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Hopes dashed in Zimbabwe as the economic crisis deepens

It is now a year since people came out onto the streets of Harare to celebrate the army-led ‘coup’s’ ushering in of a new post-Mugabe era. The year has not delivered the dreams and hopes of those on the streets, however, and now an economic crisis is enveloping the country once again.

Despite clear wins for ZANU-PF in the parliamentary elections, even in surprising places (see this interesting recent report focusing on Matabeleland), the July presidential elections between Emmerson Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa were disputed. In the aftermath, violence erupted on the streets and the ruthless backlash by the security forces resulted in civilian deaths that shocked the country, and the world.

The uncertainty surrounding the presidential elections, despite numerous international reports, has made international re-engagement difficult. The opposition has capitalized on this to try and push the Mnangagwa regime into concessions. Added to this, the failure to agree a long-term economic stabilization deal with the international finance institutions, so far, has resulted in an accelerating economic crisis. This has resulted in commodity shortages, a growth in a parallel currency market and rising inflation. As in 2006-08, the impacts on those in the cities, and particularly the middle classes, has become in the words of one commentator, ‘unbearable’.

The political roots of the crisis are becoming more and more openly debated. In an extraordinary outburst, presidential advisor Chris Mutsvanga named Kudakwashe Tagwirei, boss of the network of companies linked to Sakunda holdings, as getting preferential access to foreign exchange from the Reserve Bank and being central to manufacturing scarcities, particularly in the fuel market. Close ties to the political-military elite of influential business people who control the economy, and with this parts of the state have been exposed. Meanwhile, maverick politico, Acie Lumumba, the short-lived adviser to the new technocratic minister of finance, Mthuli Ncube, in a bizarre Facebook live broadcast made a dramatic set of allegations about RBZ corruption, the process of state capture and the role of ‘queen bee’ at the centre of the network. Social media speculation went wild, but these interventions only served to confirm what everyone knew already: some ZANU-PF factions and some in the security forces are intimately tied up with controlling oligarchic forces in the economy. This makes effective economic reform and stabilization extremely difficult, without getting rid of these networks of power and economic control.

In the midst of rising crisis, the MDC appears to be holding out for a renegotiation of power. But as Brian Raftopolous argues in a typically perceptive article, there are several problems with their approach.

“Firstly, as we have seen in other parts of the continent, crisis authoritarian states can maintain their rule for long periods of time through minimalist state forms of rule that combine a control of certain extractive forms of revenue with command over the central means of coercion. Moreover, as Paul Nugent points out, such states can combine coercive, productive and permissive forms of rule involving varying relations of coercion and consent and different episodes of negotiations and conflict between states and citizens. The reductionist view that economic crisis will deliver what the election could not is extremely precarious.

Secondly, the social base of the opposition, particularly in the now largely informalised urban sector, is likely to be further weakened by a deepening economic crisis. This is unlikely to result in more protests and a strengthening of the opposition presence in the public sphere. It could lead to a further retreat into individualised forms of survival and already well supported religious structures and their more optimistic ethereal futures.

Thirdly, the international pressure that the opposition is counting on will not take the forms of more open political conditionality in favour of the opposition. At present, key players in the international community are more concerned with keeping Zanu PF on the reform agenda than with any more open or surrogate support for the opposition as in the past. For many countries in the EU the stabilization agenda in countries like Zimbabwe remains a key factor in the face of all the changes in European politics, particularly around the massive migration issue that is currently dominating European politics.”

At the moment there remains a stand-off. While the government desperately seeks international political agreement for a stabilization programme, and the injection of liquidity into the economy, the opposition pushes for the maintenance of sanctions, holding out for political reforms and perhaps a sharing of power. It is a dangerous moment, with little sign of anyone shifting from entrenched positions.

Strangely, both main political parties seemingly agree on the broad contours of the way forward, and both are committed to a radical neoliberal reform package, with unknown, perhaps disastrous, consequences for the long-term. Currently debate on what types of reform are needed, and how Zimbabwe moves from this crisis mode is limited.

