How Does a Country Go from Bread Basket to Basket Case?

Just take a look at Zimbabwe, which until recently was one of Africa’s leading agricultural producers. In fact, agriculture contributed to 45% of Zimbabwe’s export earnings and provided livelihood to more than 70% of the population. Tragically, more than seven million Zimbabweans today rely on food assistance, according to the UN World Food Program.

How did this phenomenal collapse happen so quickly, rendering Zimbabwe the ignominious distinction of becoming the first failed state without a war to blame? Land reform.

In April 2000, the ZANU-PF-controlled parliament approved amending the Zimbabwe Constitution to establish a legal framework for land acquisition. Mugabe quickly mobilized some 35,000 war veterans and unemployed youth militia and ordered them to begin expropriating white-owned farms while brutally assaulting and sometimes murdering the commercial farmers and farm workers.

The Government claims “that restoring land to the landless majority was right and necessary”. But under the guise of land redistribution to benefit landless black Zimbabweans, Mugabe instead awarded many of these once productive farms to government ministers and other ZANU-PF supporters for their patronage. Many of these farmlands now remain fallow and serve as nothing more than second homes to these non-farming cronies, including Zimbabwe’s First Shopper, Grace Mugabe.

The land seizure led to a 70% fall in agricultural production, and precipitated the collapse of the economy. In fact Zimbabwe’s economy is so bad, one needs to employ scientific notation (remember general chemistry?) to comprehend the rate of inflation – estimated to be 89.7 x 1021% – otherwise known as 89.7 sextillion percent!

Zimbabwe’s new Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai sure has his work cut out for him, especially by promising that “every health worker, teacher, soldier and policeman will receive their pay in foreign currency until we are able to stabilize the economy.”

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