Tag Archives: Chatham House

Uncertainty and the Zimbabwean economy

Over the last month there have been a number of reviews of progress – or the lack of it – since the ‘coup’ of November 2017 (see, for example, a recent BSR here). President Mnangagwa arrived in post on the back of much good will and hope for change. But hopes have been dramatically dashed since. This is not only due to the failure to address political reforms as required under the Constitution, but also a failure to confront underlying economic challenges, the inheritance of the Mugabe era. The flood of external investment failed to materialise, and the process of dealing with debt arrears and the negotiations with the IMF has been convoluted and protracted.

The situation today in the formal economy is dire. The recent budget statement was a farce, with made-up numbers conjuring up a fictional story. No-one believes the story being spun. Trust is the basis of any economy. Once lost, it is difficult to retrieve, and wild swings in exchange rates between different parallel rates, combined with accelerating inflation, means that things have become uncontrollably uncertain. Such uncertainties can provide opportunities for a few – those able to ‘rinse’ money, capitalise on fake prices and hedge against dramatic changes. These capitalist cowboys profit from chaos, and there are those in the political-military elite who are doing so today through a range of schemes.

Living through uncertain times

This leaves everyone else living in precarity through deeply uncertain times. For those who can insulate themselves from the mainstream economy, survival is possible. So, those with a secure source of remittance income, for example, can buy solar panels, generators and transformers to avoid the endless power cuts from ZESA. They can dig deep boreholes at their homes to assure clean, reliable water. And they can employ people to queue for fuel or food or any other commodity in short supply; or jump such queues using bribes, foreign currency or premium payments. There are others without such resources who must live in the informal economy, making do. This is hard, creating anxiety, stress and fear. Those who must dodge the law to sell illegally, for example, must confront violence or pay possibly the highest ‘taxes’ of any citizen to pay off the enforcers.

And then there are farmers. In such a chaotic economy, they may have the greatest resilience of all, as they can supply for themselves, and trade locally in an increasingly barter-based rural economy. The formal channels of marketing – and so some agricultural commodities – are frequently a waste of time, but alternatives emerge in the survival economy, which, against all odds, is supplying food across urban and rural areas.

In 2019, Zimbabweans have joined the citizens of places like the Democratic Republic of Congo in the darkest days of the Mobutu regime when the economy collapsed. Zimbabweans have learned the skills over two decades now, and the memories of the dramatic economic collapse of 2008 are etched on many people’s minds. In the DRC this capacity to get by, to ride the storm to make-do through resourcefulness and initiative, is termed ‘débrouillardise’. It doesn’t translate well into English, as it’s not a passive sense of hopelessness or coping or muddling-through free of active agency. It is a set of culturally-rooted skills that are actively applied in the everyday; part of life in an uncertain, turbulent world.

A new narrative that takes uncertainty seriously

The STEPS Centre at Sussex is just ending its year focused on the theme of uncertainty (check out the multiple resources, including podcasts, videos and blogs here). Reflecting on the Zimbabwe situation, our engagement with the politics of uncertainty across a range of domains has been hugely revealing. Too often, we assume we are dealing with controllable, manageable risks not deeper uncertainties, where we don’t know what the outcomes are. Predictions, forecasts and technical plans are what follows from a risk-control approach. Yet, if things are uncertain, ambiguous or even subject to ignorance (where we don’t know what we don’t know), then a risk approach – as seen in the imagined figures and forecasts in Zimbabwe’s recent budget statement – makes no sense, giving a false sense of being in control.

Professor Mthuli Ncube, Zimbabwe’s finance minister, with his background in mathematical finance, is steeped in this quantitative risk paradigm and the world of precise models and confident predictions. This may work in Oxford or Geneva but not in Zimbabwe’s economy where radical uncertainties play out. As the economy fragments, it’s the parallel, informal economy, dominated by uncertainties, ambiguities and ignorance, where the action is. Here, the standard measures of economic management being attempted by Ncube and being suggested by the IMF have no effect.

Some imagine a reform package that will bring things back to ‘normal’, provide a sense of order and control, based on principles advocated for liberal market economies where the informal sector is not significant. A recent report from Chatham House was of this type. It’s an odd read as it doesn’t connect with realities on the ground, and conjures up an imaginary, wished-for economy.

Instead of senseless dreaming and fictitious prediction based on fantasies of control, a new narrative for the economy is required, one that takes the uncertainties of the real, everyday economy seriously. Only then will the necessary trust be built in the basic functioning of the economy – formal and informal – so that some much-needed stability can emerge.

