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01 Sep 2007 06:54
Equatorial Guinea leader Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo on Friday hailed President Robert Mugabe’s land seizure drive, saying Zimbabwe’s agriculture sector was one of Africa’s most developed.
Mugabe’s government has since 2000 embarked on a controversial seizure of white-owned commercial farms to hand over to black Zimbabweans, which analysts say disrupted production and worsened an economy that relies on agriculture.
The veteran Zimbabwe leader has defended the farm grab as necessary to address colonial land imbalances that left more than 70% of the country’s most fertile land in the hands of a few white farmers.
On Friday Obiang, who arrived in Zimbabwe on Wednesday on a state visit, said his tiny but oil-rich country stood to benefit from Harare’s agriculture experience.
“The visit has given us the opportunity to learn in order to ensure that the [agriculture] experience is transferred to the people of Guinea,” said Obiang, who spoke through an interpreter when officially opening an annual agriculture fair in Harare.
He said what he had seen demonstrated “Zimbabwe is one of Africa’s leading agriculture-allied industrial nations”.
This is in contrast to Zimbabwe’s economic crisis, marked by the world’s highest inflation rate of 7 600%, rising unemployment and shortages of foreign currency, fuel and food that is partly blamed on the land seizures.
The often violent seizures set Mugabe at odds with Western donors, but the veteran 83-year-old leader has turned to the East for help, and has strengthened ties with his African peers, including Equatorial Guinea which now supplies oil to Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea ties have grown since Harare authorities in 2004 intercepted 70 mercenaries—including their leader Simon Mann, a former British special forces—who were accused of planning a coup in Equatorial Guinea.
While all the men served short prison terms in Harare and were released, Mann—who ended more than two years in jail at a top security prison—is fighting extradition to Malabo where he is accused of being the mastermind behind the planned coup.
Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea officials have not commented on Mann although local media has previously reported that Obiang wanted to have Mann tried in his country.
Obiang, like Mugabe is accused by the West of widespread human rights abuses and using heavy handed tactics against opponents such as deploying armed police and army units to crush protests.
But Obiang’s visit has mainly focused on strengthening economic ties with Zimbabwe, which is desperate to end an eight-year recession that is fuelling political tension.
“What we have experienced is proof that Zimbabwe is a able to export technology [and] hope that in the near future we will be able to benefit from Zimbabwe’s [agriculture] exports,” he said in a short speech. - Reuters
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