By Chido Makunike
AS economic problems mount and mass starvation looms in Zimbabwe, there have been frequent calls from various politicians that re-distributed land be used productively by the recipients. Am
ong officials who have appealed for increased productivity on the farms are Vice President Joice Mujuru, Lands and Security Minister, Didymus Mutasa, and Reserve Bank governor, Gideon Gono. After several years of refusing to face up to the reality of what a disaster the Mugabe government’s agricultural policies have been, panic is setting in at their calamitous effects.
Whatever one’s political leanings or feelings about the farm expropriations of recent years, I think everybody agrees we need to find a way to urgently restore confidence and productivity in agriculture. But let us for a moment put ourselves in the shoes of a serious new farmer and look at just a few of the range of structural problems arrayed against him or her.
For the purpose of the point I am making, I will not dwell on obvious, now long-running impediments to business in general and farming in particular like the non-availability or non-affordability of various inputs. We all know that tractors and machinery are hard to come by and that there simply isn’t enough diesel to go around anyway. There’s no need any longer to mention foreign currency problems and their effects on productivity, nor the effects of hyperinflation.
But suppose you were a mythical farmer who somehow had a way around this litany of barriers to any realistic prospect of doing serious farming. Even if you were this imaginary farmer with all the inputs, capital, machinery and some hedge against the effects of inflation, what would be your realistic chances of success?
I would say except for a few who are either particularly well connected or unusually gifted in business, the odds are very much stacked against you in today’s Zimbabwe.
One of the main reasons for this is the complete breakdown in the bond of trust between the rulers and those they rule over. Over many years the Mugabe regime has insured that no one, supporter or foe, can any longer attach credibility to its assurances about security of tenure, respect for the law and other basics required for an individual or corporate entity to want to assume any significant risk. And yet this kind of sense of confidence in the fairness and predictability of the system is just what is required for a farmer to take on the risk of planting hundreds or thousands of hectares of a crop. She/he must have confidence that if they plan carefully and work hard and if the weather cooperates, they have a reasonably good chance of reaping the fruits of their labour and of their willingness to take risk.
But in Zimbabwe a farmer has so much more to worry about than even these significant factors that farmers everywhere must compute in their decision-making. How do you know that if you do really well you will not simply be opening yourself up to being a victim of some greedy government or ruling party official jealous of your success? If that official decides they want your crop, livestock or property, we now have definite evidence over several years that there is simply nothing you can do to stop it all being taken away from you. This process began first against the unpopular white farmers, but now even a ruling party official has to worry about a bigger fish in the structure being able to displace him or her by sheer force.
The police or army will not come to your aid; the courts are compromised – helpless and mostly unheeded by their political controllers.
Mashonaland governor Nelson Samkange was last year involved in an embarrassing situation of hi-jacking the tobacco crop of a new farmer he had asked to till “his” land since he couldn’t do it and yet wanted to give the appearance of using the farm he had been allocated.
There have been many cases of communities displaced from land they had been allocated to make way for some “big fish”. Regardless of whatever assurances are given about prices and freedom to market one’s crops as he sees fit, we now know that at any moment there could be a directive reversing the assurances under which you made the decision to grow a certain crop, throwing all your financial projections, in fact virtually your whole life, right out the window at a moment’s notice and with absolutely no recourse whatsoever. We have seen all this happen over the years and it continues.
Every now and then some minister or other official gives “assurances” that new farmers will soon be issued with 99-year leases to give them security of tenure and confidence to make long-term plans and investments, a necessary part of successful farming.
Tell me now, how many new farmers are going to really have confidence that the “99-year lease” issued by the regime of Mugabe is worth the paper it is written on given all the policy contradictions and reversals we have witnessed in the last several years? With a regime like this, does it really make business sense to take out a huge farming loan secured by one’s house for instance, in the present environment of chaos and cynicism?
