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The politics of reform in Zimbabwe

chinamasa-02

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From liberation to liberalism: what prospects for reform?

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

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

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

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

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

Political alliances for reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Zimbabwe’s political uncertainty continues

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In Zimbabwe, a day not a week seems like a long time in politics. It is difficult to get a sense of perspective when so much is happening, and so fast. Just scanning the daily compilations made by the amazing Zimbabwesituation.com (what a service this has supplied since 2000!) is overwhelming, and being immersed in the day-to-day means that it is difficult to separate wood from trees.

Recent Zimbabweland blogs reflected on the popular #This Flag movements and wider protests, which seemed to have come from nowhere. They can of course as easily disappear, in the foment that is Zimbabwean politics. In recent weeks, as the state feared opposition groups capitalising on discontent, there was an attempted two-week ban on protests. This was in turn overturned by the High Court, as the Attorney General’s office provided an inadequate case. Meanwhile, on the back of the dramatic rejection of the President by his strongest allies, the war veterans, fears in the party about its base continue. Former Vice President, and war veteran heroine, Joice Mujuru’s rally in Bindura was nearly blocked, to the outrage of People First activists. And in the ranks of the wider opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai and Tendai Biti seem to be talking again, with ‘olive branches’ being offered and talk of alliances being once again rekindled. And of course the backdrop is the continued speculation about President Mugabe’s health, with the tracking of Air Zimbabwe’s UM1 to various destinations becoming an obsession for some.

On the land front, the attempts to create a new land administration system are being hampered by dispute, contention and continued lawlessness. The now Cabinet-approved Land Commission Bill, emerging from the cross-party Constitutional Agreement, provides a framework for audit, compensation and oversight (more on this on the blog soon), as well as the payment of lease fees, under a revised 99 year lease arrangement. But, perhaps inevitably, things are not settled. With volatile politics, seeking a stable, technocratic solution, rooted in laws and regulations, is almost impossible.

So what to make of it all? There are as many views as commentators, but someone who speaks from a non-partisan position, and on the basis of both distance and long, intimate engagement in Zimbabwe is Professor Stephen Chan, from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. In January this year he offered his views to the New York Times. He made the case for tentative re-engagement by the West, and a focus on the players within ZANU-PF:

Unpalatable as it appears, there is much to be said for swallowing hard and re-engaging with the regime….Should there be conditions for re-engagement? The West probably won’t be able to resist making calls for less opaque financial and political dealings. But the land issue is settled: There is no politically viable force that would seek to restore farms to ousted whites….The world will one day soon see the end of Robert Mugabe. But his party will likely live on, and it is within that party that, like it or not, the West must now find people with whom it can work toward some kind of viable future….

Much has changed in the 8 months since then. In his mid-August interview with the Daily News (reproduced below), his core argument of the need to engage, and the expectation that change will emerge from within ZANU-PF persists, despite the influence of the #ThisFlag movement.  Not everyone will agree with the analysis – and there are many in the original post’s comments section who don’t – but a hard look at the forces at play does help. I am sure, just as some of Professor Chan’s predictions from January turned out not to be true, so too with his prognosis here. But making sense of uncertainty is always a challenge. And the current situation is more than baffling to me at least. So, in the hope that it can shed light, here are the published extracts from the interview with Daily News Senior Assistant Editor, Guthrie Munyuki:

Q: We have seen ructions in Zanu PF over the unresolved succession issues, how are they likely to shape the future of Zanu PF?

A: Yes, these ructions will destroy Zanu PF as the party of liberation. The war veterans have lost faith in Mugabe. Joice Mujuru, a genuine war heroine, has been purged. Emerson Mnangagwa, a hero of the struggle, has been under sustained attack.

Those who will be left will have played no part in armed struggle. If that is the case, those who succeed Mugabe will need a successful policy programme, but all we see is struggle for succession and no policy programme.

If  Mnangagwa also falls, then the Zanu PF of the 2018 elections will not be the same party of the 1980 independence elections.

Q: At 92, President Robert Mugabe is considered to lack the stamina and energy he once had in keeping Zanu PF intact, does his age underline the current squabbling in Zanu PF?

A: There is no major leader anywhere else in the world who is Mugabe’s age.

In China, which also venerates age, you cannot become a member of the Politburo or become President if you are over 60. You must have done that in your 50s and then the President only has two terms, so it is impossible to still be President in your 70s.

