A disaster stamped “Made in England”

by Daniel on March 5, 2004

With the pressure increasing on Robert Mugabe’s extremely unpleasant government, I thought I’d repost an old comment of mine from D2D on the subject of how things got this way. There is an unfortunate tendency on the left to lose their nerve in the face of human rights disasters in left-wing regimes and take their eye off the ball – to commit the fundamental attribution error of assuming that the problems they see aer the result of particular moral corruption in the regime in question, rather than maintaining more plausible structural assumptions. As I say below, there is no exonerating Mugabe; there is always the option of not being a bastard and he didn’t take it. But it is very hard to see how any good outcome could have come out of the situation created by the British.

(this was part of a portmanteau post entitled “Look to the future because something has begun, early in 2003. I’ve edited to remove two uses of the F-word which look gratuitous in retrospect)

Just a few facts about how things got how they are in Zimbabwe:

Before 1979: Mugabe leads his ZANU freedom fighters in guerilla war against the Rhodesians. They dream of freedom and land reform.
1979-1981: Mugabe, Nkomo, the Rhodesians and the British lay the foundations of the New Zimbabwe at Lancaster House. The key issue is land reform. The British promise that they will finance the transfer of land from the white population to the black population on an equitable basis.
1982-1997: It becomes gradually clear that the British don’t like Mugabe and have absolutely no intention of keeping their promise (note: the Tories were in power throughout this period). The black Zimbabwean population waits patiently, then less patiently, for land reform. The white Zimbabweans hang around on their farms—they know that land reform is coming, but they can’t afford to leave without the compensation the British promised. Gradually, the white Zimbabweans forget that land reform was ever agreed.
1997- shortly before the present: The current mess kicks off in earnest.
shortly before the present – present And then just to put a cap on it, a drought strikes the region.

Alright. First things first. I do not mean to exonerate Mugabe. There is always the option of not acting like a bastard and it is his fault he didn’t choose it. Although the proximate cause of the problems in Zimbabwe is the drought, things are much worse in that country than they are in Malawi or Zambia, and this is probably Mugabe’s fault. I am not going to comment on the question of him starving his political opponents, because I haven’t seen that claim substantiated, but I suspect that it’s the sort of thing he might do. But … the question that really has to be asked is what the bloody hell did Her Majesty’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office think they were playing at? If you encourage a populist Third World revolutionary leader to make expensive promises about land reform, and then create a situation in which it is impossible for him to keep them, how the hell do you expect things to end up? Badly. It is very hard to avoid the suspicion that something like the current mess in Zimbabwe was planned or at least expected.

{ 46 comments }

1

digamma 03.05.04 at 11:52 am

It is very hard to avoid the suspicion that something like the current mess in Zimbabwe was planned or at least expected.

Whoa. I was with you right up until that final sentence. Why is malice the explanation, as opposed to incompetence?

2

dsquared 03.05.04 at 12:22 pm

I tend to prefer “callousness” to “malice”; I think that FCO didn’t want to pay up for the cost of land reform, knew that this would quite likely result in a disaster in Zimbabwe and decided they didn’t care. The alternative is to assume that they thought that land reform would sort itself out without any UK money, which in the context of the Lancaster House negotiations, is the genuinely implausible assumption.

3

Matthew 03.05.04 at 12:26 pm

Of course you’re bound to get the response from some quarters, ‘well as we got you in the mess in the first place it means we have a doubly important responsibility to take over and fix it’.

This may or may not be a good idea, but as an argument fails quite a key test, which is if your best mate used it about something he’d done you would probably decline his kind offer.

4

dsquared 03.05.04 at 12:37 pm

To be honest I wouldn’t necessarily be against a humanitarian intervention in Zimbabwe if I thought that it would lead to quick a resumption of democracy and to land reform. However, my suspicion is that any actual UK intervention would be more attuned toward the interests of the white landowners (who have more political traction in the UK) than to Zimbabwe as a whole, and would just postpone the land reform issue into the future.

In general, I think that things went badly wrong in Zimbabwe when the Movement for Democratic Change got co-opted by the landowner interests (I do know people who disagree with this interpretation of what went on, btw, and this is not at all to downplay the genuine heroism of some MDC members).

5

Jack 03.05.04 at 1:03 pm

What about the Matabele? Worth sanctions of some sort in the normal course of things.

Also Ian Smith made things a bit tricky too.

6

Merkin 03.05.04 at 1:16 pm

Great post.
I’m amazed I’ve never seen the problem laid out so clearly before.
I moved over here to the UK in ’98, and I read newspapers across the spectrum, and the coverage in all of them has only ever been about how nasty Mugabe is and how terrible the whites have been treated by his supporters.
Land reform seems only ever to be mentioned in passing and usually it’s implied that it’s merely a fig leaf for Mugabe’s evil plans.
If it’s really true that the British government promised to finance land reform, then reneged, that’s disgraceful.
Hmm, but This here says it’s not as simple as that:
In 1990, after the government was no longer constrained by provisions of the Lancaster Agreement, the Constitution was amended in order to provide for the redistribution of land within the country. Throughout this time, various amendments have been instituted in order to provide for an adequate redistribution of the land, while allowing for the fair compensation of landowners. In addition, various governments, including Britain, have provided land assistance grants in order to facilitate the process of land redistribution and compensation. By 1997, however, much of the more fertile land remained under control of a few thousand white farmers. Moreover, much of the land that had been distributed, remained in the hands of the black elites, and was not accessible for lower-class Zimbabweans. Throughout this period, the population of lower-class laborers within the “tribal reserves”, increased. In 1998, international donor governments that had contributed to financing land reforms, held a conference on increased government enforced acquisition of land. These governments adopted a set of principles in order to guide “Phase II” of land reform in Zimbabwe. These principles included respect for the legal process, transparency, poverty reduction, consistency and ensuring affordability for acquisition and allocation of land grants. Subsequent to these proceedings, however, the relationship between the Zimbabwean government and donor governments faced instability, and Zimbabwe accused these governments of attempting to maintain the colonial distribution of wealth.

