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Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles
from the open letter to Robert Mugabe in 1980
August 28, 2013
in the 31 July elections was reminiscent of his victory in 1980.
He was the most disliked candidate. Bishop Abel Muzorewa, who had
been Prime Minister of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia was the front runner. Zimbabwe
African People’s Union leader Joshua Nkomo was the second
favourite. But Mugabe won 57 of the 80 seats reserved for blacks.
Muzorewa won only 3 down from 51 out of 72 a year earlier. Soon
after Mugabe’s victory, former Tanzanian Foreign Minister
Abdulrahman Mohamed Babu, regarded as one of Africa’s foremost
thinkers, wrote an open letter to Mugabe, then Prime Minister of
Zimbabwe. Babu was now an economics professor in the United Kingdom.
We reproduce the letter here published in Babu’s collection.
The letter was also published in the New African.
letter to Prime Minister Mugabe
on your victory and comradely salutations from your admirers!
In the last
five years or so since you took over the reins of Zanu you have
shown magnificent qualities of leadership – resolute without
being dogmatic, daring without being adventurist, and flexible without
But above all,
you have revealed yourself during this period as an outstanding
strategist and tactician both in political organisation and in war.
With all these
rare qualities it would be presumptuous even to attempt to tell
you and your gallant comrades-in-arms what is to be done in independent
Zimbabwe. Moreover, you know better than any outsider the concrete
situation in the country. This letter does not claim to tell you
anything you don’t know; it only seeks to reemphasise some
salient points which we may lose sight of in the euphoria of freedom.
of Africa are anxious to prove that every new African country is
doomed to failure and, to ensure that this does indeed take place,
they will want to entangle you deeply in their world system so as
to destroy you. Proof? Look at what is happening in practically
all sister countries: economic chaos, shortage of food and other
basic necessities, corruption, and so on, is the order of the day.
You, as a revolutionary, will be a special target particularly because
of Zimbabwe’s proximity to South Africa.
You are, however,
fortunate in that Zimbabwe is the last but one arrival into the
world arena, as a proud, free country, and so you can learn from
the mistakes of other countries that have preceded you. This is
the purpose of this open letter. If you have thought about the problem
along the lines discussed below then this letter is redundant. If
you don’t agree with it, then it is irrelevant. In either
case, it will still be worth our whole to repeat to ourselves all
the points raised if only to keep them fresh in our minds.
The other reason
for this exercise is that we owe it to Africa and to history to
share our past and present experience in order to arm ourselves
against possible pitfalls which are all too common in the challenging
period of national reconstruction. We have been struggling and continue
to struggle against many odds, natural and man-made, and we need
not be ashamed or scared of making mistakes. We learn through mistakes.
Our task is to minimise them when we can, and this we can do by
reminding ourselves again and again of the obvious ones. This is
the spirit of the letter.
developing countries, you are taking over a country with considerable
potential. Let me give some comparative statistics. Kenya, a fairly
“prosperous” country, has double the population of Zimbabwe
(14m to your 7 m) and yet its Gross Domestic Product is only $2
900m compared to your $3 560m (1976 World Bank figures), or a per
capita income of $220 to your $550. (Incidentally when the bourgeoisie
took over France in 1792 the country’s per capita income was
just about $600.)
a fairly solid industrial base most of which was made possible thanks
to the “sanctions” which forced the country to look
inward. It was what you might call a blessing in disguise. (Looking
back, one wishes that sanctions had been imposed against all African
countries soon after independence. What a happy people we would
have been! It was “aid” that proved to be the kiss of
death.) Your agricultural base, too, is fairly healthy.
From this level
Zimbabwe has an excellent chance to move rapidly to a self-sustaining
development. As a socialist you will no doubt want this development
to be accompanied with social justice. And here is the crux of the
How do we restructure
an economy whose social basis was to exploit the majority for the
benefit of the minority? Seemingly the easiest way is to take over
the “commanding heights” of the economy and transform
it into a popular based one. But this is easier said than done,
with enormous potential dangers. We often tend to be overwhelmed
by the magnitude of the task and consequently fail to raise the
most essential, most basis question: Where to begin?
While it is
impossible for outsiders to know the concrete situation without
a thorough investigation, there are, nevertheless, generally acceptable
principles that may be applicable to any country at a given level
of the development of its productive forces. If the latter are at
a low level then it is imperative that their development be regarded
as top priority, even over that of the relations of production.
In Maoist terms, development of the productive forces in this case
becomes the principal aspect of the contradiction with production
relations as a secondary one. This strategy has variously been called
the New Economic Policy, or N.E.P, or the New Democracy, in which
capitalist relations are allowed to co-exist with socialist ones.