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

 

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The politics of reform in Zimbabwe

chinamasa-02

Last month two major reports came out on economic and political reform in Zimbabwe. The first from Chatham House, looking at economic reform and the question of re-engagement by international actors, and the second, from the Institute for Security Studies, looking at similar themes, but focusing more on the political challenges.

They come to rather different conclusions. The Chatham House report argues strongly for re-engagement by the West and the International Finance Institutions. The ISS report is more sceptical, arguing that Zimbabwe’s reforms could be seen more of an exercise in pretence, and may help prop up the regime.

We have heard these arguments before. The pragmatists, arguing for engagement with the inevitable response that this is appeasement and those arguing for a major overhaul, but without any clear plan for how. Neither of these reports fall firmly into these stereotypes. These are both written by commentators with deep knowledge of the situation.

However, I found the Chatham House report definitely the most convincing. The authors are sanguine about the challenges, but realistic about what needs to be done. Their headline message is that “International and regional governmental engagement does not guarantee the success of long-term reform, but continued isolation will almost certainly lead to the failure of reforms to take hold”.

They point to the very real shifts that have occurred in the last year or two, often not accounted for in commentary on Zimbabwe. In part this is a response to the desperate economic situation, but also a sense of greater realism amongst elements of the ZANU-PF elite. The Chatham House report highlights the words of Patrick Chinamasa (pictured above), who has been leading the negotiations with the IFIs, among others. In a London speech in July he said:

“We are doing everything in our power to improve the operating environment in Zimbabwe to attract foreign direct investment. What the country needs right now is capital – new money. The debts and liabilities are there, and we need a strategy that can make the economy grow. And for the economy to grow we need foreign direct investments, which is why we are involved in a strategy to change the operating environment and we’ve moved mountains in this regard.”

The economic situation is certainly dire. The appreciation of the US dollar has made Zimbabwe’s exports less competitive. Manufacturing has declined yet further, along with the tax base, and so government revenues. This means paying civil servants (83% of public expenditure) is more and more difficult. Attempts to improve liquidity through creating treasury bills, bond notes and the rest have met with protest. Banks have gone bust, cash is in short supply, and hard currency is leaving the country in large amounts as the country becomes the region’s ‘bureau de change’.

Continued restrictions by the US government under ZDERA (the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001) means currency negotiations with the US Federal Reserve are prevented, and the economy must rely on exports, remittances, foreign investment and credit lines, all of which are under pressure. Confidence is at a low ebb, as political turmoil persists, and this in turn puts off investors, who fear yet more disruption around the next elections, and as a result of any succession battle for the presidency. The Chatham House report lays out the details, with some stark facts and figures (although as ever misrepresenting the data on food security – see recent blogs on this).

From liberation to liberalism: what prospects for reform?

This is the context that is forcing change. Chinamasa represents what the Chatham House report authors call a “transition from hard-line ‘patriotic liberationism’ to a more pragmatic economic liberalism”. The ISS report agrees that Zimbabwe has “the technical competencies to deliver” but points to the political challenges. The report observes: ”political support has been partial, inconsistent and largely tepid, underscoring a dawning reality that the imperatives of retaining ZANU-PF hegemony, the inevitability of Mugabe leaving office and the related factionalism around succession fundamentally stifle prospects for reform and, by extension, narrow options for engagement”. It goes on: “engagement is selective, policy statements often incoherent and serious questions remain about government’s commitment to deliver”. It concludes pessimistically: “the course appears set for continued economic decline, internecine political machinations and growing potential for violence, resistance and repression”.

There are good grounds for such pessimism, but a more rounded examination, as contained in the Chatham House report, shows that there is more going on than many give credit for, and that the political struggles over what reform means are more complex. To date, the government has certainly made important strides towards IFI compliance, under extremely constrained circumstances. This has been focused on the public finances, including reforms of the banking sector, attempts at public wage restraint, parastatal reform and privatization, efforts to inject greater transparency and accountability into the mining sector, and implementation of Constitutional provisions around land compensation and audit. Not all of these interventions have been successful, and there have been popular and political backlashes. Many – rightly – remain cynical. But there has been a surprising energy and commitment. This is about economic, and crucially, political survival.

