Saturday, February 17, 2007

Life On The Edge

The BBC has another one of their series of stories about life in Zimbabwe. It makes really depressing reading, it really beats me how people can continue to live with inflation above 1500%, where soap costs the equivalent of $80 when bought legally or $4 on the black market.

The real shame is how in less than 10 years Zimbabwe has gone from one of the most advanced countries (literacy rates over 90%) in Africa to the country with the worlds lowest life expectancy (37 years) and highest inflation (1593% at last count). All because of botched land redistribution which anyone could have predicted would have led to this. Now before anyone jumps on me, I'm totally agree with redistribution of land from white farmers to the landless black populations of Africa (it is clearly ridiculous that 1% of the population held 70% of the agricultural land), but it has to be handled properly. Zimbabwe was a country that depended almost entirely on Agriculture for its income, the industry was modern and used all the latest machinery on efficient farms, in a stroke the farms were broken up into small sub plots and handed to people that in many cases had no experience of farming and no idea of how to use all the equipment required to do it efficiently. The farms that weren't broken up were given to cronies of the President, who had little interest or skill in farming. The result? Plummeting output, massive inflation, starving people and a country on the brink of disaster for the past 6 years. Would it really have been difficult to see this coming? Surely its a case of major mismanagement that should be enough to get any government kicked out of office.

Of course that's not what has happened, a series of power grabs by the Presidents party, a few murders to keep the opposition cowed and a total lack of any independent media means that Zimbabwe's President Mugabe is looking forward to his 30th year in power in 2010. What still seems crazy is that some people still support the government after this disaster, see this story for a truly sad tale of faith over reason. Robert Mugabe is a perfect example of why no-one should be allowed to stay in power for too long, the retention of power becomes the prime concern, turning a man once lauded as a freedom fighter into a caricature of a tin-pot African dictator who has destroyed everything he ever worked for.


Pete said...

Hi Mark,

Depressing indeed, especially because its a totally manmade situation.

But why is the land situation (as it was) "clearly ridiculous"? I don't doubt that white people originally got the land in, ahem, a less than sporting manner, but we have to deal with the world as we find it now. Is a land distribution that adequately fed and employed Zimbabweans really ridiculous - especially given the effects of changing it so drastically?

Further, how can land reform be "handled properly"? By necessity it requires compulsion which will lead to owners not investing in land, improvements, equipment etc because they fear it will be confiscated. Are there examples of land reform not leading to neglect, other problems etc (genuine question - not rhetorical!)?

Generally, we should be wary of seemingly "good/fair" ideas e.g. land reform that are fine in theory but have the massive caveat of "if we can actually get it to work". I'd rather be landless but have a job and cheap food than have my very own 60millionth of the UK and be starving!

I am being a bit of a devil's advocate - probably in agriculturally dominated countries more equitable land distribution could be more important, but its only a means to an end, not an end in itself.


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