Monday, December 17, 2012

KP Author Milford Bateman Reviews Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land

"Perhaps nowhere more than in the case of post-independence Zimbabwe has the land reform issue in Africa created controversy. Initially, and justifiably, this controversy arose because of the brutality, double-dealing, broken promises, lies and corruption associated with both sides to the land reform process - the Mugabe regime and the international donor community, particularly the UK government. The new book by Joseph Hanlon, Jeanette Manjengwa and Teresa Smart – Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land - takes as its starting point this land reform process, before venturing boldly into dismissing the often ideologically-driven, and sometimes simply racist, myths that quickly arose concerning the ability of the black community to efficiently farm and manage restituted land. Crucially, this book also provides an assessment of the economic and social policy implications of the new raft of smaller farms now owned by the black community. And although it follows fast on the heels of a couple of other excellent books looking into the same land reform topic,[i] in my opinion this book surpasses these earlier contributions, brilliantly extending, confirming, illustrating and nuancing many of the most important arguments and issues that needed to be raised.

Above all the book provides an important reality check to those who swallowed whole the narrative provided by the international development community, key western governments and a good many international media outlets, which was that the land reform process (in reality, a land restitution process) in Zimbabwe was horribly corrupted by the Mugabe regime, and that the sour reality emerging from the whole state-driven process was, predictably, a grossly inefficient agricultural system to boot. Dealing with these myths is the rationale for the book.

First, there is the crucial role of politics and ideology to deal with. To help illustrate the many absurdities here, we might just note the different attitudes to land reform/restitution shown in Zimbabwe and in another region undergoing a major process of change that I know quite well - the former communist states of Eastern Europe. The land reform/restitution process still taking place in the former communist states in Eastern Europe, where land was appropriated from private individuals by the state as far back as 1918 in the former Soviet Union, has actually been driven forward by the international community. At least partly, we know that this was done in order to build a completely new private sector elite, one that could forge important links to western business interests and would reflect the importance of certain western ideological preferences. Now contrast this scenario with the process of land reform/restitution in Zimbabwe as described in this book, a process that was all too often presented as an abomination that had no basis in legality or fairness or (as we will discuss below) efficiency, and so it was largely resisted by the very same international development community agencies and western governments that supported extensive land reform/restitution in the former communist countries. Indeed, many international aid agencies even refused to work with the so-called ‘land reform farmers’ in Zimbabwe. But the authors show that the land reform/restitution process in Zimbabwe was largely resisted by the international development community not so much because of its basic unfairness, but because it would undermine the white Zimbabwean business elite that was very well disposed towards western business interests and supported western country ideological preferences. Sadly, as the authors allude to, a healthy does of racism was also involved in the Zimbabwe case. Revealing the real rationale, as opposed to the stated rationale, behind policy-making and Zimbabwe’s engagement with the international development community is one of the most important aspects of this book for serious scholars.

However, this book is about something else that has much more importance in terms of the future of Zimbabwe, Africa and other developing countries too: it is about the economic and social efficiency of the particular agricultural structure thereby created by land reform/restitution over a generation, and the crucial policy implications this holds for other nations and communities also seeking the best possible agricultural system. To date, and not always for the most honourable of reasons, as we have noted, a large number of analysts have used the example of post-independence Zimbabwe as evidence that large plantation-style farming, previously under white control, was far superior to the much smaller farms under black ownership and control that emerged out of the messy land reform/restitution process. This book very thoroughly and engagingly dispels this long-standing and ultimately hugely destructive myth.

The book fittingly starts with the plight of war-veterans - the white war veterans, that is, who, returning to then Rhodesia from the battlefields of Europe and the Far East in 1945-7, were helped by state intervention to become the backbone of commercial farming in the country. This goal was largely achieved thanks to the rapid construction of a very comprehensive institutional support structure, notably comprising important public infrastructure, the establishment of well-capitalised and integrated (farm to retail) cooperatives, a large volume of subsidised credit and outright grants, and extensive training and extension services programs. These important measures were then ‘assisted’ by further dispossessing the black community of any remaining high quality agricultural land that was still in their individual or communal ownership. Rhodesia’s agricultural sector thus became one of Africa’s strongest. Importantly, it was by no means the supreme bulwark it is commonly assumed to be. On this, the book dispels many myths about the economic efficiency of the agricultural system prior to independence, notably showing that about a third of the farms remained unprofitable and that much good land was later abandoned and remained unused right up till independence.

