[Marxism] Mahmood Mamdani on how land reform -- however flawed -- helped keep Mugabe in power
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Wed Dec 3 03:17:53 MST 2008
From: GreenLeft_discussion at yahoogroups.com
[mailto:GreenLeft_discussion at yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Patrick Bond
Sent: Tuesday, December 02, 2008 10:21 PM
To: GreenLeft_discussion at yahoogroups.com
Subject: Re: [GreenLeft_discussion] Mahmood Mamdani on how land reform --
however flawed -- helped keep Mugabe in power
Mahmood Mamdani is an inspiring intellectual and political writer, one of
Africa's greatest ever. But I think there are a few points worth debating.
> Lessons of Zimbabwe Mahmood Mamdani
> ... His
> policies have helped lay waste the country's economy, though sanctions
> have played no small part
A deeper capitalist malaise engulfed Zimbabwe since around 1974, the year
that per capita wealth began to decline, based on overaccumulation of
capital and, by the time of structural adjustment in the early 1990s, a turn
to the speculative/parasitical mode of not only capital accumulation but
also state management. These are not Mugabe's 'policies', but problems all
state managers have faced, nearly everywhere in the world. Mugabe had much
more leverage - because politically he is a dictator - to adopt a unique
zig-zag technique between market liberalisation, crony-capitalist corruption
and state interventions, leaving Zimbabwe with the highest inflation ever
recorded in human history, at a time neighbouring states' inflation was
declining substantially due to more pure versions of neoliberalism. In
comparison to such processes, 'sanctions' have played a very small part in
the present manifestation of this long crisis. (I try to spell out the long
crisis argument here:
> ... it gives us little sense of how Mugabe has managed to survive. For
> he has ruled not only by coercion but by consent, and his land reform
> measures, however harsh, have won him considerable popularity, not
> just in Zimbabwe but throughout southern Africa.
This sort of phraseology is confusing. Mugabe's 'popularity' within the
electorate at election time is less than half, and has been since 2000
(assuming that his voters are genuinely free to cast their ballots, which
they are not). Elections Mugabe supposedly 'won' - such as June 28
2008 - have not been free and fair, and coercion has been characteristic of
his rule, especially in rural areas where pro-opposition forces (e.g.
pro-MDC teachers) have been bullied and in many cases disappeared or killed.
His land reform measures were 'harsh' - to a few thousand white farmers yes,
but mainly to millions of black peasants and urban workers now starving or
unable to buy food, and hundreds of thousands of rural farmworkers - not to
those outside Zimbabwe who support him (who remain well-fed). Hence the
middle-ground phrasing Mamdani employs here sets the tone for a false
> ... My abiding recollection of
> my first few months back is that no one I met opposed Amin's expulsion
> of 'Asians'. Most merely said: 'It was bad the way he did it.' The
> same is likely to be said of the land transfers in Zimbabwe.
Is this an appropriate comparison? The 4000 whites who controlled the bulk
of good Zimbabwe land included beneficiaries of the historic colonial theft,
while others bought into the system by purchasing farms after independence.
Most had vast swathes of underutilised land, but many were extremely
productive, using racially-exclusive networks for inputs and marketing,
especially to growing international markets during the 1990s liberalisation
era. Helter skelter, they were all removed; a few hundred remained on their
farms through the late 2000s because they cut deals with local elites or in
some rare cases, had the support of neighbouring Communal Area
constituencies for whom they provided services.
Rather than confuse matters with the Uganda comparison (which related mainly
to urban Asians and those in commercial circuits), the following is more
'likely to be said' of the situation prevailing in February 2000:
* land transfers to the majority were necessary and long overdue, since the
free market model agreed at Lancaster and in subsequent World Bank loans
wasn't working (nor was it meant to), and since structural adjustment had
generated vast profits for tobacco, horticultural and other (mainly white)
agro-exporters while peasants lost economic ground during the 1990s (a point
important for understanding what fueled so much resentment against wealthy
* Mugabe used his defeat in the national constitutional referendum of
February 2000 as a pretense for War Vet invasions of white farms (especially
after white farmers were shown on tv writing cheques to the opposition);
* Mugabe allowed far too many of his cronies to get good farms (even a state
investigating commission conceded), and didn't set up proper ag support
systems for those millions of landless who should have benefited from
redistribution, leading to a huge decline in agricultural output, food aid
dependency on Western donors and NGO distributors, and the prospect now of
mass starvation (points Mamdani skirts).
