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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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Class, politics and land reform in Zimbabwe

Many readers of this blog will have already read Professor Sam Moyo’s important pair of articles in the Journal of Peasant Studies (here and here) analysing Zimbabwe’s three decades of land reform. These usefully contextualise the post 2000 period, and help us understand the social and political character of the recent land reform.

In his recent edited book for Codesria, Beyond White Settler Capitalism: Zimbabwe’s Agrarian Reform, Moyo pulls much of this work together, and extends it, in a scene setting chapter on land.

He offers a periodisation of the land reform experience in Zimbabwe since Independence, thus:

Between 1980 and 1989, land reform was based on state-led purchases of land on the market and its allocation to selected beneficiaries, in the context of heterodox economic policies, which enabled increased public spending on social services and peasant agriculture. From 1990, neoliberal policies restricted state interventions in markets, in general and restricted social welfare subsidies. Furthermore, land redistribution slowed down, despite the adoption of land expropriation laws. In the third phase, an escalating social crisis, which culminated in extreme political polarisation by 1997, saw the land redistribution programme shift towards land expropriation, leading to extensive land redistribution and increased state interventions in the economy, alongside bitterly contested elections. (page 30).

In each of these periods, different political and economic imperatives were at play, and with these different narratives – about the role of land in economy, about farming and farmers, and about who should be the appropriate beneficiaries. This historical contextualisation is important as it situates the more recent period as a radical break with the past, shattering past relations of settler monopoly capitalism, as he describes it. The chapter offers a detailed overview of the main outcomes of land reform, and its impacts on gender relations, labour, elites and others. He shows that the post 2000 land reform unfolded through a number of phases – he identifies four – each with different political and economic characteristics. It is this more detailed, textured analysis that periodises, unpacks and contextualises that really helps push forward our understandings of the politics and economics of Zimbabwe’s land reform, and the chapter usefully complements the special issue and book edited by Lionel Cliffe and colleagues that pulls together much recent research on Zimbabwe’s land reform, showing the broader, but geographically and temporally varied, outcomes.

In the concluding sections, Moyo turns to the political consequences of land reform. Drawing on multiple research sources, he once again has to refute the popular assumptions about who got the land, in order to draw out the implications (see earlier blog, here). He notes:

Contrary to the media- driven assumption that only cronies of the ruling party benefited from land redistribution, empirical data demonstrate that more ‘ordinary’ people (poor peasants, workers and the unemployed) benefited from land redistribution . Over 75 per cent of the beneficiaries in A1 farms and/or the small-scale family A2 farm units were peasants with rather limited formal connections to political parties (page 57).

As also discussed in our work on land and social differentiation, this pattern of land ownership and the associated class positions that result, has important implications for wider politics, and the process of political mobilisation, including around the elections this week. Moyo observes:

Party political mobilisation and fragmentation over land has largely been a petty-bourgeois accumulation contest over A2 land allocations, more so since the leadership of the ruling party had reigned in its radical elements, particularly among the lower-echelons of the war veterans association from 2004. Power struggles within the ruling party shifted from the radical nationalist political unity associated with the Fast Track period towards factionalism associated with the succession contest. Currently, ideological differences across political parties are focused on the privatisation of redistributed land, with ZANU-PF being focused on maintaining the peasantry’s support, through providing access to farming inputs.

But political mobilisation and fragmentation over access to land between ZANU-PF and the MDC and within the former have been less visible than other divisions. Factionalism has not fully degenerated along the Shona-Ndebele ethnic line, although this partly obtains around electoral tactics, while the rural-urban divide continues to shape ZANU-PF vs. MDC political mobilisation. Despite this divide, party politics and ethno-chauvinism are more centred on differences over the regional distribution of state support to farming and class differences over the role of the state, although the fact of having promoted land redistribution still benefits ZANU-PF electorally.

