For its critics, Zimbabwe’s fast-track land reform was violent, state-sponsored property theft that destroyed the national economy and cemented the western characterization of President Robert Mugabe as a ruthless despot. The government, many argued, seized land for President Mugabe’s cronies in the Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), the party that has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980.
Today, the sheer scale of land redistribution suggests the process has been more broad-based, and productive, than previously assumed. A growing body of academic work contradicts the narrative that the land invasions were masterminded in Harare by a small coterie including Mr. Mugabe. Those involved in the struggle say their actions were autonomous, and intended as a protest against the government, which the invaders felt, had compromised on the rallying cry of the liberation.
Land reform devastated the economy. Zimbabwe’s economy contracted 45 per cent from 1998 to 2008; inflation peaked at 231 million per cent. When the national currency was replaced by a multi-currency regime, the exchange rate stood at Z$35 quadrillion to U.S.$1. The economy has since rebounded; growing 20 per cent from 2009 to 2011, with agricultural exports growing by 101 per cent.
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