> What distinguishes Mugabe and Amin from other authoritarian rulers is
> not their demagoguery but the fact that they projected themselves as
> champions of mass justice and successfully rallied those to whom
> justice had been denied by the colonial system.
There are a wide variety of such rulers who used a fake anti-imperialism and
anti-neocolonialism to rally support, from Marcos in the Philippines to the
Argentine generals back to the characters Frantz Fanon described in Wretched
of the Earth in 1961. It's an old trick.
> ...The people of Zimbabwe are likely to remember 2000-3 as the end of
> the settler colonial era. Any assessment of contemporary Zimbabwe
> needs to begin with this sobering fact.
Sounds good, but is it really a 'fact'? Just as much a 'fact' are
* 2000-03 was the moment when - reminiscent of the early/mid-1980s in
Matabeleland - Mugabe used brutal violence against his opponents,
terrorising the society and vindicating those who claimed Mugabe's rule
would necessarily end in dictatorship, hence leaving the early 2000s the
definitively 'exhausted' state of Mugabe's ultra-nationalism (insofar as it
stopped delivering goods and instead switched to coercion);
* 'settler colonialism' easily transformed into post-settler neocolonialism
nearly everywhere, and Zimbabwe is no exception, for while the society may
now have only a quarter (or even less) of its former peak of white
inhabitants, the economy is still oriented to activities that, if not
controlled by white Zimbabweans or white South Africans or white Brits,
mimics that control through compliant local black ownership - in finance,
commerce, mining and residual manufacturing especially (while a
preponderance of white senior managers remains).
(There follow some contentious points on land reform, which I'll leave to
others to rebut. I'm most concerned that Mamdani amplifies what can be
considered Mugabe's greatest myth: economic destruction and inflation
unprecedented in recorded human history is due to 'sanctions'.)
> ... When international donors pressured the regime in the run-up to
> the parliamentary elections of 2000 by suspending aid and loans a
> boycott favoured by the MDC and the unions
Not true; the only sanctions the MDC has publicly advocated are 'smart
sanctions' - personal bank account freezes and travel bans on about 150
ZanuPF and state officials. The MDC and most in civil society have formally
opposed western-style sanctions. On rare occasions - such as the prevention
of weapons transfers from a Chinese ship in April by labour and church
leaders here in Durban - the oppositional forces in Zimbabwe have expressed
support for specific sanctions.
> ... The best publicised casualties of the land reform movement were
> the urban poor who hoped to benefit from extending land invasions to
> urban areas.
There was a huge disconnect between what was happening in the countryside,
and the city, so that this sentence is misleading:
> The veterans spearheaded occupations of urban residential land in 2000-1.
> Housing co-operatives and other associations followed their lead and
> set up 'illegal' residential or business sites.
The housing coop movement was firmly established by the mid-1990s and did
not follow the War Vet lead - but instead joined hundreds of thousands of
atomistic urban residents in setting up illegal or informal economic
activities and residential situations in the overcrowded, underhoused
cities. They did so in an incremental way beginning in the 1980s, hence
there were an estimated 700 000 people whose shelter and livelihoods were
destroyed by Operation Murambatsvina, including Mugabe supporters.
> But the state feared that it would
> lose control over towns to the MDC if the land reform movement was
> allowed to spread
This is an unusual formulation, one I've never heard in discussions about
Murambatsvina. Mugabe had a simple rationale for invoking
Murambatsvina: demonisation/intimidation of opposition supporters (and even,
by accident, some of his own urban supporters). There was no 'land reform'
> and met these occupations with stiff repression, including Operation
> Restore Order/ Murambatsvina, a surprise military-style intervention
> in 2005 in which tens of thousands of families were evicted.
> Not surprisingly, those who opposed land reform in rural areas were
> the strongest critics of government efforts to stifle occupations in
> urban areas.