Raftopolous argues that, to move forward, “there is clearly a need for a new national dialogue, including but not just limited to, the major political parties”. The terms of any macro-economic stabilization programme alongside political reforms “should be the start of such a national discussion”, he argues, leading to “a serious critique of this currently shared economic policy”.

This is a hopeful, positive position that I share, but it currently has few backers, given limited evidence of progressive visions for economic policy from all sides. As argued before on this blog, unless a locally-developed response to the economic crisis emerges, rising inequality, lack of sustainability and capture – this time by new actors – will likely result. A future, resilient economy must therefore be rooted in the existing productive economy where most people work and gain a livelihood. Reform efforts therefore must focus on small-scale agriculture and the informal urban economy linked to area-based local economic development, and not expect large, external investments to do the job, even if they paper over the cracks temporarily.

Building long-term resilience for a broad-based economy that will reduce poverty and share wealth will take time. But small steps – most notably through providing reliable and cheap sources of funds to support farming and small businesses – can have a big impact.

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

Photo credit: Flickr CC, Baynham Goredema

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Catch up on Zimbabweland

Zimbabweland is taking a break for the next few weeks. By the end of this time we will know the outcome of the Constitutional court case brought by the MDC Alliance disputing the presidential (not parliamentary) election results. Maybe there will be a run-off, maybe a new president will be declared, maybe something else. With the drama and uncertainty of the past weeks, no-one can be sure. The nine men and women of the court have a complex job to do, delivering a fair and just outcome and assuring stability in the country.

It’s been a dramatic few weeks. You can read my pre- and post election round-ups of useful articles here and here, with some reflections on land and agriculture themes raised by the manifestos, here. In terms of contributions in the past week, Alex Magaisa offered a useful overview of the legal process associated with the constitutional case, while Chipo Dendere provided a thoughtful reflection on the implications for the opposition following the election: notably the need to take rural issues seriously.

This year Zimbabweland has already published 24 articles, and has an archive now of 333 going back seven years. Do sign up for a regular email alert or follow me on Twitter @ianscoones. Don’t forget that there are two cheap books that offer compilations of the blogs, with commentaries on different themes. You can get hold of both via Amazon, here and here for £11/$20. And our 2010 book, Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities is available for under £15/$25 here. Or, if you are in South Africa or nearby, you can get it directly from Jacana for 250 Rands by emailing: sales@jacana.co.za.

The 20 most popular articles read so far  year are listed below, which include some of the ten reviews I have done this year on new work on land and agriculture by Zimbabwean authors. The series on entrepreneurial agriculture (chickens get the top slot)  and overviews of land and agricultural policy challenges continue to feature highly. Of those published this year, the commentary on South Africa’s debate on land expropriation was very popular, particularly as the trope of Zimbabwe as cataclysmic disaster is so readily deployed further south. An alternative view that argues that land redistribution is both necessary and can result in positive outcomes is a rather rarer viewpoint.

The three articles I did for The Conversation in January, which also appeared on the blog, were very widely read, and were picked up particularly by South African media. They focused on  the issue of compensation for expropriated land, the need for an effective land administration system and ten priorities for agriculture. These issues all remain crucial, and we look forward to a new administration committed to land, agriculture and rural development.

Here’s the list of the 20 posts most read so far this year. Happy reading!

