Mugabe aiding Namibia land grab

Namibia has enlisted the help of Robert Mugabe's land "experts" as it intensifies its own land seizure programme. The news has further unsettled the white farmers and severely dented investor confidence in southern Africa.

Namibia has enlisted the help of Robert Mugabe's land "experts" as it intensifies its own land seizure programme. The news has further unsettled the white farmers and severely dented investor confidence in southern Africa.

Namibia's President Sam Nujoma is a staunch ally of Mr Mugabe, perhaps his only one after Libyan leader Mummar Gaddafi cut off fuel supplies to Zimbabwe last year because of bad debts. Col Gaddafi called Mr Mugabe a "bad customer".

Seemingly following his hero's example, Mr Nujoma ordered eight large scale commercial farms to be seized for black resettlement last month.

He then signed a memorandum of understanding with Mr Mugabe which will see six Zimbabwean land evaluators being deployed to Windhoek tomorrow to advise on Namibia's expropriation drive.

This latest development has alarmed Namibian farmers, particularly since Zimbabwe's land reforms have been condemned by the United Nations and cited by some as the best example of how not to conduct such a programme.

"It is a big joke that any self respecting government could ever want to learn anything from Zimbabwe," said a Namibian farmer, who wished to remain anonymous. "It's hard to imagine what helpful advice we will get from Mr Mugabe's men to enhance the land reform experience here."

Namibia's Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Ndali-Che Kamati, was quoted by the official Herald newspaper as saying that, apart from evaluating seized farms for the purposes of paying compensation, the Zimbabwean team would also offer training services.

Mr Kamati said: "We need expertise to help us determine the level of compensation we will pay for the farms that we have acquired. In this regard, we believe Zimbabwean professionals can really help us with issues of compensation."

Zimbabwe, unlike Namibia, has refused to pay compensation for any of the land seized from farmers on the grounds that it was stolen from its rightful owners.

Zimbabwe said it would only pay compensation for such improvements as houses and boreholes, although most farmers whose land has been seized have not received a penny.

Others who had started moving their equipment off the land to stop it from being stolen or looted by government supporters were stopped by a new law that was brought in, banning the removal of equipment from seized farms.

The requirement to serve legal notices on farmers before seizures has also been rescinded, which means that an announcement in the government gazette is now sufficient for seizure to take place. The Namibian Agricultural Union (NAU) says it is doing all it can to persuade President Nujoma's government to introduce just and sustainable land reforms in the country.

About 75 per cent of prime farm land in Namibia is white owned, and there is almost universal African consensus that the country, a former German colony of about 1.8 million people, needs land reform to redress imbalances created by colonial era dispossessions.

But civic groups in Namibia have warned against Zimbabwe- style methods, which have destroyed its country's agriculture and reduced it to the status of beggar nation.

However, with an election due next year, Namibia's white farmers fear that Mr Nujoma's ruling Swapo party might resort to the populist methods that have been pioneered by Mr Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Indeed, Mr Nujoma hinted this week that he might change the constitution to seek an illegal fourth term in office, just as he did in 1999 when he defied a constitutional provision on two term limits to run for an illegal third term.

He has already started building a new presidential house, said to be worth £15m, showing he plans to stick around for a while longer yet.

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