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Mismanagement versus property rights




THE economic mismanagement claim may be another key factor in trying to understand what caused mass poverty in Zimbabwe. Economic mismanagement is perhaps the most conceivable cause of Zimbabwe’s prolonged economic decline.

It is also linked to market responses to the disregard of property rights by the Zimbabwean government when it ignored the “violent” invasion of white farmland by black veterans of the liberation struggle.

The abolishment of property rights characterised the controversial land reform programme, and may have been a major cause of poverty creation in Zimbabwe. The National Social Security Authority (Nssa) report (2013) reveals that Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector has been struggling to recover from the impact of the land reform programme, which may have violated property rights and disrupted land ownership and tenure.

The argument is that through a haphazard land reform programme, president Robert Mugabe’s government developed economic policies that undermined the principle of private property.

The principle of private property is critical to economic development, hence any violation could mean economic backslide.

Up to this day, there is a persistent view that Mugabe used white farmland as weapon against the opposition in his quest to hang on to power, hence his government abolished property rights to pave way for invasion of white farms. This view is shared by Cross (2012) who argues that:

The problem was that the new regime destroyed property rights in their efforts to perpetuate their hold on the state and maintain their privileges and patronage rights (Cross, 2012.p4).

Consequently, the abolishment of property rights was a harbinger for economic mismanagement, hence the two should be viewed in one genre of analysis. For instance, O’Driscoll & Hoskins (2003) argue that prosperity and property rights are inextricably linked. They point out that process of weighing costs and benefits produces what economists call efficient outcomes, which translates into higher standards of living for all.

Hence, the low standard of living currently being experienced by most of Zimbabweans is linked to an incompetent black economic manager who unwittingly failed to identify the link between economic growth and property rights.

For, it is the abolishment of property rights, coupled with economic mismanagement that set the trigger, inflamed the decline in welfare, and caused avoidable deaths such as the 4 000 who died of cholera.

Furthermore, Zimbabwe’s processes of economic mismanagement, linked to the abolishment of property rights has also led to lack of investment in human capital. No wonder why the Nssa report (2013) states that the period between July 2011 to July 2013 shows that 711 companies in Harare closed down, rendering 8 336 individuals jobless.

Major companies that were retrenching included Platinum Miners, Zimplats and Unki, Bindura Nickel, Spar supermarkets, Dairibord, Cairns, Olivine Industries and PG Industries.

This section has attempted to demonstrate an existing link between the abolishment of property rights and rise of poverty.

Missing diamonds

Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields are estimated to be one of the world’s richest diamond deposits’ this century (Stockhouse, 2013). However, production from Marange is controversial due to missing revenues realised from the sale of the diamonds.

What should have been an opportunity for redemption for a country that is sinking into poverty and bankruptcy after years of chaos that saw world record inflation, the discovery of Marange diamonds in eastern Zimbabwe is turning out to be a further curse for the embattled former British colony.

Greed, corruption and exploitation on a grand scale including the use of forced labour, both adults and children – horrifying human rights abuses, brutal killings, degradation of the environment and the massive enrichment of a select few (Sokwanele, 2011, p2). is a global hub for investors to find relevant financial news, access expert analysis and opinion and share knowledge and information with each other.

According to the global hub for investors, Stockhouse (2013) despite being an impoverished country:

… some Zimbabweans are awash in money, judging by the Mercedes-Benzes parked at a country club and the private woodland estate with artificial lake and mansion built by the nation’s police chief.

Stockhouse (2013) observes that the wealth of the country is enjoyed by just a few, at least in part, from the vast Marange diamond field that was exposed by an earth tremor in 2006. Stockhouse (2013) states that eastern Zimbabwe’s diamond fields are the biggest ever found in Africa for a century, worth billions of dollars.

Furthermore, a 2013 bipartisan parliamentary investigation concluded that tens of millions of dollars in diamond earnings are missing from 2012 alone.

The report highlights corruption, bribery of senior officials, smuggling and so on.

President Mugabe himself has bemoaned corruption, in particular when he publicly accused one of his top mining officials of accepting a US$6 million bribe from Ghanaian investors to obtain diamond mining rights in Marange (Mugabe parliamentary speech, 2013).

However, the discovery of diamonds in Zimbabwe should have been a step forward towards efforts to address absolute poverty in Zimbabwe.


The question of colonial imprint remains heavily implicated in the Zimbabwean poverty story. However, colonialism and its legacy may not be the central problem, but remains a contributing factor.

The dehumanising of the colonised black Africans had an intergenerational negative impact on black peoples. This was fostered by the colonisers’ successful attempt to mischaracterise colonised races as biologically inferior, and in some cases there was “screwed up” scientific proof as evidence.