  1. View – Zimbabwe’s new agricultural entrepreneurs II: Poultry
  2. View – Panic, privilege and politics: South Africa’s land expropriation debate
  3. View – Policies for land, agriculture and rural development: some suggestions for Zimbabwe
  4. View – Zimbabwe’s new agricultural entrepreneurs I: pig production
  5. View – Reconfigured agrarian relations following land reform
  6. View – Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector goes from ‘bread basket to basket case’? Or is it (again) a bit more complicated?
  7. View – Command agriculture and the politics of subsidies
  8. View – Zimbabwe’s new agricultural entrepreneurs III: irrigators
  9. View – Rural cattle marketing in Zimbabwe
  10. View – Getting agriculture moving: finance and credit
  11. View – What role for large-scale commercial agriculture in post-land reform Zimbabwe: Africa’s experience of alternative models
  12. View – A hot commercial success: growing chilli in the eastern highlands
  13. View – Tobacco and contract farming in Zimbabwe
  14. View – Women and land: challenges of empowerment
  15. View – Abbatoirs and the Zimbabwe meat trade
  16. View – Zimbabwe’s beef industry
  17. View – Mining and agriculture: diversified livelihoods in rural Zimbabwe
  18. View – Land and agriculture in Zimbabwe following land reform
  19. View – “No condition is permanent”: small-scale commercial farming in Zimbabwe
  20. View – Land tenure dilemmas in Zimbabwe

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

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Zimbabwe election round-up

It’s election day in Zimbabwe today. Since the (not quite a) coup in November, the last 8 months have been a political rollercoaster, with the final pre-election stretch suggesting a tight race, with the last Afrobarometer poll suggesting the presidential candidates were separated by only 3 percentage points.

Whatever the outcome, land and agriculture will be high on the agenda of a new government. As discussed in an earlier blog, the manifestos of both main contenders – ZANU-PF and the MDC Alliance – were full of promises, but had little detail.

The election campaign of course hasn’t been full of  detailed policy discussion. There’s been lots of debate about electoral process, plenty of ‘fake’ news especially on social media, and even Robert Mugabe – whose absence defined the election – making a last minute intervention yesterday, saying he won’t be supporting his ‘tormentors’ in ZANU-PF.

There has been a huge amount of coverage on Zimbabwe in the last days, as the international media becomes interested for a short window and journalists flock to the country. But as ever much of the commentary has been typically shallow.

So today, instead of a normal Zimbabweland offering, I thought I would offer links to some rather more substantive pieces that I enjoyed (even if I didn’t agree with them all).

First up, McDonald Lewanika offers a useful backgrounder on the debates and issues, while Wilf Mbanga speculates on potential outcomes, including the prospect of another national unity government. David Moore, in turn, explains some of the complexities – and murky history – of Zimbabwe’s elections.

Big governance issues are raised by the election, most crucially the discussion of what is free, fair, credible and feasible. Following an overview of the build-up to this historical poll, Piers Pigou digs into debates about the electoral process, which has been mired in controversy, as Alex Magaisa outlines.

Meanwhile, Dumisani Moyo discusses how this election, so dominated by social media engagement, has meant that sifting fact from fiction has often been tough. Just scroll through any Twitter stream and you will see, let alone the doctored pictures and made up statistics.

While much has changed during this election, including more openness and so far little violence (despite the bomb attack), some things haven’t. Particularly notable has been the absence of women in the lead of either main party and making up only 15% of candidates, commented upon by Rumbidzai Dube.

Africa Confidential asks the question, what next? after the vote, and the role of investment – good and bad – needed to restore the precarious economy. Whatever the outcome, this is going to be crucial, and both main parties agree wooing international investment is a priority. The conditions associated and the form investments take will shape the future for many years, including what happens to land and agriculture.

Much hangs on this election, therefore, and the next days will be tense ones for everyone committed to Zimbabwe’s future.

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

Picture credit: zimbabweelection.com

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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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A year on from ZANU-PF’s election victory: limits and constraints

On July 31 last year, ZANU-PF were victorious in the elections. The opposition was annihilated. The elections were disputed by many, and many questions were raised about the process, but most commentators agreed that this was a shift of support back to ZANU-PF, with the opposition having run out of steam.

