfortunately, there are so many factors working against their success that the equipment is unlikely to lead to anywhere near the kind of productivity increases Made daydreams about. Made actually gives hints of this by all the “ifs” he qualifies his predictions with.

“If” used at the right time, “if” fertiliser is made available, “if” the equipment is properly maintained, and so on.

Diesel is neither widely nor easily available so it is not a simple matter to use one’s tractor “at the right time.” Fertiliser and other inputs have not been affordably and widely available for close to ten years now, and as the forex crunch continues, there is no reason to believe that this situation will change any time soon. Maintenance of any equipment in Zimbabwe is hard because of the expense and difficulty of getting service items like oil and air filters, so it is a safe bet that many of these tractors will simply be run un-serviced until they quit.

The way Made expresses himself makes it quite clear that he is aware of all this.

The equipment being parceled out and all the other ad hoc agricultural measures are being tried when there is so much that is fundamentally wrong with the economy that they will largely go to waste. Once again we have evidence of how things have deteriorated to a stage where band-aid measures are no longer enough and a wholesale, surgical renewal operation is required.

Posted in Agriculture | Tagged: | 2 Comments »