Numbers Do Not Necessarily Indicate Progress: A Rejoinder to Ms Polygreen's Article in the New York Times.
- Last Updated on 02 August 2012
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The hullabaloo over the statistics around Tobacco figures reached its crescendo with the New York Times article by Ms Polygreen squeaming headlines of Mugabe's Fast Track Land Reform Process beginning to bear fruits. The argument in this article is that the pain suffered by Zimbabweans was necessary in smashing the existing property relations in Zimbabwe. Further to this, the article uses races as tool of analogy to drive points home on the shifting power relations between black and white. Many half baked and unscientific truths are used to buttress the argument that out of the chaos finally some order has emerged. Statistics are conveniently quoted without going into their finer details and blanket statements made. In this case, numbers are equated to progress without critically engaging them. This alleged shifted is supported by arguments based on Ian Scoones' studies and African Institute of Agrarian Studies. The figures are enticing and tempting; from 2000 White tobacco farmers to 60 000 Black tobacco farmers sharing $400,000,000.00 and further broken down to $6000.00 per farmer. A story of a great Africa revolution whose progress is read in a numbers game that seeks to distort Zimbabwe's economic history simply to satiate the appetite of exhausted nationalists. To borrow from Benjamin Disraeli one is tempted to conclude that, 'there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics'. Mark Twain further stressed this point when he says 'figures often beguile me; particularly when I have the arranging of them myself'. These quotations may help us in gaining insight on the arguments round the purported fruits of the fast-track land reform in Zimbabwe. Figures are quoted and bastardised with impunity without attaching any shred of evidence to them. We are made to believe that there is progress, without any definition of this progress. Indeed the numbers are a reality, but they do not necessarily indicate progress. There a lot of factual inaccuracies around the interpretation of the statistics. More so, the question is progress at what cost, and who pays? The New York Times journalism falls into the trap of being keyboard happy without understanding the dynamics around the issues of land in Zimbabwe.
This elisionistic interpretation of history was irresponsibly invoked by Mahmod Mamdani's essay Lessons on Zimbabwe published in 2008 by the London Review Books. Furthermore, Moyo and Yeros 2008 make similar assertions of a radicalized state and revolution brewing from below. The logic of the argument is simple, 'chaos breeds order' and there was no other way outside the Jambanja (violence). This interpretation of Zimbabwe's political economy fails to account for the fact that, the resort to violence by ZANU PF was primarily geared towards the conquest and retention of lost political ground. ZANU PF created a bourgeoisie state that only sought to replace the pigmentation of the state from black to white, whilst still maintaining the same colonial institutions. This explains why 32 years after independence we are still battling with questions of gross inequality. The Utete and Bhuka reports expose gross cases of multiple farm ownerships by the ZANU PF elite and with most of this land being reduced to picnic and braai resorts as remarked by Gideon Gono in one of his monetary policy addresses. The RBZ led farm mechanization programme and the huge debt it has created for the nation is another legacy of Mugabe's land reform programme. The question is where did the machinery go, and why are those farmers not producing. Interestingly, Ms Polygreen's article admits that, "The new farmers are receiving virtually no assistance from the government, which for years poured money into larger farms given to politically connected elites €. So if these farmers are receiving nothing; the question is what happened to those farmers who were receiving the support? Where are their figures? Where do they fit in the matrix of these figures and new found Eldorado?
Farmers are selectively quoted to parrot a well choreographed act and claims are made that inexperienced farmers form small pieces of land are eking as much as $10,000.00 a fairly huge some amount of money in Zimbabwe, while an experienced farmer is failing from 200 hectares to produce and eke a living. The numbers, figures and their logic do not add in this case. 200 hectares of planted Tobacco is no small piece of land in terms of yields. More so, we are made to believe that the figure 60 000 is comprised of totally new farmers without paying regard to the farmers from the old resettlement and communal areas. A visit to Chinhenga village in Makoni District a communal area, one will be greeted by small tobacco drying halls. This is a new phenomenon that was not characteristic of this village 5 years ago. The actually demographics in the figure 60 000 are therefore not clear. The use of the arithmetic mean in coming up with the figure of $6000 per farmer is very misleading because it does not show the differences between small scale farmers and large scale farmers in terms of who got what. Numbers are conveniently juggled to reinforce unverified information. Even the reference to Ms Rudo Boka, whose family has been a huge beneficiary of ZANU PF patronage politics is meant to give authority to the quoted figures. However the major question is if indeed Ms Boka's company did heavily invest as she claims what is the quantity of the investment and who were the beneficiaries?
It seems there is a tendency to create the history of the triumph without going into the nitty-gritty of things. What it seems in this case may be not what it is. Ali Mazrui cautioned against quickly celebrating easy victories, and it seems the narratives on Zimbabwe's land reform discourse are falling into the same trap. We need more facts beyond the mere juggling statistics to suit narratives that seek to massage the egos and pride of failed politicians. There is a lot of land that is still lying idle and not being used by many of the beneficiaries of the fast track land reform. The land question is far from over and up to today remains unresolved. There is need to look at the debate beyond the excitement of one bubble of Tobacco farming. Zimbabwe's agricultural system was not only about Tobacco farming but highly diversified. Destruction of big agro-concerns such as Kondozi estate should remind us that other sectors such as horticulture were destroyed and nothing has been done to revive this sector. Where are the new farmers in the horticulture industry? Where are the new farmers in the animal husbandry section? Tobacco farming is not the alpha and omega of Zimbabwe's agricultural system.
An argument is also made that the results in increased tobacco sales justifies the pain. But the question that lingers is according to whom is this pain justified? In 2005, while I was working in Manicaland province, I dealt with a rape case of a 13 year old gale whose father was working as one of the managers at Charleswood Estate owned by Roy Bennet (MDC-T Senator). This little girl, together with a group of women was raped by a gang of thugs simply because the father was branded a sellout. The rapist would set dogs on the girl and women to make them comply with their sexual demands. I recall vividly this case being one of the many that I dealt with in Manicaland province. The major question that remains un-answered is what did this minor and the other women do to deserve being raped. Do the increased tobacco figures justify the rape? Many Zimbabweans were raped, maimed, killed displaced, had livelihoods destroyed (this was the pain), and the question still remains could land have not been distributed without raping minors. Do we need to rape to create successful black farmers? Is that the progress?
Numbers do not necessarily indicate progress. Beyond every figure there is a story. This is what we have to bear in mind and begin to critically engage with the numbers before being overtaken by the euphoria of being able to count. There is a serious risky of distorting history and sanitizing heinous crimes in the name of revolution.