Notwithstanding, the agricultural system was a major prop to the white Rhodesian economy and society, especially in terms of consolidating white control and in generating valuable foreign exchange. As noted, the authors highlight the importance to the white farming community of extensive state support. This description offers a striking contrast to the shortfall of support offered to the black farmers after independence. Crucially, the authors point out that Zimbabwe’s white-owned plantation farms needed a major state export promotion program, including grants and subsidies, in order to make serious inroads into expanding global markets for niche agricultural products (e.g., mangetout peas, passion fruit and cut flowers). There should be no surprise here. As a growing number of development economists have begun to recount, notably Ha-Joon Chang[ii], and as a growing number of practical experiences elsewhere in Africa also appear to confirm,[iii] there are in fact almost no examples of a successful agricultural sector that did not count on comprehensive state support and financial investment/subsidies. Not all such individual programs ‘worked’, of course, but there are no successful agricultural systems that did not use such programs and policies. So Zimbabwe’s extensive set of agricultural interventions in the pre-Independence period were actually based on very sound economic principles. And they worked.

Understandably, then, the authors are right to repeatedly point out that when the black community began to move into farming in the post-Independence period thanks to the land reform/restitution process, it was therefore a major barrier to the new farmers to find that similar forms of state support were simply unavailable. This makes the ultimate success of the black owned and controlled farms even more astounding. This deleterious lack of support was not so much policy-driven, as the authors are quick to point out, but simply because of a lack of domestic resources in the country after a vicious liberation war and in the face of continuing military and economic attacks by the apartheid regime of South Africa. For example, although the existing agricultural marketing and extension services were immediately opened up to all Zimbabweans following Independence, the funding made available was not anywhere near in proportion to the enormity of the task at hand. Partly also, however, the problem facing Zimbabwe’s new black farming community was that the international community, then in thrall to the ideology of neoliberalism and structural adjustment, did not actually believe in, and so nor would they sanction, such forms of state support being funded with international loans and grants – instead, ‘the market’ was expected to take care of such important matters.

The authors paint a vivid picture of the new class of black farmers returning from the war of Independence only to encounter very much worse conditions compared to the previous white generation returning from duty in World War II. They also point to the serious drought in 2001-2 that followed upon a series of catastrophic droughts, notably in 1991-1992 (the worst of the century), which hardly made things any easier for the new black farming class. Nonetheless, it is the defining feature of the book to show how, seemingly in spite of all the odds, economically successful farms were eventually created by the black community upon their newly restituted land. Making use of peer-to-peer learning (often involving white farmers that remained in Zimbabwe), by the patient reinvestment of any initial surplus made on the farm, by experimentation with different crops and techniques, and through much collective effort, the new black farmers eventually began to reach, and then sometimes to exceed, the productivity levels reached by the former white farmers on much larger plantation-style farms using better quality land. The book thus makes a hugely important contribution to the ongoing debate over the economically ‘optimum’ farm size. The evidence presented here from Zimbabwe supports those analysts, especially those associated with the agro-ecological lobby,[iv] who claim that the key to a productive agricultural system is more likely to be found not in plantation-style farms, but in much smaller but still commercially-oriented farms.

Going even further, the authors show that the old white-owned and controlled plantation farms in Rhodesia were not just much less economically efficient than was hitherto very widely assumed, but that such plantations clearly exacerbated the depth of general poverty and existing social divisions in the community along colour lines: that is, very much as is the norm across Africa, the few employees used on the plantation farms in white-controlled Rhodesia were very seriously exploited, while the local community rarely benefitted from even the most successful plantation farms that were in the vicinity. This unsatisfactory situation is then very usefully contrasted with the emerging situation in the post-Independence period, where the growing numbers of black-owned farms have begun to impel a very positive economic and social development trajectory at the local level. This new trajectory is marked out by rising individual farm incomes, growing levels of solidarity and intra- and inter-community trust, more local food self-sufficiency, and a lessening of previous high levels of inequality. So, smaller farms in Zimbabwe are not just doing very well in terms of productivity, as was noted above, but are also increasingly seen as a much better strategic option for local communities seeking generalised economic and social progress. Pointedly, even the international community is now starting to pick up on the radically different and significant reality that is Zimbabwe today, and is so carefully and intelligently described by the authors of this book.[v]

All told, this book is, first, a fantastic history lesson. At a time when another on-going land grab is dominating the world news as I write this review – the relentless and brutal dispossession of the Palestinians by the early Israeli settlers coming mainly from Europe, and the continuation of this program by their equally intransigent descendents – the appalling unfairness, brutality and stupidity of the white settler land grab from the late 1800s onwards in what is now Zimbabwe is pointedly and rightfully noted throughout the entire book. But, even more than this, this important book provides a much-needed antidote to so many of the myths surrounding the economic and social efficiency of the post-land reform/restitution agricultural sector in Zimbabwe. On this issue, it is informative, passionate and well-argued, and written in such a brilliantly engaging style that it was hard to put down. For this reason, it is an indispensible addition to the library of those working in land restitution and reform issues, and perhaps an even more important purchase for the probably much larger group of economists looking at the role of the agricultural sector in facilitating sustainable rural development everywhere around the world. This book cannot be rated too highly."
By Milford Bateman, author of the Kumarian Press publication Confronting Microfinance.

