Post-Colonial Evils in Africa

, Spencer Irvine, Leave a comment

There might be a reason why academics don’t dwell on the specifics of life in post-colonial Africa.

zimbabwe trillion dollar

In a panel discussion at the libertarian think tank Cato Institute, prominent human rights activist, author and farmer Ben Freeth and Craig Richardson, an economics professor at Winston Salem State University, discussed their experiences in Zimbabwe.

Freeth’s story is sadly compelling, since he survived several separate attacks on his family farm that left one of his farm workers seriously injured with a skull fracture and himself beaten severely. His father-in-law did not survive after being beaten “about sixty times and never recovered.” His mother-in-law was also brutally beaten, and Freeth said, “[It was] by God’s grace we survived that abduction.” They were attacked even after an international court in Namibia ruled in his favor in November 2008, where he “managed to get there in a wheelchair.”

But, after Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe unilaterally announced he would disregard the court’s decision, Freeth’s farm was “reinvaded, we had thugs come and chase my parents-in-law out of their own home, one of our farmworkers was very severely beaten that night…by the thugs and put in jail.” A dozen other farm workers were also jailed, and the thugs went to “steal all our tractors… diesel… to steal our personal possessions and finally, to burn down first our house and several of our workers’ houses and my parents-in-laws’ house.”

Freeth told the audience how the U.S. has been “blessed with an amazing constitution” and in his own life, “we learned in Zimbabwe in that time, what it was to not have protection of our lives, not have protection of our individual liberties, [not to] have protection when it came to our private property, the rule of law was overthrown.” To make matters worse, Freeth said, “The president called us the enemies of the states…the invasions carried on with complete contempt with no one ever getting arrested.”

He tried to visit other friends on another occasion, and described how “men had come to invade the farm” and suddenly, “rocks were coming at us from all sides…it was an absolute miracle that we were unharmed.” He added, “It was our beginning of the Kristallnacht that we read about that took place, in Nazi Germany.” Two of his friends, other farmers, were killed by mobs; one was abducted, “beaten very badly and was shot dead” while the other “held out for several hours…his house was set alight and he was shot in the bath and his body was brutally beaten to a pulp.”

He asked the audience, “So how do you protect yourself without the rule of laws?” Freeth added, “Imagine that in your home in Washington, D.C…imagine your desperation; imagine what you would do.” In Zimbabwe, his life showed how “property rights and the rule of law were systematically destroyed” by the government. Property rights, said Freeth, “are how we became the breadbasket of Africa.” Before, Freeth estimated private farmers owned 50% of the land during the 1980s and 1990s, but by 2000, they only held 25% of the land. Today, “We’re looking at over 90% of the land being controlled…by the state.” And, Freeth added, “We’ll have to send out the begging bowl to have our people fed.”

Craig Richardson noted how many farmers had been driven out of Zimbabwe, and said, “There are only several hundred left out of two-to-three thousand.” And, based on the data he gathered, the Zimbabwean economic collapse was “timed with the seizures of farms.” He recalled that, “In the 90s, it was called the jewel of Africa,” and found it puzzling how farms composed 18% of the country’s economy yet they contributed to such a substantially large and “very quick” economic collapse.

How did that happen? Richardson pointed out that “The answer is that these farms were tied to many other things. They were tied, for example, to fertilizer companies. They also were tied to the cotton companies…the banks were tied to the farms.” Richardson continued, “Although these 3,000 farms were expropriated, they actually caused this cascading, ripple effect that caused the Zimbabwe economy to collapse very quickly.”

He said farms were “a significant part of their [the Zimbabwean government’s] tax revenue [which] came from the sales of exports like tobacco which created hard currency for them.” But, the farm seizures “knocked out a significant part of their sector; they lost tax revenue” and had to “begin printing money” to get out of the financial hole.

On a trip to Zimbabwe in 2007, Richardson said he rang up a dinner bill numbering in the millions of Zimbabwean currency and tipped the waitress in the six digits as well. He noted, “It really wasn’t worth that much; the money was losing value day by day.” Richardson said, “By 2008, the notes were in the trillions of dollars, the end of the road was coming fast…and Zimbabwe couldn’t print money fast enough” to make up the deficit. “The inflation,” he pointed out, “made the record books, second highest in history…I think prices were doubling every single day.”

Without any other options on the table, Zimbabwe turned to the U.S. dollar and South African rand as their currency options, which “shut off” the country’s unhealthy inflation and “it stopped the free fall.” Yet, Zimbabwe is “one of the worst performing countries in the world” when compared to the “Lion Kings” of Africa; primarily the rapidly growing economies of the likes of Angola, Chad, Mozambique and Ethiopia. For example, it takes 90 days for a Zimbabwean to open a business, but only 3 in Rwanda, 13 days in Mozambique and 9 in Ethiopia.