Collapse of Zimbabwe in the Wake of the 2000-2003 Land Reforms

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In the early years after its independence, Zimbabwe seemed poised to be an African success story, with its vast wealth of minerals and rich farmland, and its continued investment in education and health care. However, after the government seized wealthy commercial farmland in 2000, Zimbabwe quickly went from a place of hope to one of the grimmest places on Earth, with foreign investors fleeing, life expectancies dropping and hyperinflation looming. Despite the agricultural sector only commanding fifteen percent of the economy, this book argues that the perceived and actual lack of secure property rights caused a series of cascading and harmful economic effects throughout Zimbabwe.

Using primary data from official Zimbabwe government sources, The IMF, The World Bank and Zimbabwe’s Commercial Farmers’ Union, this book explains the mechanics of the collapse of one institution after another, including the central bank, foreign exchange markets, and the health and education sectors. It also dispels the widely held belief that a drought in 2001 led to collapsed agricultural yields, using data from Zimbabwe’s meteorological authorities to make the case. Lastly, the book uses the case study of Nicaragua, which underwent a similar collapse in the late 1980s, as a blueprint for how a country can once again prosper after paying attention to the importance of property rights. In its conclusion, the book suggests concrete policy proposals that can put Zimbabwe back on track.


"In this crucially important book Richardson does the remarkable job of letting us know how badly the ignorance of the role of property rights in development can hurt a nation. Richardson's contribution to the ongoing debate on development is important for all humanity." -(from the Commendatory Preface) Hernando de Soto, author of The Mystery of Capital

"Richardson's policy recommendations for Zimbabwe are clear and lucid." - Milton Friedman, 1976 Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics and author of Capitalism and Freedom

“Craig Richardson’s The Collapse of Zimbabwe in the Wake of the 2000-2003 Land Reforms tells an important story that needs to be told. Inefficient or insecure property rights are routinely cited in economic theory as critical barriers or pitfalls along the way to long-term national growth and development. Richardson’s book shows empirically and in depth exactly how important this institution is." - Arthur Goldsmith, Professor of Management at the University of Massachusetts Boston

“The collapse of the Zimbabwe economy has been swift and dramatic, even by the standards of modern African history, saturated as it is by social, political and economic volatility. The Zimbabwe crisis has received substantial attention both in the popular press and in academic publications. The World Bank and IMF have been the primary sources of more policy-oriented research on the topic. However, not until now, with this book, have we had a comprehensive and convincing account that pulls together threads of the story relating the fascinating but heart-wrenching events that have taken place in this part of southern Africa during the past 4 years.

Dr. Richardson’s thesis is that the Zimbabwe collapse was the inevitable result of land seizures, or at least of the way the program was carried out, by the Mugabe government. The land seizure program was pursued as a means to address wealth and social inequities that developed along racial lines in the region over the course of the past 150 years. Whatever the historical, political, and moral imperative motivating the policy, its impact on the economy was devastating. This book documents this devastation in unequivocal terms.

Before turning specifically to the Zimbabwe case, Dr. Richardson calls upon classics of the economics literature, such as Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and Frank Knight’s Risk, Uncertainty and Profit, which identify property rights as an essential ingredient in the functioning of capitalist economies. Dr. Richardson’s explanation of Zimbabwe’s collapse is not unicausal, however; he explores the role of complicating and interacting factors such as drought, HIV/AIDS, the flight of skilled labor, monetization of the debt, and currency collapse. At the end of the day, the author finds the most important of these other factors to be tied in one way or another to the inept land reform program; perhaps most interestingly of all, he documents how the drought-centric explanation of the collapse offered by numerous investigators is not well supported.

Dr. Richardson explores the pathways between state-enforced property rights and economic growth—pathways that “create incentives for a country’s citizens to work harder and take more risks.” … In the end, Dr. Richardson’s book leaves us with hope for the future of Zimbabwe. This is done in part by drawing reasonable parallels with Nicaragua’s troubled, war-torn history of 1980s and its subsequent economic rebound. A large part of that recovery can be traced back to—you guessed it—the reestablishment of property rights and, in turn security and investment in the country. The book concludes with an eight-pronged policy roadmap for the future. This book should be read by all scholars of African history and economy, and by those concerned with the future of Zimbabwe.” – Chris Mackie, Senior Staff Economist, National Research Council

"Recommended. Upper-division undergraduate through professional collections" - CHOICE

Table of Contents

List of Tables
List of Figures
1. The Critical Importance of Property Rights
2. Property Rights in Zimbabwe
3. Conflicts Over Land: The History and Structure of the Agricultural Sector
4. Government Agricultural Policies: What Happened?
5. The Foreign Exchange and Monetary Crises
6. Education, Population and Health Care: From Highs to Lows
7. The Labor Market and Women’s Role in it
8. Lessons Learned From Nicaragua, Consequences, and Conclusions
Chapter Notes
Subject Index

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