Tag Archives: Emmerson Mnangagwa

Robert Mugabe: a complex legacy

Robert Mugabe died on September 6th in Singapore after a long illness, and the press has been full of commentary about his legacy. There is a deep fascination with him in the UK. Despite the drama of Brexit, his death was top news across the papers and TV channels. I was taken aback  when I saw his image on a massive news screen at King’s Cross station in London announcing his death. Once feted by the Queen, now almost universally reviled, what is it about the dramatic tragedy in the narrative of a transition from ‘hero’ to ‘villain’ that so captivates people, but also blinds us to the complexities of history?

This complexity, and the importance of a deeper history, comes across in some of the better reflections on his death. There is much that’s already been written, but there are a few articles that have stood out for me. The piece ‘Mugabe: a man of more than one story’, for example, highlights the multiple threads of a complex narrative, as does Alex Magaisa’s BSR piece, which urges us not to forget the victims of Mugabe’s regime. Perhaps surprisingly, but like many Zimbabweans of his age, Tendai Biti, once tortured by the regime, says ‘I don’t feel bitterness. I feel indebtedness’. The missed opportunities of the liberation are reflected on in many pieces, including by Fadzayi Mahere, who argues that he ‘killed the freedoms he had worked so hard for’. Roger Southall, meanwhile, reflects on his legacy alongside other liberation party leaders in the region, pointing out that he is ‘as divisive in death as he was in life’. A typically quirky take comes from Percy Zvomuya focusing on deeper family backgrounds and historical contingencies in the piece, Robert Mugabe: the leader who shouldn’t have been. And my favourite of all is the 2017 article by Everjoice Win, widely recirculated in the past days, which captured the moment around the ‘coup’, but seems even more apposite today, and reflects the feelings of many.

Why has Mugabe’s passing attracted so much attention, particularly internationally? Some while ago, Miles Tendi, a Zimbabwean scholar and professor at Oxford University, pointed to the roots of the media fascination with Mugabe in the UK:

“Mugabe is the British media’s bogeyman for everything that is wrong with Africa and one can never escape the naked reality that the fallout from ZANU-PF’s violent eviction of white farmers in Zimbabwe from 2000 onwards, many of whom were British descendants, continues to attract a disproportionate amount of international focus compared to other more severe crises…”

In a similar vein, back in 2008, the renowned Ugandan scholar, Mahmood Mamdani pointed out in his controversial essay for the London Review of Books:

“It is hard to think of a figure more reviled in the West than Robert Mugabe. Liberal and conservative commentators alike portray him as a brutal dictator…. There is no denying Mugabe’s authoritarianism, or his willingness to tolerate and even encourage the violent behaviour of his supporters…. [but this] gives us little sense of how Mugabe has managed to survive. For he has ruled not only by coercion but by consent, and his land reform measures, however harsh, have won him considerable popularity, not just in Zimbabwe but throughout southern Africa. In any case, the preoccupation with his character does little to illuminate the socio-historical issues involved”.

Mugabe’s death reminded me of the screening of Simon Bright’s film, Robert Mugabe… What Happened? at Sussex some years ago. An earlier blog observed that it is a powerful documentary, using fascinating archival footage, together with interviews with key figures in the opposition movement in Zimbabwe. It tells a sympathetic, historically-informed, but still highly critical, story about the man. With Mugabe gone, it is well worth watching again.

It is considerably more nuanced than much of the mainstream commentary that has emerged following his death. This typically follows the hero-to-villain storyline, often attached to the positive then evil influence of his two wives, Sally and Grace. Land reform in 2000 is often marked as the turning point, with the story of land reform being given the usual, misinformed gloss of disaster, turning Zimbabwe from ‘breadbasket to basket case’, the result of party cronies being given the land, and poorly qualified poor farmers making matters worse. I have largely ceased to engage with these narratives, coming from many who really should know much better by now, and I am not going to rehearse the argument again that these views are grossly misinformed here. There are now 360 blogs on Zimbabweland, and many more research articles besides, which together give a more nuanced story.

Too often in mainstream accounts, the role of the British in the Mugabe story is glossed over. Yet the British government’s complicity – for example in the silence about the massacres by the Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland in the 1980s – was significant. The failure of the British to push a more complete settlement at Lancaster House in 1979, and of course the diplomatic gaffe of the infamous ‘Clare Short letter’ in 1997, are all part of the picture. The resentments and hostility rose to a head in the late 1990s, as Mugabe and Blair locked horns. And, while commentaries are critical of white Rhodesia and Ian Smith’s UDI rule, they often do not explore the failure of a more complete reconciliation and integration of whites in the new Zimbabwe following Independence.

