Post-colonial land reforms in Africa. Zimbabwe's land resettlement program

Term Paper, 2019

23 Pages, Grade: 2,7



Table of content

1. Introduction

2. Background
2.1 Theoretical considerations
2.2 Historical context

3. Land Reform in Zimbabwe
3.1 The Lancaster House Agreement 1979
3.1.1 Results
3.2 The Land Acquisition Act 1992
3.2.1 Results
3.3 The Fast Track Program 2000
3.3.1 Results

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography


Since Zimbabwe has gained independence in 1980, the redistribution of land has dictated domestic politics. Former president Robert Mugabe and his party ZANU-PF aimed at redistributing as much land as possible from former white colonizers to former oppressed black people. Starting under neo-colonial structures with the Lancaster House Agreement, the land reforms slowly radicalized and ended in the controversial Fast Track reform in 2000. In the process of tackling the land question, many difficulties emerged, and these will be analyzed in this paper. While many scholars attribute the mistakes of the reforms to Mugabe and his government, it will be argued that there are more exogenous factors that heavily constrained proper implementation of land reforms.

1. Introduction

Starting as one of the most promising countries in Africa after independence in 1980, Zimbabwe has become one of the poorest countries on the continent. Confronted with decades of colonization and a harsh civil war, Zimbabwe is still facing the repercussions to this day.

The economy of Zimbabwe is mainly based on commercial agriculture.1 Even though there are no major natural resources, the fertile land has been used for growth of export goods such as coffee and tobacco. 90 percent of this fertile land was taken from the indigenous people during colonization and was given to white settlers under British rule.2 The black indigenous population was oppressed and excluded from decision-making and rights of land ownership. A long civil war was fought to destroy colonial structures and for black people to ‘take back their land’.3

When Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, land redistribution became the main agenda during the years to follow and aimed at resettling those people that were displaced during colonization. Servings for 37-year as president, Robert Mugabe, leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), provided leadership through the land distribution reforms and faced major internal and external challenges. The establishment of the Lancaster House Agreement, which was cosigned with former colonizer Britain in 1979, set the start of land resettlement program, but is said to impose neo-colonial structures that limited Mugabe’s decision-making.4

In the 1990s, the Land Acquisition Act aimed to radicalize the reforms and to resettle a greater number of people. Because the 1990s showed only moderate success, Mugabe introduced the Fast Track Program in 2000, which drastically increased the number of resettlements of black people but also led to the collapse of the economy.

Today, opinions differ whether the reforms failed or succeeded. There are three main perspectives on the purpose and outcome of the reforms: the social, the economic and the political view.5 While the social view emphasizes the redistribution of land from the rich to the poor, the economic view promotes redistribution towards developing efficient farms to create employment and increase productivity.6 The political view looks at how the political power was challenged and whether the agrarian structure could be overall changed.7

By looking at the social and the political aspects and the aim “to redress historical imbalances in access to land between the races and the creation of opportunity for alleviating the economic plight of some of the poorest rural people” 8, the reforms can be seen as successful. In comparison to colonial years, more black people nowadays own land and have the same rights as white people. It may be said that “three decades of land reform has recast land-based social relations in important ways, with the poor gaining more than previously believed.”[9]

Regarding the economy, success was limited due to resulting unemployment and inflation. Many scholars saw the reforms as unsuccessful until recent literature “challenges the myths” of economic failure.10 They argue that “Zimbabwe’s land reform has not been neat, and huge problems remain. But 245,000 new farmers have received land, and most of them are farming it. They have raised their own standard of living; have already reached production levels of the former white farmers; and with a bit of support, are ready to substantially increase that production.”[11]

Current literature agrees on the consensus that reforms certainly did not go smoothly and despite of its successes, many factors contributed to the unsteady reform program. These ranged from external constraints, such as: British interference and lack of financial aid, as well as internal constraints, such as: droughts, political opposition and financial debts.

