How has land reform in Zimbabwe reshaped rural politics? This is a question addressed in a new article that has recently been published in the Review of African Political Economy. You can download it here (or send me a request for a pdf via the comments section below).
The article is based on our research in Masvingo and looks at both the ‘core’ land reform areas in the province, as well as other areas in the lowveld. The tussle between land reform beneficiaries in the post 2000 resettlements and politically-connected elites is explored. The article argues that, in alliance with others, the ‘new farmers’ present a potentially important political force who can push the state to respond to their needs. This will of course depend on many factors, not least the political composition and leadership of the state. With things fast-moving on that front as the succession struggle comes to a head, there are many unknowns. However, unless the new configurations of interests in the countryside are taken note of, any political grouping, from whatever party, will not be able to mobilise support for the long-term.
Here is the abstract:
The reconfiguration of land and economic opportunity following Zimbabwe’s land reform from 2000 has resulted in a new politics of the countryside. This emerges from the processes of accumulation and differentiation set in train by the land reform. Yet this politics is contested: between the interests of new ‘middle farmers’ who are ‘accumulating from below’ and politically-connected elites and large-scale capital who see different opportunities for land-based accumulation. These dynamics are being played out in different ways in different parts of the country, depending on the agroecological potential of the area, the way the land reform unfolded and local political actors and processes. Based on research over the past 14 years, this paper examines two areas in Masvingo province and develops a contrasting analysis of emerging political dynamics. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications for the longer-term politics of agrarian change in Zimbabwe.
The conclusion ends:
It is a volatile and dynamic context. The state – and the ruling party – do not have full control. The agency of particular coalitions of actors is substantial. And the processes of socio-economic differentiation is such that new political forces are fast emerging.
In the past decade or more, all political formations have misjudged these changes in rural economy and politics, and have failed to analyse their implications. Most liberal academic commentary and political and civic opposition focused on exposing cronyism, but did not engage with understanding rural social differentiation, and the building of new alliances and constituencies. This in part contributed to failure in electoral terms. By contrast the nationalist populists in ZANU-PF failed to engage with the new emergent entrepreneurial class of ‘middle farmers’, and continued to back a narrow elite who remain widely resented.
There is a struggle at the heart of countryside: between a small group of well-connected elites and domestic and international capital on one side, often in an uneasy alliance, and a variegated grouping of poorer smallholder farmers, farm labourers, and a new class of ‘middle farmer’ petty commodity producers on the other. Electorally, if representative democracy is upheld, any party must rely on the latter to supply the votes, while the rich pickings of land and resources as patronage are to be gained by alliances with the former. As the Masvingo cases show, it is currently a fine balance.
What of the future? Will there be a capitulation to the elites and the alliance with fractions of (inter)national capital, and so a pushing aside of the emergent middle farmer class? This can only be achieved by the continuation of a non-democratic solution of obstructive, violent politics, especially given the electoral forces weighed against such an elite position. Given the track-record of ZANU-PF and the embedded reliance on crony capitalism and of a growing dependent network, this is a firm possibility (Raftopoulos 2013a). Or can a more democratic and accountable state be rebuilt from below, forged by the new alliances of farmers and workers, including women, youth and others, who are prepared to vote for a party that delivers on the demands of a new resurgent agrarian class, and its allies?
This latter option, given recent history, may be naively optimistic; but any political formation, no matter what its ideology or democratic traditions, cannot ignore the new politics of the countryside, and must garner support from a radically reconfigured set of interests and alliances. Inability to do so will result in electoral failure, as well as the sort of persistent and disruptive resistance we have seen in the Masvingo cases. As the 2018 election approaches, a deeper understanding of the changed dynamics of rural economy and politics will certainly be required.