At our film screening panel discussion back in 2012, this was an issue tackled by Denis Norman, who served in Mugabe’s cabinet after Independence, and came from being the head of the white Commercial Farmers’ Union. He conceded that more could have been done back then, especially on land reform. There was an unwritten political contract between white farmers and the new state that whites could farm and make money, but not be involved in opposition politics, and land reform, despite the liberation war rhetoric, was parked. This fell apart with the launch of the MDC, and the support of white farmers of an opposition movement. The failure of the donor-brokered land conference in 1998 was a key moment, as no side was willing to compromise. The land invasions that followed were then perhaps inevitable.

As a number of the more sophisticated commentaries highlight, countering the hero-to-villain narrative means emphasising the continuities in the way politics have been played out in Zimbabwe since Independence, with Mugabe at the centre. A lack of tolerance of alternative views, violence and oppression have all been a consistent pattern, and stretch into the the pre-Independence period and the nationalist struggle (and indeed in particular the ‘struggles within the struggle’). A transition from militarised, violent liberation war struggle to peaceful, democratic governance did not happen.

It is not a question of seeing a golden age of the 1980s to contrast with the period since 2000. While there have been important changes, there are also repeated patterns. This is why the much-hailed 2017 ‘coup’ was doomed to failure, and perhaps no surprise that the Mnangagwa regime has seen much continuity, notably in violent repression of opposition forces. This is of course why a democratic transition, with a strong constitutional base, remains so critical; to shed once and for all this violent history.

In assessing Mugabe’s complex legacy, the positive legacies of massively improved education and health services for all in the 1980s and land redistribution to smallholders, especially post-2000, have to balanced against the persistent use of violence, gross economic mismanagement and the failure to develop a democratic state. As opposition politician, Tendai Biti, noted on his death, Mugabe was a ‘coalition of controversies’.

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

Photo credit: President of Zimbabwe Addresses UN General Assembly, 25 Sep 2009. UN Photo/Marco Castro. www.unmultimedia.org/photo/ via flickr)

 

 

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Boris as PM: it’s no laughing matter

© 2019 – 2019 Zapiro (All Rights Reserved). Originally published in the Daily Maverick in 2019. Used with permission. More Zapiro cartoons at http://www.zapiro.com.

African leaders from across the continent have dutifully congratulated Boris Johnson on becoming the new British PM. This thanks to the votes of an ageing, white, male Conservative party membership of only 92,000 people. With an extreme right-wing cabinet, and the prospect of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, the UK is poised for a dangerous new era. As a Washington Post comment piece argues, it really is no laughing matter.

What is Africa making of it all? One of the most fulsome messages of congratulation came from President Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe, combined with a fawning piece in the state-run Herald newspaper. Desperate to normalise relations and seek investment, the Zimbabwean government has struck on a journalistic piece by Johnson penned in 2015, which blamed Tony Blair for the mess Zimbabwe was in, the propping up of Mugabe and the failure to pay compensation to white farmers.

As ever with Johnson’s writing – and much of his political conduct to date – journalistic flourish comes before facts. As anyone reading this blog will know, the history of UK-Zimbabwe relations, especially over land, is much more complex. It may be however that, with the UK concerned about post Brexit trade (despite the bluster, very few deals have been signed) and Zimbabwe keen to be re-admitted to the Commonwealth and become accepted again by the international community, common cause will be found.

To the relief of many, Johnson did not abolish the Department for International Development, nor reinstate the disgraced Priti Patel as minister – although shockingly she got the much bigger Home Secretary post. That said, the department’s mandate will no doubt continue to shift towards promoting the fanciful idea of ‘Global Britain’, focused on promoting UK trade and investment through ‘aid’.

Maybe this will deliver the bilateral partnerships (and cash) that Mnangagwa so desires. But the Zimbabwean government should be wary. What will the terms be? Just as with dealings with the much more powerful (and rich) Chinese, negotiating aid relationships with strings attached is fraught with dangers. With the prospect of a Johnson premiership some years ago on this blog, I argued that we should all be ‘scared, very scared’. Well now it has come to pass, and scary times are upon us.

The ever-astute South African cartoonist Zapiro captured it well in the image above. Trump and Johnson seem to come from the same stock. George Monbiot calls them and their ilk, the ‘killer clowns’. Dangerous, below a thin veneer, and backed by oligarchs interested in making money out of the chaos created by the ruthless destruction of the administrative state. Buffoonery, overt racism, and an overwhelming sense of privilege (of different sorts), combine with a lack of attention to detail, and a proclivity to make up facts to suit the argument. But both are smart, wily and surrounded by clever, dangerous people – from Bannon to Cummings –  with radical political agendas to pursue.

