MICHIGAN. It is quiet Friday night in the lobby between the long walls of the administration block at Wayne State University.
I sit between two students, Mtishi, a Zimbabwean, and Sentongo, a Ugandan as we intently listen to VOA’s African news broadcast.
“…in Harare, Hester Theron a 79-year old white widow and farm owner has been handed a suspended sentence for refusing to vacate her farm”. Our eyes shift to Mtishi with curiosity. ‘Hester is accused of violating the Gazetted Land Act’, the radio blares on.
Not so long ago things were very different – real growth between 1980 and 1981 exceeded 20% and in 1983 the country experienced a 30% jump in agricultural production.
The country had one of the most stable economies on the continent - hinged on solid agricultural and industrial fundamentals.
Today, news from Zimbabwe is surprisingly easy to ignore because the global news audience has had more than its fill of tragic news from Zimbabwe.
Yet, President Mugabe is one of the most educated presidents in the world, with two postgraduate and a staggering five undergraduate degrees.
‘Did he have no advisors, fellow professors, friends, mentors or ministers to offer him counsel’, I couldn’t help but ask Mtishi .
He asks both of us to follow him to his tiny room where he drew out copies of an open letter to President Mugabe dated May 1980, written by Professor Abdul Rahman Mohammed Babu, one of the leaders of the anti-colonial struggle in Zimbabwe, on the eve of the country’s independence.
It read, ‘in the last five years since you took over ZANU, you have shown magnificent leadership, resolute qualities without being dogmatic, daring without being adventurist and flexible without being lax.’
‘experience elsewhere has taught us that the taking over viable farms has invariably led to almost total collapse of agricultural production and has forced the countries concerned to incur heavy foreign debt and import food,’ the letter reads.
‘To expropriate white farmers will amount to economic disaster [and yet] allowing them to continue as before will amount to perpetuating national injustice. This is a serious dilemma.’ His solution?
‘Surround white settler farms with producer agricultural cooperatives and make it obligatory for white settler farms to share their facilities like farm implements, expertise, marketing and dispensary services with the newly-established cooperatives. This will help to develop viable cooperative farms at a minimum cost and resolve the gross income inequality without creating a crisis.’
At the dawn of independence in 1980, when the world was wobbling with optimism for Zimbabwe, Babu shared his honest and clear description of a series of events that have come to unravel almost thirty years down the road.
Unfortunately Mugabe never heeded his advice -- and the results are there for everyone to see. In 1996, the professor died in London at 72 just in time to catch a glimpse of the economic and political nosedive Zimbabwe was about to take.
The author is a US based freelance writer and policy analyst.