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Zimbabwe’s elections 2013: more confusion, more uncertainty

Zimbabwe’s trauma continues. The Zimbabwe Election Commission has announced a landslide victory for ZANU-PF. ZANU-PF reportedly took two-thirds of the parliamentary seats and President Mugabe won 61% of the presidential vote, with Morgan Tsvangirai picking up 34%. MDC-T has called the elections ‘a sham’, ‘a farce’, ‘null and void’. GNU education minister, David Coltart, argued that “Zimbabwe has been subjected to electoral fraud on a massive scale”. Tendai Biti called it all a ‘loquacious tragedy’.

Meanwhile, the official observers from SADC and the AU have called the election ‘peaceful, credible and efficient’, ‘free and peaceful’, reflecting ‘the will of the people’, with high turnouts and orderly voting. Some have called for a rejection of the ballot and the staging of mass resistance. Baba Jukwa, the massively popular Facebook avatar with 350k ‘likes’ who claims he is a disaffected ZANU-PF insider, has declared war.

We will never know the ‘true’ results, although as last time there was probably a rural-urban and regional split, with more of a balance overall than any political grouping claims. Both main parties naturally proclaimed before the poll that they were likely to be certain victors. Results of prior opinion polling were mixed, although pointing towards a rehabilitation of ZANU-PF and disillusionment with the MDC’s performance in government. Meanwhile, the MDC and the allied NGO groups long before the elections pointed to the potential for electoral fraud, and the cynical manipulation of the vote.  While unlike 2008 there was thankfully minimal violence during the election period, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network argued that there were major problems with the process, including:

  •  Voters’  roll discrepancies
  • Intimidation
  • Late  opening of polling stations
  • Slow pace of assisting aspiring voters in some urban polling stations
  • High number of assisted voters recorded in rural areas
  • Shortage of ballot papers in some wards
  • First time voters denied the chance to vote as they were not appearing in the      voters’ roll and their registration slips had missing ward details.

A joint statement from the NGOs rejected the election results. The AU observer team also expressed ‘grave concerns’. The UK and the US have also called the elections ‘flawed’. China, India, South Africa and others have remained silent so far, although this is how it was reported in the China Daily and The Hindu.

The scale and implications of the problems remain unclear. Claims and counter claims are being made. In a small country, rigging the vote by over a million is a hell of lot, especially consistently across presidential, parliamentary and council elections. The turnout was high at around 3.5m, making it even more challenging. Maybe they did win as many had expected, but perhaps not by as big a margin as declared.

However, suspicions of foul play are running high. ZANU-PF is a sophisticated and ruthless operation. Such suspicions are increased by bizarre rumours about dodgy security companies, Israeli pens in the voting booths where the ink disappears, special ballot papers with watermarks with crosses against ZANU-PF already inserted and a specially imported Chinese solution for removing the pink ink from voters’ fingers. No-one really knows what happened; and we probably never will.

The final tallies are being published (check here and here for details), but the scale of the ZANU-PF win is clear. What is for sure is that the disputes over the results will run and run, with legal challenges to follow. If the confusion and uncertainty persists, the tentative recovery that had been nurtured since 2009 may be quickly wiped out if a new government does not move quickly to assure investors, donors and others.

What to make of it all? I am unsure, but here are a few quick reflections and some links to some interesting sources and commentaries that I have found over the last few days.

The rehabilitation of the image of ZANU-PF and President Mugabe in particular has been striking. For example on a flight from Addis to London, a colleague of mine was handed a copy of the New African, with a special glossy insert feature on Zimbabwe. It had articles from all the leading presidential candidates, but in the small print you could see that it was produced by the Ministry of Information. The message was clear: Zimbabwe was back on track, and Mugabe was in charge.

The MDC formations meanwhile were floundering. While having some successes in government – notably on the economy (under Tendai Biti) and in education (under David Coltart) – in many people’s eyes they had been tainted by power, lacking ideas and vision, and reverting to the corrupt practices that they had criticised in opposition.

The election manifestos of the main parties (ZANU-PF, MDC-T, MDC and ZAPU) were predictable enough, but none really fired people’s interest. The issue of land was of course ever-present in the electioneering discourse, deployed in particular by ZANU-PF to bolster its nationalist and rural credentials. The MDC groupings, even after over a decade, sadly still failed to offer a convincing alternative narrative on land and rural development.

Of course the elections were not being fought on such policy issues. Those opposed to ZANU-PF however failed to broker a coalition of opposition, and the vote was often divided, particularly in Matabeleland, but also in some urban centres, including Masvingo. David Coltart of MDC-N for example lost his seat to a MDC-T candidate. Political and personal differences, combined with narrow regionalism and factionalism, provided a perfect opportunity for ZANU-PF, despite it also being divided and weak.