However, as the Chatham House report notes, such reforms are only the beginning. Many international players want to see more. For example, “A deep wage cut across the board, clarity and consistency on indigenization, and the finalization of 99-year leases” will be required, plus “measurable democratic reforms, including the alignment of legislation to the 2013 constitution, abidance to the rule of law and adherence to human rights norms”. This may all be a tall order, particularly in the febrile political atmosphere in the run up to the 2018 elections, meaning many in the international community and the wider opposition will remain unconvinced.

Currently Zimbabwe is in a bind. The constraints on both international public and also private investment are stifling any prospect of economic recovery. Many investors suspect that reforms will be affected by party political dynamics. As the Chatham House report observes: “Attempts to attract investors are hampered by the lack of apparent planning for Zimbabwe’s post-Mugabe political leadership, and a prolonged succession battle could be extremely risky, not just for the party, but also for the country”.

Despite these qualifications, the Chatham House report is upbeat. It notes: “even in a context of severe economic constraints – and despite some overlaps between party and government issues – the government continues to function, and is supported by a professional, albeit eroded, civil service. There is still an operational distinction between party and government, and the divisions in the party have not fully replicated themselves across the state. Zimbabwe’s institutional capacity is fairly robust. Parliament remains an important nexus for bipartisan debate and scrutiny of elected officials”. These are important observations, and often forgotten (see an earlier blog on persistent bureaucratic professionalism).

Political alliances for reform

If technocratic and institutional capacity is not lacking, political incentives for reform often are. Here the Chatham House report again offers a nuanced analysis. It points to two opposing forces, cutting across party lines. First, there are those who have incentives to support reform. This includes many in ZANU-PF and the military who have strong business interests. They are driving the reform agenda, and include many in the upper echelons of the party, as well as new opposition groups (most notably Joice Mujuru and People First). The military-business elite is crucial here, as they may be the ultimate arbiters in the succession battle. With revenues from the Marange diamonds drying up due to new regulations and reforms, and other patronage networks in decline, as the Chatham House report notes, they are likely to be vested heavily in improving the business environment, and so ally strongly with reformers in the party, notably Vice President Emerson Mnangagwa.

Others are implacably opposed to reforms, seeing these as an imperialist imposition. There are those in the G40 group within ZANU-PF who make this nationalist-populist argument. According to Chatham House, they are: “sceptical of economic liberalization and re-engagement, particularly with the Bretton Woods institutions, as they fear this will mean the end of ZANU PF’s historical ideological objective to create a de facto one-party socialist state with a ‘captive’ or ‘token’ opposition”. While anyone with a memory of ESAP has a right to be cautious, the need to revive the economy is also apparent to anyone.

There are those in the opposition parties, supported especially by diaspora groups, who argue strongly against re-engagement too. But for different reasons. They are relaxed about a liberalisation stance at the centre of reforms and advocate free market approaches, but feel that the international community is letting the regime off the hook. More chaos, more decline, they believe will make the transfer of power easier, at or before the 2018 elections. If the opposition had a vision and an organisational base, such a stance might be credible. But accepting continued suffering for unlikely political gain, is in my view highly  irresponsible.

The Chatham House report therefore calls for re-engagement, and a phased approach to reforms, recognising the limits of alternatives, and the dangers of not doing anything:

“The interests of the ruling party, of the citizens of Zimbabwe and of international stakeholders are not mutually exclusive. There is little doubt that one of the main incentives behind the current government’s apparent commitment to the reform agenda is party survival. But if this means measures to achieve a stronger economy and better livelihoods, there should be tangible improvements in social and economic rights – and maybe, in time, more space for promoting civil and political liberties. Other options have not worked. The opposition, for its part, is in a fractured state, and it is not clear whether any strong alliance will be forged before the next elections”.

Failing to engage, and persisting with outdated sanctions measures (the report in particular fingers the US’s ZDERA restrictions and Canada’s stance), could be disastrous, not only for Zimbabwe but for the region as a whole. The report argues “Avoiding renewed economic collapse in Zimbabwe is important for Southern Africa, especially at a time when economic resilience is weakening elsewhere in the region.”

I agree, which is why a pragmatic if politically-challenging way forward must be found. The Chatham House report certainly offers valuable pointers, if not solutions, and is well worth reading.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Diaspora direct investment: funding farming in Zimbabwe

Breaking out of the rut of donor or government dependence in development has long been a mantra, but how to do it? Of course remittances provide huge resources but these tend to be channelled to support individuals and households rather than collective investments. How to mobilise funds at a wider scale for broader projects is a challenge.