Another unusual formulation. If this barb is aimed at white farmers,
US/British diplomats and the world's conservative media, it is technically
true. If it is aimed at those in civil society who consistently supported
poor people *both* through radical land reform (minus the problems caused by
Mugabe's rural ploys starting in 2000) and through 'rights to the city'
projects such as informalisation of survival activity, then it's misplaced.
> ... Zimbabwe has been the target of Western sanctions twice in the
> last 50 years: once after UDI in 1965 (very 'soft'
> sanctions, which did not stop the country becoming the second most
> industrialised in sub-Saharan Africa by the mid-1970s)
A few words on the sanctions against Ian Smith's Rhodesia, which not only
'did not stop' the fastest growth in the world from 1966-74 (9.5%/annum),
but caused such growth, since sanctions were the basis for import
substitution (the following is from my book Uneven Zimbabwe):
Overcapacity had been the rule across industry prior to UDI, with capacity
utilisation down to below 60% in 1962 (Ramsey, 1974; Davies, 1982). What was
particularly important about how that capacity was taken up during UDI was
the extraordinary flexibility shown both by capitalists (who organised an
extension of product lines largely on the basis of existing plant and
equipment prior to
1970) and by black workers who adapted to the initial skills shortage caused
by early 1960s white emigration, and to the new production demands. Rhodesia
suddenly produced its own breakfast cereals, cube sugar, high quality
furniture, lollipop sticks, canned asparagus, bird seed, fifteen varieties
of hair shampoo, ten different hand cleaners, five lipsticks, seven
varieties of swimming pool paints, and ten varieties of pet foods. These
corresponded to a vast expansion in local industrial production units (ie,
with ten or more workers) from 665 at UDI to 1,036 five years later, as the
number of different products increased from 1,059 in 1967 to 3,837 in 1970.
> and again after
> Zimbabwe's entry into the Congo war in August 1998. Zimbabwe's
> involvement in the war was not well received in the West.
The difficult task here is to sort out what factors were in play at what
points. In 1998 Mugabe was supporting Laurent Kabila (who came to power in
part through mining interests), and his own allies' and generals'
personal interests in that process are well documented. No doubt some
geopolitical factors related to control over the eastern DRC were also in
play, with the US lining up with Uganda and Rwanda for medium-term control
of the region's resources. But Mamdani forgets that the IMF explicitly
*allowed* huge financial transfers from within the Zimbabwe fiscus to the
war (so long as cuts in other programmes paid for it), and expressed much
more concern about a new set of economic policies, 'Zimprest' (the following
from my coauthored book Zimbabwe's Plunge):
introduction of selective price controls, increased tariffs, import
licensing on some goods, procrastination in meeting regional liberalisation
targets, pegging of the exchange rate, suspension of foreign currency
accounts, introduction of new export incentives and application of new
levies on tobacco and consumer goods. Although five major parastatals were
privatised, a more rapid sell-off of state assets was postponed. The Value
Added Tax, on the cards since the World Bank began pressing hard in 1996,
was also delayed. The IMF sent a high-level team to negotiate the
disbursement of a US$53 million loan (which in turn would release another
US$800 million from other lenders). There was a confused flurry in early
1999, when Mugabe sought funding elsewhere than the IMF. The IMFs Zimbabwe
objectives were straightforward: reversal of both the luxury import tax and
price controls on staple foods. According to Michael Nowak, the IMF official
controlling a US$53 million loan tranche, "There are two issues outstanding
and these have stopped the IMF from making the standby credit available to
the country. These issues are, one, we want the government to reduce the
tariffs slapped on luxury goods last September, and secondly, we also want
the government to give us a clear timetable as to when and how they will
remove the price controls they have imposed on some goods." Later in 1999,
the IMF agreed to increase the loan amount to US$200 million.
But according to an IMF official, yet more conditions emerged, namely,
access to classified Democratic Republic of Congo war information and a
commitment to pay new war expenditure from the existing budget: The
Zimbabweans felt offended, shocked, but they all the same agreed to give us
the information, we got all the clarification we wanted. They had no
choice... We have had assurances [that] if there is budgetary overspending,
there will be cuts in other budget sectors. A final deal arranged in August
1999 also compelled the Zimbabwe Reserve Bank to restore foreign currency
accounts to local corporations. The deal soon fell apart, however, when
Mugabes government violated several provisions.