The link to a wider form of authoritarian populism is clear in their respective political projects. Along with close links to oligarchic capital and big business, they see their political base rooted in disenchantment with metropolitan, ‘elite’ politics, which has emerged as a consequence of a politics of austerity and the failure of ‘progressive neoliberalism’. Unlike the traditional Left, right-wing populist politicians across the world – from Bolsanaro to Modi, Orban, Salvini, Duterte and Erdogan – have been able to mobilise this discontent effectively – despite its obvious contradictions. We can expect a UK election soon with a similar regressive, populist rhetoric.

This inward-looking nationalism has consequences for how international relations are viewed. Johnson, like Trump, has a dismissive, colonial, often racist, approach to Africa. His litany of comments is well known. He has argued that Africa (which he described as ‘that country’) would be better off if still colonised, arguing that “the problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more” and ‘‘The best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers, or their citizens, scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty”. Meanwhile, he claimed that the Commonwealth is supported by the Queen “because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies”. There is a long catalogue that could have come from the mouth of a Victorian imperialist.

Some will dismiss such comments as flourish and frippery. I believe this is mistaken. These are not jokes; they are deeply offensive comments from someone who is the British PM. They reveal much about the current state of the Tory party and British politics. Zimbabwe – and Africa more broadly – should be worried. It certainly is no laughing matter.

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

 

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Can the technocratic reformers win in Zimbabwe?

If you’ve been finding it difficult to keep up with the situation in Zimbabwe, you are not alone. Since the overthrow of Mugabe in the (not quite) coup in November 2017, the contested elections of July 2018, the 1 August shootings, the January 2019 riots and brutal clampdown, things have moved apace. Meanwhile, the economy has continued to contract, with rising inflation and an acceptance that there are parallel currencies with different exchange rates. It’s fast-moving and confusing.

Contested politics

Luckily, there have been some useful briefings on these rapidly unfolding events. The most recent is a piece in African Affairs that covers the political dimensions, and poses the fundamental question of whether President Mnangagwa is really in charge, and if not who is?

The piece by Nicole Beardsworth, Nic Cheeseman and Simukai Tinhu covers the period from the coup to early 2019, and makes the case that, despite the slick public relations, ZANU-PF has reverted to type, with an increasingly violent, authoritarian, militarised response.

What is absent in this overview is a substantive discussion of the economy, and the role of other players – including the minister of finance, Mthuli Ncube – who are arguing for a technocratic reform agenda from within ZANU-PF. The focus on contested elections and tensions between Mnangagwa and VP Chiwenga, and the role of the armed forces in the state apparatus is of course highly relevant, but it is not the only story.

The military figures and senior ZANU-PF politicians are also business people who look forward to a more stable economy. Rinsing funds on parallel exchange markets, along with all the other corrupt practices open to the oligarchs, only goes so far, especially when there’s not much left to steal. For such figures it is not contradictory to have a strong military involvement in the state alongside reformist business-friendly policies that can be sold to the world.

Another piece that explores in detail the events of January 2019, focusing especially on Bulawayo, comes from the Solidarity Peace Trust. This combines a very useful analytical introduction from Brian Raftopolous with a detailed, day-by-day unpacking of what went on. The conclusions usefully nuance some of those in the African Affairs piece. In particular, they point to the economic context of the riots.

People who are poor, disenfranchised and without hope can quickly become angry and, the report argues, the state should tread carefully. This was not something organised by the opposition – they are not sufficiently organised anyway – but an angry crowd, responding to dismal and deteriorating circumstances, particularly in urban centres, where jobs and services have all but disappeared.

A focus on politics must be located in an understanding of the economy – and its history (as @matigary reminded us in an Independence day Twitter mega-thread). Beyond the electoral politics focus, and the micro-analysis of the many different interest groups, we have to understand how people are motivated – from the urban poor to rural farmers to the oligarchs linked to the political-military elite. And this needs a much wider historical, political-economy analysis than is sometimes offered by narrower political science commentaries.

Positive signs in the economy?

So what of the economy? In the last months, the economy seems to be changing. It’s at the margins, and is far from ‘recovery’, but there are some positive signs. The fourth quarter report from the Reserve Bank had some positive news for the first time in years. The meetings at the IMF/World Bank meetings in Washington this month seemed productive. Another IMF staff supervision mission is in the offing, and IMF head, Christine Lagarde, had a few positive things to say. Even the right-wing Cato Institute held a well-attended meeting in Washington DC, with continued sanctions by the US being denounced by all panellists, including the perennial critic, Steve Hanke.