This was Zimbabwe’s first electronic, Internet age election. There was hope that these mechanisms – checking voter registration, crowd mapping election violations, posting votes, monitoring election sites and mapping results – would bring greater transparency and accountability. There was an impressive array of engagement, from the 7000 ‘citizen monitors’ deployed by the ZESN to the websites of  Sokwanele, MyVote and Simukai. Twitter and Facebook pages have gone wild, with intensive commentary and debate not least via the Baba Jukwa pages.

But, in the end, it didn’t seem to have an impact on the legitimacy and credibility of the process. Too many questions remained unanswered, and confusion still prevails, as the various ‘independent’ observers and monitored contradicted each other, declaring either the elections broadly free and fair or discredited by foul play.

The international media has as a result of all this also been deeply confused. No-one is quite sure what to make of it all. As Andrew Harding of the BBC commented, there is now a battle over the narrative of the election, not the specific results. Some of the media had decided what the narrative was before it was held, but there has been some thoughtful commentary too. Lydia Polgreen of the NYT was typically nuanced, bringing in the land dimension into one of her pieces. The FT had a good article on the key role of the military. David Smith of the Guardian had a few good pieces too. Also, African Arguments posted several good commentaries in the build up, including by Brian Raftopolous and Simukai Tinhu. And then there were the bloggers and the twitter sphere, with #zimelection carrying all sorts of commentary and links; some sensible and sound, some weird and whacky.

The political uncertainty that these elections have delivered means that, sadly once again, the immediate future is in the balance. Whoever individual Zimbabweans voted for, the final overall outcome may not be what anyone wanted – which was peace and stability. As a friend commented on the phone from Gwanda just now: “It’s trouble again”.  Let’s hope that a spirit of accommodation and compromise prevails.

In the next period at least, ZANU-PF can organise the succession from Mugabe from a position of strength, and the opposition will have to regroup again, probably under new leadership. The political landscape has certainly changed with this election, but the full implications still remain unclear.

UPDATE: Since this blog was published there have been two very good comment pieces in the Guardian by Knox Chitiyo and Blessing Miles Tendi. Both are well worth a read:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/05/zimbabwe-inconvenient-election-truth

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/05/robert-mugabe-zimbabwe-election-zanu-pf

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

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Documentaries on land reform in Zimbabwe

A recent review article in the Journal of Southern African Studies by University of Pretoria based Rory Pilossof (see my review of his book in an earlier blog) discusses three film documentaries on land reform. The article in particular takes issue with our work and spends much of it launching a number of critiques. But, despite these diversions, in the end it comes to a sensible conclusion with which I agree wholeheartedly.

The review includes our short films, Voices from the Field, profiling seven farmers in our sample in Masvingo (see also youtube channel). Of course these were never ever thought of as documentaries as they were on average 5 minutes long, and simply as complements to the book and other more detailed material. The other two films are the much hailed, but heavily criticised, Mugabe and the White African (running to 94 minutes and big budget – certainly relative to ours) and the campaign film, the House of Justice, again focusing on farms in Chegutu, including that of Campbell and Freeth at Mount Carmel (running to 24 minutes, and lower budget).

With Miles Tendi and others, I have commented on the Mugabe film – and the even more extraordinary book by Ben Freeth. It is a shame Pilossof did not review Simon Bright’s excellent documentary, Robert Mugabe… What Happened? This is a much more appropriate contrast to the Mugabe film, showing how over a similar length of film, depth, nuance and complexity can be conveyed while still not losing its punch. I have my issues with this film too (as does Miles), but these critiques are not in the same league.

In my view, these three film contributions are very unlike and not really appropriate to compare. Pilossof however mainly uses the article as a platform to critique our work in particular. I will come to a few responses to this in a moment. However his overall conclusion I agree with entirely:

The lack of simple answers and the range of experiences, outcomes and processes make the land question a hugely complicated entity to study. More needs to be done to access the nuances and overlaps, rather than the dramatic and the separate. In part this entails conversations between white farmers, farm workers and beneficiaries…..the failure to situate land reform in the much wider political struggles of this period, and the history that informs them, is much more of a concern….

This is exactly the argument we make in our book, and has been made many, many times on this blog (see blogs on white farmers, labour etc.). Yet Pilossof complains about our film:

“Voices [our film] contains even less historical background than Mugabe and no commentary on the political context of the FTLRP. There is no mention of the violence surrounding the land allocations, of the processes of political patronage in land allocations or, most problematically for Scoones et al, the displacement of earlier land beneficiaries for new groups deemed more worthy”.

