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The UK election, Africa and Zimbabwe

On Thursday it’s the UK election. The most open for ages, and no-one knows who will come out on top – and more importantly what configuration any post-election coalition will look like. As a small set of islands and a dwindling economic and political power, elections in the UK should not really matter for the rest of the world. But bizarrely they do; and perhaps especially this one. The tectonic shifts occurring in British politics may have long-run consequences. Depending on the outcome and the political battles that follow, the UK could either split up – with the Scottish Nationalists demanding an early re-run of the referendum – or leave the European Union – with the Tory right and UKIP urging an exit. Any of these scenarios will mean major changes in how Britain (or perhaps a new union of England, Wales and Northern Ireland) interacts with the world.

How then are the various parties addressing ‘international issues’, and African and development issues in particular? On African Arguments, Magnus Taylor and Hetty Bailey have offered a very useful summary of the different manifesto pledges. With the inevitable exception of UKIP, all the parties have committed to maintaining the 0.7 per cent of GDP commitment to international development. The Greens even urge that it be increased to 1 per cent. In the age of austerity this cross-party consensus to ring-fence aid money seems extraordinary. It is however a fragile consensus, continuously attacked by the right-wing press and others. Any post-election wrangling, particularly if UKIP are involved in some type of deal in alliance with the right-wing of the Tory party, will challenge it. But for the time being the view, forged by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown before 2010, that the UK should commit to an internationalist agenda, involving humanitarian and development aid is, amazingly, sticking.

However, as the African Arguments piece shows, the way ‘international development’ is framed in the manifestos is – with some exceptions – very different to the hey-day of the late 1990s, when the Department for International Development was formed. Today, because of the political threat, aid is very much constructed as expenditure in Britain’s often quite short term interests. Aid is for building platforms for British business abroad (a return to a ‘mercantilist power’ – and of course competing with China who has no qualms about link aid and commerce); for quelling conflict and reducing immigration to Europe (and with the horrific scenes of boats arriving to Lampedusa, this is high on the news agenda); and for preventing Islamic extremism that may have an impact at home. Humanitarianism has not gone though, and the massive public response to the Nepal earthquake has demonstrated again, that small-island selfishness is not universal. However, the aid for trade agenda in particular has become very prominent under the current government, and DFID’s work is often indistinguishable from the export promotion wings of the Foreign Office and BIS, the Department for Business, Industry and Skills. The focus on ‘fragile states’ means the Ministry of Defence is also heavily embroiled in the ‘development’ agenda too. It remains to be seen if DFID survives this election along with its budget. Certainly in the last decade DFID has become a shadow of its former self, and very much lost its way (see this brilliant blog by my colleague, Robert Chambers on the extreme pathologies hampering DFID’s work).

What does this all mean for Africa – and Zimbabwe in particular? Zimbabwe retains a peculiar fascination in British politics. There is an All-Party Group on Zimbabwe for example that provides an essentially anti-ZANU-PF/anti-Mugabe lobby group within parliament, with regular meetings, reports and parliamentary questions. It has been chaired for by the Labour MP for Vauxhall, Kate Hoey. Her website documents her ‘undercover’ visits to Zimbabwe in the 2000s and support for human rights and the opposition MDC. Her other passion for country sports and fox hunting probably makes for common ground with other members of the committee, who include a number of Tory Lords and establishment figures. The group reflects the very British complexion of political links with Zimbabwe. It includes Labour party human rights campaigners – with their backgrounds often in the struggle against apartheid (most notably Peter Hain, but also Baroness Kinnock – a leading member of the group, and someone who regularly asks questions on Zimbabwe in parliament), the Tory grandees with post-colonial connections to ‘kith and kin’ in Zimbabwe, and those more squarely interested in trade and business in southern Africa. This unlikely coalition have been brought together in the past 15 years with their support for the opposition in Zimbabwe and their detestation of President Mugabe. Lobbied by former white farmer activists from Zimbabwe, business associations, and diaspora networks, mostly notably the die-hards of the Zimbabwe Vigil, the Foreign Office and DFID are under continuous pressure on Zimbabwe. And too often, as I have found on too many occasions, subject to extreme forms of misinformation and bias.

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Nothing perhaps illustrates this better than the most bizarre of outbursts from the Mayor of London, prospective MP, and potential future Conservative Party leader, Boris Johnson. On the occasion of President Mugabe’s birthday bash in February, Johnson used a column in the Tory flagship, the Daily Telegraph, to let rip. Too often dismissed as a posh buffoon, Johnson is a smart and dangerous political operator. And if Cameron and co stumble on Thursday, he could find himself in the top position in the Conservative Party, maybe in time even Prime Minister. So read his diatribe in this light – and be scared, very scared. While pitched as a pre-election jibe at Tony Blair (blaming Blair for appeasing Mugabe), it demonstrated in full flow the narrow-minded, colonial, almost racist, attitude of too many (highly intelligent – and Boris is no fool) commentators on Zimbabwe. As noted by Wilbert Mukori in his column the Telegraph piece was full of an “obnoxious and overbearing British imperialist mentality” that simply acted to boost Mugabe’s position. Of course the ZANU-PF spin-master, Jonathan Moyo lapped it up, and the clumsy intervention was used (as ever) rather effectively as a propaganda weapon in ZANU-PF’s on-going tussle with the British establishment.

British politicians repeatedly fail to understand Africa, and perhaps especially Zimbabwe. From Clare Short’s disastrous letter on the land issue to this most recent outburst from Boris, the lack of appreciation of history, the gross insensitivity to global relations, and the absence of reflexivity of position and power, is flabbergasting. The 2013 elections in Zimbabwe were badly called by British diplomats, characterised by Richard Dowden as “the biggest defeat for the United Kingdom’s policy in Africa in 60 years”. I have no idea who advises the UK Foreign Office or DFID at the highest levels on Zimbabwe (it’s not me – they’ve never asked!), but the lack of understanding is frequently quite shocking. It comes from their own isolation (they don’t get out enough), the extraordinarily poor reporting of Zimbabwe in the British media, and the briefings influenced by the London and parliamentary lobby groups of course. And their hands are tied by the strictures imposed by the UK and the European Union following 2000 – the ‘sanctions’ and ‘restrictive measures’ that have caused so much confusion and damage.

