NewsNorth AfricaAfrican Angles: Hugo Chavez, the bold experimenter


Posted on Tuesday, 02 April 2013 12:20

African Angles: Hugo Chavez, the bold experimenter

By Sam Moyo

Late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez/Photo©ReutersThe former Venezuelan president's radical reforms influenced the rise of African resource nationalism.


Many people in Zimbabwe see the death of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez as a major loss of a major leader who was bold in trying alternative and radical ways to renegotiate the terms of North-South relations, through radical redistributive policies at the national level and new approaches to regional cooperation.

Chavez's idea of 21st-century socialism introduced a new breath of praxis into long-standing debates about development and international relations.

Domestically, Chavez led new ways of addressing inequality and inclusive social development, ranging from education and health for the marginalised, to land distribution and energy resource management, while promoting popular cooperation and participation in the making of policy.

Regionally, he promoted an alternative cooperation framework, the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América, involving Bolivia, Cuba and other Caribbean countries.

This initiated different ways of financing development and new trade relations, including exchanging oil for human resources, such as teachers and doctors from Cuba.

Such regional cooperation was based on solidarity and mutual exchange rather than on the market functionalism which characterises organisations such as South America's MERCOSUR or the Southern African Development Community.

The rise of resource nationalism in Africa is informed by lessons from the Venezuelan and Bolivian experiments with nationalisation of energy resources.

In Zimbabwe, which has its own trajectory of resource radicalisation based on land reform and indigenisation, Chavez's Venezuela was viewed as a fellow radicalised state.

Although the Zimbabwean Fast-Track Land Reform Programme went much further than Venezuela's land reform, the basic ideas are fairly similar.

Chavez, like Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, reinforced the idea that colonial-based land ownership of very large estates was not suitable for a food-insecure developing country.

However, Venezuela's land reform programme did not go further, partly because its economy was dependent on a huge oil industry that sustained a larger urban population.

In Zimbabwe, the agrarian structure and legacy of dispossession were decisive in prioritising redistributive land reform.

In both countries, radicalisation was shaped by structural and social crises emanating from neo-liberal policies, and later the energy, food and financial crises of the last decade.

Once radicalised states implement alternative policies they come into direct confrontation with major Western powers, and face similar externally-promoted regime change politics, based on Western support to opposition movements and civil society.

Such interventions only reinforce radicalisation ●

Sam Moyo is Director of the African Institute for Agrarian Studies, Harare, Zimbabwe

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