Empowerment projects continue to falter

LONDON - Zimbabwe’s economic revolution — encapsulating the transfer of land and business ownership to blacks and the empowerment of communities — has been plagued by a plethora of problems.

First was land redistribution. But after about 14 years since the agrarian reforms, the failures of land redistribution have only been masked by successes in tobacco farming.

The country has, to its economic benefit, indeed managed to satisfy the smoking habits of foreigners but not the food needs of its own people.

The full potential of the land remains far from being realised as many farms remain under-utilised. 

At the weekend, Lands and Rural Resettlement minister Douglas Mombeshora said the government will carry out the much-awaited land audit. The audit could see some big wigs lose land found to be under-utilised.

Only yesterday, the state media reported government was planning to charge new farmers rent. One of the reasons is to fund the processing of 99-year-leases.

The other is to promote productivity on farms “as farmers would work hard to raise the required amounts while those with large swathes of land they were holding onto for speculative purposes would give them up to remain with what they could afford to use and to pay for.”

One of the reasons for the dearth in productivity, apart from lack of enthusiasm, is that thousands of these Zanu PF supporters and so-called Zanu PF bigwigs were allocated land without any skills or knowledge about agriculture.

Misguided vengeance and emotion around “regaining and owning our land” trounced reason and future realities of viable agricultural production.

Now, years of potential productivity have been lost to pretenders, hardly at the farms and pejoratively referred to as “cellphone farmers.”

Second was indigenisation, with the aim of transferring business ownership to blacks.

However, the legislation underpinning it remains clouded in confusion.

After a seeming convergence of opinion on the negative effects of the indigenisation law on foreign direct investment, Indigenisation minister Francis Nhema last week surprised us all, stating he never promised reform of the law.

This after months of contradictory statements by President Mugabe, other government ministers and officials regarding this controversial law.

In the meantime, the result has been lack of investment and jobs for the youths.

To ameliorate unemployment, the government decided to pump huge amounts of money into projects for youths. And yet it did not empower the youths with the requisite business skills and knowledge first.

Now, Nhema’s deputy, Mathias Tongofa, is bewailing the default rate on loans extended to the youths. “Many youths and entrepreneurs have started businesses which have eventually not operated sustainably.’’

In other words, the money has been frittered away without anything to show for it.

“Is it because most of the projects had not been well thought out or these youths just went away and squandered the money because they do not have an idea of what is supposed to be done?”

It should not invite so much pondering to figure out the folly of offering money to hungry, unskilled and untrained youths and expecting them to run viable businesses without guidance.

It is simply barmy.

In fact, Tongofa knows the reason projects falling under the rubric of empowerment have all faltered.

“While the acquisition of much land, property and shares in foreign dominated firms has given us a lot of advantage in terms of resource ownership, there still remains a critical shortage of business skills and knowledge.”

Zimbabwe’s whole empowerment project was poorly planned — from land reform to indigenisation. It was built on emotion and populism.

It will not succeed on the premise of sentimentalism of mere ownership but the realities of entrepreneurship.

Comments (2)

There is no such thing as EMPOWERMENT to enrich a lazy person. Not all whites were farmers. Not all blacks can be farmers.No cellphone farmer has ever been successful.Each part of this country is suitable for particular crops,not this all land for any crop rubbish. Farming is a calling & you can't rob John to enrich Peter.

KUPFUMA KUSHANDA - 2 July 2014

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five star - 2 July 2014

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