This is all good news for the technocrats, led by Ncube. Whether he is able to bring Mnangagwa and co with him is the unknown.

Eddie Cross’s recent blogs offer some useful reflections on shifts in the productive economy – all in a positive direction. Ncube listened to disgruntled tobacco farmers who were withholding their crop from the floors and removed the 2% transaction tax. The response was immediate, and tobacco auctions are now in full swing.

Cross points to the accumulation of significant funds in $RTGS (the parallel non-currency), a sign that internal investment has an opportunity under a new currency regime, expected in the next year.

A changing mood on international sanctions?

Will international funds flow and sanctions be removed?

International support that was gearing up to support the post Mugabe era dried up after the August and January shootings, as the world was correctly appalled by what they saw on their TV screens. And key players such as the UK even mooted increasing sanctions.

The UK’s confused diplomatic positioning (a sorry, long-running story) is discussed in an interesting piece in Yale’s The Politic, quoting many well-informed authorities from all sides of the debate. With Brexit consuming the UK government’s energies, there are unlikely to be any meaningful initiatives from the UK any time soon, and Zimbabwe is not going to do much to contribute to the UK’s absurd ‘global Britain’ imaginary in any case.

The US does not seem to be budging yet, but may yet. Some (but not all) US commentators, who long argued for sanctions against Mugabe, are seemingly changing their tune.

A key move, playing into the discourse around ‘protecting property rights’ as a condition for releasing sanctions, is the allocation of RTGS$53 million in the recent budget to pay compensation for improvements on farms expropriated during the land reform.

While this is not new (even in the Mugabe era the government had agreed to pay and had allocated similarly paltry sums), but there (finally) seems to be movement on finalising the audit and agreement on the payment formula, and wider discussions about how concretely to link payments to overall debt repayment.

Could this at last help unlock the 19 year post-land reform impasse?

Unpleasant but necessary medicine?

Much of this may be grasping at straws. The struggles between factions that has consumed ZANU-PF since the liberation war will continue. The opposition does not seem to be in any better position. Will the technocrats win out, and the politician-securocrats let them move ahead, if reform is in their own interests too?

An IMF-led technocratic reform regime will undoubtedly lead to further austerity and suffering, hitting those who are already the least well off hardest. Remember ESAP in the 1990s? It will also inevitably allow those with existing assets and connections to do best; perhaps further entrenching the military-political-business oligarchic elite.

In her Washington speech, Lagarde talked of the need for ‘social protection’ programmes, not only in relation to post-Idai recovery, but more broadly to help the poor through the transition.

If this is the medicine that unleashes the investment and opens up the economy again, then unfortunately it may be necessary. But the medicine must not be taken without a much wider debate about the future.

As the Solidarity Peace Trust report argues, “the major strategic task for all democratic forces involved in the Zimbabwe national question in the immediate future will be to build sufficient consensus for credible national, regional and international forces to assist with a national dialogue”.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Photo credit: Ian Scoones. Photo credit: IMF Photo/flickr (Lagarde and Ncube, March 5 meetings)

 

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Zimbabwe’s fuel riots: why austerity economics and repression won’t solve the problem

A day after the president announced a 150 percent hike in fuel prices, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trades Unions and others called for a peaceful three-day shutdown. Their demands were simple: end the economic crisis and hardships, reverse the fuel price increase and pay US$ salaries. By the end of day one, there were several dead and many injured. There were riots in many towns and cities. Property was destroyed, road blocks mounted, police stations attacked, and there was widespread looting. The security forces responded brutally, as tear gas filled the air.

On day two, the state executed an internet blackout, an attempt it said to disrupt organisers of the protests. The military deployment continued and, across urban areas, opposition activists and others were being beaten and rounded up. By the end of the week, around twelve deaths had been recorded (including the stoning of a policeman), 70 odd were being treated for gunshot injuries and several hundred had been arrested. There was a mixture of confusion and outrage, and blame being apportioned by all sides (see this overview from the International Crisis Group).

What should we make of this latest twist in the troubled tale of contemporary Zimbabwe? With the president out of the country on a desperate attempt to raise funds, it seems he was not expecting such a reaction. The opposition MDC have kept very quiet, presumably fearing reprisals.