A number of good commentaries were published in the Journal of Southern African Studies that offered views from different perspectives, including from Miles Tendi, Phillan Zamchiya and Brian Raftopolous. Perhaps the most powerful though comes from McDonald Lewanika and Delta Milayo Ndou (formerly of the Zimbabwe Crisis Coalition) in ‘We the People’, a beautifully illustrated edited book of personal testimonies and reflections from Zimbabweans after the elections. Most are urban, educated and opposition supporters, but the sense of melancholy and loss, reflecting on a moment that had so much hope, is tangible and powerful.

Nearly a year ago on September 10 2013, a confident ZANU-PF announced a new cabinet and ambitious plans for the future under the ZimAsset programme. Attempts to rebuild relationships with the west started, while overtures to the Chinese continued. A new minister of lands, Douglas Mombeshora, has stated boldly that no new land invasions would be allowed, and that land administration would be regularised, with those illegally occupying land or underutilising it evicted.

It sounded as if a corner had been turned. But sadly such a transition has not occurred. In the last year, the economy has floundered, as the new investment has failed to arrive; relationships with Europe and the US remain tetchy; the Chinese are playing hardball; and land invasions have continued, despite attempts at audits and new permit systems (see next week’s blog).

Meanwhile, the opposition has imploded. The expected departure of Morgan Tsvangirai has not happened, and he clings on to one faction, with surprisingly wide public support. The MDC-T though has fractured, with Tendai Biti and colleagues declaring a ‘renewal team’, and presumably in time a new party, for a revived opposition. They are actively courting investors and foreign governments, while belatedly accepting that a focus on economic and social rights and redistribution issues – ZANU-PF’s political territory for the 2013 elections – must be central to any revamped approach. The situation is very messy indeed.

The warring factions continue to slug it out within ZANU-PF too, with different groupings being speculated on in the press almost daily. What is clear is that there is no easy resolution of the ‘succession’ issue, and Mugabe is playing the longer game (to the 2018 elections) to see how this will resolve itself.

The consequence is that there is massive uncertainty on the political scene, and this translates itself into challenges for economic regeneration. In May at a SAPES Trust event, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa declared:

Zimbabwe is open to Foreign Direct Investment from all Nations of the World, whether these be in the North, South, East or West… Zimbabwe is ready to re-integrate into the global economy. Zimbabwe is looking for new friendships, new opportunities while consolidating old ones. We are looking for mutually beneficial economic relationships not confrontation. We are too small a country to pursue a policy of confrontation.

This signaled a softening of stance, and a willingness to engage. Equally the purge of corrupt parastatals and their officials led by Jonathan Moyo was clearly aimed at an international audience, with a very visible attempt to deal with corruption – although of course only in one area. Statements on the flagship ‘indigenisation’ policy have been much more tempered since the elections, with senior party officials stating that expropriation and nationalization are not on the agenda, and that there has to be flexibility in the application of the policy.

In a typically perceptive piece for the Solidarity Peace Trust, Brian Raftopolous argues:

The mixed policy messaging of the Mugabe regime can be attributed both to the challenges of seeking fuller international re-engagement while holding on to its empowerment programme, and the tensions within ZANU PF about how to proceed with such a re-engagement. The tropes of sovereignty, liberation history, regional solidarity and empowerment have been integral to ZANU PF’s political imaginary and ‘language of stateness’, in both the party’s ‘practical languages of governance’ and the ‘symbolic languages of authority’. However the exposure of the limits of the state’s capacity to effect its indigenisation programme has led to the dual strategy of seeking a rapprochement with the West, while promising to export the Zimbabwean model to the SADC region.

Such contradictions are the legacy of the past 14 or so years. The radical redistributive policies, most notably the land reform, have presented major challenges in economic terms. The withdrawal of external support and international investment has hampered the rebounding of the economy, and the business-political patronage networks that were established to prop up the regime in this period are certainly not the basis for a prosperous, competitive economy.