With a European lead, the UK is beginning – sensibly, but all too slowly – to re-engage with Zimbabwe ‘on an incremental basis’. The overall UK aid budget has remained high but it has to be allocated very selectively – with new resettlement areas and support to post-land reform still out of bounds. This means that aid efforts get distorted, and the conversations that are needed to allow a greater ‘normalisation’ do not happen. And so with this misunderstandings and misperceptions continue. Applying diplomatic pressure and focusing aid is of course perfectly appropriate, and I subscribe to nearly all the broad objectives of the UK aid programme, as outlined on the website. But much of this gradual, painfully slow, movement in the right direction may be undermined by the outcomes (immediate, and longer-term) of this election. What if the UK leaves Europe? This will leave UK diplomacy very exposed in Zimbabwe, as elsewhere. What if, in time, Scotland leaves the UK? Will there be a radical, progressive Scottish aid programme in Zimbabwe, alongside DFID’s? Maybe. And what if the likes of Boris Johnson, with a bunch of UKIP allies, take over? Heaven help us. Despite Britain’s dwindling power and economic influence, elections in the former colonial power do still, strangely, matter, so look out for the news on May 8, and the days and weeks that follow.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared first on Zimbabweland

 

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Britain and Africa: confronting the Zimbabwe question

Last week my boss, Lawrence Haddad, asked me to write a guest blog for Development Horizons. He had read Richard Dowden’s piece in Prospect magazine, and wanted to know my views. The blog I wrote, subsequently picked up by African Arguments, All Africa, the Zimbabwe Mirror and various other websites, is below.

Britain and Africa: confronting the Zimbabwe question

Britain’s relationship with Africa has always been a tricky one; and this is particularly so for a former settler colony like Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe’s recent win in the contested election in Zimbabwe has been seen by some as a victory for independent, sovereign Africa over the former colonial power and its imperial ambitions. As Richard Dowden commented in a recent issue of Prospect Magazine, this was “the biggest defeat for the United Kingdom’s policy in Africa in 60 years”.

In his recent speeches, Mugabe has not been able to constrain his glee. The deep animosity that developed between Zimbabwe and Tony Blair in particular is still a recurrent refrain. Britain has misjudged its diplomatic relationships with Zimbabwe many times, but the most extreme incident was Clare Short’s ill-judged letter in 1997 arguing that Britain had no special responsibility for the land issue, and Short’s Irish ancestry showed that she was not on the side of the coloniser. This of course infuriated Mugabe and many others. As nationalist leaders who fought a liberation war against Ian Smith’s Rhodesia regime, the denial of responsibility for colonialism was outrageous.

Yet today Britain is a declining power, with decreasing economic and political clout. Zimbabwe, as other African states, has turned to others for support, where the baggage of colonialism and the strings of aid and investment conditionality do not apply. Zimbabwe’s ‘Look East’ policy focuses on China, but also Malaysia, India and others. Chinese investments in Zimbabwe have accelerated, particularly in the period from 2000 when Western nations boycotted the country, and investment and credit lines were curtailed, due to Western reaction to Zimbabwe’s radical land reform.

The land reform saw a major restructuring of the agricultural sector and the wider economy. A transfer of nearly 10 million hectares benefitted over 170,000 households, around a million people. But at the same time it removed 4000 mostly white farmers from their land, and considerable numbers of farm workers lost their jobs. The consequences have been far-reaching, as we outlined in our book, and debates continue about the pros and cons, means and ends.

The sanctions imposed by the West were aimed at punishing the Mugabe regime, and were particularly focused on the President himself and his immediate coterie. The withdrawal of Western capital and credit had an even bigger impact, and helped precipitate a collapse in the economy. From 2009, and the establishment of a unity government with the opposition, the economy recovered to some extent, especially following the abandonment of the local currency. This put an end to hyperinflation that had increased in some estimates to 230 million percent, and encouraged investment again.

In the agricultural sector, tobacco and cotton production boomed. Chinese and Indian companies in particular have been important players. For example, the Chinese company Tian Ze has contracting arrangements with over 250 farms, mostly in the new resettlement areas. Smallholder farmers who gained land through the reform are now the major producers of such cash crops, and contribute significantly to the national economy. Chinese led outgrower arrangements provide support in terms of finance, inputs and advice. British companies that had been important as buyers of tobacco from the previous white commercial farmers have looked on, and are now trying to get back into the game.

Mugabe’s party, ZANU-PF, has certainly exploited the land reform to gain political advantage. The land reform, they argue, is evidence of the struggle for liberation having reached a final phase. Shedding commercial links with Western companies shows in turn that sovereign countries like Zimbabwe now have a choice, both in economic and political affairs. No longer will they be pushed around, condescended or demeaned. Of course this rhetoric must be taken with a very large pinch of salt, as the political-security-business elite associated with ZANU-PF have benefitted from these reconfigurations of land and economy, alongside considerable numbers of ordinary people.

Indeed, the electoral calculus of 2013 suggests that land reform beneficiaries, along with other rural people, backed ZANU-PF, reversing the major wobble in 2008, when ZANU-PF lost both parliamentary and presidential polls. It is impossible to know for certain what the real results were, as there was most definitely fiddling going on. This included bussing in voters to swing constituencies, changing constituency lists and obstructing registration for young and urban voters, as well as various forms of intimidation.

However many commentators believe that the results were probably pitched in favour of ZANU-PF and the opposition MDC lost, if not by the margin announced. Certainly the opposition offered very little in the way of a campaign, and failed to articulate a convincing vision for land, agriculture and rural development. Independent assessments prior to the elections indicated a major disillusionment with the MDC, due in large part to their mixed performance in the unity government, with a major swing to ZANU-PF predicted.

Will Britain and other Western nations reengage with Zimbabwe? This is not the result that they wanted, nor the one that most expected. They had been convinced that the violence, corruption and neglect of human rights and the rule of law that has characterised the ZANU-PF regime (in fact for most the period since Independence in 1980) would put an end to Mugabe’s rule. The diplomatic social milieu in Harare is of course very different to the rural areas or the townships and squatter settlements on the urban fringe where most voters live. It is not difficult to see why the result was so incorrectly called.

The question arises, should the West support presidents and parties with an electoral mandate but who are involved in clearly highly reprehensible, possibly criminal, practices? Where does an ‘ethical’ foreign policy fit in? And what about the role of the West in upholding international standards and human rights? Opinion is highly divided on this topic, in Africa and elsewhere.

This has been brought to a head by the on-going prosecution of the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta and his vice-president, William Ruto by the International Criminal Court. The African Union, irked by the seeming emphasis of the ICC on African abuses and not others (Blair and Bush are of course mentioned as those who have got away), has proposed that sitting presidents should not be prosecuted. Others have called for withdrawal from the ICC, arguing, like the US, that international meddling in sovereign power is problematic and biased. Mugabe – of course – has joined in the chorus.

The double standards of the West are of course plain to see. Mugabe, Morsi, Museveni, or Meles? Who is/was acceptable, and who deserves to be cast out? And on what basis? There are no clear rules, and the interests and biases of Western foreign policy and associated commercial and political interests quickly become exposed. Is it perhaps easier to go the Chinese route, and proclaim a position of ‘non-interference’, based on ‘solidarity’ and ‘mutual interest’, while at the same time promoting a highly interested commercial relationship through development cooperation?