But I think there is a misunderstanding here about age: it is not just that someone lacks the stamina and vigour of youth; it is much more that one takes into age the habits and mental processes of one’s own youth.

But a man who was in his 20s 70 years ago will not be able to understand the aspirations, technological environment, and complex future imaginings of those who are in their 20s today.

In a way, it doesn’t matter how much Zanu PF squabbles, if the president and the entire party lose touch, at one and the same time, with its living liberation history and with the ability fully to understand the needs and aspirations of very young people.

It then loses its past and its future and has only its squabbling present.

Q: Is there any role left for him to play in keeping Zanu PF together when one considers that he is now being identified with the G40 faction yet previously he would, at least publicly, maintain a neutral role.

A: What is the G40? We in the West keep hearing of the G40, but we recognise not a single brilliant technocratic name; we recognise no one who has the intellectual capacity to rescue Zimbabwe.

Whether Mugabe will come down firmly on the side of the G40 or not, my worry is that the G40 will not bring successful policies to Zimbabwe.

Q: How significant is Mugabe’s fall-out with the war veterans and how do you see things shaping (up) in Zanu PF given the relationship that the ex combatants have with the military?

A: To lose the war veterans is a disaster for Mugabe. They fought. They sacrificed. Who else carries the mantle of the men and women who suffered in the field against huge odds?

I saw the Rhodesian war machine. It took huge courage to go up against that. Losing the veterans will mean, as I said, Zanu PF is no longer the party of liberation.

Q: For a long time Emmerson Mnangagwa  was touted as the likely man to succeed Mugabe but  there are doubts based on how he is being  humiliated by juniors in the party while Mugabe’s watches on. What’s your take on that?

A: I cannot read crystal balls. Perhaps this is not yet over. We shall see. But it is extraordinary to see a vice president treated this way.

Q: What options are there for Mnangagwa and how does his relationship with the military and the war veterans help him in his bid in light of the current attacks by G40?

A: Mnangagwa retains close links with the military, past and present.

To alienate him may be to alienate very powerful other people. But a coup would be very bad for Zimbabwe.

Whoever is president of Zimbabwe should be something for Zimbabweans to decide, not men in uniform. But I do think Zimbabwe is entering a tense moment.

Q: The economy has remained in the doldrums, leading to strikes and protests as well as suggestions that Zimbabwe could have its own Arab Spring; Is Zimbabwe ready for this?

A: There will be no Arab Spring. Besides, the Arab Spring brought nothing to the people of north Africa and only untold suffering to the people of Libya and Syria.

People can wrap as many flags around themselves as they like. This battle will be fought in the great institutions of the country. Zanu PF is one such institution. The army is another. I hope the judiciary will be another. And, if the church is to be an active institution in all this, it will take more than just one single Pastor.

Q:  Can the opposition political parties profit from this situation?

A: The opposition parties have nothing I recognise as viable policy platforms either.

Q: Is their grand coalition possible given that they seem to be hesitant and overly cautious in going towards this route?

A: There will be no grand coalition.  The opposition leaders are content to be princelings in their own courts. They are afraid that one of them might indeed become king.

Q: Zimbabwe’s face of the opposition for 16 years, Morgan Tsvangirai, is suffering from the cancer of colon, how does this impact his party’s chances in future elections?

A: Tsvangirai will no longer be a force in Zimbabwean politics. He has made his mark in history. He was a very brave leader of the opposition, and a far from perfect prime minister.

Q: Do you see him having a role in the 2018 elections?

A: No powerful or decisive role whatsoever.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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The Mujuru manifesto: Zimbabwe’s 2018 election battle gets going

Zimbabwe’s 2018 election battle started in earnest last week, with the publication of Joice Mujuru’s ‘manifesto’. Although her People First party has not yet been launched this is a clear signal that it will be soon. Amongst the new acronyms and the big promises, the important question is what alliances will be struck with whom, and whether this is the basis for a genuine opposition that can dislodge the hold of ZANU-PF.