There are bright spots though. The informal sector is booming, and providing jobs and livelihoods. While many argue this is not the real economy, it is certainly the main economy. In the restructured agricultural sector, the tobacco boom continues, with a massive 210 million tonnes of tobacco being traded this year. While livelihoods are unquestionably improving especially for those on the land, galvanising new, coherent and sustained economic growth is a big challenge, and the long (often rather sensible) wish-lists in the ZimAsset blueprint will not be realized without sustained investment.

Much of course relies on a rapprochement with the west, and with international capital and finance. Given the bad feeling, abuse and threats that have occurred over time, this will not be easy, especially with Britain. Miles Tendi offers a fascinating analysis of this challenge, based on interviews with some of the key players, on both the UK and the Zimbabwe sides, and how a sustained ‘demonisation’ invective from both has not helped matters.

A fundamental question remains, however: how to balance a commitment to redistribution and economic empowerment with engagement in a globalized economy, and in a context where national debt amounts to a staggering US$6 billion? Is there any way to resist the inevitable reincorporation into a neoliberal world order, and sustain the progressive gains of reform? Despite the socialist solidarity rhetoric, the Chinese are interested in commercial business just as any other western nation or multinational company. And countries in the region are wary of heading down an alternative route, despite the electioneering rhetoric of Julius Malema further south. So ZANU PF is in a bind. As Brian Raftopolous argues, there are clear ‘limits to victory’.

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

 

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The new land frontier in Zimbabwe: urban land for housing

In recent years urban, and perhaps especially peri-urban, land has become the centre of major political struggles for control in Zimbabwe. There is huge demand for housing in urban and peri-urban areas, very often from people with a foot in the rural areas but a need for an urban base. The costs of plots has sky-rocketed, and there are many, including those with resettlement farms making profits from farming, investing. As with any valuable resource, this attracts those who want to control it.

The control of urban land has become intensely political. Notionally controlled by municipal councils, urban land use and house building is supposed to be highly regulated. Indeed the building regulations in Zimbabwe are some of the strictest in the world. However in areas of the urban periphery there is more ambiguity. Former farm land that is being bought and sold illegally for new housing developments, creating often massive new settlements around Harare in particular. These areas are becoming a site of major conflict as chiefs or other local officials sell of land parcels to developers disenfranchising local people. This land market boomed particularly during Zimbabwe’s economic crisis, when land was privatised, and deregulation occurred. Those able to exploit the ambiguities of the system, and make gains on currency deals profited massively. The result has been significant accumulation by certain elites, along with invasions of land for new quasi-urban settlements.  Mandi Rukuni has called for new regulations to manage such land, and for a more effective land use planning and zoning system.

However a technocratic land use planning system may not be enough, as such areas are also sites of political contest and patronage.  Electoral politics have had a big influence.  ZANU-PF’s electoral strategy in 2013 was focused on such areas, with enticements being offered to people joining ‘housing cooperatives’ that were controlled by individuals with close ties to the party. These new urban voters, often poor and in need of housing, duly repaid their debt, and voted in ZANU-PF in areas previously controlled by the opposition. Some housing coops turned out to be bogus and people were enticed there without legal rights often to stands with multiple claimants. Some were later evicted to make way for big-time developers with political connections, while others remained living in appalling conditions in unserviced shacks with limited facilities.  After the election, ZANU-PF again announced its intentions to consolidate its gains by ‘regularising’ illegal settlements, including proposed demolition of informal settlements. With land consolidated in the hands of well-connected developers, their aim is to again hand out plots and assure electoral support in 2018.

Focusing on Ruwa and Norton near Harare, as well as Harare’s central markets, Jo McGregor shows in a recent paper how MDC councillors and municipal officials were intimidated, often violently, and were unable to fulfil their duties, and an alternative system of authority was established through party officials, youth militia and housing cooperative functionaries, supported by surveillance and control by the Central Intelligence Organisation. This was all allegedly coordinated from the highest levels, with key individuals, most notably the Minister of Local Government, Ignatius Chombo, being implicated. Some party-connected elites reputedly made huge amounts of money.