Fuel riots are common occurrences, but have different political origins and consequences. Cheap (often heavily subsidised) fuel is often a key route to sustaining rule; a contract between the state and its people, and way of ensuring livelihoods and jobs are secured, especially in precarious economies. Unrest explodes when such a lifeline is threatened. A timeline compiled by colleagues from IDS, led by Naomi Hossain, shows the variety of energy related protests from 2007-2017. And for the last year you can add in others – of course France and the gilets jaunes, but also recently Sudan and elsewhere.

But what are the particularities of the Zimbabwe case, and what lessons can be drawn for the future? There are different ways of looking at the Zimbabwe events; here I want to highlight three.

The politics of contention

The IDS team made use of a ‘contentious politics’ framework in a paper that looks comparatively at energy protests in a number of countries, including Zimbabwe (although the analysis here was rather limited). They argue that a contentious politics framing would look at: “the identities of protestors and their grievances; modes or repertoires of protest and the responses they elicit from the state; the means by which protests are ‘amplified’ or undergo ‘scale-shift’, transforming from local or particularistic struggles to wider, more systemic political complaint; and the political alliances and political cultural effects to which these episodes contribute”.

How do these elements fit for Zimbabwe? Young, urban men were at the forefront of the recent street protests, living often precarious existences, often without stable ‘jobs’, but reliant on transport to go and seek work, commuting from townships to the business and industrial areas. Zimbabwe’s inherited colonial urban geographies makes transport – and so fuel – crucial for those on the margins.

The repertoires were familiar. Sometimes violent street protests – involving criminal behaviour, including looting – were at the centre. Social media networks were vital (until the internet shutdown) for organising. Meanwhile, music, jokes and memes providing a cultural backdrop of resistance. The state’s reaction has been swift and violent, repeating its reaction to the post-election violence last year. While there was plenty of incendiary material on public Twitter accounts, and no doubt much more on ‘private’ WhatsApp and FB groups, a full internet blackout to quell protests was an illegal overreaction, and an abuse of basic rights. Many suspected (correctly) that this provided cover for extreme forms of state repression out of the glare of publicity.

How these protests might result in ‘scale-shift’ effects remains unknown. Protestors appeared to involve many groups, with multiple affiliations. Among those arrested were ‘ZANU-PF youth’, as well as ‘MDC activists’. Many though were just angry with the government, and wanted to express it, and some criminal opportunists made use of the chaos. The crackdown by the security forces has however been directed at opposition and union activists, using the riots as a pretext. Whatever happens next, this is clearly a significant moment, with unknown consequences.

Underlying class dynamics

A focus on the dynamics of contention only goes so far, however. A deeper understanding of how and why such protests emerge must look at the class (and generational) relations at the heart of such tensions. In Zimbabwe, the ruling party has never constructed a successful accommodation with a growing, but marginalised and poor, urban population. In a declining, crisis economy – a situation persisting for more or less two decades – the opportunities for social reproduction, let alone accumulation for young people in the larger towns and cities has been extremely limited. As ‘footloose’ labourers, they have to make ends meet through a variety of strategies, living under extremely precarious conditions. Fuel price rises have a huge impact on already marginal livelihoods, given the importance of transport for work.

By contrast, in the rural areas, and particularly in the land reform areas, there have been opportunities for people to emerge as successful petty commodity producers or even as a class of rural petit bourgeoisie. Fuel price increases are not popular for sure, but have less direct impact. This year tobacco production was the highest it has ever been and some rural areas are booming. This is not the case in town, and urban youth, many of whom have no longer any connection to rural areas, have no access to land, having missed the opportunities of land reform in 2000.

While Mugabe always had a contract with rural people – support us, and we will not let you starve – the same was not the case with the urban poor. Seen as hotbeds of opposition politics, intimidation, repression and violence has been, as this week, the standard state response. The fragmented ‘classes of labour’ that result from neoliberal restructuring and extended periods of economic crisis rarely have a strong political voice. Unruly protests may provide one outlet for pent-up frustrations brought by poverty, alienation and disenfranchisement, but confrontation with state-military power is inevitably one-sided.

A political economy of fuel

To understand the particularities of the Zimbabwe fuel protests, a broader political economy analysis is also required. This needs to look at the interests behind the fuel supply and the control of the industry. In Zimbabwe, this has come under intense scrutiny, with accusations of oligarchic cartels linked to certain factions within the ruling-military elite, with ‘queen bee’ at the centre. National fuel supplies thus reflect competition within the governing elite, as different groups jostle for position. This is compounded by the increasingly absurd parallel market arrangement for currency. This has created untenable distortions, as well as massive incentives for dealing and extraction.