A new initiative is trying to do this, focusing on farming projects in Matabeleland. Mobilising the resources of Zimbabweans and others in the diaspora is the aim. The project is run from an organisation called ‘The Global Native’ based in Leeds in the UK. It has partnerships in Zimbabwe with Foundations for Farming that supports conservation agriculture, and a business venture focused on a tomato canning plant.

They are urging people to invest in ‘community shares’ that offer a 5% return. These funds are being put towards capital investment, notably trucks for transport. The overall narrative is that supporting farmers – turning Matabeleland green – is an important development investment that can bring sufficient returns for savers in the diaspora, at the same time as them gaining better links with their home and contributed to much-needed development in a neglected part of the country.

The initiative is linked to various church groups, NGOs as well as private businesses in Zimbabwe, including a game ranching operation and a provident society. A new network is being created between local farm businesses and the diaspora in towns such as Leeds. Fundraising events are being held in the UK to support the effort.

I cannot vouch for the initiative, nor for the projects that the organisation is involved in. I have expressed my doubts about the gardening technique ‘conservation agriculture’ on anything but the smallest plots before on this blog. It is unlikely to produce the type of agricultural transformation that is claimed, although may be useful for certain people with small garden areas that can benefit for labour based intensification. Equally the expansion of greenhouses for tomato production in Matabeleland at the scale envisaged may be a long-shot, given the challenges with this sort of horticulture, and its marketing.

But my interest was sparked less by the projects themselves but the overall vision of raising finance for wider development activities. There has been a tradition of ‘diaspora direct investment’ in Latin America, and the home town associations of West Africa, and indeed many other parts of the world, are well known sources of development finance. Zimbabwe’s rural economies have long been supported by remittances, increasingly from diaspora sources. During the crisis period, diaspora financial flows to Zimbabwe amounted to around $900m per annum. This continues, but is shifting to a wider array of investments. As part of the ‘long haul’ to recovery that the excellent recent Chatham House report outlines, diaspora remittance and investment flows are going to be crucial.

In Zimbabwe because of the different relationships between the diaspora and those in Zimbabwe, and the shorter time these interactions have evolved, these sort of interactions are not so common. More frequent have been the usual Western Union mediated remittance flows to elderly relatives or for the payment of school fees, the purchase of fertiliser and seeds or the buying of animals. Alternatively support has existed for opposition groups and other political activism, but wider collective development has not been a big theme.

Perhaps this initiative signals a change, involving both the maturing of the diaspora community, and a recognition that the relationship with Zimbabwe must shift to a longer term local developmental investment rather than the expectation that political change will deliver this. And of course as time passes, the diaspora communities have a different age profile (see some of the excellent ‘diaspora studies’ focusing on Zimbabwe, for example here and here). Some of those in their twenties involved in the Leeds-based group were small kids when they left Zimbabwe, and their experiences and associations are more in the UK than ‘home’. They thus link with others from the UK and other diaspora communities in churches, community groups and UK-based development charities to work on such efforts.

For Zimbabwe such initiatives may offer a next generation alternative after the crisis and isolation of the 2000s, and the aid and state dependence of the post-Independence period.

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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Guest Blog: Land Reform in Zimbabwe Revisited: Reflections from a book launch in London

At the end of January, the influential London-based think tank, Chatham House, hosted the launch of a new book on Zimbabwe’s land reform – Zimbabwe Takes Back Its Land.  It generated some UK media coverage which in turn provoked an outcry from some activists based in London, the Zimbabwe Vigil. Outside Chatham House, they organised a small protest, and handed out leaflets with commentaries from Ben Freeth, Eddie Cross (MDC Policy Coordinator General) and Charles Taffs (President Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union).

Why is it that the debate about Zimbabwe’s land reform continues to generate such heat, perhaps especially in London? Why was it that a protest (admittedly in the end of only a few people) was organised about a book reporting empirical research? Why is it that those who oppose the land reform cannot engage with the empirical data? Why, after so long, can the debate not move on?

I was unable to attend the launch or interact with the protest and find out what they objected to, but I asked Dr Admos Chimhowu, a Zimbabwean scholar working at the University of Manchester, who was offering some comments at the event, to provide a report for this blog which he kindly did. Here are Admos’ reflections:

“Fast Track Land Reform is fast becoming an interesting area of intellectual and policy exchange as more empirical evidence of its outcomes emerges. The most recent event aptly titled Land Reform in Zimbabwe Revisited: A Qualified Success?  took place at Chatham House on the 31st of January 2013. The event focused on the evidence emerging from a recently published book, Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land (Kumarian Press) written by Joe Hanlon, Teresa Smart and Jeanette Manjengwa.