Rudo Gaidzanwa in a recent presentation retold the same story, but also asked who these new urban residents were, and what their aspirations and motivations were. While the political machinations around land and votes in urban areas drove a lot of the process, there were people who benefited from this. Gaidzanwa identified women as prime beneficiaries. She argued that due to lack of rural land rights due to ‘customary’ law, and lack of inheritance rights in practice, many wanted urban land and housing for alternative livelihoods. These included widows, divorcees, single women with families as well as entrepreneurial women with a rural base but in need of a stable urban home to raise their families, and gain access to schooling and health care absent in the rural areas, particularly the new resettlements. A diversity of such people were happy to join the coops and play along with the political game in order to gain much needed security of housing and land, unavailable to them elsewhere. Others were looking for sources of investment from the profits of farming. In our work in Mvurwi in Mazowe district, the high profits from tobacco are fuelling investment in land and housing in towns and cities, including in the politically-run housing coops, but also in other less controversial private schemes. An agricultural boom presents some new challenges, including the question of where the surplus money goes.

Jo McGregor’s paper was based on discussions with MDC councillors and activists, and clearly reflects that standpoint. She concludes that the ZANU-PF driven land acquisition, replanning and housing investments are a clear example of state-directed party-based patronage, geared to electoral gain and personal financial benefit of an party-connected elite, including ministers, senior military officers, and others of high status. In this, she is clearly correct, and the scandals that surround urban land and housing are regularly in the newspapers, particularly in the peri-urban settlements on the edges of the main conurbations, are witness to how this is an important and widespread phenomenon. Deep forms of corruption have become, in Sarah Bracking’s terms, a ‘technology of governance’.

However such accounts do not offer the perspectives of those who benefited. They may well have voted for ZANU-PF, but they are not the elite who are extracting the massive rents from dodgy deals, illegal sales and housing scams. Instead they are a significant group of often younger people, very often female, who have not got land in the rural areas. Some are displaced farmworkers or those whose housing was destroyed by Operation Murambatsvina; neither likely ZANU-PF supporters. Also, the land reform is now 14 years ago, and there are plenty who did not get anything. Equally, many do not wish to make a living solely on the land, regarding it as too much hard work, and would prefer to use their education to get a chance in town. Still others want to maintain a bridge between town and countryside, investing the agricultural profits in housing and urban land, guaranteeing a good return. Those now living in these new (peri)urban settlements are a diverse group, with different interests, affiliations and needs. They are embroiled in a political contest over land, resources and political control, but should be part of the story.

Expanding opportunities for low-cost urban housing in the end must be a good thing. And if this is part of an electoral strategy, then ZANU-PF seem to have followed rather successfully in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher in the UK in the 1980s. Stories of ruthless property developers linked to local political elites making huge profits from the poor in the context of a land and housing bubble is of course not exclusive to Zimbabwe either. Although it is no excuse, the urban politics of the US and Europe can be read in a similar way. However, for Zimbabwe, removing corruption and patronage, and excessive rent-seeking, from such land and housing deals must be a priority, as this offsets the potential redistributive gains to be made. As urban land is transformed from the exclusive preserve of the propertied elite to open up opportunities for land and housing for others, the new peri(urban) land users urgently need a voice.

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

 

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State, land and democracy: reflections on Zimbabwe

Last week I was in Italy at the invitation of the University of Bologna to talk at a day conference on ‘State, Land and Democracy in Southern Africa’. The morning was taken up with discussions on Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia, while the whole afternoon was devoted to Zimbabwe.

It was a great discussion, and it was interesting how many of the themes from the wider region resonate in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe clearly does not have a monopoly on land being used as patronage, uncertainties around tenure regimes, debates about the role of large-scale farms, ‘land grabs’ and the role of private investors, or even the use of land as a tool in electoral politics. This seems to be standard fare across the region. Yet the fascination with Zimbabwe remains, and the debates framed by extremely polarised narratives and poor understanding of empirical contexts continue.