Foreign trucking companies, for example, have been making good use of the disparities between the currency rates, buying fuel in Zimbabwe in large quantities with hard currency at reduced prices, resulting in shortages. In the strange world of Zimbabwe’s currency system, what is the price for a commodity is never clear. Which rate do you accept? The fuel price hike in effect was just an acknowledgement by the state that the parallel market exists.

The murky world of parallel currency dealing, fuel trading cartels and political-military patronage thus adds a particular complexion to the Zimbabwean story. While the protests started with fuel price hikes, wider discontents with the corrupt and dysfunctional system are being aired. For this reason, an analysis of underlying political economy remains important.

Beyond austerity economics?

While most stayed at home during the shutdown – often as a result of extreme intimidation tactics – those on the streets undoubtedly had genuine grievances. But will the riots translate into progressive change?

As E.P. Thompson argued many years ago, historically, food ‘riots’ arose when public authorities failed to guarantee the right to eat, allowing others to profit from the trade in food commodities. As IDS colleagues argue, the same could be said today of fuel, and certainly this rings true in Zimbabwe. This is what John Bohstedt calls the ‘politics of provisions’ – the ways ordinary people interact with their rulers over subsistence. If the state’s economic policies do not have a moral economic commitment at their core, then resentment will inevitably grow. This is what is happening in Zimbabwe.

A large, disenfranchised youthful urban population is the consequence of long-term economic decline, without the sort of redistributive opportunity that land reform brought to some in the rural areas. Rebooting the economy, as everyone agrees, is vital. However, the technocratic approach of the finance minister, Mthuli Ncube, with his slogan ‘austerity for prosperity’, may require recalibrating.

While appealing to donors and the Davos elite, such slogans do not take account of underlying class tensions and political economy dynamics at the root of the riots. Unless these are addressed, and the moral economy responsibilities of the state for public provisioning taken seriously, strong doses of austerity economics will only bring more protest, more repression and more trauma.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Photo credit: nehandaradio.com

 

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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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Open for business: what does investment look like on the ground?

Last week I was at the at the African Studies Association of the UK (ASA) conference in Birmingham. I was co-hosting, with my colleague Jeremy Lind (whose earlier blog this one draws from), a fantastic stream of five panels and 17 papers. Drawing on rich and recent empirical evidence from Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Somaliland, the discussions covered the emergence of investment corridors, investments in oil, minerals and renewable energy and the implications of the rush for land for the dynamics of circulation, accumulation and patterns of social differentiation. Listening to the presentations, I was struck by the potential lessons for Zimbabwe, as the country becomes ‘open for business’.

Across the drylands of eastern Africa, the past ten years have seen the spread of large-scale investments in infrastructure, resources and land. In the past these areas were insignificant to states in the region and large capital from beyond – at least compared to the region’s agrarian highlands and Indian Ocean coast. Yet, the recent rush to construct pipelines, roads, airports, wind farms, and plantations signals a new spatial politics that binds the pastoral margins ever closer to state power and global capital.

Being ‘open for business’ in order to develop infrastructure, resources, and towns as new industrial centres and markets is often seen very positively. State officials and donor agencies view these as part of generating growth; bringing the margins into the core of the national economy. Some see such investments as a precursor to peacebuilding of restive frontiers, ushering in stability through diversification and the creation of new livelihoods.

As Zimbabwe’s new government repeats the mantra of being ‘open for business’, seeking investment from any source is seen as an imperative in order to rescue the economy from the doldrums. The new cabinet is aimed to highlight technocratic competence, banishing the reputation of corrupt neglect. Certainly, President Mnangagwa’s choices have been widely hailed, and the appointment of Prof. Mthuli Ncube as finance minister was a smart move. His credentials and connections signal a new way of doing things. With a training in mathematical finance economics, a post at Oxford and experience with the private sector finance advice and the African Development Bank, he will be central to galvanising much-needed investment across all sectors.

But what investment will emerge? And who will it benefit? Certainly, Zimbabwe’s economy is still seen as high risk, so early investors may seek to strike a hard bargain, and safeguards, whether environmental or social, may get short shrift. As our ASA panels showed, large-scale investments have far-reaching consequences for the future directions of development. Many powerful actors are involved, from international corporations and financiers to states and local elites, but important questions are raised about who gains and who loses out, and whether such large-scale projects do indeed deliver poverty-reducing development as is often claimed.

Early debates on large-scale investments in eastern Africa’s pastoral areas turned on headline grabbing figures of the size of proposed projects, such as the $23 billion price tag for the Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport Corridor project (LAPSSET), or the scale of proposed land deals for commercial agriculture, such as the 300,000 hectare land lease (since cancelled) to Indian Karuturi Global in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region.