7

dsquared 03.05.04 at 1:20 pm

I feel no compulsion toward Mugabe apologetics, but I don’t see how anyone can credibly argue that the best way to defend the Matabele was to renege on the land reform promises.

8

Dan Hardie 03.05.04 at 1:34 pm

Hmmm… the chronology does rather exclude the following entries: ‘1983-1987: Mugabe, a Shona, sends Shona troops into Matabeleland to suppress the minority Ndebele tribe. All journalists and human rights groups who investigate these operations agree that large numbers of civilians are tortured and raped- estimates, by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, of those murdered run from 5,000 to 30,000.’
And:’1998- present. ‘Land reform’ takes place, consisting of paramilitary groups of youths loyal to Mugabe violently evicting white farmers and their labourers from their farms: there is overwhelming agreement among journalists and other observers of these land seizures that there are few or no attempts to actually run the farms productively, whether on a socialist or a free-market model. Rather, farms are allotted to persons ignorant of farming but prominent within ZANU, who have no idea how to grow crops or raise livestock, and who are frequently described as randomly slaughtering cattle and neglecting fields- a circumstance which rather suggests that Mugabe had little or no interest in dealing with the food shortage caused by the drought. In the meantime, the same youths (dishonestly describing themselves as ‘war veterans’) commit a larger number of violent crimes against black africans, principally urban trade unionists, Ndebele tribespeople and supporters of the MDC, a circumstance which rather suggests that rage at white landownership was not the principal cause of their violence. In 2002, one of Mugabe’s cabinet ministers says that Zimbabwe may be better off with a population of 6 million, rather than 12.5 million, whilst Mugabe proudly describes himself as the ‘Hitler of Africa’.These circumstances do rather suggest that Mugabe and his senior colleagues may not quite be entirely rational, and that negotiating with them may not have been the easiest thing in the world.’
I’m not trying to start a flame war here, just pointing out that there may well be more reasons for the failure of land reform than sinister FCO machinations and/or incompetence. Maybe Mugabe never attempted in good faith to negotiate a land reform scheme, but instead wanted a subsidy for handing over prime farm land to favoured party members? It would be consistent with his murderous behaviour in the ’80s and now.

As to a British military intervention, Sierra Leone proves that that can achieve admirable results in Africa, despite the pretty awful racism one encounters among a lot of British squaddies. But look at a map: Zim is landlocked, so any military intervention has to be a matter of flying troops across a neighbouring country’s air space into Zim. Unless you have permission to do that, it’s an invasion of that country’s air space. And I can’t see any of Zimbabwe’s neighbours granting permission, at least for as long as South Africa continues its tacit support for Mugabe. For that matter, SA would be best placed to intervene in Zim- it could get rid of Mugabe with a simple threat to turn off the electricity supply and halt the food aid, and its Army is large, apparently efficient, and African- less likely, perhaps, to offend local sensibilities than an intervention by British troops. If Mbeki wanted Mugabe gone, I can’t see him lasting five minutes.

9

dsquared 03.05.04 at 1:43 pm

Dan: As I mentioned, I don’t see how anyone can credibly argue that the best way to help the Ndebele was to renege on the land reform promises. And I also don’t see how Mugabe’s post-1997 actions can be used as a reason for having failed to honour promises for the preceding 18 years.

If Mugabe really only wanted “a subsidy for handing over prime farm land “, the sensible thing for him to do would have been to have walked away from the LH agreement and simply expropriated the white farmers. The fact that he didn’t do this for seven years after the expiration of the LH agreement’s “willing buyer, willing seller” period, and only then after a disastrous military expedition had left him out on a limb politically, counts against your view that it was the African side that was no negotiating in good faith between 1980 and 1997.

10

dsquared 03.05.04 at 1:55 pm

Btw, the idea that the FCO refused to fund land reform in Zimbabwe out of some principled concern for the Ndebele is rather undercut by the fact that at the same time they were continuing to provide funds for a similar program in Moi’s Kenya.

11

Dan Hardie 03.05.04 at 2:59 pm

A minor point is that one can’t assume that the same principles governed FCO policy towards both Kenya and Zim, just as Northern Ireland in the ‘80s got lots of job creation schemes but no Poll Tax, in direct contrast to the rest of the UK.

Until I’ve read a good account, or several, of the negotiations on land reform 1980-97, I’ll be prepared to accept for the sake of argument that there was either FCO incompetence, or an active FCO desire to see land reform fail. That does sound sadly likely, and the failure of land reform has certainly added greatly to the pressures on Zimbabwe. But I can’t accept- given that during the same period he was murdering thousands of Zimbabweans on racist grounds- that Mugabe can be assumed to have then been acting rationally and in good faith : unless, of course, he was one of those people one so often meets, a rational, good-faith kind of mass-murdering racist.

And even accepting that is a hell of a long way from calling Zimbabwe ‘a disaster stamped ‘Made in England’, and attributing primary responsibility to the British- whoops, English- politicians and diplomats of the time. To see the land reform issue as the main cause of Zimbabwe’s crisis you need to go in for a hell of a lot of historical revisionism. English diplomats (all Scots, Northern Irish and Welsh people are barred from the Foreign Office and Home Civil Service; Welshmen may work for the Bank of England as long as they ritually swallow a raw leek on St David’s Day) didn’t, so far as I am aware, incite Mugabe to carry out mass pogroms of black opponents in the early to mid ‘80s or since 1997; didn’t encourage him to send his Army into Congo/Zaire to loot the diamonds and massacre the locals, and incidentally put further huge strain on Zimbabwean govt finances; didn’t demand that he attack the judges, destroy the rule of law, steal the election and pervert the media; didn’t force him to introduce a food rationing system based on party loyalty, trash the food markets and hand over the most productive farmland to apparatchiks who know as much about agriculture as George Bush knows about theoretical linguistics.