The UK’s Secretary for State for International Development, Justine Greening, hinted at such a shift in UK policy recently in a speech at the London Stock Exchange. Some observed that she sounded more like a Chinese official, acknowledging the importance of aid relationships for UK business; a contrast to her predecessors who only emphasised human rights, good governance and Western liberal democratic values.

As African states become more assertive in international affairs, buoyed by economic growth and a sense that in the post-colonial world order they do not have to be behoven only to the West and their former colonial masters, there is a greater level of what some have termed ‘state agency’ – the ability to negotiate,  manoeuvre and make choices. Yet, with the West unable to dictate through aid conditionalities, there are even greater obligations on citizens, as part of civil society organisations, social movements, political parties and electorates, to hold states to account.

In places like Zimbabwe this is not easy, given the obstructive and sometimes violent and oppressive politics of the ruling party. As the opposition rebuilds itself it has some serious thinking to do. Avoiding getting perceived as a puppet of the West, and broadening its focus to encompass economic and social rights and freedoms at the centre of a redistributive agenda will be essential. Meanwhile, Britain needs to reengage, supporting investment in the productive sectors, including agriculture and belatedly backing the successes of the land reform, and join Zimbabwe as a partner in economic development, alongside China and others, avoiding at all costs the misplaced, patronising stance of the past.

Ian Scoones is a Professorial Fellow at IDS, he blogs at www.zimbabweland.wordpress.com, and is co-author of Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities

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Zimbabwe’s election aftermath: what next?

The SADC report has given a clean (or nearly so) bill of health to Zimbabwe’s elections, and despite protests from the MDC, it looks as if it is a done deal. The flaws were clearly very real, but the political context means further serious dispute looks unlikely, although political uncertainty continues (see earlier blog).

So, what next? There have been various commentators speculating. This blog is a round-up of some of these. Richard Dowden in African Arguments suspects:

“Mugabe will now go into reconciliation mode as he did after his first (also unpredicted) election victory of 1980 and again after he brutally crushed the Ndebele uprising in the mid 1980s. Now he will deploy his considerable charm and hold out a hand to African and western governments that have criticised him in the past….. He may not fully implement the indigenisation programme… just as he failed to implement socialist policies in the 1980s after he took power. In all these moves, the only question in his mind will be: will this keep ultimate power in my hands?”

Apart from “state control and manipulation of the election process”, Dowden argues that Mugabe retained power because of the “do not upset a Big Man” factor. “If he is a Big Man and is president and wants to go on being president, then let him have it. Otherwise he will create problems. ‘I will vote for him because he is president’, is a phrase I have heard in many elections in Africa”, he observes. Also, his victory will be applauded more widely he thinks: “many people in Africa feel that the relationship [with the West]is still not one of equality: multi party democracy has been imposed, resource nationalism is blocked by a Western-controlled economic system and attitudes to Africa are still patronising and sometimes bullying”.

A Zimbabwean election is of course won or lost in the rural areas. The reconfiguration of political forces following land reform in particular has often been forgotten by the Harare-centric commentariat. Brian Raftopoulos observes:

The deconstruction of former white-owned, large-scale commercial farms and their replacement by a preponderance of small farm holders has radically changed the social and political relations in these areas. The new forms in which Zanu PF and the state have penetrated these new social relations have affected the forms of Zanu PF dominance in these areas. The rapid expansion of small-scale, “informal” mining companies has also brought a larger number of workers into the fold of Zanu PF’s accumulation and patronage network.

This is a crucial point; one that all political parties should take note of. The rural areas are by no means uniform, and even with Masvingo province there are different dynamics, reflecting different factions, interests and coalitions: for example between the core land reform areas and the lowveld.

From now on, the political elite is going to have to take note of rural politics much more. And this is going to be especially important for the opposition to ZANU-PF, in whatever form it takes. The MDC’s 2013 campaign focus on a liberal human rights agenda, combined with a western investor-friendly macroeconomic policy, often forgot questions of distribution, restitution and socio-economic rights, and in particular around rural issues. Also, with its focus on western powers and interests, attention to regional, African political realities was sometimes forgotten. Simukai Tinhu recommends a major overhaul, “embracing nationalism and a pan-African outlook” as part of a ten-year renewal strategy.

As Stephen Chan points out, one thing is certain about these recent elections: they will be the last for the great protagonists of the past 15 years, Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai. Who will take over and how will their legacies be settled have become the big questions. There has been plenty of commentary on this too. Will it be Emerson Mnangagwa or Joice Mujuru in ZANU-PF and Tendai Biti or Nelson Chamisa in the MDC-T? All sorts of internal contests are going on right now. For Zimbabwe as a whole, the sooner these are settled the better for everyone.

It’s taking longer than billed for the new cabinet to be announced (I was expecting to be commenting on the allocation of the agriculture, land and finance portfolios this week (here’s the list from 10 Sept pm)). This probably reflects too a complex balancing act between groupings within, maybe even outside, ZANU-PF. Its final composition will be a strong indication to the country and, crucially, the wider world of how ZANU-PF intends to govern. We must hope that an inclusive and pragmatic approach is taken.

With the elections duly won (even if involving some foul play), hopefully ZANU-PF can tone down the rhetoric, take a more conciliatory stance and begin to deal with some of the big policy issues. What no-one wants is a return to the strife and economic chaos of the mid-2000s, a prospect that is genuinely feared on the streets. An accommodation with the international community will be essential. China may be the new ‘development partner’ on the block, but its support is insufficient. A further economic implosion would be catastrophic, so placating the western donors and international finance institutions is a must, while not conceding too much to their conditionalities.

Meanwhile, in the coming months, the new government must deal with a major food security crisis, some say of its own making. The complex issues of the food economy, food production vs imports and how to assess food security and what should be done will be turned to in the blog next week.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

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The Politics of Zimbabwe’s Global Political Agreement

As the 31 July elections near, reflection on the period of coalition government under the 2009 ‘Global Political Agreement’ is useful. This severely tested the ability of a true ‘unity’ government, and the assessments of achievements are mixed. While economic stabilization was an important achievement, many other issues remain to be dealt with, leaving any new government a precarious situation.

A useful overview of this period is provided in a book edited by the leading academic and political commentator, Brian Raftopoulos. The Hard Road to Reform: the Politics of Zimbabwe’s Global Political Agreement (published by Weaver Press in Harare, and also available in e-format for Kindle) is a good guide, written by a number of leading Zimbabwean commentators, many of whom have been involved in the MDC formations over the past period. It is a sanguine account, confronting the real politik of Zimbabwe head on. While ZANU-PF’s machinations are critiqued, the MDC groupings are not spared either.

