Cablegate: Will Land Reform Ever Work?

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E. O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Will Land Reform Ever Work?

Ref: Harare 2024

1. (SBU) Summary: After the Presidential Land Review
Committee's failure to prescribe solutions to land
reform's shortcomings (ref), many on the ground are
wondering if Zimbabwe will ever have a vibrant agrarian
sector again. There is still a certain measure of self-
delusion - white farmers hoping to return to their farms,
the Government hoping that productivity levels will
return. Yet with each passing month, the challenge of
sorting out land reform becomes greater. To date,
neither the GOZ nor opposition MDC has articulated a
strategy to make land reform work, perhaps a measure of
how intractable the controversy has become. End Summary.

Pivotal Themes
2. (SBU) There are three important issues that a serious
land reform reappraisal would probably take into account,
all skirted by the Land Review Committee:

- Compensation for Dispossessed White Farmers. While
these 4,000 families are an insignificant constituency,
we consider a compensation settlement the only path to
reinstitution of title deed, and by extension, property
rights and rule-of-law. The GOZ's expropriation zeal has
scared off all but a dribble of foreign direct
investment. Almost every donor country has some foreign
nationals who suffered uncompensated and extra-judicial
expropriation. While no one expects white farmers to win
full compensation, most farmers would probably settle for
cents on the dollar, perhaps through future agricultural
export revenue.

- A Working Agrarian Model. There are scattered success
stories, but resettled farmers as a group are doing
poorly. In general, they lack funds for inputs and
irrigation; occasionally, they lack commitment or skills.
For the large-scale (A2) farmers, restoration of title
deed would enable them to borrow against their land.
Farms would exchange hands in the marketplace, eventually
falling to the willing and able. We have doubts that
small-scale (A1) farmers will ever move far beyond
subsistence levels, similar to those of farmers in
traditional communal areas (42 percent of Zimbabwe's
farmland) unless state ownership of land is revised.
Furthermore, the head of irrigation at the Ministry of
Agriculture's Agritex told us he has been unable to
identify a model that would enable multiple resettled
farmers to use collectively irrigation systems formerly
owned by single farms. In a sector where access to
irrigation separates the productive from the dependent,
this is a fatal flaw in the GOZ's redistribution scheme
and one that would have to be rethought to make a working
model. The GOZ may have to create incentives for small-
scale farmers to relocate -- with better support -- to
unused lands, leaving fewer settlers on former commercial

- Elite Abuses. Here we refer only to so-called VIP
beneficiaries -- those who wielded political clout to
seize houses and land, a moral and accountability issue
for a future government. (The GOZ's preliminary and
unpublished audit of VIP abuses at cites numerous examples.)

3. (SBU) These are tough matters for any government.
Even land reform's staunch critics will find it easier to
be descriptive than prescriptive at this stage. For its
part, the opposition MDC has not articulated a plan to
address compensation, competence and cronyism in land
reform. In its not yet released "Restart" blueprint, the
MDC stresses that courts must religiously uphold the
rights of existing titleholders (i.e., the white and
other farmers) but calls it "unacceptable" that "the
commercial white community owns the majority of the
land." How to reconcile the contradiction? A new "Land
Commission" would redistribute, or return to white
farmers, the seized land - no discussion of how to set
criteria, compensate former owners, establish a
sustainable business model, etc. On paper, not much of
an alternative to the "National Land Board" that
President Mugabe's Land Review Committee envisions.
4. (SBU) The chaotic and unproductive results of the land
redistribution exercise deprive Mugabe of a desperately-
sought crowning achievement for his presidency, one
reason he appealed to the United Nations Secretary
General last week for land reform assistance. For the
U.S., the bungled experiment means Zimbabweans'
dependence on our food donations continues - while arable
land, irrigation equipment and farming skills are wasted.
This may be land reform's greatest tragedy. The donor
community could have erected irrigation systems for
240,000 hectares solely by redirecting 2002's food
assistance. That would equal the amount of farmland put
under irrigation throughout Rhodesia/Zimbabwe's entire
history. With a working land reform model in place, this
country could once again feed itself.


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