Joice Mujuru was unceremoniously thrown out of ZANU-PF only at the end of last year by a faction led by Grace Mugabe, and closely linked to the current Vice President Emerson Mnangagwa. Once President Mugabe’s favoured successor her fall was rapid. Joice Mujuru was a ZANU-PF stalwart with a strong track record dating from her heroism in the liberation war, where she took the nom de guerre, Teurai Ropa (spill blood), reputedly gunning down a Rhodesian helicopter in a fierce battle. Before her fall, she was Vice President and a leading business person, taking over her husband’s empire after he died in mysterious circumstances in 2011. Solomon Mujuru, a general and also a war hero (known as Rex Nhongo and commander-in-chief of ZANLA), was a key figure in the post-independence political mix, but had fallen out with key members of ZANU-PF.

Since December, Joice Mujuru has bided her time. Along with her, a number of key members of her ‘gamatox’ faction were expelled too. Her team have also been discussing with the various factions of the split MDC opposition too, and the ‘manifesto’ is the result. Some in the MDC have cried foul and argued that it has been plagiarised, others are looking to new alliances that might bring the opposition together.

So beyond the new acronyms (BUILD – Blueprint to Unlock Investment and Leverage for Development; RAMP – Remove All Measurable Pitfalls and PEACE – Presidential Economic and Advisory Centre for Excellence), what does the short manifesto say? In many respects there is indeed not much to distinguish it from other offerings from other parties, including ZANU-PF. In his recent speech to parliament, Mugabe himself offered a ten-point plan for investment, inclusive growth, tackling corruption and so on that was barely different in key aspects. The government’s ZIMASSET programme offers an ambitious – some would say unrealistic – plan to do the same. And the MDC opposition’s own plans, and own acronym’s, of ART, JUICE and the rest are all very similar, and many opposition commentators have welcomed the new document. Everyone painfully realises that accountable institutions and new investment in the economy are the key.

But you have to look beyond the general statements to the more subtle emphases and associated mood music to get to the differences. Mai Mujuru’s manifesto, as Alex Magaisa points out, did not start with the classic ZANU-PF narrative centred on the liberation war. It’s mentioned, but not as the origin of all positions. The statement on ‘ideology’ covers all bases:

“We are national democrats, guided by the values of the liberation struggle, of self determination, self-dignity, self-pride, expressed through the adoption of market driven policies under a constitutional democracy, with the State acting as a facilitator and regulator to allow for a level playing field and provide equal opportunities for all.”

This moves beyond the ZANU-PF position of the nationalist state, but towards the more liberal version of a facilitating and regulating state, operating in the context of market-driven policies and the ‘rule of law’. There are important shifts on the discourse of being ‘indigenous’ that are significant too. Land in Zimbabwe is to be available for all those who call the country ‘home’, and the ‘indigenisation’ policies so favoured a few years back are to be relaxed to encourage investment. Of course all these are open to flexible interpretation, and a discourse of ‘home’ could be used to discriminate just as one of ‘indigeneity’.

The assertion of securing property rights and boosting investment has been interpreted by some as a swing to a ‘neo-liberal’ view, and away from a more nationalist perspective rooted in a developmental state argument. Certainly, the Mujuru faction has always been more ‘business friendly’ – they have plenty of businesses to protect and support after all – while the Mnangagwa group builds on the exposure to Chinese principles of development, with the hope that alliances with the East not the West will see Zimbabwe through (as yet unfulfilled, and with a shrinking possibility as China’s economy contracts). But these differences do not come out clearly in public positions or documents, and we have to look for more subtle inferences and indications to get a sense of underlying positions.

Some in ZANU-PF have accused the Mujuru manifesto of rejecting the land reform and proposing policies that will usher in a recolonization of land by whites. The Herald as the mouthpiece of the party is particularly shrill on this, as is Jonathan Moyo’s twitter feed. But I do not see this in the document. On land it is clear that the establishment of productive agriculture, based on secure tenure, is essential (the same as in Mugabe’s 10-point plan) and that paying compensation to those removed through land reform is crucial (as in the Constitution, and in current government policy – although of course only a small proportion has been paid and constitutionally this is only required for ‘improvements’ to the land). On land, Mujuru, just as the MDC claimed in their last election manifesto, seems committed to the land reform, but emphasises agriculture and productivity, as everyone else. Indeed, at face value, section 6 on land policy seems to have no differences with the current government position.