The book offers, from a set of particular perspectives of course, an important primer for thinking about the next steps. July 31 and its aftermath will give us more clues as to what may lie ahead.

Timothy Scarnecchia has offered a helpful summary overview and review on African Arguments that I reproduce here. It gives some helpful excerpts from the six chapters in the book, and highlights some of the main points very well.

The following is reproduced directly from African Arguments:

Chapter 1: Brian Raftopoulos: “An Overview of the GPA: National Conflict, Regional Agony and International Dilemma”

Here is Raftopoulos’ helpful summary of the GPA period:

“The GPA and its many challenges was the product of a convergence of factors, namely: the unwillingness of a party of liberation to accept electoral defeat; the inability of the opposition to claim state power due to the militarisation of the ruling party’s response to defeat a clash of different notions of state sovereignty in which the electoral wishes of the Zimbabwean citizenry were subordinated to selective nationalist claims of the ruling party; and the role of SADC in facilitating an agreement that attempted to balance the need for regional sovereignty against outside interference with the legitimate electoral demands of the Zimbabwean electorate. The results of this complex mix of ingredients was a brew that placed a short term halt on the rapid political and economic decline in the country and opened up some space for new political arrangements, while also providing an authoritarian regime with opportunities to regain lost ground. The period of the Inclusive Government generated a new set of dynamics that made it impossible for ZANU-PF to return to the status quo ante, while also exposing the strengths and weaknesses of the former opposition parties as they took part in unequally shared state power.” [28]

As Raftopoulos states in the introduction, it is important to focus not only on the MDCs’ ability to maneuver in the GPA years, but also to focus on how ZANU-PF has managed to use these 4 years to regroup. He writes: “The politics of ZANU-PF is not only one of destruction and obstruction; it is also constitutive of the new social and economic forces that have emerged in the last 10-15 years.” (xv). While the issue of ZANU-PF political violence is raised in the introduction and elsewhere in the collection, it is noticeably absent given the amount of emphasis the Solidarity Peace Trust’s Reports have previously given to this element of Zimbabwean politics. It is perhaps one of the book’s strengths, however, to focus on the shifting political landscape, especially the changing constituencies and interests represented by ZANU-PF and the opposition, rather than continue to focus solely on the repressive actions of the past 13 years.

Chapter 2: James Muzondidya, “The opposition dilemma in Zimbabwe: A Critical Review of the Politics of the Movement for Democratic Change Parties under the GPA Government Framework, 2009-2012.”

Historian James Muzondidya, a research manager at the Zimbabwe Institute, a think tank well known for its links to the MDC, takes a particularly critical look at the performance of the MDCs during the GPA, but he first notes the limits on their actions:

“…the ability of the opposition parties to use their leverage during this phase has been restricted because ZANU-PF is not interested in any reforms that would loosen its hold on power. While agreeing to some of the reforms negotiated in the GPA, ZANU-PF was bent on using them and the new institutions to legitimise itself and push its own agenda. The Zimbabwe electoral Commission (ZEC), for instance, appeared to be broadly representative but was, in fact, still dominated by ZANU-PF through their control of its secretariat and support staff. In addition, ZEC was starved of both material resources and manpower to carry out its tasks, and this has ensured that the partisan Registrar General’s office remains in control of the election processes, from voter registration in the counting of the votes. “ [49]

The above observation about the ZEC seems to be playing out at the moment, the lack of resources available to run this election is particularly startling, and will likely become a major issue in determining the outcome of the election.

Muzondidya explains just how stacked the GPA has been in ZANU-PF’s favor:

‘The ZANU-PF strategy, consistent with its hegemonic political culture, has been to engage in cosmetic political and economic reforms that will not result in further democracy or result in a loss of its historic monopoly over power. …Indeed, over the last four years, ZANU-PF has kept the strategic doors to its power, such as the security sector and the mining and agricultural industries, firmly closed.” [50]

Muzondidya does not hold back, however, in his criticisms of the MDCs’ performance. He gives a valuable analysis of the differences between the MDC-Tsvangirai and the MDC (formerly the MDC-M for Arthur Mutambara, then the MDC-N for Welshman Ncube, the current leader, and now simply the “MDC” under Ncube’s leadership). Muzondidya outlines the major differences between the two MDCs and most importantly describes ethnic factionalism that has developed between the two MDCs and within the MDC-T. Those familiar with the history of political parties in Zimbabwe and in the African nationalist parties before Independence will recognize a depressing pattern of divisions around personalities, perceived “intelligence” differences within party leadership, and the ever-present ethnic solidarities that at times seem exaggerated yet over time become self-fulfilling. This chapter will be very helpful to those new to Zimbabwean politics wanting to make sense of the divisions between and within the MDCs.

Muzondidya also summarizes the corruption charges against MDC-T urban councilors that have grown in number over the past few years, showing the vulnerability of a group of leaders tasting power for the first time. While subsequently censored by the party, these cases have damaged the MDC-T’s image as a party of “Change”. Such cases included:

“the Chitungwiza land scandal which resulted in the party firing all its 23 councilors in 2010; the mismanagement and looting of Council land and resources by councilors in Bindura; the Kwekwe audit report findings of 2012 which unearthed serious financial irregularities involving the under-banking of collected revenue and the Marondera corruption case which resulted in the suspension of the mayor by his party in March 2012 for receiving kickbacks from companies and individuals in return for tenders. The corruption among the party’s representatives in local authorities, MDC parliamentarians and government officials, as the MDC leadership itself has admitted, has the potential to cost the party dearly during the next elections.” [57]

For those who built the coalition of trade unions and civics in the late 1990s that eventually created the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) and the MDCs, the last four years have more often been a disappointment as the links between these formative groups and the MDCs has been strained or broken by the MDCs’ participation in government. Muzondidya concludes,

“ZANU-PF has, in fact, been more shrewd in its engagement with the transitional process than its political opponents, including both political parties and civics as well as international opponents such as the US and EU countries. It has been effectively using the transition arrangement to regroup and reorganise, and is now better organised than it was in 2009. “ [59]

Chapter 3: Gerald Mazarire, “ZANU-PF and the Government of National Unity”

Historian Gerald Mazarire gives us a helpful contemporary history of the splits both in the MDC and ZANU-PF that many people outside of Zimbabwe may not fully understand. He starts by providing a summary of the somewhat questionable MDC and ZANU-PF versions of the story. Based on Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s own account of it in his autobiography, Mazarire suggests that then South African President Thabo Mbeki, along with “the support of some Western embassies in Harare”, had been involved in splitting the MDC in favor of Welshman Ncube’s faction and ZANU-PF in favor of Emmerson Mnangagwa. This strategy ultimately failed in 2004 but it did lead to major conflicts in both parties. Mazarire explains that Mbeki returned to intervene in Zimbabwean politics during the violent crisis of 2008, and the resulting Unity Accord was “hurriedly concluded” by Mbeki so that he could “attend to a crisis at home that led, in September 2008, to his own ouster from the leadership of the ANC and the South African presidency.” [73]

