Utete land report a giant damp squib

THE report of the committe

e tasked by President Mugabe to investigate implementation of the land reform programme, details of which are published in this paper today, is a giant damp squib.

It was to be hoped that the committee, chaired by former civil servant Dr Charles Utete, would provide a thorough and professional account of the land reform process with sensible conclusions as to what needs to be done to extricate the country from the agricultural morass in which it now finds itself. Instead we have a document that looks suspiciously like all the other self-serving statements emanating from the Office of the President. The overwhelming impact of the report is its complete disregard of, or refusal to acknowledge, the reality on the ground, in terms of law and order, multiple-farm ownership, and localised chefs and warlords.

Its parroting of the government’s line on foreign interference, its distortion of the Abuja Agreement, and its refusal to accept any link between the current economic collapse and the fast-track programme makes pointless a potentially useful document.

Similarly, its failure to recognise legal action to prevent designation as the constitutional right of any Zimbabwean citizen underlines its similarity to government positions where any dissent regarding state policy is regarded as treasonous.

 This is the document President Mugabe handed to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York recently in the hope that the UNDP would become re-engaged on the land issue and hopefully draw in donors.

That isn’t going to happen. The Utete report is a partisan and wholly inadequate explanation of what remains this country’s single most costly disaster since Gukurahundi in the 1980s.

Most depressing of all is that large parts of the report are dedicated to the establishment of marketing, research and agricultural development systems that have been systematically destroyed over the past two years. There is only cursory reference to the decimation of wildlife, a valuable national resource and forex earner. And the destruction of infrastructure built over a century, including the theft of equipment, is given short shrift.

On Abuja it is suggested Britain committed itself to a significant financial contribution and pledged to encourage other donors to do the same. The report also disingenuously claims the drying up of foreign exchange inflows was a direct product of the smart sanctions being imposed against Zimbabwe’s leadership.

What are the facts? All donors agreed at Abuja in September 2001 to assist land reform if it was lawful, transparent, aimed at poverty alleviation, and did not disrupt production. Selective editing of the Abuja terms in the Utete report has made it look as if donors reneged on commitments made. The agreement, we should remind ourselves, stipulated that “the orderly implementation of land reform can only be meaningful and sustainable if carried out with due regard to human rights, the rule of law, transparency and democratic principles”.

The report omits to mention that none of these terms were adhered to by Harare.

The Zimbabwe government agreedat Abuja that there would be no further occupation of farms. Yet invasions continued unabated, including on unlisted and delisted farms.

The report concedes that Britain gave £40 million for land reform in the period 1980-96 although it doesn’t document how this money was spent, and it acknowledges that a further £36 million is awaiting disbursement if the UNDP approves a viable land reform scheme.

The report notes that in correspondence with UNDP head Mark Malloch Brown, Foreign minister Stan Mudenge made clear the government had chosen a fast-track approach in preference to the systematic investment-backed approach of the UNDP and donors.

The report is less than frank on multiple-farm ownership, touted by President Mugabe as the committee’s primary focus. In a report of 300 pages it gets a two-paragraph mention.

Thus the rotten core of Zanu PF’s land seizures remains surgically unattended. Instead, we are told, a special government task-force will look into the matter. Another will examine the fate of farms which are supposed to be protected by country-to-country agreements. Again, this is not a matter in which the law will prevail but one in which politics will determine outcomes.

Nor will the Buka report, which provided examples of multiple ownership, see the light of day on the grounds that it was only a preliminary document.

Perhaps the most revealing segment of an otherwise unrevealing report is the bit that says fast-track followed the rejection of the draft constitution in the 2000 referendum which, we are told, was “a result of the British-influenced political opposition”.

“The rejection of the draft consti-tution strengthened the government’s resolve to embark on an accelerated land reform programme,” the report notes.

Leaving aside the clumsy language of Zanu PF propagandists, this looks suspiciously like a confession that farm invasions were a punishment for commercial farmers for supporting the MDC. Which is what President Mugabe himself has often suggested, most recently in an SABC interview. In the circumstances, any debate about who reneged on the Abuja Agreement is academic. Where the agreement makes reference to the importance of the Harare Declaration on democratic governance in resolving the Zimbabwe land crisis, the government has demonstrated its contempt for the right of citizens to support parties of their choice.

The Utete report therefore unwittingly provides a useful insight into the delinquency of the political process behind land seizures. But it will not impress donors or indeed anyone else in the international community who will quickly see here a self-serving document that is more propaganda than substance.

This newspaper has been proved correct in its report of September 12 that less than 130 000 families have been resettled under the A1 model. The figure is in fact 127 000. This contrasts with the 300 000 repeatedly claimed by the government. At least the Utete report was able to shine some light on that particular falsehood. Overall, however, the report is a lost opportunity.

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