This paper’s intention is not to give a simple answer to the question of whether the reforms were a success or failure. Rather, it seeks to analyze the constraints that emerged along the process, as it can give insight for the implementation of reforms to other countries. The theoretical base of this paper will be built on Nunnenkamp’s theory (1995) which states that in order to successfully implement reforms, the incentives of the government have to be strong enough to overcome the short-term costs and economic downfalls.12 In addition, these incentives also need to overcome external and internal constraints that will influence the government’s motives. If a government has the wrong incentives, for example only cares about staying in power, they will not wholly implement reforms to avoid a short-term deterioration. Due to ZANU-PF and Robert Mugabe stayed in power throughout the reform program studied in this paper, the progress can be analyzed conferring to the question:

Can the difficulties of the implication of land reforms in Zimbabwe be explained by the incentives of the government?

Along the process of the reform programs from 1980 to 2000, the main constraints and its influence on the land reforms will be traced and examined whether they can be attributed to the government’s incentives that did not prioritize the goal of the land reforms. It will be argued, specifically, that external constraints heavily influenced the land reforms and inhibited the governmental decision-making. The analysis of the case Zimbabwe may provide guidance for other countries that face the same question on how to solve the land question.

2. Background

2.1 Theoretical considerations

Reforms are politically risky and socially costly.13 When reforms are implemented, they usually cause a temporary economic downfall.14 Even though they might benefit the economy in the long-run, the short-term results often lead to inflation, unemployment and economic instability. The period shortly after the implementation of reforms is therefore often the most difficult to overcome. In this crucial time, chances of opposition and demonstrations are highest, and governments have to minimize the deterioration of the situation and control aggravating factors. However, reforms are often needed to alter market patterns, speed up the economy and, in Zimbabwe’s case, provide equal access to resources (i.e. land) to the citizens.

The reasons reforms fail or succeed has been debated among scholars of different academic fields. While the search continues for policy instructions on how to best implement reforms, an agreement emerged on the need for strong institutions and their ability to adjust to shocks.15 Nunnenkamp (1995) has worked on finding similarities in developing countries and explained the successes or failures of reforms.16 He agrees on a common assumption that reforms typically do not immediately bring about clearly improved economic situation. His theory states that the timing and sequencing of reforms are therefore crucial and will determine its success or failure. According to his conclusion, the main reason reforms fail is devoted to the delay and partial implication of reforms, which is caused by the lack of perseverance and wrong governmental incentives. At some point, reforms may even be withdrawn and completely canceled in order to buffer the economic shock that develops after reforms.

Therefore, the government of a country, especially the head of state, needs to be competent and perseverant in order to lead through the economic downfall and to make sure that the reforms will not be withdrawn. However, incentives of governments are often too weak, and the short-term results will tempt a return to the status quo. Furthermore, the government is exposed to numerous internal and external factors that influence their incentives to implement, partially implement or even withdraw his reforms.

The first burden in democratic regimes is the democratic institution itself, namely the elections. The government must justify the current economic deterioration and is constrained by the votes of the people. Since it is assumed that politicians try to sustain their power by winning elections, the short-term disadvantageous results will fall into their administration and therefore lead to dissatisfaction among the population. Chances are that people will vote for a change in government. This means that even if reforms are likely to lead to substantial welfare gains in the longer term, selfish governments will tend to only partially implement the reforms which will have a limited effect on the success of these reforms.17 In this context, favorable conditions for far-reaching reforms exist when the responsibility for a grave economic crisis can be blamed on former governments. Policies, aimed at maintaining power, can lead to a vicious circle of incomplete reforms and a further decline in willingness to reform. In the worst case, this might even lead to the undermining of democracy or the abandoning of reforms.

The second factor that threatens the success of reforms is the fact that producers and investors will not react as strong on reforms as expected or wished. Especially when the situation is uncertain or economic political situation is unstable, investors will take a wait-and-see approach, especially when uncertainties about the government's economic policy course exist. Empirical data shows that substantial investment in new projects requires a time horizon of at least five years.

A third influence includes the need for social commitment. When reforms are being implemented, the provocation of an opposition is often inevitable. Nunnenkamp states that reforms are easier to implement if there is a societal consensus on the need for a change of course. Short-term adjustment costs are generally more accepted if the society as well as social groups stands behind them.