You talk about the reluctance of the left to accept structural causes for problems, but you don’t seem too keen to consider the structural problems of unchecked one party rule, personality cults and tribal ideologies.

12

david 03.05.04 at 3:00 pm

“I’ve edited to remove two uses of the F-word which look gratuitous in retrospect”

Suspected through group blog would turn you soft.

“In general, I think that things went badly wrong in Zimbabwe when the Movement for Democratic Change got co-opted by the landowner interests”

Doesn’t really seem the point where things went badly wrong, in your timeline. Not sure the MDC would have had much success without, anyway.

13

Dan Hardie 03.05.04 at 3:01 pm

A minor point is that one can’t assume that the same principles governed FCO policy towards both Kenya and Zim, just as Northern Ireland in the ‘80s got lots of job creation schemes but no Poll Tax, in direct contrast to the rest of the UK.

Until I’ve read a good account, or several, of the negotiations on land reform 1980-97, I’ll be prepared to accept for the sake of argument that there was either FCO incompetence, or an active FCO desire to see land reform fail. That does sound sadly likely, and the failure of land reform has certainly added greatly to the pressures on Zimbabwe. But I can’t accept- given that during the same period he was murdering thousands of Zimbabweans on racist grounds- that Mugabe can be assumed to have then been acting rationally and in good faith : unless, of course, he was one of those people one so often meets, a rational, good-faith kind of mass-murdering racist.

And even accepting that is a hell of a long way from calling Zimbabwe ‘a disaster stamped ‘Made in England’, and attributing primary responsibility to the British- whoops, English- politicians and diplomats of the time. To see the land reform issue as the main cause of Zimbabwe’s crisis you need to go in for a hell of a lot of historical revisionism. English diplomats (all Scots, Northern Irish and Welsh people are barred from the Foreign Office and Home Civil Service; Welshmen may work for the Bank of England as long as they ritually swallow a raw leek on St David’s Day) didn’t, so far as I am aware, incite Mugabe to carry out mass pogroms of black opponents in the early to mid ‘80s or since 1997; didn’t encourage him to send his Army into Congo/Zaire to loot the diamonds and massacre the locals, and incidentally put further huge strain on Zimbabwean govt finances; didn’t demand that he attack the judges, destroy the rule of law, steal the election and pervert the media; didn’t force him to introduce a food rationing system based on party loyalty, trash the food markets and hand over the most productive farmland to apparatchiks who know as much about agriculture as George Bush knows about theoretical linguistics.

You talk about the reluctance of the left to accept structural causes for problems, but you don’t seem too keen to consider the structural problems of unchecked one party rule, personality cults and tribal ideologies.

14

Jack 03.05.04 at 3:28 pm

Nobody is arguing that it would be the very best policy but if it’s dodgy, say, to sell Indonesia Hawk jets it surely ought to be tough to pay off a mass murderer’s cronies. There is at least an argument there and it makes the timeline a bit more complicated. Pick your moment!

15

Timothy Burke 03.05.04 at 3:56 pm

Daniel:

I think you’re profoundly wrong on two levels. First, you’re just plain wrong in your argument about what the “left” thinks about Zimbabwe and Mugabe. The attribution error you describe (and it’s not an error, but coming that in a minute) is actually uncommon. In fact, what the Anglo-American left thinks–particular those on the left who have longest been concerned with Zimbabwe or southern Africa–is largely what you think, that this is a situation best explained by structural precedents, not by the moral character of Mugabe and his closest associates. Martin Meredith’s Our Votes, Our Guns, which is an extensive critique of Mugabe, largely met with polite silence or carping criticism among intellectuals who study Zimbabwe or Southern Africa. In general, this has been the Anglo-America left’s response to postcolonial crisis in Africa as a whole, that it is explained by deep structural factors, largely though not exclusively rooted in colonialism.

Second–and I’m sorry to have to play this card–your summary of Zimbabwean history is just plain wrong, and therefore your conclusions are wrong. This would not be a bad thing save you hang your argument on a representation of its history since 1979. Here are a couple of places where I think you’re either simplistic or incorrect:

1) 1979 “They dream of freedom and land reform”. At the very least, the genuineness of the ZANU-PF’s leadership to anything remotely like land reform even down to the roots of the part has to be rethought. The history of ZANU-PF’s leadership is much more complicated and less ideologically transparent than you imply. Now there certainly were many individuals who fought for ZANU-PF on the premise of achieving land reform, but equally, there were many who were responding to Rhodesian white supremacy in other aspects of their lives. In any event, there was even during the 1970s a profound gap between the leadership and the party, and an equally profound gap between the party and the general population on whose behalf it claimed to be fighting.

2) A land reform procedure was agreed upon at Lancaster House that set fixed criteria for the transference of land which were elaborated further after independence. Land could be taken with compensation if it were left fallow for extended periods, if the landlord was absentee, if it bordered on existing communal lands, if the landlord held more than one farm, and so on. Following these criteria, there was an early round of actual land reform in the early 1980s that was profoundly mismanaged by the ZANU-PF state, where its mismanagement had almost nothing to do with a lack of funds and everything to do with poor bureaucratic oversight and contradictory planning. At that point in time, international actors could be forgiven a bit of skepticism about just writing a huge blank check for that process to continue, but at least it was still possible to imagine that the kinks could be ironed out. It’s also worth recalling–which you do not–that this is the exact same era in which Mugabe unleashes a North Korean-trained brigade of the new national army on Ndebele-speaking communities in the southern part of the country, who proceed to massacre civilians and stuff their bodies down mineshafts.