A decade on, the large-scale investments have advanced in a more piecemeal way as challenges of implementation have mounted. LAPSSET’s grand modernist vision has not materialised in a sudden multi-billion dollar bang but rather emerged incrementally, such as through the completion of the Isiolo-Moyale highway and the recent opening of Isiolo’s airport. Mass expropriations to establish large-scale commercial farms have by-and-large not come to pass, as only a small part of an agreed area is actually farmed.

But the focus on ‘opening up’ the frontier through new infrastructure and investments in land and resources has had other consequences. Proposed infrastructure and investments have ignited intense competition for and revaluation of land as local elites, and other domestic and foreign investors, jostle to claim tracts of land. In and around Isiolo, which is being reimagined as an industrial centre and gateway to northern Kenya, proposed investments have set in motion an economy of anticipation as diverse actors rush to collectively and individually lay exclusive claims to land at the town’s edges. A similar dynamic plays out in Lokichar – the base of operations for nascent oil development in Kenya’s Turkana County – where fencing has multiplied around town as area residents race to claim plots to develop housing, shops and guest houses.

Development of oil, wind and geo-thermal reserves has fuelled other competitions around ‘local content’ – the industry term for procuring goods and services from local suppliers and workers. The footprint of these developments, and the arrival of workers and contractors from outside of local areas, sit uncomfortably with the reality of work opportunities that are thinly spread and temporary. Protests by residents and political leaders in south Turkana halted Kenya’s Early Oil Pilot Scheme in June barely days after it was launched to great fanfare by President Uhuru Kenyatta. Operations only resumed in late August after political concessions to address local demands for greater opportunities for work, contracts and tenders.

In this and other instances of protest, local elites have advanced their own interests by playing on the legitimate concerns of residents living adjacent to development sites concerning inclusion, rights and compensation. Various local interlocutors have positioned themselves as key liaisons between investors and communities in and around sites of operational activity, including political aspirants, ward and sub-county administrators, brokers, elders, seers, and young people. Local capital has been the greatest beneficiary of investments in oil in Turkana, or wind in Kenya’s Marsabit County. Wealthier local elites – many with connections in politics or who have worked for international relief or church organisations – have constructed rental housing, guesthouses, bars and restaurants.

Thus, while the impacts and influences of large-scale investments still unfold, the early signs can be seen. New territorialisations, local contestations and struggles, and enrichment of local elites are all part of an emerging picture. Some investments are proposed and never take off, but nevertheless reconfigure land use and local political and social relations.

As we heard in Birmingham, it’s a complex picture, and one that continues to unfold in a very fast-moving setting. Zimbabwe is only now dreaming of such investments, and state efforts will be energised to seek them out. However there are lessons to be learned from eastern Africa. Investments certainly transform, but there are always winners and losers. This is worth remembering as Zimbabwe opens its borders to all-comers with money to invest.

This post was written in part by Ian Scoones and this version first appeared on Zimbabweland. Thanks to Jeremy Lind for the original blog, and to all the presenters at the ‘Precarious Prospects’ stream of the ASA UK conference.

Photo credit (from Turkana, Kenya): Evans Otieno

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Post-election round up: what now for Zimbabwe?

I haven’t got round to doing a normal Zimbabweland this week. These are not normal times, and I have spent too much time following events on Twitter this last tumultuous week. So, again, I will offer some links to things I have found useful, even if I didn’t agree with everything in each article. I have also included some older links from Zimbabweland that relate directly to the dilemmas now faced.

Last Monday’s election produced a significant win for ZANU-PF in the parliamentary poll, largely due to the rural voters continuing to back the party, and the opposition splitting its vote, especially in Matabeleland. Overall ZANU-PF gained 144 seats and the MDC Alliance, 64. However, this represents a large swing to the opposition since 2013, but not enough to undo ZANU-PF’s grip on power.

There were a couple of independent candidates who won, and some upsets for some big party beasts (Mutsvangwa and Chinamasa being two), but also some disappointments for some progressive and inspiring candidates such as Fadzayi Mahere in Harare. In the local council elections the #This Flag leader, Pastor Evan Mawarire lost in his attempt to gain a local political hold.

Despite this being billed as the social media election, this may reflect more the ‘Twitter tyranny’ of the urban elites and others (including myself) who get a distorted picture. This is a theme developed by Hopewell Chin’ono. The rural masses who voted for ZANU-PF by and large do not follow Twitter debates, nor read blogs (although sometimes I am surprised). As discussed before so-called hashtag activism is significant, but only among certain groups. Instead, they look to their local candidates, and who they think can deliver.