The fourth factor that undermines or assists reforms is external help. According to Nunnenkamp, the decline of an economy will be reduced by external aid, and thus will strengthen the motivation for the government to imply those reforms. Yet, clearly positive incentive effects can only be expected if the criteria for the aid provide for an effective link between internal adjustment and external assistance. Any lack of reforms would have to be credibly sanctioned by cutting or cancelling transfers. At the same time, stronger reform efforts would have to be rewarded by higher transfers. For the case of Zimbabwe, one has to take the special features of the land reforms into account. Land reforms cannot be seen as mere rational allocation, since it is accompanied with the emotional struggle of former oppressed people. As will be seen in Chapter 3.1, external aid did have a positive impact on the economy, yet a negative impact on the reforms since it did not enhance the reforms but rather hindered them.

The above-mentioned factors have the greatest influence on the incentives of a government to apply reforms. An intervening factor can be the technocratic competence to achieve comprehensive and consistent programs, but this is not a sufficient condition for ensuring that such programs are also enforced and sustained. Also, autocratic and dictatorial systems of rule are not necessarily more successful than democracies, the government's problems of incentives are mostly independent of the political regime type.

2.2 Historical context

As most of the African countries, Zimbabwe experienced a long era of colonization that was marked by the oppression of people and exploitation of resources. In 1880, Cecil Rhodes and the British South Africa Company were granted by the British Crown to administer and govern the region and, as a product, “Southern Rhodesia” became a British colony in 1923.18

The years to follow were marked by disproportional land distributions favoring Europeans and displacing native people.19 The Land Apportionment Act of 1930 was the first regulation that legally segregated people according to their skin color, with white people processing half of the country’s land.20 Black farmers were settled to drier and less fertile regions.21 About 300,000 white people (5 percent of the population) ruled the country and the white commercial farmers owned 88 percent of the production capacity of the economy.22

After many African countries declared independence, pressure cumulated on Britain and on the white minority government of Rhodesia, led by Ian Smith. When the British attempted to declare the same rights for white and black people, Ian Smith wrote a unilateral declaration of independence in 1965 and named the country “Republic of Rhodesia”.23 This resulted in international sanctions and export limits, which caused the first economic decline.

With more African countries gaining independence, the sense of Pan-Africanism spilled over to Zimbabwe and the “Bush War” emerged in 1964. Joshua Nkomo, leader of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union-Patriotic Front (ZAPU-PF), and Robert Mugabe, leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), led through a devastating war that ended in independence from Smith, who was eventually forced to resign.

During the war, ZANU-PF and ZAPU-PF both used the land debate to gain popular support from rural peasants.24 As Mugabe stated: the land question was at the center of the factors that propelled us to launch our war of national liberation”.25 When his party came into power in 1980, he promised “to reestablish justice and equity in the ownership of land”.26

When Zimbabwe declared independence on April 18th, 1980, Mugabe’s party ZANU-PF was elected in Zimbabwe’s first free elections. The country started off with a multi-party system, as a democratic state, which operated through a bicameral parliamentary system with the House of Assembly and the Senate. Mugabe became Prime Minister of Zimbabwe and Canaan Banana became President.27 Mugabe promised to transform the country into a socialist state, which was certainly not in favor of British interests. At that time, many economic, industrial and mining interests still remained within the British and to secure those, the British government aimed at keeping their influence as much as possible through free access to natural resources and markets as well as officials that would secure their interests in the country personally.28


1 Cf. R. Bautista, M. Thomas (2000). Trade and agricultural policy reforms in Zimbabwe: A CGE analysis. In Third Annual Conference on Global Economic Analysis, Melbourne.

2 Cf. A. O’Donogue (2009). Land in Zimbabwe: Past Mistakes, Future Prospects. Africa all Parliamentary Group.

3 J. Hanlon et. Al. (2012). Zimbabwe takes back its land. Kumarian Press.

4 Neo-colonial constraint is understood as the failure of juridically independent states to complete the national democratic revolution. S. Moyo (2004). The land and agrarian question in Zimbabwe. University of Fort Hare, p.5

