Zimbabwe & the real cause of war on the peasantry in the name of development

legacyofcolonialism msbrown at cwcom.net
Thu Aug 15 12:42:04 BST 2002

War on the peasantry
Mugabe's crimes pale next to what black small farmers endure in the 
name of development

The most evil man on earth, after Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, 
is Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe. That, at least, is the 
view of most of the western world's press.

Yesterday Mugabe insisted that 2,900 white farmers will have to leave
their land. He claims to be redistributing their property to landless
peasants, but many of the farms he has seized have been handed instead
to army officers and party loyalists. Twelve white farmers have been
killed and many others beaten. He stole the elections in March through
ballot-rigging and the intimidation of his political rivals.

His assault on white-owned farms has been cited by the Daily Telegraph
as the principal reason for the current famine. Now, the paper
maintains, he is using "food aid as a political weapon". As a 
candidate for the post of World's Third Most Evil Man, he appears to 
possess all the right credentials.

There is no doubt that Mugabe is a ruthless man, or that his policies
are contributing to the further impoverishment of the Zimbabweans. But
to suggest that his land seizures are largely responsible for the
nation's hunger is fanciful.

Though the 4,500 white farmers there own two-thirds of of the best 
land, many of them grow not food but tobacco. Seventy per cent of the 
nation's maize - its primary staple crop - is grown by black peasant 
farmers hacking a living from the marginal lands they were left by 
the whites.

The seizure of the white farms is both brutal and illegal. But it is
merely one small scene in the tragedy now playing all over the world.
Every year, some tens of millions of peasant farmers are forced to 
leave their land, with devastating consequences for food security.

For them there are no tear-stained descriptions of a last visit to the
graves of their children. If they are mentioned at all, they are
dismissed by most of the press as the necessary casualties of

Ten years ago, I investigated the expropriations being funded and
organised in Africa by another member of the Commonwealth. Canada had
paid for the ploughing and planting with wheat of the Basotu Plains in

Wheat was eaten in that country only by the rich, but by planting that
crop, rather than maize or beans or cassava, Canada could secure
contracts for its chemical and machinery companies, which were world
leaders in wheat technology.

The scheme required the dispossession of the 40,000 members of the
Barabaig tribe. Those who tried to return to their lands were beaten 
by the project's workers, imprisoned and tortured with electric 
shocks. The women were gang-raped.

For the first time in a century, the Barabaig were malnourished. When 
I raised these issues with one of the people running the project, she 
told me: "I won't shed a tear for anybody if it means development." 
The rich world's press took much the same attitude: only the Guardian 
carried the story.

Now yet another member of the Commonwealth, the United Kingdom, is
funding a much bigger scheme in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. 
Some 20 million people will be dispossessed. Again this atrocity has 
been ignored by most of the media.

These are dark-skinned people being expelled by whites, rather than
whites being expelled by black people. They are, as such, assuming 
their rightful place, as invisible obstacles to the rich world's 
projects. Mugabe is a monster because he has usurped the natural 

Throughout the coverage of Zimbabwe there is an undercurrent of racism
and of regret that Britain ever let Rhodesia go. Some of the articles 
in the Telegraph may as well have been headlined "The plucky men and 
women holding darkest Africa at bay". Readers are led to conclude 
that Ian Smith was right all along: the only people who know how to 
run Africa are the whites.

But, through the IMF, the World Bank and the bilateral aid programmes,
with their extraordinary conditions, the whites do run Africa, and a
right hash they are making of it.

Over the past 10 years, according to the UN's latest human development
report, the number of people in sub-Saharan Africa living on less 
than a dollar a day has risen from 242 million to 300 million. The 
more rigorously Africa's governments apply the policies demanded by 
the whites, the poorer their people become.

Just like Mugabe, the rich world has also been using "food aid as a
political weapon". The United States has just succeeded in forcing
Zimbabwe and Zambia, both suffering from the southern African famine, 
to accept GM maize as food relief.

Both nations had fiercely resisted GM crops, partly because they 
feared that the technology would grant multinational companies 
control over the foodchain, leaving their people still more 
vulnerable to hunger. But the US, seizing the opportunity for its 
biotech firms, told them that they must either accept this 
consignment or starve.

Malawi has also been obliged to take GM maize from the US, partly
because of the loss of its own strategic grain reserve. In 1999, the 
IMF and the European Union instructed Malawi to privatise the reserve.

The private body was not capitalised, so it had to borrow from
commercial banks to buy grain. Predictably enough, by 2001 it found 
that it couldn't service its debt. The IMF told it to sell most of the

The private body sold it all, and Malawi ran out of stored grain just 
as its crops failed. The IMF, having learnt nothing from this 
catastrophe, continues to prevent that country from helping its 
farmers, subsidising food or stabilising prices.

The same agency also forces weak nations to open their borders to
subsidised food from abroad, destroying their own farming industries.
Perhaps most importantly, it prevents state spending on land reform.

Land distribution is the key determinant of food security. Small farms
are up to 10 times as productive as large ones, as they tend to be
cultivated more intensively. Small farmers are more likely to supply
local people with staple crops than western supermarkets with 

The governments of the rich world don't like land reform. It requires
state intervention, which offends the god of free markets, and it 
hurts big farmers and the companies that supply them. Indeed, it was 
Britain's refusal either to permit or to fund an adequate reform 
programme in Zimbabwe that created the political opportunities Mugabe 
has so ruthlessly exploited. The Lancaster House agreement gave the 
state to the black population but the nation to the whites. Mugabe 
manipulates the genuine frustrations of a dispossessed people.

The president of Zimbabwe is a very minor devil in the hellish 
politics of land and food. The sainted Nelson Mandela has arguably 
done just as much harm to the people of Africa, by surrendering his 
powers to the IMF as soon as he had wrested them from apartheid.

Let us condemn Mugabe's attacks upon Zimbabwe's whites by all means, 
but only if we are also prepared to condemn the far bloodier war that 
the rich world wages against the poor.

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