Economic Isolation is Hindering Zimbabwe’s Transformation

Since the election of a new government for Zimbabwe one year ago, the administration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, in which I serve, has begun reforming our land policies, changing laws, and commencing a new compensation initiative to address the injustices of the recent past. Some commentators, such as Tonderayi Mukeredzi in Foreign Policy, have legitimately questioned whether this goes far enough.

The new land reform program is a work in progress. Where we stand today is not the end, only the beginning—and the destination will evolve as we learn lessons en route.The new land reform program is a work in progress. Where we stand today is not the end, only the beginning—and the destination will evolve as we learn lessons en route.

Immediately, there is the pressing question of compensation for white farmers whose land was taken. By law, the government was obligated to compensate farmers for improvements and infrastructure on the land—not the land itself. In reality, the payments were delayed and piecemeal.

At present, 53 million Zimbawean Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) dollars ($4.8 million at today’s exchange rate) have been set aside in the 2019 budget to begin a comprehensive payment process covering the 4,500 farmers whose land was acquired under the fast-track land reform program. This is already being disbursed to the most vulnerable among the farmers, in close consultation with their representative organization, the Commercial Farmers Union.

In parallel, the government is completing a nationwide evaluation exercise in order to arrive at an overall compensation figure. The farmers have already computed their own figure. What remains, therefore, is for the government and the farmers to conclude ongoing negotiations to reach a final, agreed compensation figure and payment mechanism. I am confident, given existing goodwill and the desire of all parties to resolve the issue of compensation, that we will soon be in a position to go public with an agreement.

The issue of the land itself has been agreed and settled. For farms obtained under bilateral investment treaties, reimbursement shall be for both land and improvements to land. However, domestic deeds must be seen in a wider historical arc, one laden with colonial dispossession and racial subjugation. A select few held the finest farmland in Zimbabwe to the detriment of our society. Then wrong begot wrong under the policy of President Mnangagwa’s predecessor, Robert Mugabe.

Dredging up these emotive memories of reciprocal dispossession is no way forward. We must solve this land question for all groups—and solve it permanently. If we do not, Zimbabwe will remain caught in its past.We must solve this land question for all groups—and solve it permanently. If we do not, Zimbabwe will remain caught in its past.

While land reform is about righting historical wrongs, it is also about reclaiming Zimbabwe’s mantle as the breadbasket of Africa. Racist laws have been changed to be color blind and ensure that only the best, most qualified farmers tend the land: White farmers can now obtain 99-year leases on the land, rather than the previous limit of five (all the agricultural lands of Zimbabwe are held in trust by the nation), and leases can now be sublet to white farmers, where once it was often blocked.

Nevertheless, Mukeredzi is correct to identify two obstacles in boosting production, both of which the government recognizes: first, whether a 99-year lease (in their current legal form) can be used as collateral to raise capital for reinvestment into the farm, and, second, the vast fertile tracts that lie fallow across the country.

It is not a question of whether the current policies go far enough, but the speed of travel. For instance, tenancies are not bankable, because they are not transferable in the event of a default. To rectify this, a revised leasehold has been agreed in principle with government and the Bankers Association of Zimbabwe. Now this must be ratified into law. At the same time, property rights are being strengthened through their enforcement, with a clampdown on illegal farm seizures.

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