The issue of racial prejudice may have created deep-seated anger among black Africans, including other colonised societies, be it in Asia. Gould (1996) shares this view, arguing that the subsequent biological justification of “inferior” blacks imposed an additional burden of intrinsic inferiority upon despised groups.

The view being propounded is that colonialism was inherently racist, and sought to destroy the humanity within the colonised groups. It sought to destroy the existing social structures, replacing them with the racist structures which were designed to prevent colonised groups from succeeding as fully paid-up members of the human race.

However, the problem arises when those countries that were not colonised, such as Thailand, appear to be no better off than Malaysia or Singapore next door (Kristof, 2010).

Furthermore, Kristof, (2010) observes that Liberia, which was not formally colonised, appear to be in the same league of problems with neighbouring Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. Another example is Ethiopia which was not entirely colonised yet the country is not better than other wholly colonised African countries.

Redress policies

This section will explore potential means in which Zimbabwe could address the problem of absolute poverty. The section considers two important transformative models, namely the growth-centred model and the redistributive developmental model.

The thought of transformative remedies contra to affirmative remedies makes more logic for the Zimbabwean story of injustice. Poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon that requires a wide range of solutions for a wide range of problems (Gordon et al, 2004).

This view clarifies the transformative remedies two-model approach proposed in this analysis which is merely a reflection of the scale of the Zimbabwean problem.

A growth-centred model, as propounded by Srinivasan (1992), could be a useful approach for social transformation and revival of the Zimbabwean economy.

Contextually, through the growth-centred model, policymakers may be able to identify processes that could underpin more effective policies for reducing poverty.

Fakir (2007) asserts that in countries with high levels of inequality, the state has no option but to embark on a developmental agenda. Fakir observes that unequal countries trying to address the inequalities must concede to their underdeveloped constituencies, or risk social instability.

The second model is the developmental state model propounded by Polanyi (1946). He argues that the approach represents a progressive state focussing on the role of the economy. In this case the economic imperative is less important than social and political objectives. Mkandawire (2001) identifies three key attributes of a developmental state.

First, it has an ideological hegemony, and Mkandawire (2001), observes that this helps the state’s ideas to predominate.

Second, Mkandawire (2001), argues that a developmental state must have the technical, administrative, institutional and political capacity and power to implement its economic policies. In the Zimbabwean context, this could help address corruption that has become endemic in the government.

It may also help in identifying technical expertise required for the country to be able to deal with mass poverty while creating effective state and private institutions that are focussed on dealing with poverty.

For these transformative models to function effectively, there must be autonomy by those charged with the task of restructuring the status quo.

The idea is to afford them to act in the best interests of its citizens without being constrained, consequently this could mean cracking down on corruption and putting in place structures that seek to redress absolute poverty. These may include introducing minimum wage, protective labour laws, grants for children and those over 65, including a job seekers’ allowance.

The two transformative models are imperative for Zimbabwe, thus to redistribute income and wealth, and to increase the government’s revenues, to enable the country deal with the backlog of development such as building schools and clinics including financing state institutions such as the health delivery system.


This paper has attempted to explore forces of injustice that have created poverty in post-colonial Zimbabwe. The notion of absolute poverty in Zimbabwe includes a variety of burning issues contributing to the poverty problem. Most of these issues cause considerable suffering to Zimbabwean citizens.

The study has demonstrated that a large proportion of the population may score highly on the scale of personal hardships. For instance, the paper has identified a direct link between Zimbabwe government’s expropriations of commercial farmlands with absolute poverty currently being experienced in Zimbabwe.

It is the controversial expropriation of white farmland that has relegated Zimbabwe to become utterly dependent on aid from “white European states”, the country purports to so loathe. Supporters of the Zimbabwean government may argue that sanctions were the main cause of the absolute poverty.

However, this view is problematic in the sense that the interconnectedness of the world through processes of globalisation reject the hostile economic environment resulting from the government’s violent land reforms and disregard of property rights. In a modern market economy, market forces spontaneously react against countries where there is no rule of law.

Furthermore, conventional wisdom has taught us that market reactions produce goods scarcity and devaluation of national currencies which is the basis of mass poverty.

Henceforth, it can be asserted that eradicating poverty in Zimbabwe is an achievable goal, but corruption and lack of political will is hindering meaningful efforts to end it.

With all this in mind, maldistribution of basic resources in Zimbabwe is generated by black-on-black post-colonial forms of injustice. This takes many forms such bad governance, tyranny and corrupt rule.

About the writer: Dr Admore Tshuma is a former Zimbabwean journalist, now an academic at the University of Bristol. He did his PhD in Social Policy at the University of Bristol’s School for Policy Studies. He previously worked at the University Centre of Southend as a programme director for the BSc (Hons) Psychology and Sociology course, in partnership with the University of Essex.

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