Mazarire then outlines ZANU-PF’s version of the story, based mostly on Jonathan Moyo’s writings, in which the GNU was carried out mostly to stop ‘regime change’ orchestrated from Washington and London, as the Security sector refused to go along with the MDC in declaring a government based on the original presidential election results. Mazarire then does an excellent job of showing how and why ZANU-PF managed to continue to dominate the GNU with strategies to keep the MDC out of key sectors of governance. In reference to ZANU-PF’s “Pursuit of Hard Power”, Mazirire writes:

“ZANU-PF’s display of power is traceable to its ability to lose an election and stay in power. Starting with the delays in announcing the outcome of the March 2008 Presidential Election as opposed to the efficiency and speed with which the winner of the 27 June Presidential run-off was announced, ZANU was already at work to make sure that whatever arrangement would obtain thereafter should find them securely in position. Contrary to the view that ZANU-PF’s arbitrary exercise of power and its assertiveness stem from increased confidence in the political and economic situation obtaining since the formation of the GNU, ZANU has always been determined to be a triumphant loser.” [88]

Mazarire explores some of the areas where ZANU-PF insiders have excelled at enriching themselves at the expense of the state, and as an historian he can’t help but point out the hypocrisy of this given ZANU-PF’s earlier socialist rhetoric in a section labeled “ZANU-PF: from Socialism to Capitalism.” Mazarire describes two main areas of this transition, namely the indigenisation and mining sectors. Pointing out as well that there were a key handful of white businessmen who have helped ZANU-PF insiders along the way to indigenization, he ends with respect for ZANU-PF Minister of Mines, Obert Mpufo, for his “almost single-handedly” winning the war against the “blood diamonds” charges from the Kimberley Process system. Mazirire’s final advice to readers is worth contemplating as elections near. “Readers are starkly reminded that with ZANU-PF, literally anything is possible.” [112]

Chapter 4: Bertha Chiroro, “Turning Confrontation into Critical Engagement: the Challenge of the Inclusive Government to Zimbabwean Civil Society”

This chapter by Betha Chiroro, a research specialist at the African Institute of South Africa in Pretoria, is essential for understanding the strained relations that have developed between the MDC parties and the civic organizations and NGOs that had been so supportive (and instrumental in forming) the MDCs in the first place. Chiroro is also the only contributor to address the fundamentally important role of women’s organizations in the continued opposition to ZANU-PF authoritarian rule.

“An equally important sector is the female voice: as expressed by the Women’s Coalition, (a network of women’s rights activists with chapters in Bulawayo, Masvingo, Beitbridge, Gweru, Gwanda, Bindura, Marondera, and Mutare) and WOZA during the term of the IG. Although some have expressed their frustration that their participation is no more than ‘tokenism and deception’, Zimbabwean women have continued to strive for a democratic political environment together with other CSOs [Civil Society Organisations].” [128]

“Zimbabwean civil society’s response to the IG [Inclusive Government] has continued to reveal ideological tensions between its human rights obligations and its need to deal with broader developmental requirements. Political advocacy around issues of human rights and violence often takes centre stage at the expense of developmental issues and issues of social and economic rights, rural development, poverty and inequality. While public service delivery remained very poor, with massive water and electricity shortages, poor waste management and poor sanitation remaining the order of the day, civil society has not made a clear and concerted effort to ensure that these issues are addressed by the IG.” [136-137].

Chapter 5: Sabelo J Ndlovu-Gatsheni, “Politics behind Politics: African Union, Southern African Development Community and the Global Political Agreement in Zimbabwe.”

Historian Ndlovu-Gatsheni provides a very clear and useful contemporary history of African Union and SADC attempts to mediate the political crises in Zimbabwe since 2000. One is simultaneously impressed by the number of these continental and regional interventions as well as by the lack of substantive results. There is a lot of value here for understanding the 2013 elections. In particular, the current head of the AU, South African Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, has been outspokenly supportive of ZANU-PF’s drive for elections in 2013, while South African President Jacob Zuma’s lead SADC negotiator on Zimbabwe, Lindiwe Zulu, has recently come under heavy criticisms from Mugabe for her own stance that further reforms are necessary before elections could be held. Reading Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s chapter will help make some of these differences clearer.

Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s characterization of why GNU negotiations occurred offers a particularly helpful and succinct view:

“What led the political formations to negotiate were the stark political realities facing them: despite emerging victorious in the 29 March 2008 elections, the MDC political formations were prevented by ZANU-PF from ascending to power and its support base was exposed to unprecedented and unbearable violence. ZANU-PF clung to power by violence but its legitimacy was completely eroded. Added to this, the Zimbabwean economy continued to degenerate to its lowest ebb and international, continental, and regional pressure together with sanctions, contributed to ZANU-PF’s decision to accept negotiations as the only game in town if it was to survive politically.” [160]

Ndlovu-Gatsheni concludes his discussion of AU and SADC interventions:

“After 2008, the problem shifted from pushing for credible elections as a solution to the Zimbabwe problem to a search for a power-sharing arrangement in a context where there was no legitimate government in Harare. Currently, the Harare disputants have gone full circle to the issue of elections as a resolution of the Zimbabwe problem. This push for elections is taking place within a context in which SADC mediation and facilitation has lost momentum. The key facilitator is pre-occupied with local problems rocking the ANC, and ZANU-PF is taking advantage of the situation to push for elections before the completion of key reforms.”

Chapter 6: Munyaradzi Nyakudya. “Sanctioning the Government of National Unity: A Review of Zimbabwe’s Relations with the West in the Framework of the Global Political Agreement.”