It is true in our five minute films we did not cover the whole history of colonialism, nor the wider political and policy context for resettlement after 1980 and during the fast-track period. This was not the intention. They were simply an opportunity for a few farmers, representing the range of experiences we found in the field – different livelihood combinations (farm and non-farm), different crops (market gardening, livestock, cotton, sugar) and different scheme types (A1 and A2) – to share their perspectives and experiences. The choice of seven was not statistically representative at all, and not intended to be, simply offering a range.

Our films were short profiles not full length documentaries, and could only do so much in the time (and a very limited budget). They were always meant to be complemented by the book where pages and pages discuss history, politics, economic context and present data backed by a rigorous sampling frame and both qualitative and quantitative data. As anyone who has read our material and this blog will know, we do not give a simple black and white view about land reform in Zimbabwe, as this review suggests. The films open with the following:

“Chaos, destruction and violence have dominated the coverage. While these have been part of the reality, there have also been successes which have thus far have largely gone unrecorded. The story is simply not one of collapse and catastrophe, it is much more complex. There have been many successes as well as failures”.

The films simply allowed a few farmers to speak, and tell their own story. They were indeed from different backgrounds, doing different things, many with previous employment. Pilossof regards this as a problem, proving somehow that they were not making a living from agriculture on their new farms. They were, but they were also doing other things, both before land reform and since. This is the reality of rural Zimbabwe, and the land reform settlements, something we wanted to get across.

Unlike Ben Freeth and co, such farmers have not had the opportunity to share their experience in their own words to a wider audience. It was heartening to find the BBC interested in following up, and Martin Plaut and his team did a series of interviews with some of those presented in the films. To hear Mr Nago speaking on Radio 4 while eating my breakfast in the UK was a fine change from the usual diet dished out by the BBC and other international media. Yes, these are only one set of voices, but they are important ones surely?

Pilossof then provides another line of attack, claiming that our “entire research project was supported by Agritex”. Yes certainly we worked closely with colleagues in Agritex, but also we worked with others at UZ, AIAS, Ruzivo Trust and so on. We were supported financially by the UK’s ESRC via a grant through PLAAS. All this is very clear in our materials. He goes on: “This collusion with the state is never discussed”. I don’t think we were colluding with anyone, and our work has been widely shared in many fora, and have been always very open in our partnerships. But he argues that we had special freedoms and “…the compromises entailed include a blinkered focus on beneficiaries, ignoring the reform process and its associated violence”. As discussed in many previous blogs we totally reject this claim – and our writing and commentary just simply does not bear such accusations up. He goes on: “Scoones et al are as guilty as Bailey and Thompson [the filmmakers involved in the Mugabe film] (and to an extent Freeth) in refusing to acknowledge the tortured processes of land transfer in Zimbabwe, past and present”. This again is of course quite ridiculous, betraying a lack of attention to our work.

For some reason he seems determined to discredit our work. The overall result is that, by dismissing our findings and inappropriately in my view criticising our film through a false comparison, Pilossoff ends up supporting the interpretations in the other films. To be honest, I would have expected a more thorough argument in JSAS. Maybe I am being overly sensitive as I actually agree completely with his conclusions, even if not with most of his arguments. Take a look at the review for yourself, but I am afraid you will have to pay £23.50 to read it in full (for only 5 pages!) as it’s behind a paywall. Sorry…

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

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BBC Crossing Continents

Today, the BBC broadcast a programme in their Crossing Continents series on Radio 4. The team interview Blasio Mavedzenge, Masvingo field team leader, and a number of farmers in the research sample.

Listen to the podcast here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/cc

See a BBC web story here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-15919538

And an IDS story and podcast here: http://www.ids.ac.uk/news/ids-big-question-for-development-zimbabwe-s-land-reform

Compared to much past BBC coverage of Zimbabwe’s land reform, this is impressively balanced. There have been successes and failures. There has been violence and there are continued take-overs of farms by elites. Yet there is also a lot going on.

Of course the statistics are much in dispute (on lost production and farm worker job losses in particular – see earlier blogs), and some of these are repeated in the programme. And the CFU can only see the future in terms of one type of farming, deeming everything else ‘subsistence’, still unable to see a different future where small-scale farming is a key part of the country’s agricultural future.

Yet as the programme shows, Mr Nago, Ms Musiiwa and Mr Rwafa are far from ‘subsistence’ farmers. At least with this sort of coverage, the new farmers are at last having a voice, and a more balanced, if contested, picture is emerging.

More commentary on this in the coming days. Do come back to the blog!

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