Zimbabwe parley to ask US, Britain to keep aid promises

Britain and the United States are expected to be major centers of attention at the Zimbabwe conference on reconstruction and development, scheduled to be held here March 23 to 27.

The conference, known here as Zimcord, is likely to attract a number of foreign donors capable of aiding Zimbabwe, but the two English-speaking powers will be in the limelight as far as this country is concerned.

Just in case these two nationsmight have forgotten, the conference document reminds them that assurances were given during the 1979 Lancaster House conference in London, where Zimbabwe's independence was negotiated, that they agreed to "participate in a multilateral financial donor effort to assist in development programs."

The Kissinger plan of 1976, which suggested a Zimbabwe development fund of $1 .5 billion,is recalled a couple of pages later. At this conference, the Zimbabwe government of today is, in effect, calling in the chits.

Dr. Bernard Chidzero, a noted economist and now minister of economic planning and development, and his aides have recently been touring Western capitals to drum up support for aid. It is to the West, not the East, that they are looking for resources. Given the Soviet Union's support for the losing Nkomo wing of the Patriotic front guerrilla organization, no one expects significant Soviet assistance.

Although Zimbabwe has a strong and diversified economy by African standards, there is a vast gap between the affluence of the 200,000-plus whites and the poverty of the blacks, especially the 5 million in the rural areas. The average income of rural blacks is estimated at $10 a month. In 1976, there were 600,000 blacks in paid employment, and their wages were on average less than one-tenth of the white wage.

The legal separation of land in equal-sized black and white portions has been ended, but 5,200 white commercial farmers still retain just less than half the land and produce virtually all of Zimbabwe's agricultural surplus and exports. Every white under this division has access to 100 times as much land as the average black. Lack of available land in the black areas is a critical problem and a source of great political pressure on the government of Prime minister Robert Mugabe.

The government has made it clear that it wants the white farmers to remain. The conference document states: "Land in the commercial areas that is being farmed productively will not be divested from its present use and ownership. Land required for settlement will be paid for in cash, long-term bonds, or a combination of these methods." Both white and black farmers responded enthusiastically to this year's higher government price supports for corn, and a bumper crop is expected.

The Commercial Farmers Union, the white farmers' organization, strongly supports land resettlement for landless black Africans, and in fact wants it speeded up. The reasons are obvious, as the conference document states:

"A satisfactory solution to the problem of fair distribution of land and rural development is the key to Zimbabwe's social stability and to the future economic growth of the country and even the subregion of southern Africa as a whole."

The purpose of the donors conference is to raise sufficient foreign funds to carry out an ambitious program of land resettlement and development. About $1.9 billion is being sought from foreign donors for a three-year period. Some $1.2 billion of this amount will be for the projected rural development projects and the remainder for refugees, reconstruction, and technical assistance programs.

Only about $150 million will actually go for the purchase of land, and this amount has been the subject of a prior agreement between Britain and Zimbabwe.

Foreign aid is being requested for rural infrastructure, such as roads, schools, and health facilities; credit and extension services; irrigation projects; and rural growth points to stimulate labor-intensive local employment. Land resettlement must not become "a transfer or extension of the subsistence farming practices to new areas," says the conference document.

The magnitude of the Zimcord proposal causes some to doubt whether these goals can be achieved. The departure of many trained, by paternalistic, white technicians and civil servants, places a real strain on implementation. There is also doubt about donor willingness to pledge $1.9 billion in times of economic retrenchment.

However, tentative projections show donor commitments of about $1 billion for the three-year-period, with roughly $300 million from the World Bank, $240 million from England, and $85 million from the European Community.

The US is projecting $75 million for 1982, and there are hopes here for $100 million each in the next two years, depending on congressional action. US aid to date has been just over $50 million. These sums might even be raised somewhat during the donor conference, in which case Zimbabwe would not be far from its goal.

It is widely agreed that the new government is putting great emphasis on the conference. "Lancaster House was a bargain," says one observer. "The government has kept faith and pursued a moderate course, but the performance of the donors is disappointing so far."

An American who knows this government well says: "I hope they conclude that the donor conference is a success. They are giving the West a chance to show what they can do. But if they don't get the help they need, they are going to feel forced to take more drastic measures."

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