3) Between 1980 and 1994, commercial farmers, mostly white, increase the general agricultural productivity of Zimbabwe. One thing you get right is that they were remarkably complacent about land reform, knowing that it had to happen but taking no interest in forcing the pace of it. And yet, the Zimbabwean government, following its early bungled land reform (and an equally bungled plan for encouraging communal businesses), offered no vision of how to maintain the productivity of the agricultural sector following any land reform program, preferring to imagine that thousands of communal farmers on small plots could somehow immaculately equal the productivity of large commercial farms, perhaps with the assistance of a tractor and some fertilizer from the government. The Zimbabwean government itself looks away from land reform, preferring to dwell on other economic issues, in a time when the economy was generally pretty healthy and when official corruption was beginning to grow underneath the surface. Finally, between 1980 and 1994, the Zimbabwean state not only maintains almost all the security apparatus that the Rhodesians created, but most of the security legislation that they passed after UDI. ZANU-PF begins in power intolerant of dissent and criticism, and grows steadily more willing to use a variety of extrajudicial sanctions against opponents.

4) At the end of the 1980s, the Zimbabwean government is being pressured from within and without to undertake some kind of structural adjustment, having allowed the size of the civil service to balloon dramatically since independence. Since this cuts down significantly on the resources available within client-patron networks inside the state, land reform begins to reemerge more potently as an issue. The Zimbabwean government engages in another hasty round of land reform on a small scale, this time mostly violating its compensation and acquisition criteria pledges (with Lancaster House’s framework expired, these are non-binding). The land acquired by the government in the early 1990s goes to party officials as vanity properties and lies fallow.

5) In 1997, the ruling party is growing increasingly threatened by political opposition in the cities, by a free press that has persistently dogged its officials, and by increasing strains on the economy produced by pervasive corruption that have particularly affected the supply of hard currency. Mugabe and the ZANU-PF leadership turn to land reform largely as a political red herring, to conceal their systematic mismanagement of the economy, hoping in part to mobilize the network of international support that had existed during the liberation struggle in the 1970s. There’s a decent number of suckers to take the bet; the story in the Western press becomes largely about land reform. Land acquired during the post-1997 wave of acquisitions continues to go to party bigwigs. The state uses an extensive network of brownshirts who pose as “war veterans” (they mostly are not) to intimidate and attack all political opponents. Farm workers are beaten and chased off land that they have lived on most or all of their lives. Agricultural productivity drops through the floor; local manufacturing and industrial production grinds to a halt (having already been sucked dry by pre-1997 corruption in many cases). Investment capital from abroad understandably dries up entirely.

One other point: cycles of drought in the region are regular, which is one of the pressing reasons why casual interference with productive commercial agriculture was so utterly foolhardy. Drought is not a bad aberration that has just happened to make this situation worse: it is a regular part of farming and herding in most parts of southern Africa.

The ZANU-PF leadership never developed for even one second even minimal credible plans for carrying out a huge systematic land reform plan that would have preserved the commercial agricultural sector’s productivity–productivity that allowed Zimbabwe to not only export food but to have a local food processing industry of considerable size and economic vigor. I don’t actually blame the British government, in the absence of any meaningful plan, and in the presence of corruption, genocide and political repression, for hesitating to underwrite land reform.

There are states in postcolonial Africa where events after independence were largely structurally overdetermined by colonial rule and the conditions of political transition from it: the Congo/Zaire, Nigeria, Mozambique, Equatorial Guinea. There are others where active neocolonial intervention played a huge and malevolent role: the Central Africa Republic.

Zimbabwe is neither. This is not to say that colonialism (pre and post UDI) isn’t an absolutely crucial factor in its post-1980 history–the autocratic character and powers of the state ruled by ZANU-PF was structurally set by the Rhodesians and the British before them. But the ZANU-PF leadership were handed a lot of tools at independence: a good infrastructure, a sizeable manufacturing sector, healthy commercial agriculture, a good resource base. To that they added, very quickly, in one of their few successes, a well-educated population. By 1990, they could also look forward to the economic reintegration of the region around a relative economic powerhouse, South Africa, which would offer far more benefits to Zimbabwe than problems. They were neighbors to a state, Botswana, that was turning some of the same advantages into a rare pattern of consistent economic growth in Africa.

And the ZANU-PF leadership squandered all of that. Not because Mrs. Thatcher or Ronald Reagan made them. Not because Tony Blair made them. They did it largely by themselves and to themselves. Zimbabwe’s current state is almost entirely contingent, not structurally determined, and the contingency is local, not international. The attribution error here is Daniel’s.

16

dsquared 03.05.04 at 4:40 pm

Timothy: I don’t think all of your points are actually relevant to the question of attribution, particularly 3), and I would point out that nobody’s arguing about post-1997 actions; the question is how we got to the state of play in 1997.

I also question whether you’re not being a bit lenient on the British when you characterise the FCO’s behaviour as “hesitating to underwrite”. In actual fact, they refused, repeatedly and point-blank, to consider starting any process which might have led to the British paying out any money. It is this refusal which forms the context for your assertion that there was never a credible plan for land reform; there was never any discussion which might have led to one.

As you more or less admit, your characterisation of the ZANU state is one which is hopelessly skewed by hindsight. For most of the 1980s, nearly everyone regarded Zimbabwe as practically the exemplar of a developmental state (it really is rewriting history to suggest that the British Government cared about the Ndebele in 1983, by the way; we regarded Nkomo as an embarrassment).

As you point out, in the early years, Zimbabwe made huge progress in industrialisation, immunisation and education. The only thing which this “hopelessly corrupt, bloated bureaucracy” really got wrong was the land reform issue. Wonder why that was?

