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Even as lawless invasions of private property recommenced in earnest, government initiated Fast Track Land Reform Plan in mid-2000. It envisioned purchase of between 5-8 million of hectares of agricultural land, resettlement of rural indigent, provision of infrastructure, technical advice and inputs by both civil and military authorities and involvement of all "stakeholders" - especially white commercial farmers - in an on-going dialog in framework of Zimbabwe Joint Resettlement Initiative.
But Plan fast deteriorated into strong-arm, threat-laden, and litigious confiscation of white property. Following a setback in polls - its proposed constitution was rejected - ZANU-PF aided and abetted in disorderly - and, sometimes, lethal - requisitioning of farms by a mob of war veterans, mock veterans, petty criminals, rural dispossessed, party hacks, and even middle class urbanites. Ironically, very anarchic nature of process deterred genuine and long term settlers.
About 2000 farms were thus impounded by end of last year. The government refused to compensate farmers for land seized insisting that such reparations should be paid by Britain. It did, however, provide pitiful sums for infrastructure added to land by white settlers.
As pandemic corruption, lawlessness, and mismanagement brought country to brink of insolvency and famine, Mugabe tainted with anti-Western diatribe his merited crusade for reversing past injustices. He lashed at IMF and World bank, at Britain and USA, at white farmers and foreign capital. Xenophobia - no less that patriotism - is refuge of scoundrel in Africa.
In 1997, Britain's New Labor government ceased funding acquisition of land from white farmers. Donors demanded matching funds from destitute Zimbabwe. By 1999, entire West - spearheaded by IMF - disengaged. Zimbabwe was severed from global financial system.
This was followed by sanctions threatened by EU and partly imposed USA and Commonwealth. Sanctions were also urged by prescriptive think tanks, such as International Crisis Group, and even by corporate and banking groups, such as Britain's Abbey National.
Yet, discarding land reform together with Mugabe would be unwise. The problems - some of which are ignored even by Zimbabwean authorities - are real. A negligible white minority owns vast swathes of forcibly obtained prime arable land in a predominantly black country.
A comprehensive - and just - land reform would cater to farm hands as well. They are mostly black - about one fifth of population, counting their dependants. They live in shantytown-like facilities on farms with little access to potable water, sanitation, electricity, phones, or other amenities. They were not even entitled to resettlement until recently.
According to "Rural poverty: Commercial farm workers and Land Reform in Zimbabwe", a paper presented at SARPN conference on Land Reform and Poverty Alleviation in Southern Africa, in June 2001, only about one third of most destitute black farm workforce have been imported as casual and seasonal workers from neighboring countries.
The rest, contrary to government propaganda, are indigenous. Yet, protestations to contrary notwithstanding, government, preoccupied with relieving growing tensions in communal areas and rewarding its own supporters and cronies, refuses to incorporate farm hands fully in its Fast Track Resettlement Program. They are being accused of causing previous resettlement programs to fail.
The problems facing Zimbabwe's agricultural sector are reminiscent of situation in Mozambique, Namibia, Malawi, Swaziland, Lesotho, and South Africa. Namibia has already threatened to emulate Zimbabwe. Sam Nujoma, country's president, rebuked market mechanism as "too slow, cumbersome and very costly". An understandable statement coming from head of a government which, according to Namibian news agency, NAMPA, turned down 151 farms last year for lack of funds.
"Land Reform in Zimbabwe: Constraints and Prospects", edited by T.A.S. Bowyer-Bower and Colin Stoneman, notes that development, growth, and poverty alleviation in continent are directly linked to ownership and cultivation of land - often sole means of production. That no regional approach to this pressing issue has arisen attests to quality of self-centred, thuggish, and venal African leadership.
Politically-motivated land reform will lead to emergence of next generations of deprived and discriminated against. Resettlement has to be both fair and seen to be fair. It has to be based on unambiguous criteria and transparent and even-handed procedures. It has to backed by sufficient agricultural inputs and machinery, financial and technical assistance, access to markets, and basic infrastructure.
The proximity of services and institutions - from schools to courts - is critical. Above all, land reform has to look after people displaced in process - commercial farmers and their workers - and thus enjoy near universal support or acquiescence. Legal title and tenure have to be established and recorded to allow new settlers to obtain credits and invest in buildings, machinery, and infrastructure.
Alas, as both Human Rights Watch and UNDP concluded in their detailed reports, none of these requirements is observed in Zimbabwe. Hence recurrent failures and blood-spattered chaos they have produced. Is Mugabe to blame? Surely. Is he prime mover of this debacle? Not by a long shot. He merely encapsulates and leverages pernicious social forces in his country and in continent. Until root problems of Africa are tackled with courage and integrity Mugabe and his type of "reform" will prevail.
Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He is the the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.