Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hurrah for Mugabe?

The Guardian really have never met a dictator they didn't like. The latest to receive an enconium is Mugabe, although, to be fair, the Guardian reasonably regularly runs articles, usually by Jonathan Steele, on why Mugabe is misunderstood, and Britain is the real enemy etc etc. There was a classic in 2000, shortly after the brutal stealing of the Presidential election, and while farm invasions and economic mismanagement were despoiling the country. It started:

Now that the furore over Zimbabwe's election has abated, let's draw a deep breath and admit it. Zimbabwe is an African good-news story.

Armed with such infallible news sense, Mr Steele has returned to the fray reminding us that all is sunshine and roses in Zimbabwe. The thing is though, as Tim Worstall points out, Steele has a slightly funny idea of success.

They have the courage to criticise Amnesty International for exaggerating the plight of farm workers who were forced off formerly "white" land taken over by Africans, and say that by 2011 the number of people working on resettlement land had increased more than fivefold, from 167,000 to over a million.

As Tim points out, an increase in peasant farming isn't often seen as a huge success. There's rather more to this as well. One of the pieces of evidence given as a reason why Zimbabwe land reform was actually a success (if you ignore all those murders of course) is that it hasn't affected production:

Far from it, production is now back to the levels of the late 1990s and more land is under cultivation than was worked by white farmers.

I'd love to see a critical analysis of the figures behind this. Everything I've seen suggests that maize production for example (the traditional staple food crop) has crashed catastrophically since 2000. In 2000 production was roughly 2 million tons. According to the Commercial Farmers Union, production this year is expected to be roughly 850,000 tons - a decrease on last year. A very authoritative report by the DBSA shows Zimbabwe's GDP declining by 70% between 2000 and 2008 and total agricultural production falling by 30% over the same period:

Once known as the breadbasket of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, Zimbabwe is now characterised by chronic food insecurity and is entirely dependent on international aid, particularly food aid.
Zimbabwe became a net food importer for the first time in 2002, as a direct result of the farm invasions. It remains a substantial importer, especially of maize. If production were genuinely returning to late nineties levels (a time when Zimbabwe was the second largest exporter of maize in Africa) you'd expect to see those imports coming down wouldn't you?

Even if these figures are true, however, all that they mean is that the workforce has increased nearly tenfold, the land used has increased (although he doesn't say by how much) and the result has been that production is only slightly less than it was when the land reform programme started. If this what the Guardian classifies as success, I think I can understand why they're going bust.

There's also a fabulous point made in support of the notion that the white farmers weren't all they were cracked up to be really:

White farmers never used all the land they had taken. In the years just before minority rule collapsed, in spite of generous government subsidies, 30% of white farmers were insolvent and another 30% only broke even. Some 66% of arable land was lying fallow.

Gee, do you reckon a 14 year period of global economic sanctions, coupled with a bush war that specifically targeted farmers might possibly have been responsible for this? How about judging the productivity of white-owned farms in the 1990s as a more appropriate comparitor?

There's just one final point in this article that I noticed. Steele talks about how "white" farms were invaded by "Africans". Zimbabwe didn't permit dual nationality, meaning that the overwhelming majority of white farmers were Zimbabwean citizens. Many have family roots in Africa going back hundreds of years. At what point do they become African? And is Steele happy for the same test to be applied to African immigrants to Europe?

It is, in short, an astonishingly bad article. But then, you'd sort of expect that wouldn't you?


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