17

dsquared 03.05.04 at 4:42 pm

Note that the comment above makes sense only if for “particularly 3)” you substitute “particularly 5)”. rats.

18

dsquared 03.05.04 at 4:46 pm

Dan Hardie writes, charmingly as ever:

“English diplomats [unfunny joke snipped – dd] didn’t, so far as I am aware, incite Mugabe to carry out mass pogroms of black opponents in the early to mid ‘80s or since 1997”

CT readers will perhaps be surprised to hear that, in this vein, there was no provision of the Treaty of Versailles which obliged Germany to elect a National Socialist government and start the Second World War …

19

Timothy Burke 03.05.04 at 4:54 pm

The hindsight point is a good one. It’s one I’ve struggled with as well: why were those of us who studied Zimbabwe so blind to some of the things staring us in the face? I at least have some of the excuse that I only started doing doctoral work in Zimbabwe in 1990, and so didn’t have a chance to fawn all over ZANU-PF in the early 1980s, and came to my expertise at a moment when skepticism was beginning to set in.

On the other hand, while you’re right that neither Reagan nor Thatcher seemed to care much about the Fifth Brigade’s murderous activity in the south, the reluctance of the British government to pay for land reform in Zimbabwe was always from the outset tied, especially at the level of policy one step down from the PM’s office, to the inability of ZANU-PF to articulate any kind of land reform plan. This was all the more true under Blair, and properly so. It would have been foolish to just pay for land reform with no plan (or with a bad plan): that would have been in effect a subsidy for kleptocracy.

I’d also argue that the relatively vigorous performance of Zimbabwe from 1980-1994 in hindsight is now clearly something that happened despite the ZANU-PF state, not because of it, that the policies and attitudes that eventually brought Zimbabwe crashing to earth were in utero from 1980 (and perhaps before) onward.

The main point I’m making is that now that all this is clear in hindsight, why on Earth are you constructing an argument in hindsight that places primary causal responsibility for Zimbabwe’s state on the failure of the British to finance land reform? I could see someone saying in 1985 that even without a land reform plan, Thatcher ought to just cough up a big wad of money, because at that point one might be just naive enough to think that all that was lacking was funding. To say that now, when we ALL have the benefit of hindsight, is just bizarre–and yet that’s the point that you are making, as far as I can see.

20

Steve Carr 03.05.04 at 4:59 pm

Daniel, are you really arguing that it’s a fundamental attribution error to attribute the “problem” of Naziism to moral corruption (or evil) rather than to the Treaty of Versailles?

21

Steve Carr 03.05.04 at 5:02 pm

Daniel, are you really arguing that it’s a fundamental attribution error to attribute the human-rights disaster (to put it mildly) that was Naziism to moral corruption (or evil) rather than to the Treaty of Versailles?

22

dsquared 03.05.04 at 5:03 pm

Why are we assuming that the process could only work if it started with a proposal from the Zimbabweans? This wasn’t the way things were done in Kenya; the FCO sat down with Moi and Kenyatta and thrashed out a workable proposal.

As far as I can tell, all we did in Zimbabwe was to stall and refuse to talk about land reform, effectively underwriting the head-in-sand attitude of the white farmers (something that wasn’t an option in Kenya because of the Mau Mau).

My guess is that things could have been managed in Zimbabwe so that they turned out abotu as well as in Kenya, which is to say pretty bloody badly, but not as badly as they in fact did turn out.

23

Steve Carr 03.05.04 at 5:05 pm

Damn. I always hate the double post, especially when I’ve changed the text in the meantime. Sorry.

24

dsquared 03.05.04 at 5:05 pm

Daniel, are you really arguing that it’s a fundamental attribution error to attribute the “problem” of Naziism to moral corruption (or evil) rather than to the Treaty of Versailles?

The specific Nazi government; no. That something extremely bad would happen in Germany; yes.

25

Dan Hardie 03.05.04 at 5:27 pm

I’d like to second what Timothy Burke said; in fact, I’d like to have said it, but merely lacked the requisite articulacy and knowledge of African history.

D-squared, pull your lower lip back in. You have this regrettable habit of metamorphosing, halfway through a comments thread, from Aneurin Bevan to Violet Elizabeth Bott. No, there was no clause in the Versailles Treaty ‘obliging the Germans to elect a National Socialist government’ (actually they didn’t elect it- but time presses. If I try to give you a history lesson I shall no doubt be accused of trolling.).

There is in fact a real argument as to whether Versailles was a sufficient cause of the collapse of German democracy, a necessary cause, or neither given the strength of the other circumstances working against the Weimar republic. And guess what: there is also a real argument as to whether the failure of land reform in Zimbabwe was a sufficient cause of the Zim crisis, a necessary cause, or neither; and there is an argument as to whether the FCO has sole or shared or any responsibility for the failure of land reform.
Your post propounds the argument that FCO policy on land reform was not merely a necessary but indeed the sufficient cause of Zimbabwe’s current crisis. This, according to you, is a crisis stamped ‘Made in England’. And there are plenty of reasons for disagreeing. See arguments above, esp. those made by Tim Burke.

As to the sentence that offended you so much – about Mugabe launching pogroms against black Africans- I can only say that I apologise, without reserve, to anybody who may have undertaken any of the mass-killings, large-scale executions or random shootings in Zimbabwe at any time since Independence for having so thoughtlessly used the word ‘pogrom’.

26

Douglas 03.05.04 at 5:36 pm

A plague on both their houses.

I remember well the intoxication of visiting Zimbabwe from South Africa in the early 80’s – freedom in the air, and a palpable relief from the tensions of the apartheid state. Mugabe seemed a intelligent thoughtful man, we the beleaguered liberals of the south thought, ‘at last there’s hope’. Bah humbug.

27

dsquared 03.05.04 at 5:40 pm

You have this regrettable habit of metamorphosing, halfway through a comments thread, from Aneurin Bevan to Violet Elizabeth Bott.

