Wednesday, February 17, 2010

When "bad" governance is popular

Over at Aid Thoughts there is a fascinating discussion of the origins of Zimbabwe's current economic plights. Ranil makes a few very important points.

First, Mugabe is popular in his own country:
It’s difficult for Westerners, particularly those who have come of political age in the last ten or fifteen years, to understand it, but Mugabe remains popular. Almost everyone accepts he has overstayed his welcome, but still hold affection for him. Malawi inaugurated a Robert Mugabe Highway just a couple of years ago; similar roads are found in most major African cities. Yet, in the West, his name is a by-word for economic mis-management, suppression of rights, and all that is wrong with governance in Africa.
This divergence he argues is largely to due to differences of opinion about the land grab ten years ago. He points out that several things hit Zimbabwe at roughly the same time: structural adjustment led by the WB and IMF, the land redistribution, and a drought not the least of them. Ranil claims in the comment section that his main point is that Zimbabwe's present economic difficulties stem from many factors outside Mugabe's control, and simply linking "bad man = national poverty" is a gross over-simplification. I read a different main point:
the land seizures were and remain overwhelmingly popular policies within Zimbabwe – because they rectify an injustice that was only a couple of generations old, and one which blacks had never been allowed to question until 1980. ... When land reform finally occurred, Mamdani points out that in economic terms if not political ones, it was a democratic revolution: more than one hundred thousand small owners joined the base of the property pyramid.

The costs from the land redistribution have not been even across agriculture:

the white commercial farms, focusing on export crops such as tobacco, have been devastated by land reform. Meanwhile, the large plantations run by corporations, untouched by land reform, have continued as normal, producing sugar, tea and coffee. And maize, the most important food security crop, is largely a peasant crop – land reform has not damaged it, though drought has reduced production by almost 90%. In fact, research by IDS in Sussex suggests it is these small farmers who have been most resilient to the political end economic turmoil, as well as drought.
 And replacing Mugabe alone will not bring about prosperity. What is needed? Here's a partial list:
the land seizures were popular, remain so and will not and should not be reversed – they simply address an older injustice. The agriculture sector will need to be reimagined as one split between plantations and small- and medium-sized farms. To make this work will require an explicit economic strategy. The urban economy is still in complete tatters: no industry still stands in Zimbabwe, and the process of rebuilding them after the damage of structural adjustment will take far longer than it took to break them down.
I hope my readers appreciate the irony of discussing all this immediately after discussing Easterly's three cheers for democracy. But even in Easterly's post, he acknowledges that almost nothing is correlated with economic growth, neither democracy nor this sort of popular bad governance. A complex subject, nicht wa'?

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