The Zimbabwe debate however seems to be maturing. There is a recognition that, whatever the fiddling, the elections of 2013 represent a turning point. The future is uncertain, but the land issue, and with this the role of rural electoral politics, is crucial. In my paper I argued (as I have done before in this blog) that the emergence of a new class of ‘middle farmers’ on the resettlements (both A1 and A2) is important to the understanding of the new political dynamics of the countryside, and any assessment of the 2013 election.

This group represents diverse interests, coming from both ‘peasant’ (communal area) and urban worker backgrounds, as well as having a fair share of the salaried class of civil servants. Yet, despite their disparate origins and class positions, they are bound together by a continued commitment to rural production, investment and accumulation, as ‘petty commodity producers’ and ‘worker-farmers’; even an emergent ‘rural bourgeoisie’.

Pitched against an elite group connected to and benefiting from ZANU-PF party, military and business networks, there is a tussle between different visions of the future, linked to very different patterns of accumulation – from below and from above. These on-going contests over land and styles of production are central to the future of the Zimbabwean state, and wider polity. I discussed two broad case study areas in Masvingo province: the ‘core land reform areas’, where land was taken from white commercial farms, and where there is a high density of A1 and A2 settlements in relatively better agroecological potential areas, and what I termed the ‘peripheral areas’ of the lowveld, where land reform was more contested – on the sugar estates, the large state farms and trust lands and in the wildlife areas. Here attempts at elite capture by big ‘chefs’, connected to capitalist interests in sugar, ethanol and wildlife production for example, are being resisted actively by those who demand land. The balance of power is uneven, but surprisingly we see repeated victories by those who are seemingly less powerful, and the state and its allies often find it difficult to see through their vision in these areas, given the volatile politics and uncertainty on the margins of state power.

What of the longer term future given this political dynamic? Of course, as discussed so many times before, Masvingo doesn’t reflect the situation everywhere, and there are a diversity of contexts and outcomes. However there are some basic patterns that the Masvingo cases give a window on. One scenario for the future sees a capture by the elite, and the extension of patrimonial relations between elites and national/international capital, ultimately excluding the alternative voices and futures, and quashing future resistance. This can be achieved of course only through the persistence of violent, non-democratic and ‘obstructive politics’ typical of the ZANU-PF regime. Another, more optimistic scenario, sees the emergence of an organised middle farmer group with economic and political clout, and crucially with a key role in feeding urban populations and providing foreign exchange through producing strategic crops (currently of course primarily tobacco). They in turn push the state to respond to their demands resulting in a regearing of state efforts in rural areas. This scenario thus offers the opportunity of rebuilding a responsive, more democratic state from below.

I argued that we should not reject the latter scenario, even if the former remains currently the more likely default. The shifts in electoral fortunes in 2013 might indeed indicate the power of such a voting block. And unlike the rural populace before, such people may not be kept quiet with sops in the form of food aid or subsidised fertiliser. They will demand more and, like the forms of resistance seen in the lowveld for instance to elite grabs, they may become more assertive and act to hold the state, and associated elites, to account.

Ultimately a rebalancing of political forces will be required, and here a revamped opposition will be key, as they may be able to appeal to an entrepreneurial, middle farmer class in the rural areas. To date, without a convincing narrative on land and rural development, the MDC has failed dismally, but hopefully as they lick their wounds from the 2013 defeat, there is some thinking going on about how to engage a still largely rural electorate in issues that matter to them. In particular, this will require thought about the type of constituencies that are emerging now as a result of processes of differentiation and class formation following land reform.

The relationship between state, land and democracy in Zimbabwe is far from settled, but we may be getting glimpses of the future, beneath the current turmoil that are worth looking at in more depth. Developing this conversation at a regional level, as this conference did, is especially useful.

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

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