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Giving land reform a very terrible name

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IN the past few days, there has been heated debate on social media pertaining to the opaque, partisan and generally corrupt allocation of farmland in Zimbabwe.

The discussion gained momentum when an enterprising young farmer got allocated a piece of land through the direct intervention of John Basera, the permanent secretary for Lands and Agriculture.

Many commentators were agreed that the youthful farmer has indeed shown potential for productive agriculture and certainly deserves adequate land for his endeavours.

However, the controversy arose from the fact that this was yet another example of a dysfunctional and cronyist agrarian policy which makes it easier to get land via “connections” than through a transparent, fair and predictable allocation system anchored on merit.

There are thousands of youths out there who desperately need land for farming and other projects but, because they are not privileged enough to sit down for a cup of coffee with Basera, their lives appear doomed.

Lest we be misunderstood, Basera is not the villain in this whole imbroglio. Far from it. Basera is no saint, of course, but being one of the youngest technocrats in central government, he has shown commendable zeal, focus and energy in that important portfolio.

The problem is bigger and older than him. If two million land-hungry youths pitch up at Basera’s office, will he have tea with all of them?

For decades, Zimbabwe’s land reform policy has been sullied by political manipulation, bureaucratic ineptitude and lack of strategic foresight.

Elsewhere in these pages today, we carry a fascinating article by political scientist Michael Albertus. He argues, in a simple but profound manner, that the fundamental problem at the heart of land reform in authoritarian states is essentially political.

Authoritarian regimes can parcel out pieces of land, but they deliberately withhold secure property rights. This forces land beneficiaries into a relationship of perpetual dependence.

That way, the regime cements control even as it impoverishes the people.

Land is the very basis of human existence. Food comes from the land. He who feeds you controls you.

Zimbabwe is not the only country in the world which has placed all farmland under state ownership.
There is nothing unique about this particular policy thrust.

What is uniquely Zimbabwean is the propensity by political leaders to shoot themselves in the foot. In other countries where land ownership is vested in the state, foreign investors are still flocking in.

They are not reluctant to commit their capital. Why? The answer has nothing to do with the curse of our ancestors or the colour of our skin.

It has everything to do with the dismal failure of these corrupt and clueless leaders to formulate and implement policies and institutions that underpin economic success.

That is how you build dynamic societies that allow everyone to actively participate in economic opportunities. It takes solid policy, strong institutions and selfless leadership.

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