And you start out like Rick the Student from the Young Ones and stay there.

I wasn’t offended by any of your sentences; I just thought that one was a shit argument and said so.

28

Dan Hardie 03.05.04 at 6:02 pm

Daniel Davies Summarised (In Rhyme): Ma’s out, Pa’s out, Let’s talk rude!
Pee Po Belly Bum Drawers.
Dance round the garden in the nude,
Pee Po Belly Bum Drawers.
Let’s write rude words all down our street,
Stick out our tongues at the people we meet,
Let’s have an intellectual treat for
Pee Po Belly Bum Drawers.

All that plus a gratuitous mention of the Nazis displaying elementary ignorance of German history: a sumptuous treat.

29

Timothy Burke 03.05.04 at 7:38 pm

I’m going to add on a bit more about why I think this is such a wrong argument. Essentially what it presupposes is that had England given Zimbabwe money for land reform, Zimbabwe wouldn’t be the way it is now, that the accomplishment of land reform is the major dependent variable on which the contemporary Zimbabwean crisis turns.

This is therefore positing:

1) That current economic failure in Zimbabwe has been produced by a lack of earlier land reform.
2) That the accelerating autocracy of the Zimbabwean state has been produced by a lack of land reform.
3) That the bad land reform which has resulted in land being given to party elites (and unfarmed) is a result of a lack of funding; that funding alone would have created good land reform (or perhaps that England could have neocolonially imposed good land reform along with the money).

These are all plainly incorrect assertions. The lack of well-funded good land reform dictated neocolonially from London in the 1980s has nothing to do with Zimbabwe’s economic failure. It is not the cause of the autocratic nature of the ZANU-PF state. And it has nothing to do with the occurance of bad land reform, which was undertaken largely as an attempt to distract the regime’s local and international critics from its corruption and autocracy.

Had there been no land reform whatsoever, some–and by no means all–Zimbabweans would have continued to be unhappy. But the economy, if anything, would have been positively affected by a lack of land reform, assuming corruption and bad governance grew no worse than they were in 1988.

Basically, Daniel is presupposing that the Zimbabwean government would not have been driven to bad, economically destructive land-grabbing if London had just ponied up. I think it’s fairly clear that the elite of ZANU-PF would have been grabbing land even if London had dropped a cool billion or two on them. They were grabbing land as early as 1988, using the fairly stringent requirements for acquisition imposed by Lancaster House. The land crisis in Zimbabwe from 1997 on is not a land crisis; land is only the mask for the far more profound crisis underneath, and the roots of that crisis are substantially in ZANU-PF itself and the state structures that it inherited and reinforced.

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drapeto 03.05.04 at 10:40 pm

Monbiot wrote as much.

“Today, though the laws have changed, the distribution of land has scarcely altered. Zimbabwe’s 4,500 white farmers occupy 70 per cent of the best land, while some seven million blacks still inhabit the old reserves. Some of the white farmers claim that if this dispensation were to change, Zimbabwe would starve, but any visit to a British supermarket shows that this is nonsense. Much of Zimbabwe’s most fertile land is used to grow not necessities for the hungry, but luxuries for the sated: mange tout, radicchio, french beans and tobacco. Redistribution would enable the poor both to support themselves and to produce staple crops for the landless: all over the Third World it is smallholders who keep their own countries fed….

Mugabe, unable to oversee a full and fair redistribution, acquired an excuse to turn land into a gift, to be deployed as political imperatives demanded.”

They did it largely by themselves and to themselves.

That’s what I’ve always thought about the white farmers.

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Timothy Burke 03.05.04 at 11:05 pm

Well, add Monbiot to the list of suckers who bought the line Mugabe was peddling. I particularly wonder where he dug up the claim that most of the commercial farms in Zimbabwe were growing nothing but radicchio and french beans. The proposition that Mugabe was chomping at the bit to carry out fair and just land reform only to be stopped by a lack of money, *forcing* him to distribute land as a corrupt gift, is almost bizarre. “He was all for social justice, but denied that, he turned to corruption!”

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John S 03.05.04 at 11:43 pm

Timothy, excellent…

Tangentially, dsquared your timeline comparing British policy (and moneys) in Kenya v Zimbabwe vis à vis white farms is extremely wobbly. At one point you suggest it was occurring in the 1980s / 1990s:

“Btw, the idea that the FCO refused to fund land reform in Zimbabwe out of some principled concern for the Ndebele is rather undercut by the fact that at the same time they were continuing to provide funds for a similar program in Moi’s Kenya.”

However, then you say:

“This wasn’t the way things were done in Kenya; the FCO sat down with Moi and Kenyatta and thrashed out a workable proposal.”

Kenyatta died in 1978, so now we’re looking at FCO activity pre-Zimbabwe.

Finally, you say: “As far as I can tell, all we did in Zimbabwe was to stall and refuse to talk about land reform, effectively underwriting the head-in-sand attitude of the white farmers (something that wasn’t an option in Kenya because of the Mau Mau).”

Mau Mau? Now you’re suggesting British money to buy white farms dates back to the 1950s / early 60s.

And why did Zimbabwe’s white farmers have a head-in-the-sand attitude yet Kenya’s didn’t? You hint that the Mau Mau meant Kenya’s white farmers couldn’t take that attitude, but Zimbabwe’s white farmers had a bloody civil war in the 1970s.

I think British policy (and money) in Kenya was much easier; there were many fewer farmers, so the policy was inevitably cheaper. The same policy in Zimbabwe would have cost 100s of millions of pounds, perhaps some billions. Do you want to hand over that kind of money, as Timothy says, to a dreadful government?