Instead, local politics are being re-shaped by the changing local administrative and political power relations that resulted from replacing white farmers’ control over land, territory and labour…. Local power struggles mainly involve lineage-clan leaders, chieftaincies, farmer and social associations and local bureaucracies. The powers wielded by war veteran leaders of the land occupations have been displaced. Sparse local government authorities are ill-equipped to regulate the expanded land administration regime and ubiquitous natural resources and mineral extraction. The hereditary chiefs demand more powers to fill these regulation gaps (pages 57-8)

Power struggles between different players are therefore shaping a hotly contested rural politics, with both intra-elite struggles, and disputes between peasants, workers and new landed elites. The configurations of political actors in rural areas has dramatically shifted since 2000, and continues to change, affected by national as well local and regional processes. Ethno-regionalism continues to have an influence in some areas, as local claims over land are asserted, and this in turn feeds into wider political dimensions. The current electoral contest will reflect some of these machinations, and the wider implications for a longer term political settlement have yet to be realised. The main political parties really do not know their rural constituencies yet, as they have been reshaped, reshuffled and recast in recent years.

Overall, Moyo concludes, “The FTLRP land redistribution partly addressed outstanding national questions, which the decolonisation process evaded” (page 58). The Zimbabwe case is important, he argues, because land reform has been possible “despite the hegemony of neoliberalism” (page 70). Speaking to a wider audience, he argues that the Zimbabwe case shows that:

“… land reform can be mobilised nationally and involve various classes, while transcending other divides such as rural-urban, worker peasant and ethno-regional differences. Implementing radical land reform required decentralised structures and coherent leadership, which the liberation war veterans stimulated. Both direct popular action through land occupations and state expropriations, led by the petty-bourgeoisie within and outside the state, shaped the actual redistribution process by balancing the demands of popular and other classes (pages 70-1).

He is clear however that the contradications thrown up by land reform have not been resolved, and that the different groupings in the tri-modal pattern of land use that has evolved are far from agreed, and that struggles continue. He does conclude, however, that despite the failings and limitations that he is not shy to present, “agrarian structural change has opened up diverse, ‘productive’and ‘non-racial’ paths to rural social transformation” (page 63).

Let us hope that the difficult conversation around choices for development paths that will unfold following the elections this week, will take account of the complexities on the ground, but also capitalise on the successes and potentials of such radical agrarian change.

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

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Know your constituency: a challenge for all of Zimbabwe’s political parties

In the bad old days of one party rule, rural constituencies knew their place. They voted for the ruling party and in exchange they were offered the basics: some improvements in infrastructure, an education and health system that were an improvement on the past, and critically food in times of drought. There were exceptions of course – notably in Matabeleland in the 1980s when terrible vengeance was wrought on those deemed to be supporting ‘dissidents’. But elsewhere, in exchange for compliance and consistent voting, a social and political contract was struck between the state (in essence the ruling party) and rural people. And, yes, when there was wavering, violence was meted out, as has always been the way with the party of the armed struggle, ZANU-PF.

This then was the post-independence deal which persisted until the emergence of the MDC in the late 1990s and a tangible opposition with clout (of course there were precursors, but these never changed much). Since then voting has been much more divisive. The constitutional referendum of 2000 put it all into sharp relief, and the parliamentary, presidential and senatorial election that followed presented a similar pattern. The MDC won the urban areas and ZANU-PF won the rural. Again there were variations, especially in Matabeleland and Manicaland, but ZANU-PF’s pact with the rural populace stuck. Of course in 2008 it became more frayed, and the pattern of violence rose to new, more horrifying heights. But even then civil society recorded voting patterns show that largely the rural population continued to back ZANU-PF. Land reform of course helped, as did intimidation and violence, particularly in Mashonaland East, but the sense of loyalty, commitment and a recognition of strong leadership was apparent too.

As we and others have argued extensively, over the past dozen years land reform has radically reconfigured the rural landscape. New resettlement areas now make up nearly a quarter of the land area of the country, representing a population of 170,000 households, over a million people. Perhaps even more significant than this significant demographic and geographic shift, is the pattern of class-based differentiation that has resulted.

In a recent paper published in the Journal of Agrarian Change we argued that, due to the process of ‘accumulation from below’ by a significant proportion of new settlers who are producing surpluses and investing profits in rural areas, a new class of ‘middle farmers’ is evident. Perhaps 30-40% of the A1 farmers in our Masvingo sample sites could be classified in this group. They are entrepreneurial farmers, connected to increasingly sophisticated value chains and market outlets, selling crops and livestock regularly, hiring labour and investing in their farms. This group is most prevalent in the so-called A1 self-contained farms, where a farm block was allocated to individuals, in comparison to the villagised scheme where people are resident in villages and grazing areas are communal.