> Participants in the donor
> conference for Zimbabwe that year were decidedly lukewarm about
> committing funds.
As they had been since 1980.
> Britain announced a review of arms sales to Zimbabwe and, after the
> conference, again disclaimed any responsibility for funding land reform.
Again, nothing new. The US also ended their military flirtation with the
Zimbabwe army in the late 1990s.
> following year the IMF suspended lending to Zimbabwe,
By then, Mugabe had stopped paying IMF loans back, and was violating several
of the neoliberal conditions placed on earlier loans.
> while the US and the
> UK decided to fund the labour movement, led by the ZCTU, first to
> oppose constitutional change and then to launch the MDC as a
> full-fledged opposition party.
International donor support for the ZCTU's more conservative initiatives was
nothing new (I was a victim of one such process when the US labour
movement's Solidarity Center told the ZCTU - then run by Tsvangirai - to
stop working with me on various projects).
> Its enemies have claimed that, by the late 1990s, the ZCTU was
> dependent on foreign sources for two-thirds of its income.
But that would probably also be true of many labour movements in Africa,
especially when the manufacturing base and industrial workforce had been so
dramatically reduced by structural adjustment.
> Once 'fast-track' land reform began in 2000, the Western donor
> community shut the door on Zimbabwe.
There were other factors in play here, too: the uptick in state repression,
Mugabe's zigzagging away from neoliberal economic policies, and a sense that
Mugabe would soon lose to Tsvangirai in an election.
But a great deal more donor aid continued to flow during the 2000s; the door
was not shut, by any means. US AID in particular was prolific in sending out
its food support, replete with branding logos all over the maize bags and
cooking oil tins.
> The sanctions regime, led by the US and Britain, was elaborate, tested
> during the first Iraq war and then against Iran.
The only real US sanctions were the smart sanctions against the elites.
Instead of imposing genuine economic sanctions, George W. Bush left Zimbabwe
to his 'point man' (sic), Thabo Mbeki.
> In 2001 Jesse Helms,
> previously a supporter of UDI, sponsored the Zimbabwe Democracy and
> Economic Recovery bill (another sponsor was Hillary Clinton) and it
> became law in December that year. Part of the act was a formal
> injunction on US officials in international financial institutions to
> 'oppose and vote against any extension by the respective institution
> of any loan, credit or guarantee to the government of Zimbabwe'. In
> autumn 2001 the IMF had declared Zimbabwe 'ineligible to use the
> general resources of the IMF' and removed it from the list of
> countries that could borrow from its Poverty and Growth Facility. In
> 2002, it issued a formal declaration of non-co-operation with Zimbabwe
> and suspended all technical assistance.
Surprisingly, Mamdani does not mention the most profound reason for the
IMF's above decisions: Mugabe's failure to repay overdue loans.
Moreover, when in 2005-06, Mugabe (egged on by Mbeki) tried to clear $210
million in extreme arrears (with more than $1 billion in other arrears to
the IMF and World Bank still outstanding), he had not put in place
neoliberal economic policies required by the IMF for ongoing support. My own
understanding is that at no time did the US have to exercise the veto over
IMF loans it has been notorious for in other cases. The 'sanctions' Mamdani
describes were simply not a factor - Mugabe had himself imposed sanctions on
himself by not repaying the Bretton Woods Institutions starting in 1999, and
by adopting non-neoliberal economic policies. In any case, 'sanctions' by
the Bretton Woods Institutions should be no barrier to a country's growth,
if it is managed properly, as Argentina showed after its 2002 default on
$130 billion in foreign loans including IMF loans - following which it led
Latin America in recovery from the 'lost' 1980s-90s neoliberal era.
> ... sanctions mainly affect the lives of ordinary people.
Where is the evidence for this?
> Gideon Gono, governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, wrote recently
> that the country's foreign exchange reserves had declined from $830
> million, representing three months' import cover in 1996, to less than
> one month's cover by 2006.
These statistics have nothing to do with 'sanctions', but instead reflect
the abuse of the forex control system by Gono. Zimbabwe has had the third
worst outflow of capital flight, of any country in Africa (only Nigeria and
Angola have suffered a higher proportion of their GDP moving abroad,
illegally, since the mid-1970s, according to the most rigorous study - by
Ndikumana and Boyce of U.Mass-Amherst), not to mention ubiquitous luxury
good imports for Mugabe's cronies.
