Don’t Stockpile, Get Global — Conversations with a Rhodesian Expat and Being Financially Global, by Peter H.

Some friends recently bought a self sustaining bit of farmland in the American Redoubt. Part of it was a desire to get back to the land, part of it was for safety and security in a future TEOTWAWKI situation. I wished them well and was impressed with the desire to get back to the land. But deep down I don’t believe that a remote farm is necessarily safe, defensible, or a better bet than being mobile. It comes down to a conversation I had with a Rhodesian (Zimbabwean by passport, but he called himself Rhodesian) expat in Thailand about a decade ago.

This was a man who owned a family farm and knew others who owned farms. He decided to leave Zimbabwe before the height of the farmland grabs, just after a mob came for some friends of his. These friends had plenty of stockpiled weapons and ammunition; they had water, food, and ham radio contact with nearby farms. But what they didn’t have was the hundreds (note this is what I was told, so I am unsure if this number is an exaggeration) of people that the mob that came for their farm had. Their guns were useless against this large mob. They couldn’t just shoot indiscriminately into the crowd without drawing the ire of the military [which was tacitly supporting the farm invasions]. Shots fired to try to disperse the crowd led them to charge. The sons at the farm were seriously beaten up trying to stand their ground. The family made it out in a pickup truck, leaving behind their stockpile of guns and ammunition, which with their farm went to the Mugabe regime.

Seeing this writing on the wall, the man sold his farm at a huge discount to the workers who worked on the farm. His hope was they could maintain the farm intact. At least he could have a legacy for his family farm if he could not keep it financially. Unfortunately even these workers ultimately lost the farm to the “war veterans” of the ZANU-PF. The irrigation system got stripped, the farm got parceled up into unproductive one acre lots. The man left for Thailand, ran a tour company, and as of that point in time never returned to his country. I met him in 200. The land grabs continued throughout the next decade.

Some people did try to stay and fight for their land in Zimbabwe. Most notably Mike Campbell and Richard Etheredge took the Zimbabwean government to court in a tribunal of judges of the South African Development Community (SADC) regional trade bloc. For opposing the government the Etheredges were threatened with their lives and had their belongings ransacked. The New York Times reported:

“The gang had looted the three family homes on the farm of all but the large mounted heads of an eland and a kudu, according to photos taken before and after the invasion. They used a jackhammer to break through the foot-thick wall of the walk-in safe. The haul from the homes and the farm included 1,760 pounds of ivory, 14 handmade guns, 14 refrigerators and freezers, 5 stoves, 3 tractors, a pickup truck and 400 tons of oranges, the family said.”

The Campbells suffered a far worse fate:
“[A] far more violent farm invasion occurred at the home of Mike and Angela Campbell, also here in Chegutu. Mr. Campbell, 76, was the first farmer to take on Mr. Mugabe before the tribunal.
A gang came that Sunday afternoon, pouring out of a pickup truck and a bus, Mrs. Campbell said. Her son-in-law, Ben Freeth, 38, said that he was bludgeoned with rifle butts and that his skull and ribs were fractured. Mike Campbell was also severely beaten.
Mrs. Campbell, 66, said she was dragged by her hair, after her arm was broken in multiple places, and dumped next to her husband. The doctor who treated them in the capital, Harare, signed affidavits confirming the severity of their injuries.” [JWR Adds: Their story was well documented in the film Mugabe and the White African, which is available via Netflix streaming.]

During Mugabe’s inauguration the Campbells were abducted and tortured until they signed a formal withdrawal of the case from the SADC. The son had his feet beaten, a common form of torture in Zimbabwe which often leaves people crippled for life. The case ultimately went forward and the SADC ruled in favor of the Campbells. The Zimbabwean government withdrew from the SADC August 7th 2009. The farms were burned down August 30th 2009. In April 2011 Mike Campbell died; his family says it was due to complications from having been tortured.

Ultimately these seizures did not turn out to be a wise national policy, leaving economic ruin:
“By contrast at least 90 per cent of formerly white-owned farms – more than 20 million acres – lie fallow since Mr Mugabe began chasing whites off their rural properties, while agricultural exports, which once earned 40 per cent of Zimbabwe’s foreign exchange, have collapsed, and more than half the population needs food aid.”

Zimbabwe used to be a rich food exporter with a dollar that was on parity with the British pound. Money printing combined with the erosion of exports destroyed that. But totalitarian regimes have the interest of control not prosperity as their main focus.