Such accumulators are also evident in the A2 farms. Fewer proportionately have made it, however, due to the challenges of finance and credit constraining their abilities to invest. But some have, and are doing well. Some of these include those who might be regarded as ‘accumulating from above’, deriving patronage from the state or political favours from the party. Even some of the ‘cronies’, it seems, are keen to accumulate from agriculture, perhaps knowing that their sources of patronage are likely to be short-lived.

In the past when accumulation through agriculture was available to only very few in the communal or old resettlement areas, as land areas were small, capital scarce and opportunities for market engagement constrained. Even in the boom time of communal area agriculture soon after Independence only around 20% of communal area farmers in the Highveld areas regularly sold maize to the market. This smaller group of communal area accumulators persist, and remain important in terms of overall production nationally, even if they are scattered across wide areas.

As Bill Kinsey and his team have shown over the years, in the old resettlement areas there were processes of differentiation similar to what we have observed in the new land reform areas. Some beneficiaries did indeed do well, producing surpluses and attracting others to their homesteads. But in terms of overall numbers the old resettlement areas were never going to make inroads into a broader political dynamic in the countryside. The same applied to the small-scale farming areas. These former Purchase Areas were established by the colonial regime to create a yeoman class of middle farmer, an attempt to buy off resistance to the regime, and provide a buffer to the large-scale commercial farming areas. This rural black elite had its own political trajectory, but it never really influenced national politics in any big way, beyond the impact of a few individuals.

So why is this new class dynamic unleashed by land reform potentially significant for Zimbabwean politics and the next election? An important factor is the sheer scale of numbers. A rough calculation done by Ben Cousins and myself for a forthcoming paper suggests that the new accumulators in new land reform areas amount to a substantial potential adult voting population. Add to these the accumulators in the communal areas, the old resettlement areas, the small-scale farming areas, and the remnants of the commercial farming sector, we are talking of about a million rural voters seriously reliant on and committed to accumulation through agriculture. This is perhaps around 18% of the total electorate, a quarter of rural voters: a significant number in any electoral calculation (although who is on the voters’ roll is yet another debate).

Large numbers of people can of course be bought off or intimidated to vote, as has happened before. There are after all around three million potential voters in the communal areas, perhaps more (the 2011 census will tell all soon hopefully). However, this group of accumulating middle farmers are more vocal, educated and organised than the standard image of the rural electorate, especially in the new resettlement areas. All the studies done to date show how the land invaders were generally younger and better educated than their communal area counterparts. They are also better connected: to towns and markets, to the bureaucracy and to political leaders. This makes a difference in terms of negotiating social, political and economic space for their farming activities, but also in terms of lobbying, influencing and organising. While the new settlers are not formally organised, they are certainly engaged in a range of organisational activities, whether organising cotton buying or livestock trading at a local level.

Geography helps too. The rural areas are not in the same configuration spatially as they were before. A1 schemes abut communal areas which are connected to old resettlements and A2 areas. And everyone meets in new rural business centres, bus routes or market places in town. Because A1 areas were largely invaded from nearby communal areas and urban centres, people are connected socially too. They are friends, relatives, sharing churches, totems, ancestors and religious sites.

Any political party should take heed. This middle farmer group is potentially an important constituency. In the past, as Jeffrey Herbst and Angus Selby have shown, white farmers organised effectively and managed to capture the colonial state, bending policy after policy to their advantage. They were pretty effective after Independence too, striking important deals with the new government. Can the new accumulators, centred in the new resettlement areas, and particularly the A1 schemes, form such a politically strong group? It will of course be far more difficult, as they lack the collective economic muscle and financial backing for a strong farming union, but politically they may become significant if they can bring others with them. Would any government be able to resist the demands of such a group if they allied with the rest of the communal area population demanding attention for rural and farming issues?

A strong narrative about land, agriculture and economic development is an essential precursor. No political party offers this now. ZANU-PF resorts to its tired nationalist rhetoric, while the MDC formations seem unable to create a convincing rural policy position at all. There is a political opportunity here. Whoever can respond to the new politics of the Zimbabwean countryside will, I reckon, win substantial backing. Rural people can no longer be fobbed off with empty promises and a commitment to provide drought relief. As up and coming entrepreneurs committed to rural businesses, they want more: finance, investment, infrastructure and strong state backing. Let’s see if the political parties respond during 2013.

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

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