[i] Notably, for example, Ian Scoones, Nelson Marongwe, Blasio Mavedzenge, Jacob Mahenehene, Felix Murimbarimba and Chrispen Sukume, 2010, Zimbabwe’s land reform: Myths and realities, Harare: Weaver Press.
[ii] Chang, H-J. 2009. ‘Rethinking Public Policy in Agriculture – Lessons from History, Distant and Recent’, Journal of Peasant Studies, 36 (3), 477-515.
[iii] Pointedly, the major improvements registered in Malawi thanks to targeted subsidies that were used to allow smallholder farmers to purchase fertiliser and quality seeds, and which within a few years transformed Malawi from a net food importer into a major food exporter. See Bello, W. 2009. Food Wars. London: Verso. 
[iv] For example, see Norberg-Hodge, H., and T Merrifield T, S Gorelick. 2002. Bringing the Food Economy Home: Local Alternatives to Global Agribusiness, Zed Press: London.
[v] For example, ‘In Zimbabwe Land takeover, a golden lining’, New York Times, July 20th, 2012.

Monday, December 10, 2012

What to Expect from KP in January 2013

Kumarian Press has a wide range of activities and books being released at the start of the new year.

New titles to look out for by Kumarian Press include:

  • Poverty and Development in Latin America
  • Development Challenges Confronting Pakistan
  • Managing Drug Supply

Poverty is still widespread in Latin America, in spite of over five decades of international development efforts to eradicate it. While some progress was made during the first decade of the new Millennium, at least until the onset of the global food and economic crises, there are still over one hundred and eighty million people in the region who unable to meet their basic needs. This is the ‘poverty problematic’ that is at the center of this book. It addresses what are perhaps the most important questions of our time: What are the root causes of poverty? And how can it overcome? Also, with regards to the recent progress in the so-called war against poverty, the editors ask: How real is this progress? What or whose actions are responsible for this achievement? Through a critical analysis of public policies and development pathways, Poverty and Development in Latin America provides nuanced responses to these questions. The major conclusion reached and shared by the editors is that poverty reduction cannot be sustained with an anti-poverty strategy based only on social inclusion and economic assistance, or humanitarian relief.

In Pakistan, there has been limited substantive research conducted to identify the unique blend of structural impediments to development that prevail in the country today. Indeed, Pakistan’s prospects to promote viable, sustainable social development appear bleaker today than a decade ago. Development Challenges Confronting Pakistan seeks to rectify this void by bringing together scholars and practitioners—many of them from Pakistan—to provide a scholarly understanding of the structural impediments, or barriers, that have negative effects on Pakistan’s ability to eliminate poverty, promote social justice and implement policies to promote equity.

Managing Drug Supply (MDS) is the leading reference on how to manage essential medicines in developing countries. MDS was originally published in 1982; it was revised in 1997 with over 10,000 copies distributed in over 60 countries worldwide. The third edition, MDS-3: Managing Access to Medicines and Health Technologies reflects the dramatic changes in politics and public health priorities, advances in science and medicine, greater focus on health care systems, increased donor funding, and the advent of information technology that have profoundly affected access to essential medicines over the past 14 years.

  1. January 9th: The Society for International Development, DC Chapter, will host a presentation of Susan Ross's work, including an introduction to her Kumarian Press release Expanding the Pie. The event will range from 12:30pm - 2:00pm.
  2. January 15th: Radio Peacebuilding will interview Max Stephenson and Laura Zanotti about their new KP release Peacebuilding Through Community-Based NGOs.
  3. January 28th: Author Joseph Hanlon will speak on Voice of Africa radio about his new release Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land.
To receive review and/or exam copies of the titles listed, please contact the Marketing Associate:

Monday, December 3, 2012

Guest Blog Posting by Kerry Fosher of Practicing Military Anthropology

Practicing Military Anthropology
Edited by Robert Rubinstein, Kerry Fosher, and Clementine Fujimura

Sometime in 2008, I realized I was spending a third of every conference presentation talking about things I don’t do in the course of my work with the U.S. military. I do not spy. I do not do classified research. I do not work for the Human Terrain System. I do not collect information about the people who live in places where U.S. forces are deployed. Many anthropologists who worked with military and intelligence organizations were experiencing similar problems. We joked about wearing t-shirts or displaying posters listing all the things we don’t do so that we could spend our presentation time on what other anthropologists were able to, our work and research. The idea for the book, Practicing Military Anthropology, began in those discussions of how to provide better information about what it means to be a military anthropologist.

