Demystifying the stand off between Zimbabwe and Britain

Harare feels justified in having carried out the land reform exercise for the purposes of empowering its indigenous citizenry. The British on the other hand feel that Zimbabwe as a former colony has to capitulate and tow the line premised on the fact that it has major interests both in land and corporate terms.

Before the Zimbabwe government embarked on the land reform on a serious note post year 2000, British companies in Zimbabwe numbered approximately 430 in total. Today post the land reform exercise British companies have pretty much remained in Zimbabwe totalling approximately 413. These companies have maintained a nominal presence in Zimbabwe with production tactfully reduced to less than 10% as a calculated strategy to pressure the people of Zimbabwe to feel the pressure of shortages of basic commodities, of which these companies were largely responsible for producing. Evidence of this was largely seen in empty supermarket shelves that had characterised Zimbabwe in the recent past before the Government of National Unity.

Before the land reform exercise the Zimbabwe government must have foreseen the implications of a land reform exercise that was not twinned with economic empowerment of the indigenous population. A two pronged approach was therefore adopted by government whereby organisations like the Indigenous business development centre (IBDC) were created to facilitate the growth of the indigenous entrepreneurial spirit. This was meant to nurture indigenous businesspersons who were expected over time to go into real business that included manufacturing of goods and products that would have filled the super market shelves, hence complementing the land reform exercise. It is instructive to note that most manufacturing companies were British in origin and hence their political patronage was apparent.

Prior to these policies, the Zimbabwe government had largely invested heavily in the education sector, hence the large number of educated Zimbabweans who now litter the Diaspora. The government opened up new universities to cater for the large number of Zimbabweans who thirsted for education previously denied them by the previous Ian Smith regime. This regime as a matter of policy made sure that only a small number of Zimbabweans got access to education rendering the rest of our fore fathers permanent hewers of wood and drawers of water.

The indigenisation programme failed to take off largely because it was under funded and also sabotaged by the same corporate organisations of British origin, as they realised the implications of a successful land reform exercise coupled with a successful indigenous economic empowerment programme would have empowered the locals. Their grip over the day to day lives of Zimbabweans would have been largely compromised hence resulting in them loosing economic control and hence unable to influence the politics of the day.

Today we have a situation were the land reform exercise has largely been completed, save for a land audit that is a work in progress designed to bring finesse to the whole exercise by dispossessing those that have multiple titles and those who acquired land and have not been able to put it to use for various reasons.

However, over and above the land reform exercise, the Zimbabwe education system created multitudes of educated Zimbabweans who were not able to be absorbed by the private business sector and civil service, despite attempts by government to grow these two sectors. Most of these educated Zimbabweans ended up in the Diaspora employed by corporate organisations and non governmental organisations opposed to the Zimbabwe land reform programme. These Zimbabweans dubbed by some critics as ‘Zimbabwe’s lost generation’ are now been fronted by foreign institutions and individuals who have either lost land through the land reform exercise to vilify their own country. For example the campaign to have Zimbabwe suspended from the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme is largely run by Zimbabweans living in the Diaspora working for organisations that have a vested interest in the Chiadzwa mine.

It is not a secret that Zimbabwe and Africa in general has over the years been the primary source of raw materials for the western world. Attempts by African countries to move their economies to the tertiary level were they would export finished products have been met with tough resistance from western nations working with nationals from the targeted countries who know the terrain. Western nations are more comfortable with Africans exporting their products in primary form and the same African countries importing them back as finished products. Africa is awash with examples of well to do nations, considered ‘democratic’ countries by the west that have capitulated to western demands and still export their products as primary products. For example, despite Ghana being one of the countries considered a democracy with a stable economy, they still export Cocoa to the western world in its raw form, only to be re-importing it back as chocolate. In Nigeria oil is exported in its crude raw form to the western world only to re-import the same as processed fuel.

It is against this background that we need to understand the stand off between Harare and London. It has nothing to do with issues of governance. The stand off between Harare and London has more to with Zimbabwe’s attempt to became self reliant by owning its land and mineral resources. The Zimbabwean story has more to do with the country’s resources being in the hands of its indigenous citizenry. Issues of governance the world over have never been a source of prolonged conflicts or stand offs. History teaches us issues of governance are the one of the easiest issues to resolve.

With the advent of the Global Political Agreement between the three main political parties in Zimbabwe brokered by the regional body SADC that brought about a government of national unity. (GNU) It was largely expected that the issue of governance had now been resolved and the western world would move quickly to engage if this had been the problem. The leader of the main opposition political party, Morgan Tsvangirai was appointed Prime Minister and the smaller MDC leader Professor Arthur Mutambara appointed Deputy Prime Minister. However six months after the GNU was agreed Zimbabwe remains under siege with economic and political sanctions being tightened.

It is therefore logical to conclude that governance is not and was never the issue in Zimbabwe. The standoff between Zimbabwe and Britain is about the land reform programme that dispossessed powerful British corporate organisations and individuals of Zimbabwe’s land. They will stop at nothing to reverse the whole land reform exercise. As Zimbabweans at home and abroad, we need to indentify the real issues that have brought our country to its knees today. Failure to indentify, understand and deal with the real issues may result in Zimbabweans losing, as the late Vice President Joseph Msika said "the intellectual fight" resulting in future generations having to take up the struggle once more.


The writer Lloyd Msipa is a Lawyer based in the United Kingdom, he can be contacted at