Sunday, November 19, 2006

Zimbabwe Invites White Former Farm Owners to Discuss Compensation

Zimbabwe: Farm Invaders Lose Protection
Zimbabwe Offers Farm Compensation
Zimbabwe Says White Farmers May Seek Compensation
Zimbabwe Union Cautious About Government's Latest Compensation Offer

Zimbabwe has offered compensation to over 1,000 white farmers for property seized during the country’s controversial land reform program. Seven years ago, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe launched a controversial land reform program and took control of land owned by white farmers with the aim of redressing economic imbalances left over from the country’s British colonial rule.

Although it is estimated that 500 white farmers still remain in Zimbabwe, many have fled to neighboring countries including Zambia and Mozambique. The invitation for compensation was announced in the government-run Herald newspaper this past Thursday. The move, the first large-scale offer by the government to settle outstanding land debts, came days after Mugabe handed the first batch of 99-year land leases to beneficiaries of the reforms and warned white former farm owners not to expect compensation from the government.

The spokeswoman of the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) in Harare, Emily Crookes, says the Union is suspicious of the latest compensation offer. She says the Zimbabwean government previously has offered less than 10 percent of the market value of buildings and equipment and no compensation at all for the land itself.

"It's not the first time that such lists have appeared and I think, really, the
proof will be in the pudding as to what level of compensation they will offer to
all these farmers," she said.
Critics have blamed Zimbabwe’s current economic crisis on a combination of mismanagement and government corruption. Specifically, they argue that the government seizure of land owned by white farmers triggered a sharp drop in production and exports of agricultural goods, and caused a fall-out with international investors.

President Robert Mugabe denies claims that his government policies, including land reforms, have contributed to the country's problems. Instead he blames domestic and foreign enemies for the country's difficulties and accuses its former colonial power Britain of leading a Western campaign of economic sabotage.

Question: President Mugabe has announced his retirement for early 2008. Is the CFU correct in speculating that greater opportunities to obtain higher compensations, or even a return of land rights, will exist in the post-Mugabe era, when Zimbabwe will be forced to improve international relations?

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