Most eyes were focused on the presidential race between Mnangagwa and Chamisa. Here there was a much tighter race. Chamisa and the MDC Alliance announced even before the election that they had won, and continued to do so afterwards, fomenting fears of a stolen vote. Some perceived delays in announcing the results and on-going accusations of rigging of the elections in turn prompted riots on the streets by opposition supporters. The disastrous and disproportionate intervention of the military resulted in the killing of six, and further clamp downs on opposition support. David Moore gives an overview of the results and their aftermath.

On Thursday, the electoral commission announced that Emmerson Mnangagwa had won, and at 50.8% there would be no need for a run-off (Chamisa got 44.3% according to ZEC). In many ways, the outcome is not a surprise. We will see in time whether rigging took place, and if it did so whether it would have changed the result (there was a similar discussion after 2013 elections). The well-respected ZESN (Zimbabwe Election Support Network), a group of non-government organisations, produced an assessment that reflected the results announced by the ZEC, based on national sampling.

While offering many cautions, the teams of international observers regarded the election as adequate, if not ideal. Yes, of course, it was an uneven playing field with the incumbent making the running; yes the state media supported one party, while the private media largely supported the opposition; yes state resources were used to bolster the incumbent’s position and help with electioneering; and yes irregularities and delays were there. But, overall, nothing has been uncovered yet (and this may of course change) to dismiss these elections in the way some have been.

Indeed, most expected Mnangagwa and ZANU-PF to win handsomely, despite the energetic campaign of Chamisa and the Alliance, with their (not always welcome) backing from the expelled G-40 faction of ZANU-PF, most notably Jonathan Moyo via Twitter and latterly through Robert Mugabe (with his wife Grace close by) at the bizarre pre-election press conference.

It is important though to note how the gains made by the MDC Alliance are significant. Hopefully lessons have been learned about avoiding splitting the vote in key parts of the country and aggressively isolating competing candidates (the Khupe factor was significant in some places). Remembering the late Morgan Tsvangirai, some of Eddie Cross’ reflections provide a helpful focus on the future, and the importance of consolidating gains, building to the next election.

Zimbabwe today is a deeply divided country. Between rural and urban, between the educated social media connected elites and the rest, between different groups within the security forces and the police and between different vying factions within all main parties. Mnangagwa has a big job on his hands to create unity.

Whether the indiscriminate killing of opposition supporters (and other passers-by) in Harare after the elections was ordered or was directed by an independent rogue group of securocrats is not known. Recent events suggest that the ongoing divisions within ZANU-PF and within the security forces (with the police often being side-lined in favour of a violent military support) are a real threat to economic and political stability that so many yearn.

These are themes that were raised around the (not) coup in November, and again have been put into sharp focus. In different ways, both Miles Tendi and Alex Magaisa pick up the dangerous role of the ‘shadow’ military state in their thoughtful articles, with a follow-up BSR today from Magaisa arguing that the brutal events of this past week have tarnished the reputation of Mnangagwa irretrievably, unless he can regain control.

What this reconfiguration of power means for the politics of land and agriculture is not yet clear. The political elites of both ZANU-PF and the MDC Alliance professed a commitment to modernising agriculture and increasing production, and much of this could be read as support for a new capitalist class of farmers, largely on the A2 farms. How the military elite, also invested in land including on the A2 farms, see the future is not articulated, but probably not very different.

Where this leaves the rural poor, the vast mass who continued to vote for ZANU-PF despite everything, is unclear. Who are their advocates? With a lack of coherence in rural policies (as seen in the manifestos) and relatively few of the high profile politicians of either main political formation really having a deep commitment to rural development (beyond the usual rhetoric), the voters will have to hold their MPs and the government more generally to account. Patterns of rural (and urban) differentiation result in different political alliances, and the tendency of political parties – and perhaps particularly the MDC as a movement with urban labour origins – to ignore rural issues is fatal. How class dynamics and rural politics will pan out in the future will surely be a focus for discussions on this blog into the future.

Earlier this year, I did a series of articles for The Conversation on what next for the post Mugabe era on land and agriculture, focusing 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 government with a wide range of talents, and perhaps including others from other parties, so that an inclusive, progressive commitment can be sustained. Certainly, Zimbabwe urgently needs a period of investment, peace and stability, but the big question remains, given the divisions, can Mnangagwa’s ZANU-PF deliver?

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

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