Historian Munyaradzi Nyakudya’s chapter is an important one, especially as the Zimbabwe sanctions debate has been so contentious and often full of inaccuracies. Most importantly, Nyakudya details how ZANU-PF has effectively used the continuation of Western sanctions to its advantage during the GNU period. Nyakudya writes:

“The West has grappled with two scenarios: either to engage Mugabe, lift sanctions, and support the GNU, or to shun him completely and maintain, if not tighten the sanctions. The latter scenario has largely prevailed. It must be conceded that the US, EU and their allies’ various Sanctions Bills all stipulated the need for tangible progress in terms of establishing democracy, respecting human rights and upholding the rule of law before re-engaging. There has simply been no such progress, with the reform deficit clearly still outstanding. ZANU-PF has persistently and consistently refused to implement critical electoral, judicial, media and security sector reforms necessary before new elections can be held. “ [188]

Offering an insight into how determined ZANU-PF is to NOT carry out any reforms in the security sector, Nyakudya states:

“…on the issue of the security sector, the ZANU-PF Congress of December 2009 passed the following critical resolutions: ‘ZANU (PF) as the party of revolution and the people’s vanguard shall not allow the security forces to be the subject of any negotiation for a so-called security sector reform,’ ostensibly because the ‘security forces are a product of the liberation struggle’. The party thus argues that ‘calls for security sector reform violate Zimbabwean sovereignty.’ This simply throws spanners in the GPA implementation process: the MDC formations have vowed not to accept that general elections be held before security sector reforms are instituted, maintaining that the latter have been politicized, as revealed in their proclamations not to accept any leader without liberation war credentials.” [190]

As elections approach and following the Constitutional referendum in March this year, the EU, Australia, and the US have stepped down from their hardline on targeted sanctions, removing many from the lists and promising even further lifting should these elections be peaceful and “credible”. On the one hand this can be seen as assisting the MDCs in terms of letting them take credit for holding up their promise to work towards the lifting of sanctions. On the other hand, it also would appear to be a realpolitik hedging that ZANU-PF will win the elections and that Western powers are preparing for a full rapprochement with ZANU-PF in order to continue mining for platinum and dealing in diamonds there. The competition with China, who is fully involved with ZANU-PF on a number of economic and intelligence fronts, offers an incentive to back off on sanctions before the elections. Former US Ambassador to the UN, Andrew Young, travelled to Harare on the invitation of the State Department to visit Mugabe in April this year, which was a real sign of this hedging by the Americans, and even Reverend Jesse Jackson was in town on a “private” visit to meet with Mugabe and Tsvangirai, although he was accompanied by US Ambassador Bruce Wharton when meeting with Mugabe.

Chapter 7 Shari Eppel, “Repairing a Fractured Nation: Challenges and Opportunities in Post-GPA Zimbabwe”

Shari Eppel is a leading authority on transitional justice issues in Zimbabwe, particularly pertaining to the Gukurahundi period (1983-1987) when thousands of Zimbabweans were killed as part of ZANU’s consolidation of power and the crushing of former rival ZAPU’s power. Eppel is therefore highly qualified to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of truth and reconciliation efforts during the GPA, and in the future.

Like the other contributors to this volume, Eppel does not refrain from criticizing the opposition. In this case, she has in mind the difficulty observers sympathetic to the MDCs have in criticizing inter-party violence, as well as violence carried out by MDC supporters against ZANU-PF supporters.

“While the existence and extent of political violence by MDC in the last ten years remains an issue that civics in Zimbabwe is nervous to explore, at some point in the future it will be necessary to confront this issue if we are to avoid another cycle of impunity under an MDC government. The MDCs have undoubtedly had the odds stacked massively against them, with the police, army, and CIO all arresting, torturing and assaulting MDC supporters with impunity, as have war veteran groupings, you militia, Chipangano, and other informal arms of ZANU-PF. But on the ground in some rural villages and urban suburbs, inter-party violence has become much more evenly matched in recent years, and this is seldom admitted to by civics on the argument that the ZANU-PF elements of the state have dishonestly blamed much of their own violence on the MDC, and to produce forensic proof of some MDC violence would be to add credence to the patently false ZANU-PF position that most of the violence is by MDC.” [234, emphasis in the original]… “Clearly, there are some people in Zimbabwe who are justified in seeing MDC supporters as perpetrators. Furthermore, members of the MDC faction headed by Welshman Ncube would point to internal violence in the MDC as a major contributor to the split in the party: beatings and torture of MDC’s own activists have taken place in their political headquarters and structures over the years, as several—largely uncirculated—MDC commissions of inquiry reveal.” [234].

Eppel also explores the roles of two new institutions developed by the GPA . The first is the Organ of National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration (ONHRI) and the second is the GPA Joint Monitoring Committee (JOMIC), which is made up of representatives of all three political parties, and tasked with “investigating violent incidents together”. (238) Eppel analyzes the potential value of the ONHRI while exploring some of the fundamental difficulties facing any institution in Zimbabwe wanting to seriously deal with issues of transitional justice. The ability of the JOMIC to not only monitor but prevent future political violence is questioned, and although all three political parties have been sanguine about JOMIC’s abilities to make these upcoming elections “violence free”, questions remain over how a JOMIC without enforceable powers will be able to act beyond making public pronouncements.

***

This book provides an important account of this crucial transitional period. Where the transition is headed is a question that many would like to know, but the book helps us understand the political conditions that are shaping the future.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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Making friends in London: is a new rapprochement on Zimbabwe occurring?

Recently, the ‘Friends of Zimbabwe’ group of western donors met in London, together with representatives of all of Zimbabwe’s main political parties. The ‘Friends’ group – formerly known as the ‘Fishmongers’ after an expensive restaurant in Harare – is a grouping aimed at the discussion of international donor policy on Zimbabwe, including sanctions. While all the western donors are represented, its positions are firmly influenced by the EU and the US, and perhaps especially by the UK. London was therefore a fitting destination for the latest meeting.

The final communiqué was the usual non-committal diplomatic statement, indicating continuing commitment to Zimbabwe, and recording the actually substantial aid flows that are being offered. But the departure for this meeting was the presence of senior ZANU-PF officials whose travel bans had been removed following the successful Constitutional referendum.

Justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa, was among the delegation, and he got a roasting on BBC’s Hard Talk, as he tried to defend the government position on a variety of policies. However, there were also other more civil exchanges, including one at Chatham House when senior officials from all parties, commented on the current situation with a clear tone of compromise and conciliation.

The political context in Zimbabwe remains highly uncertain, but there are unexpected shifts – partly as a result of the relative success of the ‘unity’ government, and partly as a result of failures in the opposition, both to offer a convincing alternative and to develop a clear set of alliances.

Simukai Tinhu offered a useful overview in a recent African Arguments piece. Phillan Zamchiya in a very detailed Crisis in Zimbabwe report reckons ZANU-PF is gearing up to win the election by stealth, stealing votes and fixing the results through a number of tactics. These are well worn tricks of course, but there may be wider political shifts underway too. However, simply blaming a poor result for the MDC on foul play may not be enough. For this reason many see another coalition as an inevitable result, with the big questions being who will occupy the presidency and what the balance of power will be in parliament.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti was also in London recently on his way back from negotiations with the IMF in Washington, and again spoke at Chatham House. Analysis by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum was revealing:

“Judging by the Minister´s tone and the way he addressed some of the key issues, it is our opinion that the gap between ZANU PF and the MDC(T) on key issues appears to be narrowing. Similarly, the Minister was quite diplomatic in trying to demystify the myth that the MDC and pro-democracy civil society organisations are synonymous and are working together towards the so-called regime change agenda. He obviously did not want to alienate pro-democracy civil society organisations which traditionally helped the MDC in its formative years.

