25 July 2014

Zimbabwe: Bring Finality to Land Reform

ON Wednesday, Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda pleaded with foreign envoys to help convince their countries to fund the economic blueprint ZimAsset, which has enjoyed generous publicity, but negligible implementation.

Encouragingly, during the tour of the Norton Special Economic Zone (NECZ), Mudenda said the parliamentary portfolio committees are working on amending laws that hinder foreign direct investment.

This is a remarkable but probably reluctant climbdown from government's standard insistence that only those countries with a political axe to grind with Zimbabwe found its laws inimical to economic investment.

It also suggests that despite the bravado of publicly dismissing various economic surveys showing Zimbabwe ranks on the bottom rungs of the investment attractiveness ladder, government is now busy instituting measures to repair the country's battered image as an investment destination.

Thus hope springs eternal. The current pervasive gloom and doom is probably forcing government's hand, but all the same it deserves praise for belatedly reviewing self-serving policies culpable of sending shivers up investors' spines.

No doubt there is a mountain to climb in reviving the economy.

Mudenda assured the diplomats there was rule of law in the country and the political climate was very amenable.

"We respect rule of law. There may be instances here and there, but that should not hinder or obliterate foreign direct investment," he said.

But the rule of law must not only be respected, it must be seen to be respected for the simple reason that action speaks louder than words, which have a reputation of being cheap. The current disruptive wave of farm invasions orchestrated by Zanu PF activists, including war veterans, implies the rule of law is either being selectively respected or paid lip service.

These invasions come after President Robert Mugabe told Zanu PF supporters in Mhangura that the remaining whites should not be allowed to own land in Zimbabwe. Mugabe, ever the politician, might very well have been playing to the gallery, but his supporters have taken his exhortation at face value, hence the invasions, not to mention the negative global coverage they have spawned.

Ironically, when asked on Wednesday during parliament's question and answer session what signs there were that ZimAsset had gained traction and the economy is in recovery mode as claimed recently by Mugabe, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa cited farming, giving the bumper tobacco crop as typifying this recovery.

Of course, there is more to the story than Chinamasa let on with reports a bread crisis looms as Zimbabwe is likely to record one of its poorest harvests ever. Still, as Chinamasa claimed, agriculture generally appears to be recovering remarkably.

Taken in that context, the farm invasions are a recipe for disaster Zimbabwe could well do without. The country's land reform programme has never been synonymous with order, which makes it hardly surprising violence broke out at farms in eastern Masvingo where a farmer is reportedly battling for life at the provincial hospital, after being struck with an axe in the head by war veterans last weekend.

These disturbances speak to the need to bring overdue finality to land reform which has been an ongoing, chaotic exercise for well over a decade, reflecting badly on the state of the rule of law in Zimbabwe.

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