5 S. Moyo (2004). The land and agrarian question in Zimbabwe. University of Fort Hare, p2

6 Ibidem

7 Ibidem

8 S. Moyo (2011). Three decades of agrarian reform in Zimbabwe. Journal of Peasant Studies, 38(3), 493-531.

9 Ibidem

10 Cf. I. Scoones et. Al. (2010). Zimbabwe's land reform: myths & realities. Currey.

11 Cf. J. Hanlon et. Al. (2012). Zimbabwe takes back its land. Kumarian Press.

12 The government in Zimbabwe consists of the president, the vice-president and the cabinet. Until 1987, the Prime Minister belonged to the cabinet, but his position was abolished in 1987 (See also Chapter 3.1). Therefore, Robert Mugabe was the leader of the government for most of the time. Nunnenkamp describes the government also as „electoral decision-makers”, i.e. leaders that are constrained by elections. See also Chapter 2.1 and P. Nunnenkamp (1995). Wirtschaftsreformen in Entwicklungs- und Transformationsländern: Anreizprobleme, Glaubwürdigkeitsdefizite und die Erfolgschancen umfassender Reformen. Die Weltwirtschaft, (1), p.100

13 A. Przeworski (1991). Democracy and the market: Political and economic reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America. Cambridge University Press.

14 A. Przeworski (1991). Democracy and the market: Political and economic reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America. Cambridge University Press., P. Nunnenkamp (1995). Wirtschaftsreformen in Entwicklungs- und Transformationsländern: Anreizprobleme, Glaubwürdigkeitsdefizite und die Erfolgschancen umfassender Reformen. Die Weltwirtschaft, (1), p.99-116.

15 Cf. W. Tompson, (2010). Reform beyond the Crisis. Making Reform Happen: Lessons from OECD Countries, 11-38.

16 Following paragraphs of this chapter all retrieved from P. Nunnenkamp (1995). Wirtschaftsreformen in Entwicklungs- und Transformationsländern: Anreizprobleme, Glaubwürdigkeitsdefizite und die Erfolgschancen umfassender Reformen. Die Weltwirtschaft, (1), p.99-116.

17 It is therefore more advantageous to introduce reforms at the beginning of the term of office. See also P. Nunnenkamp (1995). Wirtschaftsreformen in Entwicklungs- und Transformationsländern: Anreizprobleme, Glaubwürdigkeitsdefizite und die Erfolgschancen umfassender Reformen. Die Weltwirtschaft, (1), p.99-116.

18 S. Pazvakavambwa, V. Hungwe (2009 ). Land redistribution in Zimbabwe. Agricultural land redistribution: Towards greater consensus, p.137

19 Ibidem

20 The alienation of more land from the blacks was more sharply accentuated by various statutes, including the Land Apportionment Act (1930), the Consolidated Land Apportionment Act (1941), the Native Land Husbandry Act (1951), the Land Tenure Act (1969), the Land Tenure Amendment Act (1977) and the Tribal Trust Lands Act (1979). See also F.T. Gonese et. Al. (2000). Land Reform and Resettlement Implementation in Zimbabwe: An Overview of the Programme against Selected International Experiences, p. 7

21 Focus on Land (no Date). A brief history of land in Zimbabwe.

22 Cf. M. Bratton (1977). Structural transformation in Zimbabwe: comparative notes from the neo-colonization of Kenya. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 15(4), 591-611.

23 S. Onslow (2005). A question of timing: South Africa and Rhodesia's Unilateral Declaration of Independence, 1964–65. Cold War History, 5(2), p.129

24 R. Palmer (1990). Land reform in Zimbabwe, 1980-1990 . African affairs, 89(355), p.165

25 B. Englert (2001). Die Geschichte der Enteignungen: Landpolitik und Landreform in Zimbabwe, 1890-2000 (Vol. 27). LIT Verlag Münster, p.65

26 R. Palmer (1990). Land reform in Zimbabwe, 1980-1990. African affairs, 89(355), p.165

27 Canaan Banana only served until 1987 as president, when the constitution was amended, and the position of prime minister abolished. Mugabe then became president. Until 1987 the president had a rather representative role while the actual power laid within the Prime Minister. See also Chapter 3.1

28 S. Moyo (2004). The land and agrarian question in Zimbabwe. University of Fort Hare, p.4

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Post-colonial land reforms in Africa. Zimbabwe's land resettlement program
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