However by expanding the definition of civil society organisations beyond the usual narrow definition and stating that there is an operational civil society in Zimbabwe, the Minister sought to, in our view; keep a healthy distance between the MDC as a political party and other pro-democracy groups. This, it appears, was his counterpoint, against the ZANU PF argument that all pro-democracy forces are bent on a western-sponsored regime change agenda.

The view that points to a political convergence is supported by the plea the Minister had made to the USA and the IMF that Zimbabwe ought to be treated equally according to the same measure that has been used on countries with troubled pasts such as Burma. By saying this, he echoed his strong views for the lifting of sanctions by the European Union in July 2013.

On the issue of indigenisation, the Minister again struck a note which doesn´t quite resonate with some of the sentiments from the Western countries.

It would appear that behind closed doors, both the MDC and moderate ZANU PF Ministers agree on key issues than they disagree in public.

That´s how politics work. The current widely held view that President Mugabe hasn´t softened on his legacy ignores anecdotal evidence that indicate that lately he has been softening his clenched fist, so to speak. An example is his calls for peace, which has widely been dismissed by most people as rhetoric which doesn´t match what is happening on the ground. However anecdotal evidence from various sources including Zimbabwean equivalent of Wikileaks appear to suggest that the President´s attempts to soften are negated by some within his party who fear what might happen if ZANU PF softens on its legacy inspired by its liberation war credentials.

Although the Minister spoke about the current issues of concern, he was very measured in his approach. He exhibited every sign of a principled man, who, despite having undergone the vagaries of his difficult job and the incarceration he underwent in 2008, has matured, forgiven his persecutors and might even have undergone a paradigm shift. This shift, which is also reflected in the entire MDC, has seen it move from its widely perceived Eurocentric roots to the moderate pan-African approach. It also appears that there are some within ZANU PF who have softened on their legacy by moving to the centre ground although there are still some still on the far right. Those on the far right are in our view, the ones the Minister referred to when he said there are Ministers within the government who make irrational political statements that affect the economy”.

In light of other pieces of evidence we have gathered, particularly the likelihood that the US is to announce policy shift on Zimbabwe, there is every indication of a national and political consensus on key issues, which might see an unexpected political landscape after the elections.”

The consensus may be surprising to some who have been viewing Zimbabwe’s tortured process of transition from afar. There may be much more consensus on thorny issues of land reform, national ownership of key businesses and the role of civil society than is commonly understood.

Clearly the consensus is not universal and the more progressive elements across all the parties may be out-manoeuvred by those with other agendas, whether the military elite, fearing post-election reprisals, or white capital, seeking a reassertion of power. As Biti, a clear presidential contender in the (maybe not so far off) future, tentatively repositions the MDC, it may not just be the traditional western ‘friends’ of Zimbabwe, but others including China, Brazil and South Africa, who become the important brokers into the future.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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When is research ‘really authoritative’? Challenges of evidence, authorship and positionality in research on Zimbabwe’s land reform

Reviews of our book keep piling in; this time prompted by the recent publication of Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land, a more popular summary of the main studies of Zimbabwe’s land reform.

The latest is by Martin Plaut in African Arguments. He broadly agrees with our findings, but says he is still awaiting a ‘really authoritative’ account. His main complaint about both books, it seems, is that authors on both are not only researchers but also resettlement farmers, and beneficiaries of the land reform. This he says has resulted in biases in our accounts. Authorship, bias and evidence are themes I have written about before on this blog. But since they keep coming up, perhaps they are worth returning to.

In Martin Plaut’s piece he argues “if the backgrounds and politics of the authors intrude into the study it lessens its objectivity”. Yes, I agree. But we equally cannot ignore our backgrounds and politics, and that’s why I make the case for reflexivity as essential for enhancing rigour. Just because some authors of our book, just as the new one, come from diverse backgrounds, with different experiences and contrasting political positions, this doesn’t mean that the data we collect and the evidence we present is necessarily ‘biased’. In fact, I would argue, quite the opposite.

In the case of our book, the core team has worked together for 25 years, and knows the study area intimately. That some of the team were beneficiaries of the land reform programme allowed us particular insights. But others of course were not farmers and not from the area, and, crucially, all of us have a passion for detailed fieldwork, systematic data collection and careful analysis. This is why we presented so much detail in the book (against the objections of our editors!), so it could be scrutinized, evaluated and critiqued.

In his commentary, Martin highlights BZ Mavendzenge in particular, the field team leader, whose farm he visited (which was incidentally purposely not in our study area) in 2011 as part of a BBC team. When it came out, I sent the review to BZ by email – direct to the farm, where if you go to a small hill above the house, behind the new chicken runs, and beyond the well you can get good service and download emails these days. He wrote straight back. He asks, “Does authoritative mean an aerial view from outsiders? Surely, as Chambers says, farmer first is the way forward…”. He goes on, appreciating the rest of the piece, “Martin I think agrees there was much to see to be proud of about accumulation from below”.

So how should BZ, as an author, be represented? As farmer, researcher, land reform beneficiary, former government civil servant, born and bred in Masvingo province, or what? He is of course all of these; and each identity helps shape his insights and perspectives. In particular as a researcher, trained at agricultural college and then working at Matopos research station, before taking over the lead of the Department of Research and Specialist Services’ Farming Systems Research Unit in Masvingo, BZ has unparalleled insights into the dynamics of farming systems in the area. This is why I have so enjoyed – and benefitted from – working with him all these years.

What about Martin Plaut? How should we read his review? As someone who was born and bred in apartheid South Africa, educated at universities with largely white students, or as someone who was centrally involved in the anti-apartheid struggle and the 1976 Soweto uprising, or as formerly Head of the Africa section of the BBC World Service, and a brilliant reporter on the Horn and Southern Africa, or, now retired, and a Fellow of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies? Again, he is all of these; and these experiences and positions allow him to carry out really authoritative, top-notch investigative journalism and writing (just check out his recent book on the history of the ANC to get a flavour).

All authorship is so conditioned, but this should not imply bias. And we should avoid jumping to conclusions just because of the author’s status or experience. Any evaluation must come through more rigorous assessment of data and analysis. This is the reason I have objected before to statements from the Commercial Farmers’ Union, for example (see here and here) – not because they are from the CFU, but because they are wrong! I have previously commented both on Martin’s otherwise excellent BBC radio pieces he did in 2011 on Zimbabwe, and also when certain information was presented on the costs of land reform, and replicated in articles on the BBC and elsewhere as fact.

