‘Mugabe right on land issue’
Although I hold no brief for Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s leader of many years, nonetheless his policy of Zimbabwe’s reclaiming rich agricultural land which had been arbitrarily seized by British settler farmers when his country was overrun by the United Kingdom was a correct one.
Yet when Mugabe sought to recover the land, following on Zimbabwe’s achieving Independence, after 90 years of colonial rule and cruel exploitation, the Western world insisted that what he was doing was illegal and against good international practice.
Apparently, it was in order for the British settlers to have appropriated the land, but another for freed Zimbabwe to retrieve it.
Although the British had sought to legitimise the seizure of the land, as Jeffrey Herbst pointed out in his book, State Politics in Zimbabwe, through the enacting of Land Ordinances which “guaranteed white economic domination and black poverty during the 90-year colonial period” the action was unjust.
It was a criminal act, the enormity of which can be gauged by the fact that when Zimbabwe gained its Independence in 1980, 5 000 white settler farmers controlled some 50 percent of the country’s arable land.
The other half, as Herbst noted, was occupied by approximately 700 000 indigenous farmers.
The colonial government had adopted the cynical policy that any rich agricultural land the white settler farmers did not immediately need would be appropriated by the government for the establishment of wild game reserves.
To appreciate the large scale of this criminal colonial act, several of what would be game parks had been occupied by indigenous farmers.
JP Farler in his “Native Routes in East Africa from Pangani to the Masai Country and the Victorian Nyanza” carried on pages 730 – 747 in the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society 1V (New Series) 1882, would point out that a contemporary observer had described the Nyorongoro Crater, for example, as a “thickly populated Masai district with many villages”.
Helge Kjekshus would cite on page 17 of his work “Ecology Control and Economic Development in East African History: The Case of Tanganyika 1850-1950” that a British Governor rejected a suggestion in 1935 that a national game park be set up in what is today known as the Lake Manyara National Park, on the basis that it was one of the richest agricultural areas in the territory: “…it cannot be sound to close a rich agricultural area in the interest of game, when there are unlimited areas which are useless for cultivation and equally suitable for game on the Serengeti and in its vicinity.”
Ironically, the park which was established not much later is today infested with tsetse flies although, and this is of crucial importance, it was free in 1894 of the blood sucking insects which, incidentally, transmit sleeping sickness.
The above information was taken from page 76 of Kjekshus’ work referred to earlier.
The British arrogated unto themselves, not only prime land in Zimbabwe and other colonial possessions, but deliberately stifled economic progress through their insistence that colonised indigenous people, as well as the descendants of slaves and indentureds be limited to the production of raw materials, while the refining processes remained under their control.
This was a problem in not only British colonies, but in the possessions of other European powers as well. It was a problem which would be reinforced by the iniquitous 1975 ACP-EEC Convention of Lome and its successor, the Convention of Cotonou.
They discouraged all forms of colonial and post colonial entrepreneurship, a vexing problem which Guyana-born writer, Walter Rodney, would identify and elaborate upon in his outstanding work: “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”, printed by Heinemann Kenya in 1989.
A former French Prime Minister, Jules Ferry, would crystallise imperialist thinking when he stated in 1885: “The foundation of a colony is the creation of a market.”
For him and so many others colonies were there, not as production centres, but as markets for the goods and services of the colonisers.
Four years later, in 1889, the then President of the French Chamber of Deputies and himself a former French Prime Minister, Jules Meline, would declare that he wished “to discourage in advance any efforts at industrialisation that may be attempted in our colonies, to oblige in short, our overseas possessions to depend exclusively on the metropolis for their purchases of manufactured products and to make them, willingly or not, fulfil their natural role as reserved markets for metropolitan industry”.
What arrant nonsense! Clearly, Mugabe was right in his stand. – Trinicentre
• George Alleyne serves as United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV and AIDS in the Caribbean region. He was appointed to the position by the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in February 2003.