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Doug Muir 03.06.04 at 4:02 pm

gratuitous mention of the Nazis displaying elementary ignorance of German history

Yeah, I noticed that too. Corollary to the Lex Godwinicus — it’s usually an excellent sign that someone has been pushed onto the back foot and is beginning to flail.

Doug M.

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Doug Muir 03.06.04 at 4:12 pm

I think British policy (and money) in Kenya was much easier; there were many fewer farmers, so the policy was inevitably cheaper.

Yes. It’s a really weak analogy.

Much of Zimbabwe’s most fertile land is used to grow not necessities for the hungry, but luxuries for the sated: mange tout, radicchio, french beans and tobacco.

I can’t speak to the radicchio, but a few moments googling show that, yes, Zimbabwe has always been a major tobacco producer. It was the country’s single biggest export earner for many years.

Tobacco production has crashed in recent years — no surprise there.

Redistribution would enable the poor both to support themselves and to produce staple crops for the landless: all over the Third World it is smallholders who keep their own countries fed….

The technical term for this is “subsistence agriculture”; and to a first approximation, it’s a fairly good explanation of why the rural Third World is still Third World.

Does he seriously think that small farms are more productive than big ones? Or that a country has to be self sufficient in food production in order to feed itself?

Sheesh.

Doug M.

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Doug Muir 03.06.04 at 4:15 pm

Look, I’m willing to keep an open mind on this. Why don’t we try the counterfactual?

Say Britain gives… ohhh… fifty million pounds a year to Zimbabwe for land reform, continuously from the early ’80s until 1997.

Play it out. What happens? Anyone?

Doug M.

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drapeto 03.07.04 at 7:22 am

he proposition that Mugabe was chomping at the bit to carry out fair and just land reform only to be stopped by a lack of money, forcing him to distribute land as a corrupt gift, is almost bizarre.

It’s also not the proposition Monbiot put forth.

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Timothy Burke 03.07.04 at 1:55 pm

Monbiot writes, “Mugabe, unable to oversee a full and fair redistribution, acquired an excuse to turn land into a gift, to be deployed as political imperatives demanded”, also arguing that had it not been for the “meanness” of British policy, there would be no land reform problem in Zimbabwe today.

I stand by my interpretation of that argument–I think that’s *exactly* what Monbiot wrote. Mugabe “UNABLE”, e.g., he wanted to institute free and fair land reform, “acquired an excuse”, e.g., would not have turned to corruption but for the lack of an ability to institute land reform.

It’s as naive as the rest of that article–including lumping growing radicchio in with growing tobacco, given that the foreign exchange from tobacco was economically important to the vigor of the rest of the economy.

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dsquared 03.07.04 at 11:13 pm

Timothy: so far, your argument appears to rely pretty heavily on the epistemological device of “it seems pretty clear”. I haven’t done any doctoral work in the area, so humour me; why?

FWIW, it seems pretty clear to me that if all Mugabe wanted to do was grab land and give it to cronies, he had seventeen years in which to do it, for seven of which he wasn’t even bound by the LH agreements. Why not before 1997? That more than anything suggests to me that the grab-and-give-to-cronies strategy was a last resort.

John: the Kenyan program was agreed with Kenyatta and Moi and carried out mainly under Moi pos 1982, unless I’m completely wrong.

Doug: AFAICS, your role in this discussion appears to be to say “yeah me too” to Dan Hardie, who is saying “yeah me too” to Timothy. Your value added is pretty low, to be honest.

Dan H: yeh, Rick the student. Got you pegged mate.

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Timothy Burke 03.08.04 at 2:44 am

Forgive me the “seems pretty clear”s–I agree those are irritating–but I do think I gave rather a large amount of supporting material to go along with them. For example, just on this last point, I’ve already observed twice in this thread that ZANU-PF *did* grab land before 1997. Once within the constraints of Lancaster House (and therefore not really a landgrab) in the early 1980s, whereupon his ministers made a reasonably honest go at land reform on a small scale and made a pretty bad mess of it. This mess could credibly be said to have something to do with underfunding, but more to do by far with the incoherency of the design behind the reform. ZANU-PF planners were unable to enunciate a clear criteria for entitlement to land nor a clear vision of what they wanted recipients to do on their land once they got it.

More to the point, as I noted twice, ZANU-PF grabbed more land in the early 1990s and immediately funnelled it to party elites. As for why 1997-level grabbing didn’t begin in earnest at an early date, I’d suggest that it wasn’t until then that ZANU-PF had managed to thoroughly wreck an economy which was in surprisingly good shape at the time they inherited it and which remained healthy on the surface into the early 1990s. As the economic and political rot from within began to spread around 1995-96 and political opposition mounted (opposition parties before the mid-1990s were hopelessly divided and amateurish and no threat to ZANU-PF), Mugabe turned to land as a distraction. This is why it took until 1997. They didn’t need to before then.

In a way, Daniel, I think you’re actually the one who needs to explain why it took until 1997, given that England was unwilling to fund land reform pretty much from the outset. From your perspective, it seems you would expect a crisis on this scale at a much earlier date.

I do think I’ve laid this out a couple of times above. I don’t know how to lay it out further without writing a mini-monograph in this space.

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john s 03.08.04 at 8:56 am

Daniel, you contend the Kenyan farmers realised that, due to their Mau Mau experience of the 1950s / early 60s, the writing was on the wall so they sold their farms from the early 1980s, oiled with British money. Further, that the Rhodesian farmers had no comparable experience, so could bury their heads in the sand about the need for land reform.

However, Rhodesia was wracked by civil war in the 1970s, which hurt the farmers the most. They did have a similar experience to the Mau Mau.

And drapeto, what did Zimbabwe’s white farmers do that was so much worse than, say, white farmers in the US or Argentina, etc?