And this was done for very practical reasons: to allow maximum opportunity
and facility for the productive forces to develop as rapidly as
possible without in the meantime causing economic dislocations and
subjecting the people to unjustified hardships. It cannot be over-emphasised
that people are our most precious capital and, therefore, they must
eat well, be housed and clothed well.
is our starting point. The economy must be so structured as to provide
adequate food, good housing and cheap but good clothing. In the
course of providing these the economy will also develop a good agricultural
foundation, together with engineering and extensive textile industries.
All these will create vast employment opportunities for hundreds
of thousands of people currently un- or under-employed, who in turn
will help expand the home market- essential for further industrial
and agricultural development.
For this to
take place, one will of course need to generate investible resources
or accumulation for investment. One of the most unfortunate experiences
of developing countries is that they all sought these resources
from external sources, either in the form of loans or aid, which
has led to heavy and unbearable debt burdens (bankruptcy, you might
say) which now threaten our very survival as sovereign states. To
avoid this monumental pitfall, it is essential for a country to
generate its investible resources internally, first and foremost.
How? There are
two ways: by taxing (but not over taxing) the private sector; and
by utilising for this purpose the surpluses that will come from
future state enterprises.
At this level
of development it may be advisable to allow maximum (but disciplined)
play of individual initiative in economic activity guided by the
principle of “utilise, win over and control”. You utilise
the existing private skills and resources for rapid development
of the productive forces; you win over through education and persuasion
all good elements to serve social rather than individual ends; and
you control private sector incomes through fixing the sale prices
of their products (allowing, of course, for proper incentives);
tax their profits, control its repatriation and encourage ploughing
It could be
made into a principle that at least 50 % of the accumulation from
this source should go into state productive investments annually
and the rest can go into paying recurrent expenditure and the building
up of economic and social infrastructures. This principle will discipline
the bureaucracy and prevent them from indulging in unnecessary low
priority expenditure while, at the same time it will help to build
step by step the state industrial sector that is nonexistent at
the moment, for example, iron and steel industries, machine tool
industry, metallurgy, petrochemical industry and so on; in short,
heavy industry or Department No.1.
It will not
be worthwhile to pay serious attention to such pundits as Rene Dumont1
and their like who urge us to concentrate on small-scale production
on the argument that small is beautiful. No country in history has
developed on that basis. But given our condition of uneven development
in Africa, perhaps the best way will be to combine large-scale and
intermediate production. Where, for instance, you already have large
farms you either expand them where necessary or you maintain them
at their present level and thereby enjoy the benefits of large-scale
farming. Where production is still peasant based you may want to
develop it to an intermediate level with producers cooperatives
as their basic units.
has taught us that the taking over of ongoing viable farms has invariably
led to almost total collapse of agricultural production and has
forced the countries concerned to incur heavy foreign debt to import
food. As foreign borrowing without repayment cannot be sustained
for a long time the countries are forced literally to beg for food
on an international scale. This is undesirable from both the economic
and political standpoints, to say nothing of national dignity.
It is a painful
history fact that in Zimbabwe such large-scale farms are owned by
white settlers, some of whom are liberal and others incorrigibly
reactionary. To expropriate them will amount to economic disaster,
at least in the short run. To allow them to continue as before will
amount to perpetuating a national injustice. This is a serious dilemma.
Probably you and your party have already made up your minds on how
to tackle it. To an outsider it will seem possible to avoid both
of these undesirable consequences by:
- where possible,
surrounding all these settler farms by producer agricultural cooperatives;
- making obligatory
for the settler farms, as a condition for their existence to share
their facilities (farm implements, expertise, marketing, dispensary
service etc.) with the newly established cooperatives.
This will help;
first, to develop viable cooperative farms at a minimum cost and
make maximum use of the existing stock of agricultural implements
in the country. Secondly, it will help diminish the imbalance between
settlers’ and people’s production and thereby correct
the existing situation in which the settler farms are isolated like
prosperous islands in the midst of mass poverty. Thirdly, it will
help distinguish between good elements among the settlers who are
genuinely willing to work with the new government in improving the
living conditions of the people, and the diehards. It will then
be possible to win over the first group and isolate and eventually
ease out the latter. Fourthly, and this is most important it will
help consolidate people’s as opposed to individual production
without any large-scale economic dislocation (and its attendant
consequences) during the transition.
The rising rural
incomes entailed in this strategy will expand the home market for
industrial consumer products as well as broaden the tax base. It
will then be possible to accumulate from the latter to pay for further
development of the former, which means not only the development
of nationally integrated, independent industrialisation but also
the rapid rise of the proletariat. All this, of course, is based
on the assumption of a planned and proportional development of the
Going by your
public statements since you took over, it appears that this is broadly
what you have in mind. If so, you are definitely on the right track;
and all well-meaning people will back you in your obviously very
difficult task. We will all wish you the very best.
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