Even on a cold winter evening in London the event had all the elements of intrigue that have come to be associated with the Fast Track Land Reform (FTLR) in Zimbabwe. There was a capacity audience, a highly polarised debate and even a small, spirited but peaceful protest mounted by Zim Vigil outside.

Sir Malcom Rifkind MP was the discussant.  Many may not know that Sir Malcom lived and worked in the Rhodesia in the late 1960s and wrote a very insightful MSc thesis on the Politics of Land in then Rhodesia in the 1960s. His views on the book were very carefully calibrated- recognising the rich historical analysis and the candidly presented empirical evidence. He focused on his own recollection of the polarised discourse in the Rhodesia parliament in the 1960s and also reflected on the post-independence dynamics.  Addressing directly the now infamous 5th November 1997 Clare Short letter (about the British Government not taking responsibility to fund land reforms), Sir Malcom maintained the official UK government line that this should not  be a British responsibility but one for Zimbabwe to prioritise.

Teresa Smart and Jeanette Manjengwa gave insights into the key findings of the book, arguing that notwithstanding all the criticisms of Fast Track, there is evidence that many smallholders who got land are using it to better themselves.  Much of the discussion on the new book focused on its findings and it was clear that the polarisation that has characterised the land reform discourse continues. Some of the early evidence soon after 2000 pointed to a decline in production and productivity but more recent findings are showing a need to relook at what is happening on the land.

The publication in 2010 of Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities marked a turning point in what has become a highly polarised discourse on the FTLR in Zimbabwe. This book was not only a marker of a new counter-narrative, seeking to challenge a generally accepted view that Fast Track Land Reform had been an unmitigated disaster, but it also sought to introduce some academic rigour into what had become a politicised lay and professional media discourse.

Adding new evidence, Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land supports this new narrative. It argues that FTLR in Zimbabwe has worked well for some, but could work better for more people with additional support. There is evidence of beneficiaries investing in and using land to improve their lives.  This should not have been a surprise, because we know from past experiences of self resettlement that eventually people use the land to better themselves with or without state or other support.

At the Chatham House meeting there was a wide-ranging discussion, including on how the FTLR empowered women; lessons from Zimbabwe for South Africa; the need for support services for the beneficiaries; the need for more analysis of those who lost out; issues of employment and labour on the FTLR farms and patterns of emerging social differentiation on the farms. Others raised the contradictions between FTLR as being a success in tobacco production, while the country is still appealing for food aid. There were also challenges from the Commercial Farmers Union representatives who had flown in for the meeting on some of the figures used in the book. Even on a cold evening, Zimbabwe’s land reform still produces some heat.

As evidence accumulates that the FTLR was not an unmitigated disaster, there are, in my view, some new dilemmas to address. There are:

1         How can key actors begin to recognise and accept this growing body of evidence without being seen to endorse the methods used to achieve asset transfer? With South Africa facing similar challenges, any suggestion that massive dispossession undertaken at speed can produce good results in the long term would create problems for some interest groups. But then is dismissing FTL as an unmitigated disaster still tenable in the face of growing and credible evidence? We know that land reform can work to create the basis for long-term development (e.g. from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China), but what conditions need to be put in place now?

2         If it is accepted that the FTLR has worked to improve some (not all) people’s lives should it therefore not be accepted and supported (with all its history and faults)? This is particularly important for donors whose next question would be how to engage with the beneficiaries without being seen as endorsing the process through which these outcomes were achieved Indeed Sir Malcom Rifkind was very clear about his disdain for the methods of Fast Track Land Reform in Zimbabwe. It seems to me that this dilemma can be resolved if the legal issues that remain unresolved are addressed- especially the issue of compensation. This is for the GoZ to work through and can potentially unlock further support for the FTLR beneficiaries.

3         With elections looming in Zimbabwe the various political groups also have a crucial dilemma. Accepting that FTLR has worked for some and is beginning to yield results hands over political advantage to those who led or allowed this to happen. Rejecting the evidence though begins to sound insincere. It seems to me that this one will only be resolved after the elections!

The more I look at the evidence, the more I think we should actually not be surprised that asset transfer programmes will work in the medium to long term. This of course is a very separate question from the methods used to redistribute the land. How well asset transfers work of course will depend on a lot of factors and the book presents stories show cases of why institutional support, recapitalisation, skill and individual drive all matter.”

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