Saving Zimbabwe to save Africa
Associate since 1991
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April 11, 2008
NAIROBI - Africa is in danger of getting itself a bad name again, just when a lot of things have been going very well. The rather similar disputes in Zimbabwe and Kenya over who really won the election, if prolonged much further, risk blunting the wave of economic confidence that has swept through black Africa in the last three to four years. Investors have been pouring in. Some countries have even been able to issue well-subscribed bonds. The terms of trade, after 40 years or more of angst, have moved in their favor.
Indeed, if these countries have the guts to allow higher food prices be passed on to their farmers, rather than wailing about the poor urban consumer, then Africa's belated agricultural revolution could begin and then indeed Africa's fortunes would be transformed within the next decade.
But if Kenya blows and if Zimbabwe continues to sink and if South Africa can't manage a smooth and uncorrupted presidential election all bets on a continent - wide breakthrough will be off. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who engineered the electoral peace deal in Kenya, needs to return and bang heads together over a deal to settle cabinet membership. The Western countries, rather than threatening putative sanctions if the parties don't agree, need to offer carrots instead- an offer to abolish barriers on all of Kenya's agricultural exports if peace is made would be a good place to start.
Likewise in Zimbabwe where the situation is a hundred times worse. In Zimbabwe's inflation-ravaged economy the only game in town that pays is a ministerial portfolio. No wonder the political class still largely gravitates to President Robert Mugabe who knows how to run a gravy train, even as he runs the economic train off the rails. Zimbabwe has been sanctioned close to death but all that has meant is that the poor suffer and the ruling political class who connive with the black marketeers get richer. Carrots could help change the mood - not only incentives in the international market place for agricultural exporters but, as Michael Holman has suggested in the Financial Times, an offer of massive donations of “fertilizer, raw materials and spare parts for industry. Medicines for clinic and fuel for transport”.
The West can be rather good at this. I recall watching almost in disbelief in post Idi Amin Uganda as tarred roads were rolled out in less than a month, empty clinics restocked overnight and so on as Western and international agencies went into overdrive to put the country back on its feet. If some of the wavering politicians of the ruling party could be persuaded that Zimbabwe has a bright future without Mugabe and that they could make money in legitimate business maybe they wouldn't rally to him.
Most important of all Britain, the ex-colonial power, and the U.S. which was so intimately involved in the negotiations that led to the end of white power, need to come clean about their unhelpful role in land reform in the early days of independence and also lay out some constructive policies for further reform today. The British mumbled their way through the 1980 constitutional conference when it came to land saying that while they favored a sensible land reform they couldn't be explicit about how much money they would set aside. The Americans were also reticent.
From Mugabe's new government there was also a deafening lack of initiative. A few months after independence I interviewed the minister of finance. “What's going on about land reform?” I asked. “It's not for now”, he replied. “It's not on our list of priorities”.
I couldn't believe my ears and popular resentment over the lack of land reform built up over the next 20 years. Only then, when Mugabe had his back against the wall, facing a crucial election, was a crude and self-serving (benefiting mainly Mugabe's cronies) land reform initiated.
Britain has a measly $60 million earmarked for land reform, peanuts compared with the $2 billion development fund talked about at the time of the constitutional conference. Far more needs to be dangled before Zimbabwe's nose, on condition this election is concluded honestly and on condition that the future of land reform will involve settling and agriculturally educating deserving black peasant farmers. The remaining 300 or so white farmers need also be made to feel secure.
For Britain this is a far more important task than anything it is doing in Afghanistan. For America, where African development is one of the few stars in President George W. Bush's portfolio, making sure Africa continues to advance is arguably as important as anything he might do in the Middle East.
Copyright © 2008 Jonathan
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