Between 2006 and 2008, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) began to take note of an increasing interest in anthropologists and anthropology on the part of military and intelligence organizations.  As the discipline became aware of the Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS) concept, much of the discussion came to center around that program. Many in the discipline felt that HTS epitomized the problems that arise when anthropologists get involved with government organizations, especially those involved with spying and the use of force.  Many conference panels on militarization, military anthropology, ethics, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were organized. Anthropologists spoke to the press and began to publish their concerns about the connection of anthropologists to the military. The first report from the AAA’s Commission on the Engagement with U.S. Security and Intelligence Communities (CEUSSIC), which tried to introduce some of the scope of work anthropologists were doing in the security sector, was nearly eclipsed by the discipline’s new awareness of HTS and the questions it raised. The work of CEUSSIC was extended to allow a more thorough investigation of HTS.

As I and other anthropologists involved with the military participated in these discussions, it became clear that we were swimming upstream against strong assumptions. Almost every discussion was sent spinning off in strange directions by the assumption that military organizations only wanted was anthropologists to do fieldwork or act as spies. The discipline had little frame of reference for thinking through the significant ethical, professional, theoretical, and methodological questions our work raised. Much of the critique was based on macro-level assessments of the problematic nature of working within flawed institutions. Relatively little incorporated the sorts of empirically grounded knowledge that the discipline normally prioritizes. It became clear that if we wanted to have a more robust discussion, we would need to do more than react to assumptions and assertions. We also needed to provide information on what we actually do and how we think about it.

When Syracuse University’s Anthropology Department approached me and Brian Selmeski with a generous offer to support a symposium about military anthropology, the timing was perfect. It was not only a chance to produce the accounts of practice we felt were so urgently needed. It also allowed us to bring together old and new colleagues to think about what it might mean to work with military and intelligence organizations in the future and the broader issues the topic raised. In particular, it was a chance to engage with anthropologists who had examined some of this realm before, people like my co-authors Robert and Clementine, Anna Simons, and Jessica Turnley. As discussions and work on the book progressed, it became apparent that there was no one set of conditions or decisions that led people to work with the military. People had varying degrees of interest in the things that were preoccupying people at AAA meetings and located themselves differently within those debates. In fact, despite the book’s title, some of the authors, including myself, do not think of ourselves as military anthropologists. Rather than trying to standardize what the authors addressed, we chose to let the differences be part of the message of the book. Although other demands on his time caused Brian to have to leave the project toward the end, in that choice and in other ways his influence is still felt in the volume.

Although it was not a focus in most of the chapters, one of the interesting side effects of the interaction among the authors was the discussion about how the focus on military anthropology raised (sometimes resurrected) issues for other aspects of anthropology. In the concluding chapter of the volume, Robert raises some significant issues for how the debates reflect on work in the academy. Unsurprisingly, we also found that the same issues of the potential for bias, enabling flawed institutions, requirements for ongoing decision-making, and compromises necessary to influence policy apply in anthropological advocacy and applied or practicing projects across domains. Some of these domains, such medicine, public health, work with NGOs, human rights actions, etc., are seen as topically and contextually less problematic in the discipline and, therefore, receive less scrutiny. The work of fully articulating these commonalities remains to be done.

For several authors it was a period of intense personal and professional decision-making. Almost all of us changed jobs or focus during the development of the book. So, while there is diversity within the book, the chapters also represent snapshots of lives that were simultaneously shaped by and shaping the practitioner context.  Many of us were in the midst of intensive work to create or significantly reshape the programs and institutions in which we worked. Some of us had been brought into the organizations to instigate such changes. Others were taking advantage of what we knew to be a momentary wobble in powerful institutional processes in order to insert changes.

Far from being constrained by the dictates of the state, some of us had fundamental disagreements about what kinds of engagement were appropriate, about the legitimacy of critiques being made of military anthropology, even about what anthropological theories to teach to military personnel.  Those disagreements took place among people who were almost constantly on travel, away from home for long periods of time, tired and cranky. Yet the discussions remained civil and constructive.

The civility of this process and the similar atmosphere in CEUSSIC matter greatly. At a time when the debates were at their most polemic among military anthropologists and the broader discipline, it has been possible to create places where difficult questions can be asked and possible answers discussed in ways that do not a priori categorize and exclude certain participants. It also has been possible to expand discussion outside of the frames proposed by the loudest voices, frames that do not always take the complexity of practice into account. Practicing Military Anthropology represents one such effort, moving beyond assertions that rely on one reductionist view of anthropologists in military contexts and delving into the complexity of practice that must be understood for informed debate to take place.

 Practicing Military Anthropology is available to purchase through Kumarian Press and retails for $24.95. To request review and/or exam copies, email Jennifer at