Robert Mugabe's death has elicited all sorts of feelings from people across the whole world. The former president of Zimbabwe was a different person to different people. Others saw him as their saint, and to others, he was the incarnation of the devil himself. But there is one thing he did right, despite his checkered legacy - Land.
On land, Robert Mugabe did the unthinkable (in the eyes of the West). He did what many African leaders have always been afraid to do. The discourse on what happened after the land reform process is one that stands on its own. The most important thing to take note of is that Robert Mugabe led a rebellion to redress colonial imbalances as regards land.
What is important to take into consideration is that what Robert Mugabe did to his people and the nation of Zimbabwe is what many other African leaders were doing. Human rights abuses, contested elections, corruption and many other undesirable things. But they never got sanctions. Other dictators actually had the backing of the West but they never got sanctions. When Mugabe touched on the question of land with practicable action, Zimbabwe was slapped with illegal economic sanctions that have had far-reaching ramifications in Zimbabwe.
Land was one of the most fundamental issues underpinning the long-awaited quest for true liberation. When the negotiations for independence in Zimbabwe went on, the most key talking point was that of land. A compromise on land was agreed on during the Lancaster House Conference. And this provided that by 1990, white farmers were supposed to develop their land or hand it over to the government. The terms were that if by 1990 white farmers had not disposed of their land or developed it, Government would nationalize all of it.
But this agreement was not honoured by the whites. On independence, 160,000 black families were supposed to be resettled on white-owned in 3 years. The UK financed the first phase of the resettlement plan, with 72,000 black families 8.5 million acres. The first phase was backed by £44 million in aid. Then, the UK did not want to initiate the second phase. After 10 years, the other balance of £77 million was not delivered. With a growing population that was riddled with mounting frustration over land, Mugabe had to do something. He took land in an unconventional way to white people but a necessary one for his cause - taking land by force. Laws that provided for expropriating land without compensation were enacted and effected.
The most productive land in Zimbabwe was owned by a very white minority population. Only 1% owned 70% of the country's productive land. And this was land they had acquired by stealing it from its rightful owners through the venomous serpent called colonialism. These colonial wrongs had to be addressed, for it was the lack of land that pushed many Zimbabweans to take up arms against the monstrous Rhodesian regime.
For taking land, Zimbabwe was barraged with devastating illegal sanctions. The aim was to bring Zimbabwe's economy to the ground so that Mugabe would be deposed. Before taking land, Mugabe had been a darling of the West, glorified in every was possible. From being awarded honourary degrees to being knighted by the Queen, Mugabe was the West's favourite. Had he not taken land, Western media would hail him very highly, the way they do when talking about Nelson Mandela.
Robert Mugabe however missed this opportunity to give his country a new trajectory. Instead, land was corruptly awarded to the military, political and business elite. Most of it was abused as no production took place. The economy took a nosedive - and is still yet to recover from that. But the point one has to look at carefully is that white people felt entitled to land that is not theirs. That is just wrong. Zimbabweans went to war for land, but there was no land after independence. Surely, land had to be in their possession.
Sanctions are never about human rights abuses or purported democracy. They are a a powerful, toxic and dangerous weapon used by the West, particularly the United States and the European Union, in order to control global politics. It is all about white interest. If your policy goes contrary to the interests of the West, sanctions are imposed on you. The West is always itching to extract from African economies.
When it comes to land, Robert Mugabe did what no other African leader has really done. Robert Mugabe failed to put a halt to his excesses, resulting in a broken country. But on the fundamental issue of land, he is a hero, and will always remain one.
Header image credit - Al jazeera