> Total foreign payments arrears increased from $109 million at the end
> of 1999 to $2.5 billion at the end of 2006.
As the Jubilee movement (locally represented by the Zimbabwe Coalition on
Debt and Development) repeatedly requested, Mugabe stopped repaying foreign
loans, starting in 1999. But instead of Mugabe following a principled
strategy linked to other Third World leaders in a debtors'
cartel, as Jubilee South (and Nyerere and Castro) advocated, there was a
simple reason: Mugabe ran out of forex. In 1998, Zimbabwe paid more in debt
servicing than any country in the world (as a percentage of GDP) aside from
Brazil and Burundi. Having stopped repaying - except for the silly strategy
of partial IMF repayments in 2005-06 - naturally arrears increased
dramatically. The Jubilee movement was disgusted by the
2005-06 repayment, and advocates that Zimbabwe's entire foreign debt -
$5 billion + - be repudiated, and indeed declared 'Odious Debt' in
international law, since the vast majority of people who suffered because of
those loans (which mainly funded the 1990s structural adjustment destruction
of the economy and social wage) were not properly consulted by the Mugabe
> Foreign direct investment had shrunk from $444.3 million in 1998 to
> $50 million in 2006.
The Zimbabwe economy has been the fastest-shrinking in the world, so this is
only to be expected - it's not a sign of sanctions.
> Donor support, even to sectors vital to popular welfare, such as
> health and education, was at an all-time low. Danish support for the
> health sector,
> $29.7 million in 2000, was suspended. Swedish support for education
> was also suspended.
What Mamdani fails to note here, is the systematic abuse of aid - both in
day-to-day activities (as the World Development Movement and ActionAid have
documented) and also in Zimbabwe where forex used for aid has been
systematically abused by the central bank and government departments.
> The US issued travel warnings, blocked food aid during the heyday of
> land reform and opposed Zimbabwe's application to the Global Fund to
> Fight Aids the country has the fourth highest infection rate in the
> Though it was renewed in 2005, the Zimbabwe grant is meagre.
Widescale abuse of donor funds (including in the health sector) is one
reason for this low Global Fund grant level - not sanctions. The opposition
has systematically opposed Western sanctions against Zimbabwe (aside from
smart sanctions), and even last week called for increased humanitarian aid
to deal with the worsening food and health crises.
There are a great many providers of humanitarian aid, as well as NGOs, ready
to supply the Zim countryside with food and other services - but Mugabe has
systematically prevented them from operating.
> Nonetheless, it was clear that support for Zanu-PF was higher [in
> 2005] than in the
> pre-fast-track elections of 2000.
Given how widespread electoral fraud was in 2005, nothing is 'clear'
about support for the ruling party. Most important was the March 2008
election in which Mugabe conclusively lost the presidency, by his own
admission because it was such an obvious fact, one that even weeks of
delay in issuing the results could not disguise.
> ... Namibia, Nigeria and the South African observer team, which had
> monitored the elections, concluded that the result was legitimate.
These were extremely contentious findings (in 2005), which left these
observers utterly discredited. Quite simply, the 2005 election showed
once again that African elites (from Windhoek, Abuja, Pretoria) could
readily support other African elites (in Harare) - against the mass of
> The experience of land reform in Zimbabwe has set alarm bells ringing
> in South Africa
Unfortunately, this is an exaggeration. The alarm bells tinkled once or
twice in 2001 at the World Conference Against Racism and in 2002 at the
World Summit on Sustainable Development, which were the debut and high
point of the Landless People's Movement. The LPM was subsequently
destabilised, and tragically, there is presently no rural South African
social movement with the weight necessary to raise an alarm bell that
the Zimbabwe experience will be repeated.
> ... In South Africa especially, the upheaval and bitterness felt
> in Zimbabwe seems to suggest that the 'Malaysian path' to peaceful
> redistribution and development is not inevitable.
