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Thursday, 25 October, 2001, 13:45 GMT 14:45 UK
Analysis: Zimbabwe's fragile consensus
Occupied farm
Farm occupations have not stopped since the Abuja deal
By BBC Africa Correspondent Rageh Omaar

The Commonwealth Agreement, signed in the Nigerian capital Abuja on 6 September, was achieved to the surprise of nearly all the diplomats and observers who had gathered there.


If anything the rhetoric between the two sides indicate that many obstacles still remain

At a time when it seemed that Harare and London were further apart on the land crisis in Zimbabwe than ever before, a small yet crucial consensus seemed to have been negotiated.

It was at the very least a point of departure, a road map, on how to end the political and economic turmoil that had plunged Zimbabwe into a calamitous state.

At its heart, the Abuja agreement was about everyone agreeing that there was a genuine and pressing need for land reform in Zimbabwe.

Some 4,500 white commercial farmers own approximately 75% of the best arable land, and tens of thousands of landless, poor black peasants eke out a living on the remainder.

Historic break

The Abuja accord was clinched against all the odds.

Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon
The Commonwealth delegation wants to discuss rule of law
What really made the difference was that, for the first time, major African governments such as South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya openly broke ranks with Harare.

They urged President Mugabe's government to end the political and economic turmoil resulting from the land crisis which threatened the stability of the whole continent.

For its part, Zimbabwe pledged to end further illegal occupations of white-owned farm land, political intimidation and human rights abuses.

Britain also recognised that there was a need for fundamental land reform in Zimbabwe and pledged to honour the commitment it made at Zimbabwe's independence 21 years ago to provide significant funds to help this process.

Friction

But if anything the rhetoric between the two sides indicate that many obstacles still remain.

Injured farm workers
The Abuja deal was aimed at putting a stop to the chronic violence
There has also been little sign of a decrease in political violence.

On the eve of the arrival of the Commonwealth delegations, the state-owned Herald newspaper said that the Zimbabwean government feared that Britain and what it called its allies in the white Commonwealth were seeking to turn the Abuja agreement on its head.

Similarly, Britain's Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short told the British Parliament that London had worked hard to prevent the continuing deterioration in political and economic governance in Zimbabwe, but completely without success.

Since the Abuja agreement was signed, Zimbabwe's Commercial Farmers Union, which represents nearly all white farmers, said an additional 688 properties had been occupied by government supporters.

Political violence

Aside from farm invasions, the leader of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was attacked two weeks ago by a mob of suspected ruling party supporters.

Morgan Tsvangirau escaped unhurt after his motorcade was attacked by suspected Mugabe supporters with sticks, stones, machetes and spears.

President Mugabe
President Mugabe is increasingly isolated internationally
The MDC treated the attack as an assassination attempt.

The MDC has also threatened to boycott future by-elections because of violence and intimidation during a September by-election.

Human rights groups in Zimbabwe said the run-up to voting in the rural seat of Chikomba had been marred by murder and intimidation.

A coalition of rights groups alleged that one opposition supporter, a school headmaster, had been murdered and several others tortured in the run-up to the poll.

They also said that the leading opposition candidate had received death threats.

See also:

16 Aug 01 | Africa
Diplomatic options over Zimbabwe
17 Aug 01 | UK Politics
UK's Zimbabwe 'silence' under fire
02 Aug 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe targets more white farms
20 Aug 01 | Africa
White farmers granted bail
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