Why am I sharing all of this? Well the man in Thailand’s story has had a big impact on me in strengthening my resolve that I never want to live in a totalitarian country. This has had the effect of making me a lot more global in my thinking. I’ve worked and traveled in enough countries close to the bottom of economic and development indicators to know it is a long way down (US is #4 right now), but I also have seen that even in countries with histories of free speech or democratic process, it is possible to slip into a totalitarian state over a 20-30 year period. Contrary to many survival based forum conceptions, that if the money dries up so will the government involvement in your life, I believe that as the money gets tight governments get more repressive and controlling (look at North Korea, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Romania in the 1980s). Desperate measures get taken in the name of security of the state, and the population is left to adjust, those who don’t fall in line or leave get crushed. Sadly not just in Zimbabwe, but elsewhere, Congo, Guatemala, Haiti, people in rural areas seem to see some of the worst atrocities by the state (this differs in all out conflicts like Bosnia where urban areas would be battlegrounds).

Totalitarianism is my biggest survival concern. Now I’ve been through enough natural disasters that I have enough food and have backup energy and water systems to make it comfortably through a couple months of grid down. But I live in an east coast city, I rent an apartment, other than the aforementioned food I don’t really have stockpiles. I don’t have much attachment to any of my stuff, my wife and I have been known to just uproot and go live in foreign countries. Normally I’d be the antithesis of a survival type. But being primarily concerned about economic collapse and the loss of freedom, stockpiling for scarcity is not in my strategy.
I feel economic decline will take a while. Not to say that portions of that slide won’t happen quickly creating Russian or Argentine style shortages and bank holidays, but there will be time to see things changing and get out. The important thing is having the hard currency and flexibility to be mobile, even if everybody else in the US has a frozen bank account.

Working largely in the international development industry I don’t have much, but I am more global than most. I am liquid in a basket of currencies with bank accounts around the globe and I’d recommend this to others. There is nothing mysterious about doing this, you have to file extra forms to the IRS annually (FBAR), but it is perfectly legal and relatively easy to maintain offshore accounts especially in this age of online banking.

My hope is that when the SHTF in the US if things look dark for the future of freedoms here I’ll be tied into businesses on a global stage that can guarantee my revenue and I’ll be left living in relative style in some comparatively untouched global city. Even when things go down hill, like during WWII, there are still locations of wealth and safety. It’s a bet that I can find and work my way into those places, but it is a bet I’d take any day over stockpiling ammunition and trying to survive a gunfight in the countryside.

If you want to make a start at international banking I’d suggest the following resources (disclaimer, all banks are subject to health concerns in this climate, laws governing international banking vary from country to country, so do your own research):
Bank of China: minimum $500 for a Yuan account. This, however, is very restricted. This is only a savings account not a checking. It is hard to get your money out of this account if you don’t know people in China.
Isle of Man: £2,500 minimum deposit for British pound, Euro or Dollar accounts. Get an international Visa card.
Multiple Countries in the Caribbean: bank in multiple Caribbean countries. Apply as a non-resident. Hold CHF accounts.
Multiple Countries: Enroll to be a student for a semester and then get a bank account and keep it.
Multiple Countries: Start a local business, get a bank account.
Multiple Countries: Pay a law firm to set you up with a bank account and a holding corporation.
As for managing your affairs in the US, I recommend services such as, online bill pay, Google Voice, Earthclassmail and PostalMethods to virtualize your communications.

What about citizenship? Well it is possible to move around as a “perpetual traveler” (PT). But dual citizenship is something you can work on depending on what country you are in. Most countries have pathways to citizenship that are less onerous than existing US laws. “For example, you can became a citizen… 

…of Ireland if you have an Irish grandparent.(1)(2) 
…of France if you’ve lived and paid taxes for five consecutive years.(3)(4) 
…of Brazil if you’ve lived and paid taxes for four consecutive years.(5)(6)  “

My advice to others is get global resources in place now that enable you to become an expat and not a refugee. If I have learned anything from people who live in poor and repressive countries now, it is that if you are skilled and educated this strategy can be a good one for your family. Pick a few countries and get to know them (knowing multiple languages opens significantly the options for where you can go on the globe). Globally, historically, diaspora tend to do well in countries with resources, especially in the second generation.

I think you will see a lot more migration when things start to get tough. I believe this is a good thing. Not everybody is meant to be a self sufficient farmer (I know this, I used to be a farmer), and there are worse things than planning now so you can find yourself running a small business in Thailand or Norway or New Zealand talking about how you got out before it all fell apart. Finally, if it doesn’t all fall apart there is nothing unsound about having diversified international revenues even if you are staying put.