Zimbabwe: Intersection of Human Rights, Land Reform, and Regional Security

Zimbabwe:Intersection of Human Rights, Land Reform, and Regional Security By Carol Thompson November 2000 Contentious debates in Zimbabwe resonate across Southern Africa, reflecting the post-apartheid struggles for human rights, economic redistribution, and security. Center stage is the question of governmental respect for human rights, because the ruling party, ZANU-PF, and its allies stand accused of fomenting intimidation, arson, kidnapping, and murder. For its part, the U.S. government has called on the Zimbabwean government to end human rights abuses, and Washington has provided some funds to nongovernmental legal and human rights organizations. The U.S. government has not been as vociferous in the other goals for post-apartheid Southern Africa: economic redistribution and security. Without these two as equal goals to the first, the majority will remain in dire, killing poverty and the region will know no peace. The rights to basic survival and security–and civil liberties–are all human rights. Civil Liberties The amnesty granted this October by President Robert Mugabe to those who committed political violence (excluding murder, rape, and other serious crimes) during the March-June election campaign has been met with public derision and will be challenged in the courts. The opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which won 57 seats of 120 contested, is highly organized and working with labor and civic groups to expose every breach of human rights and to hold ZANU-PF politicians accountable for their actions. In a referendum last February, the public overwhelmingly rejected the draft constitution that had been personally amended by President Mugabe to sustain his power. MDC candidates stood bravely for parliamentary elections during the height of the violence, and Zimbabweans voted courageously and in large numbers (more than 63% turned out). Today, the MDC is a strong opposition voice in parliament. During the coming opposition campaign leading up to presidential elections in 2002, demands for respect of human rights and governmental accountability will persist. Zimbabweans struggled for too long against white minority rule–when most citizens were legal minors for almost a century–to permit any government to trample their human rights for long. Civil society is responding militantly and, for the most part, nonviolently. If Zimbabweans can succeed in holding their current government accountable, it will be more likely that the next government can also be held to civil standards. The U.S. government has helped to finance open forums, costly legal challenges, and constitutional debates. It has also conditioned continued economic aid on respect for human rights. Yet Washington has been noticeably quiet about the other two important goals for post-apartheid Southern Africa: economic redistribution and regional security. The Challenge of Land Reform The issue of land reform illustrates well the problems in achieving the goal of economic redistribution. The U.S. and other industrialized countries want the Zimbabwean, Namibian, and South African post-apartheid governments to pay a fair market price for underutilized land that is willingly offered. This sounds fair enough–until you consult history. For example, in America, after the war of independence, the new U.S. government simply confiscated land from the Tories, such as Lord Baltimore’s and Lord Fairfax’s vast estates (Baltimore, MD, and Fairfax County, VA). A Zimbabwean study of land reforms around the world found that no country, except the Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe (until recently), paid fair market prices for land. Zimbabwe paid market prices through 1999 for the redistributed land (about 3.6 million hectares). In most countries, land that governments redistributed was commonly devalued by political tactics–such as strikes, land invasions, and high taxes–designed to encourage owners to sell. In other countries, land was simply confiscated. When the U.S. assisted South Korea and Taiwan in agrarian reform, American aid provided hard currency to pay for the parcels that were distributed in the land reform programs. And the U.S. army accompanied the South Korean army in enforcing the removal of the former landowners. Such forceful policies were considered major successes against the spread of communism among the landless and malnourished masses. Why the double standard for Southern Africa? Isn’t the inequity of land distribution a legacy of apartheid? Not only have the countries of the region had to honor debt incurred by the white minority regimes (in spite of Jubilee 2000 efforts), they must now also pay a fair price for land on the current market. No international agency has offered the sums needed to pay a fair market price or to assist in the settling of new farmers. The U.S. continues to push for title deeds to land, but this issue is still being debated in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Southern Africa. After the end of Renamo’s brutal war in Mozambique, the people rejected private land ownership in a referendum and land can now only be leased. Zimbabweans should also be allowed to choose among the various options of private land ownership, community rights, and state land. Those who claim that the current government has had 20 years since independence to redistribute land forget that apartheid South Africa regularly sent commando raids into Zimbabwe in the 1980s. Until 1992, Zimbabwe was engaged militarily in supporting Mozambique against the Renamo army, which was trained, financed, and led by apartheid South Africa. In fact, soon after independence in 1980, the Mugabe government did begin to redistribute land, averaging 430,000 ha/year from 1980-84. The Zimbabwean government might have accelerated redistribution had it pursued other tactics, such as high tax rates on underutilized land. Another factor accounting for the delayed land reform program in Zimbabwe is the fact that some of the largest landholders