The Zimbabwean Trade-off
On the 10th of September 1979, political players from Southern Rhodesia met in London at the Lancaster House for a conference meant to broker a way out of the "civil war" in the territory. Lord Carrington, the chairperson of the conference which was to be concluded on the 15th of December 1979 after 47 plenary sessions, made a telling statement in his opening speech,
...I approach the search for a fair constitutional settlement in Rhodesia and with the conviction that it is illusory to think that any settlement can fully satisfy the requirements of either side. An agreement can only be reached if there is a willingness to compromise.
He went on to claim that Britain had "no lack of experience as a decolonizing power". The agreement that followed proved the British prowess in attenuating the anti-imperialist movement. The colony of Southern Rhodesia, which became Zimbabwe, was to then adopt a constitution that provided for the willing buyer, willing seller expropriation of land for at least 10 years. This meant that from 1980 to 1990, there could be no talk of compulsory acquisition of land but its weak counterpart, the market-assisted reform process. Suffice to say, the little experiment in the market controlled correction of an imperial legacy failed. It was not surprising. Even in 1979, Julius Nyerere had sounded the warning that it was not feasible "to tax Zimbabweans in order to compensate people who took (land) away from them through the gun."
The Zimbabwean political leaders had proceeded on the misguided belief that Britain would sponsor the entire process but this did not happen. There were accusations of corruption and mismanagement which provided convenient excuses for the former colonial power to renege on its promise and only provide half of the money it had pledged to provide. Consequently, the government did not reach half its land reform target. With the structural adjustment programs of the Bretton Woods institutions (World Bank and International Monetary Fund), land reform was relegated from the list of priorities developing countries were expected to maintain. What was a central goal of the liberation movement, land reform, was reduced to mere fiscal profligacy that had to be stymied. Ultimately, the common people took matters into their own hands and so started the fast track land reform. One wonders if the Zimbabwean situation would have changed at all if the popular sentiment, particularly that of the freedom fighters had not shifted towards reclaiming the land forcibly taken from the blacks at colonization.
Jomo Kenyatta's Kenyan Land Deal
Tapiwa Mabaye, in a paper for Ethics of Development in a Global Environment, says the Namibian, South African and Kenyan constitutions adopted at independence also envisaged willing buyer, willing seller provisions. The Kenyan publication, The Sunday Nation, after stitching together pieces of evidence reported that Kenya's founding leader, Jomo Kenyatta "entered a secret pact with the British government not to interfere with the skewed land distribution at independence". According to the publication, the information was contained in the secret papers of the late Sir Michael Blundell who liaised the agreement between the former colonial power and Kenyatta. Blundell had been sent to Lowdar, the prison in which Kenyatta was held.
After making progress in his mission, Blundell facilitated Kenyatta's move to "a decent home" where he had access to all luxurious amenities he needed. The Nation says, "In a secret memo to the colonial secretary, governor MacDonald talked of “great success by Blundell” and recommended that Kenyatta be 'set free the soonest possible so that he could take his rightful place as leader of the new Kenya'." In the late former Kenyan Vice President, Joseph Murumbi's notes, Kenyatta was to later confirm that his hands were tied when it came to land as he had committed to a willing buyer, willing seller appropriation model.
Mzansi Sold Down the River
At South Africa's independence in 1994, 87% of the land was in the hands of the white minority. The minority represented only 10% of the entire population yet holding almost 90% of the land. The solution was supposed to be swift, radical and far from a soft-edged compromise. South Africa's black leaders went for the toothless solution: the bad old willing buyer, willing seller. Ironically, in 1992, the governing ANC had released the Ready to Govern policy statement which made no reference to the willing buyer, willing seller model. In fact, even the Constitution of the country made no reference to the model but the ANC leaders made a policy choice to expropriate using the willing buyer, willing seller when they were under no legal compulsion to do so. It was a bid to gratify the Bretton Woods establishment and global capital in general.
The mistakes of the era have resulted in a fair amount of criticism against Nelson Mandela's legacy with Julius Malema, in 2010, arguing, "Mandela let us down. He agreed to a bad deal for the blacks. Economically, we are still on the outside. The economy is very much ‘white’. It has a few token blacks, but so many who gave their life in the struggle have died unrewarded."
Ronnie Kasrils, one of the veteran ANC leaders, in an article for the Guardian argued,
From 1991 to 1996 the battle for the ANC's soul got under way, and was eventually lost to corporate power: we were entrapped by the neoliberal economy – or, as some today cry out, we "sold our people down the river".
Time to Renegotiate Independence
It would be unfortunate to discount the political gains of Africa's pan-African forebearers but it is also dishonest to pretend independence was a perfect process which opened up economies to black people. There are hills yet to be climbed and rivers yet to be crossed. In 2017, the soon to be deposed leader of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, gave a plain-spoken appraisal of the African journey to the youths. He said, "For us, we fought the struggle for freedom and independence, our objective is that it must turn to the means to further economic freedom so that people can enjoy the benefits of the continent."
It is that simple. It is time for Africa to be honest with itself and admit the independence achieved so far is more political than economic and there are wars yet to be waged against inequality and its roots of violent dispossession. In Zimbabwe, the redistribution of the land was touted as The Third Chimurenga meaning The Third War of Liberation. The mission to aggressively demand equality is not antithetical to nationhood and reconciliation but is, instead, an indispensable component of true independence. The Mugabe, Mandela and Kenyatta generation had to strike a balance between several competing interests and build functioning nations from the contradictions. Compromises were inevitable. Heroes make concessions too. Now that the nations have been built, it is time to revisit the compromises and renegotiate independence.
Image Credit: AP