Self-Defeating Human Rights Policies (3): Land Seizure in Zimbabwe

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economics / equality / human rights violations / law / poverty / self-defeating human rights policies

Zimbabwe, like many other developing countries with a history of minority white rule, also has a long history of land reform. Since 1979, the government has tried to redistribute land between the historically disenfranchised blacks and the minority-whites who ruled Zimbabwe from 1890 to 1979. A laudable and necessary initiative. During the last decades, however, white farmers have become a persecuted minority, losing their farms in an often violent manner. Most farmland has effectively been nationalized. The results have been disastrous for the economy of Zimbabwe.

Prior to land redistribution, land-owning farmers, mostly white, had large tracts of land and utilized economies of scale to raise capital, borrow money when necessary, and purchase modern mechanised farm equipment to increase productivity on their land. As the primary beneficiaries of the land reform were members of the Government and their families, despite the fact that most had no experience in running a farm, the drop in total farm output has been tremendous. … a country once so rich in agricultural produce that it was dubbed the “bread basket” of Southern Africa, is now struggling to feed its own population. A staggering 45 percent of the population is considered malnourished. (source)

Here are two satellite pictures from Google Earth that show the result:

Land Seizure in Zimbabwe

Land Seizure in Zimbabwe

(source, click images to enlarge)

Take a look at the Before picture. The communal land on the left is dry, dusty and unproductive compared to the private farmland on the right which is green and dotted with blue ponds and lakes. Why? There were two theories to explain this difference:

  • The tragedy of the commons – the farmers on the communal lands did not have the incentives to invest in the land and thus the land eroded and turned to desert.
  • The land on the right (which was owned mostly by whites) was better quality land.

Both theories could be true. Regarding the latter explanation, however, notice that the dry communal lands on the left are sharply delineated from the green private farms on the right–so sharply that soil quality and rainfall alone are unlikely to explain the difference. … After reform the land quality worsened everywhere. In particular, note that the blue lakes and ponds on the right became dry and empty… [T]he sharply delineated lines in the photos dividing communal and privately owned land is real … communal farmland is not as well managed as white-owned private land. (source)

All this with the caveat that satellite images aren’t always reliable (coloring, resolution etc. can vary, and are very important in this example).

Land reform in Zimbabwe is an example of a self-defeating human rights policy (to the extent that it was indeed a human rights policy and not plain nepotism): the government presumably tried to end poverty and inequality and has in fact made things worse. More on the importance of private property rights is here. More posts on satellite evidence of human rights violations are here. More on self-defeating human rights policies here.


  1. Pingback: Self-Defeating Human Rights Policies | P.a.p.-Blog, Human Rights Etc.

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  3. Pingback: Human Rights Facts (205): Land Reform | P.a.p.-Blog, Human Rights Etc.

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