Everyone in South Africa awaits discovery of an 'Malaysian path',
because the present neoliberal government has a different roadmap of
redistribution from poor to rich, and followed this path very
successfully, moving SA up the rankings of the world's most unequal
countries, and pushing SA's population far down the Human Development
> An anxious South Africa
> and less powerful members of the Southern Africa Development Community
> to feel that sanctions, along with other destabilising policies
> pursued by
> the West against Zimbabwe, have only made matters worse.
What proof is there of 'anxious' South African and other SADC leaders'
'feeling' on this matter? SADC's leaders showed their respect for
democracy in Zimbabwe in mid-November in Sandton, when they willfully
misread the political situation so as to favour Mugabe, advocating a
shared ministry of home affairs (with no other comments on 10 other
contested ministries), an unworkable and inequitous arrangement which
the MDC rejected.
> ... South Africa's non-confrontational policy vis-à-vis Mugabe
> which Mbeki pursued despite mounting criticism from the ANC and the
> in South Africa along with its provision of fuel and electricity to its
> northern neighbour, set it at odds with Western governments.
Which Western government has publicly suggested SA cut off fuel and
electricity to Zimbabwe? None have cut off any trade of their own to
Zimbabwe (aside from arms - which Pretoria and China supply Mugabe
liberally), so how would they argue for fuel/electricity sanctions?
> ... many activists and intellectuals, for the most part
> progressives, have aligned themselves with distant or long-standing
> in an effort to dislodge an authoritarian government clinging to power on
> the basis of historic grievances about the colonial theft of land.
> of this was the refusal by Cosatu-affiliated unions to unload a cargo of
> Chinese arms destined for Zimbabwe when the *An Yue Jiang* sailed into
> Durban in April.
Symbolic of alignment with long-standing enemies? What happened in April
was that a local progressive church leader, Bishop Rubin Phillip (whose
political roots are in the black consciousness movement) and the
anti-Mugabe SA trade union movement together raised the alarm about
three million bullets and crates of guns moving from Durban to Harare,
and prevented the unloading there and across the region (and they were
assisted by a lawyer based at Open Society's regional arm). The most
important alliance is only just beginning now, people-people solidarity
across the Limpopo River. After the xenophobia attacks on tens of
thousands of Zimbabweans here in May-June, this is ever more crucial to
note. I don't know of any 'alliance' between progressive activists (like
Phillip or Cosatu) and 'long-standing enemies'. Just because both may
want to see the end of Mugabe's reign, doesn't mean there is an alliance
> The arguments, which are not new, turn on questions of nationalism and
> democracy, pitting champions of national sovereignty and state
> against advocates of civil society and internationalism. One group
> the other of authoritarianism and self-righteous intolerance;
The left critique of Mugabe is the same you find in Fanon's chapter on
Pitfalls of National Consciousness, and highlights crony capitalism and
compradorism. Mugabe would happily again be the Bretton Woods
Institutions' fair-haired boy if he could squeeze sufficient surpluses
from his society to do so (in 1995 he was considered the best African
implementer of structural adjustment, winning a 'highly satisfactory'
label from the World Bank for helping to destroy large swathes of the
productive economy and shrinking the social wage).
> it replies
> that its critics are wallowing in donor largesse.
That is a problem, to be sure.
> ... Nationalists have been able to withstand civil society-based
> opposition, reinforced by Western sanctions, because they are
> supported by
> large numbers of peasants.
The military/police are a rather more important source of support than
the peasants, Mamdani would surely concede.
> ... In the wake of Mbeki's resignation as president of South Africa it
> is vital that this
> agreement remains in place.
Perhaps this is the most bizarre sentence. Land reform will again be
needed in Zimbabwe, to dislodge Mugabe's cronies who have merely taken
over existing plantations. But land aside, the September 15 agreement is
a disaster in many other respects, as it combines the worst of both
worlds: looming neoliberalism if the business faction of the MDC
influences economic policy (the MDC gets the finance ministry), and
ongoing crony capitalism through Mugabe's extensive patronage system
within the Zim state; plus a relegitimised repressive arm of the state
for those in civil society who would protest the new elite transition.
Fortunately, it's so very bad that civil society have persuaded
progressives within the MDC not to accept the deal. The main problem is
that with all the elite negotiating going on, there's really no Plan B
for popular insurrection.
And Mahmood Mamdani's otherwise politically inspiring work does not help
the Zimbabwean people there, at all.
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