BBC balance is an article of faith but sometimes does not serve the search for truth well. A journalistic piece that presents all sides as equivalent sometimes ends up being unbalanced. If equal airtime is offered to detailed, rigorous research undertaken over years and commentaries based on figures that seem to have been plucked from the air to suit the argument, this is not exactly balance in my view.

This is not to argue that both our book and Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land don’t have silences, gaps and contestable arguments. Of course. That’s why we publish, encourage debate and urge others to do more research. What we don’t expect is our work – or indeed anyone else’s – to be dismissed on the basis of who they are, rather than what they say.

As I keep pointing out in this blog, it’s not as if we don’t have plenty of empirical evidence to go on these days. This accumulation of insights is getting seriously ‘authoritative’ and pointing, broadly but with important nuances, in the same direction. It’s irritating sometimes that our book is the only one that gets mentioned (and now of course the new one), just because we hit the limelight (not least I suspect because the lead authors of both books are based in the UK, and are white and professors).

But actually there are piles of other research, research and written by Zimbabweans, not least the impressive district studies led by Sam Moyo and team at the African Institute of Agrarian Studies, and the new book by Prosper Matondi, based on the work by the Ruzivo trust team. The map below shows all the studies I know about (likely a partial sample), and it’s an impressive array, both geographically and in terms of breadth of authorship.

Across these studies, we can triangulate, compare, synthesise and generate, yes, really authoritative insights. So, why the reluctance to accept the findings? Why the questioning of authors’ credibility? Why the lack of counter-data coming forward? I think some of the answers do indeed lie in the positionality and politics of the commentators. It is difficult accepting a new situation, and rejecting positions long held. It is unsettling, discomfiting and challenging. But that is what good research – and indeed good journalism – sometimes has to do if we are to seek ways forward.

Just as Thomas Khun argued now over 50 years ago, settled paradigms are difficult to shift for all sorts of political, social and institutional reasons, but when they do, then ‘normal science’ can proceed, and the new paradigm can be unpacked, contested, unravelled, adapted and elaborated. For most serious scholars in Zimbabwe, it is this normal science that is unfolding now, as we do follow up surveys, new rounds of case studies, and examine our older data in the light of new findings.

I will be sharing some of these new field findings in the coming weeks and months on this blog. Just as all good ‘normal science’, the new data both confirms, but also nuances and sometimes contrasts with, the early findings. I hope that Martin and others find our new contributions ‘authoritative’ enough!

national research studies map

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

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Lowveld politics

The controversy surrounding the ‘indigenisation’ of shareholdings in the Save Valley Conservancy involving ZANU-PF big wigs has been revived again in the past two weeks. Although much of this is old news, several new developments have taken place, including the granting of hunting licenses to the new joint venture ‘owners’ and mounting pressure on aid donors to reimpose sanctions ahead of the hosting of the major UN international tourism conference in Zimbabwe next year. Also, local chiefs, including Chief Tsovani and Sengwe, have weighed in, complaining directly to the President that local people have not got a good deal from the conservancy arrangements as well as the resettlements on the sugar estates. Meanwhile, in nearby Chisumbanje, Billy Rautenbach’s ethanol project looks in trouble, as the government refuses to require ethnanol mixes in fuel, and local opposition around the reclaiming of ARDA land and the eviction of farmers mounts.

Lowveld politics remains hot, and the complex political wrangles that characterise Masvingo in particular are never far below the surface. Behind the headlines there is a more complex story. As Takura Zhangazha explains in a recent blog for African Arguments, the intra-party conflicts within ZANU-PF are an important context, as the public spat between former Gutu South MP Shuvai Mahofa and tourism minister Walter Muzembi clearly shows.

As is often the case, there is more going on below the surface, and a more in-depth analysis of political dynamics is needed. Such an analysis of lowveld land struggles is provided in a paper just out in African Affairs. The new paper called: “The new politics of Zimbabwe’s lowveld: struggles over land at the margins” was written and researched by Ian Scoones, Joseph Chaumba, Blasio Mavedzenge and William Wolmer. It explores the contrasting story of land struggles in the lowveld outside the ‘fast-track’ areas of Masvingo province, and draws conclusions on the implications for understanding the relationships between the state and citizens on the margins of state power: all issues highly pertinent to the recent rush of press commentary on the area.

Based on over a decade of research in the area, the paper focuses on three high profile case studies – Nuanetsi ranch, the Save Valley and Chiredzi River conservancies and Gonarezhou national park. For each case, the article examines who gained and who lost out over time, from entrepreneurial investors to well-connected politicians and military figures, to white ranchers and large numbers of farmers who have occupied land since 2000.

In Nuanetsi ranch, controlled by the Development Trust of Zimbabwe, an ambitious plan to create a massive irrigated sugar plantation and ethanol plant was proposed by the notorious Billy Rautenbach, a staunch supporter of ZANU PF. Yet, land invaders had occupied huge areas of land, and removing them was difficult. The paper documents the twists and turns of the story, as Rautenbach’s investment plans shifted, and finally the informal settlers were granted the right to stay. Land invaders also moved onto the world-renown lowveld conservancies, but the major challenge to this white, elite enclave came from a high profile grab by politically well connected politicians, military figures and traditional leaders, who were granted leases and most recently hunting licenses. This elite grab was contested by the conservancy owners who rejected the claims that this was ‘wildlife based land reform’, but also local people who wanted to settle the land for farming and cattle rearing. Finally, in Gonarezhou national park, a group led by Headman Chitsa invaded an area that they claimed was a veterinary corridor. They were told to move, but stubbornly stayed put, arguing that this was their land, and it was linked to an ancestral claim. A stalemate persisted for more than a decade, and the villagers were seen to be a block to the realisation of the high profile Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which promised infrastructural investment and tourist income. In the end, again, the villagers’ persistence won out, and they were granted permission to remain on what the parks authority finally agreed was indeed a corridor not the formal park.

In all cases, the paper identifies a dynamic of elite accumulation and control over resources, led by quite different groups, that has been resisted by shifting alliances of land invaders, war veterans and local political and traditional leaders. By documenting this struggle over time, we demonstrate that in these marginal areas, outside the formal ‘fast-track’ land reform programme where more formal administrative-bureaucratic procedures came to operate – local communities retain the capacity to resist state power and imagine alternative social, economic and political trajectories – even if these are opposed by powerful actors at the centre, from the president downwards.

While much discussion of recent Zimbabwean politics has appropriately highlighted the centralised, sometimes violent, nature of state power, this is exerted in different ways in different places. A combination of local divisions within political parties, bureaucratic discretion within implementing agencies and local contests over land create a very particular, local politics in the lowveld, at the geographic margins of the nation. As the paper shows, this offers opportunities for a variety of expressions of local agency and resistance which temper the impositions of centralised state power, and suggesting diverse, as yet uncertain, future trajectories of land control.

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