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dsquared 03.08.04 at 12:22 pm

Timothy: Thanks, and looking back over the thread I see where you’ve set out this case. I think I retain my own opinion though. I don’t think that you give ZANU enough credit in its developmental phase; the Zimbabwean economy just didn’t miraculously survive ten years of sustained ZANU attack and then collapse in the 1990s.

I agree with this assessment:

As the economic and political rot from within began to spread around 1995-96 and political opposition mounted (opposition parties before the mid-1990s were hopelessly divided and amateurish and no threat to ZANU-PF), Mugabe turned to land as a distraction. This is why it took until 1997. They didn’t need to before then.

but continue to believe that if land reform had been financed on a more equitable basis, the particular problems of Zimbabwe post ’97 wouldn’t have arrived. Things would still have been pretty bad – totalitaian states never end up well – but the specific horrors would have been no worse than late-Moi Kenya (ie still pretty bad). I also remain more optimistic about how the prospects for land reform might have been in the 1980s; I don’t think you can generalise from a small, poorly funded program with no UK involvement, and also suspect that almost any redistribution of land would have been better than the racialised one which Zimbabwe ended up with.

(I also place less emphasis than you do on “the economy” of Zimbabwe, mainly due to having spent a bit of time looking at another UK colony (Ireland in the 1840s) which was a significant food exporter from “highly productive” farms growing non-staple commodities, but I suspect this point is tangential.)

John: I just don’t regard it as credible to say that the effect of the civil war on white Zimbabweans is remotely comparable to the effect of the Mau Mau on white Kenyans. The Mau Mau revolution packed a publicity punch out of all proportion to the actual casualties.

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Timothy Burke 03.08.04 at 2:31 pm

Monbiot notwithstanding, one of the major food exports out of Zimbabwe in the 1980s into 1992 or so was maize, exported not to the radicchio-supping tables of Europe but to other nations in the region. Meaning the commercial sector was producing both plentiful maize for the Zimbabwean market and enough for regional consumption as well.

On the major issue, we simply disagree. Land reform is not the dependent variable of the Zimbabwean collapse. Moreover, British money is not the dependent variable of the accomplishment land reform: had England lavished millions of pounds on ZANU-PF, it would have gone to waste, given that ZANU-PF never had anything approaching a coherent strategy for land reform. The proposition that Thatcher’s government could have unilaterally imposed a land reform plan on Mugabe circa 1985 strikes me as highly implausible, not to mention a strange bit of pining for neocolonialism.

There are elements of ZANU-PF who deserve credit for sustaining growth in their first decade in power, most notably Bernard Midzero, whose early death removed an important brake on internal corruption (not to mention a source of fiscal competence). But I think you really need to see 1997 as a classic example of a “tipping phenomenon”: it is a mistake to assume that a collapse has to be the result of a discontinuity or change. It can take time to ruin an economy. Zaire under Mobutu was actually in decent shape even despite civil war in the 1960s right up to Zaireanisation, but some of the structural roots of the post-Zaireanisation collapse (and Zaireanisation itself) were laid down from the outset of Mobutu’s control of the country.

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john s 03.08.04 at 2:56 pm

Daniel, I cannot agree that the Mau Mau revolution packed a publicity punch way above that of the Rhodesian civil war. Sure, the Mau Mau campaign is well-known outside Kenya, but it’s the impact on each country’s white farmers that’s important, and Zimbabwe’s white farmers knew well what was going on.

Travelling from Harare to the border with South Africa required travelling non-stop in convoy, white farmers were subject to lethal ambushes, there was an infamous shooting down of a commercial passenger plane en route from Kariba dam to Harare… Peter Godwin captures the flavour in his book “Mukiwa: a white boy in Africa”. White farmers in Zimbabwe had just as much notice that they weren’t popular as they did in Kenya. That partly explains why they sat down in Lancaster House with nationalist leaders they hated.

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dsquared 03.08.04 at 4:59 pm

Meaning the commercial sector was producing both plentiful maize for the Zimbabwean market and enough for regional consumption as well.

This might or might not be true, but it doesn’t follow from the simple fact that Zimbabwe was exporting maize. As I suggested upthread, Ireland exported staple foodstuffs throughout the famine.

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Timothy Burke 03.08.04 at 9:51 pm

On this one, really, trust me. Zimbabwean urban marketplaces, both upscale and downscale, were replete with affordable maize (mildly price-subsidized) from 1980-1993 (and actually before that) with a few smallish dips in supply from bad crops which mostly didn’t affect consumers. I’m less certain of the state of maize availability in all rural areas during the same era, especially parts the south, but at least in the northeast, the Mazoe Valley, and the Midlands, local maize supplies were good and cheap throughout that period as well.

From 1993 onward, as land was taken more precipitiously *and* the threat of land acquisitions led to underproduction, and local structural adjustment began to hike prices upward, supplies of maize quickly dried up or became quite expensive. But even as late as 1998, when I was last there, maize could be found in many places in decent quantities at prices which were not yet utterly out of reach. Today, a mere six years later, most rural Zimbabweans and even many urban ones, are highly dependent on food handouts from development agencies.

[btw: something very odd here–your content editor didn’t let me to use the word “h o m e g r o w n” in this post as a modifier for “structural adjustment”.

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Dan Hardie 03.12.04 at 7:27 pm

Sorry, been away. Still can’t see a single piece of evidence adduced for the thesis that the FCO’s failure to stump up cash exactly as desired by ZANU is the sole or indeed even a major cause of the current crisis, and plenty of evidence adduced to the contrary.

By the way, since it’s been mentioned, when did ‘The German people elect a National Socialist Government’? And in which alternate universe? Answers without swearwords if at all possible. On the receiving end of D-squared’s piping insults, I’m rather put in mind of the response I got when I asked Mark Steyn about the precise length of his military service: another fat boy trying to conceal desperate fears about his lack of tough-guy credentials behind a lot of rude words.

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