in Zimbabwe are South African corporations, such as Anglo-American. This would have made it particularly difficult to pursue full-scale land reform before South African political apartheid was dismantled in 1994. In addition, the government had become convinced that the international community would offer little funding to back its demand for a land purchase program. The U.S., for example, has given no funds for land reform in Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans remember that in 1976, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger pledged $1.5 billion for the Zimbabwe Development Fund to assist with land reform after independence. Part of the reason for the pledge–which was never honored–was to help end the war and to compensate for the history of U.S. support of the white minority regime. International experts estimate it would take about $40 billion to redistribute land, with “market price” compensation and with providing inputs to new farmers. By 2000, Zimbabwe had received $45 million from donors. Even if all conditionalities were honored by the government, international support does not begin to address the multi-billion dollar cost. These observations are not intended to rationalize or excuse the terror of the land invasions in Zimbabwe. Certainly, land reform that benefits party cronies is reprehensible. But simply removing land invaders will most likely not resolve the land question in Zimbabwe. Further, land redistribution remains an urgent, unresolved issue in South Africa and Namibia as well. Regional Insecurity U.S. foreign policy has long been a major source of insecurity in Southern Africa. U.S. support of UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) and other right-wing guerrilla forces in Angola, dating from the 1970s, is well-documented. Currently, the U.S. is complicit in the marketing of “blood diamonds”–diamonds being sold by UNITA to finance its war atrocities in Angola. UNITA commander Jonas Savimbi has been declared a war criminal by the UN, yet he is still able to sell his diamonds freely on the international market. In 1997, with the acquiescence of the U.S., the rebel army of Laurent Kabila, the current ruler of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, formerly Zaire), toppled the notorious Mobutu Sese Seko. The U.S. demanded that Kabila hold elections within a few months of taking power, a demand rejected by all Southern African leaders, including Nelson Mandela. The DRC, a vast territory the size of the United States east of the Mississippi River, was in economic and political chaos after four decades of Mobutu’s tyrannical rule. In addition, the political violence associated with the 1994 genocide campaign in Rwanda had spilled over the border into eastern Congo. Kabila’s troops were accused of massacres, committed during their military campaign to seize power, and of assisting militia who fled from Rwanda to eastern Congo.. In August 1998, about one year after the fall of Mobutu, Rwanda and Uganda invaded the Congo. (The International Court of Justice recently ruled that this aggression violated international law.) Coming to the defense of the DRC were three other countries in the region: Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Angola, all of which sent troops, as requested by Kabila. The three governments cited their obligation to defend a recognized leader in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). SADC countries have responded with force more than once when the political stability of a member nation faced a military threat. Zimbabwe and Namibia have helped protect the Angolan government, and South Africa has twice used military force in Lesotho to thwart coups. Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia have also mounted military operations to remove UNITA’s rear bases in southern Congo. (Mobutu had served as a conduit for U.S. funds to UNITA under several U.S. administrations, most notably during the Reagan years.) The economic stakes in the Congo are high. The Inga Dam alone could provide enough hydroelectric power to meet all the current needs of SADC nations, including South Africa. The Congo has been the world’s largest cobalt exporter and has ranked among the top ten world producers of uranium, copper, manganese, and tin–all vital to aerospace and military industries. The major importer of these low-cost minerals has been U.S. industry. In addition, the biodiversity riches of the vast rain forest have yet to be mapped. U.S. and Belgian mining corporations continue to mine Congo’s minerals, including diamonds, making enormous profits during the instability. The World Bank and IMF have sanctioned Zimbabwe for its war expenditures, although both financial institutions continue to lend to Uganda, whose troops support the rebels in the Congo. Although Zimbabweans believe the U.S. and international agencies are not being evenhanded, they are also overwhelmingly against Zimbabwean troop involvement in the war because it diverts funds from development needs. SADC leaders have consistently been in the forefront of negotiations for peace, beginning one month after the Uganda/Rwanda invasion in 1998. The struggles for civil liberties, economic redistribution, and regional security are still very much on the agenda of post-apartheid Southern Africa. These goals must be pursued together, for the absence of one will destroy the others. U.S. foreign policy should not sanctimoniously advocate respect for human rights while ignoring pervasive economic inequality and regional security issues.(Carol Thompson < [email protected] >is a specialist on Southern Africa and a professor of political economy at Northern Arizona University. She is on sabbatical, doing research and writing at the University of Zimbabwe.) to receive weekly commentary and expert analysis via our Progressive Response ezine. This page was last modified on Wednesday, March 5, 2003 5:43 PM Contact the IRC’s webmaster with inquiries regarding the functionality of this website. Copyright © 2001 IRC and IPS. All rights reserved.