Is this the kind of environment in which one makes the long-term, difficult decision to become a serious farmer? I would argue that the conditions of a lack of confidence in the system of ruling the country only encourages the quick-buck “dealer” mentality that is so inimical to any hope of serious farming or any other kind of investment.
Because of this overall sense of insecurity that has been engendered by the ruling regime, it makes selfish, personal sense for one to try to engage in activities that are as low-risk and low-investment as possible. This is why under the current conditions it is simply inevitable that a “farmer” with any significant access to fuel, for instance, would rather trade it for a quick killing than invest it in the long-term very high risk activity of actually farming. You don’t know if you will realistically make a return on the investment, you don’t know if you will stay ahead of inflation, you don’t know if you can service your machinery, you cannot even be confident that you will still be on your farm six months from now!
The same lack of confidence in the government, the future and the whole system also contributes significantly to the preference for speculating with forex rather than the long, hard slog of investing it in productive activities that would be more beneficial to the nation and to development. It is no secret at all in Harare that those who are the biggest forex speculators are some of the very same hypocrites who harangue us to be “patriotic” when their activities glaringly show their own lack of confidence in the future of the system they are running! If this were not true they would be busy opening factories in every industrial area and their farms would be showpieces for us to emulate. But no, they are fully aware that the foundation of the system they are at the centre of is made of sand and could fall apart at any moment. This is the confidence crisis I’m talking about.
Gono, Mujuru and all the rest decrying the under-utilisation of land, you are wasting your time. Your concerns are entirely valid but the neglect and rape of the land that we are currently witnessing is the inevitable result of the chaos, confusion and utter lack of confidence that the people of Zimbabwe have developed about their destructive, shifty rulers. The problem is that even if by some miracle Mugabe were to accept this premise of a crisis of confidence and even earnestly tried to change his government’s ways, I don’t think there is enough time available to this regime to reclaim that lost confidence of the people.
I have chosen to give the example of how this crisis of confidence almost rules out any prospects of productivity in the short-term in respect to agriculture. But in reality it now affects everything else. The IMF happily accepts money paid to it but when the alarm is sounded about the origin of the forex, it refuses to believe Gono’s assurances that it was raised without trampling on the rights of bank depositors to their forex. They instead choose to investigate for themselves where the money came from than to believe Gono.
George Charamba, you have recently whined about the unfairness of the IMF being so tough on Zimbabwe when poorer countries that owe more than Zimbabwe are treated softly. “It’s part of the world-wide conspiracy against my master Cde Mugabe” seems to be the best you can come up with to explain the dichotomy. A big part of it is that Zimbabwe’s reputation is now in the gutter because of the ruinous actions of its ruling regime over many years – simply another way of saying the world has no confidence in the ability of that regime to undo the destruction it has visited on Zimbabwe. It is a crisis of confidence.
An embattled ruler goes to Rome and in his grandstanding stunts to the world mentions his support of several oil-producing regimes to curry favour with them. They slap him on the back, stroke his ego and give him rhetorical support but not one of them turns on the oil taps to help his oil-parched country.
Millions of Zimbabweans abroad could significantly improve their homeland’s forex situation but apart from the obvious issue of exchange rates, many do not have confidence in the way their country is being run by the present rulers to repatriate funds, not just as a way to assist family, but as a nation-building mission.
All these are symptoms of the crisis of confidence. The crisis is such that even members of the regime themselves exhibit behaviour that shows their complete lack of faith and confidence in the workability and sustainability of an obviously crumbling system.
Things have deteriorated too far in Zimbabwe to any longer be dealt with in a patchwork manner like threats of more farm evictions based on productivity or the lack thereof. Threats of arrests or this or that sanction won’t do it. The whole system has become so sick and dysfunctional, the people so alienated from it that Zimbabwe will only have a chance of stopping its continued sliding and then eventually moving forward again when that whole system is overhauled. In the meantime all the initiatives, policies, speeches, threats and pleas for people to pull together are just a waste of time. It cannot happen in a society where the people are so at odds with their rulers.
* Chido Makunike is a Zimbabwean writer based in Senegal.