So it will be the interpretation and realisation of all these policies that will matter, not the documents themselves, as they are open to so much interpretive flexibility. This will depend on how alliances are struck, and who the constituency for any new political formation will be. These manoeuvres in the run-up to 2018 will be vital. ZANU-PF has maintained a constituency that includes large portions of the rural poor, alongside many of the new beneficiaries of the land reform. The MDC opposition parties failed to mobilise these groups, and did not offer a convincing stance on land and rural development, and instead relied on the traditional base of disaffected urban populations, and workers. For a range of reasons – including vote rigging, intimidation but also a failure to engage with rural issues – the opposition failed in 2013, and has imploded since.

A key question is whether People First – or whatever a new party emerges as – can develop a narrative around land and rural development that earlier opposition groups failed to do, and in so doing create an unstoppable vote drawn from the traditional ZANU-PF base. I do not see this appeal to the aspirant rural population – particularly those in the A1 farms, and their natural allies in the communal areas – coming through as yet. The political-economic analysis of Zimbabwe’s dramatically changed rural scene remains very weak across all parties, but as I have argued before, there is an important constituency out there ready to be enlisted, who neither are attracted to ZANU-PF’s tired nationalist discourse, nor the ‘return to commercial farming’ position of the MDC. But instead they will seek to ally themselves with a progressive political voice that understands the consequences of radical land reform, and how this has provided opportunities for a significant number of new, relatively younger, educated and aspiring farmers, well linked to urban and other economic and political circuits.

There are two other factors that will play heavily into the 2018 electoral drama, and will be central to this complex alliance building. The first is regional and ethnic political affiliation. With Mnangagwa and Mujuru potentially pitched against each other, we can see the split among Shona groups becoming more significant, alongside the longstanding Shona/Ndebele divide. This is of course unfortunate, but perhaps inevitable as individuals seek support. Alliance making across such divisions will be crucial, and may require links to and between different MDC factions for a solid electoral bloc to be created. Secondly, of course are alliances with the security services, the securocracy as Ibbo Mandaza calls it. The MDC opposition were of course rejected by the securocrats, some publicly saying they would not serve under a Tsvangirai leadership. But there are divisions now within the military-security elite that play into the new splits within and beyond ZANU-PF. For now, President Mugabe has retained a core group with known affiliations to Mujuru, but there will no doubt be plenty of behind-the-scenes discussions of who will ally with whom in the coming period. Joice Mujuru has promised ‘security reform’ in her manifesto, and this will no doubt please the donors she is wooing, but ensuring a stable transition that brings the security elite with her will be paramount, and having been intimately wrapped up in this political-military establishment with ZANU-PF for so many years, she knows how dangerous and challenging this will be.

While the policy statements will remain bland and general, appealing to everyone and no one, it will be this backroom politics and complex alliance building that will occupy people, and fill the bars and newspaper columns with endless gossip and speculation for the next few years. Hopefully this process of building alliances for the future, from whatever party, will not just happen in elite business-security-political circles as is the default, but will remember the wider population – the electorate – whose trust and commitment has to be sought. The majority of the electorate remains poor and rural, but with a growing group of emergent aspirants who could, if given the chance, drive a new political consensus. It’s going to be a rocky ride, but clearly Zimbabwe’s politics in the next while is not going to be dull.

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

 

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The big thaw: Zimbabwe comes in from the cold

The last few weeks have seen a flurry of diplomatic activity, culminating in the announcement that the European Union is to remove restrictions on financial aid to the government, and a new $300m programme would start in the new year focused on governance, health and agriculture.

This is long overdue. The sanctions imposed by western countries have done far more harm than good, and have provided an unnecessary political block to progress. The announcement was made by the new EU ambassador to Zimbabwe, Phillipe van Damme, and he was flanked by ambassadors from ten other EU countries, including Britain.

The thaw with Britain continues too. The new UK ambassador to Zimbabwe, Catriona Laing, presented her credentials to the President recently (there’s even a youtube video of the event!), and she tweeted enthusiastically about the opportunity to discuss UK-Zimbabwe relations, describing her new posting as her ‘dream job’. An interesting interview in the Herald exposed a very different stance to the frosty relationships in recent years. Her background is in development, and she previously worked for DFID, so it bodes well for UK engagement in the development field.

Zimbabwean officials too seem to be on the charm offensive with the west. Patrick Chinamasa argued that the policy is no longer just ‘look east’, but ‘look everywhere’. VP Joice Mujuru hosted a British trade delegation and the trade minister from Denmark was also warmly received. The UK government proclaimed the trade mission a great success.

All this is of course about trade and business, and the interests of capital, and its influence on foreign policy. The sanctions from the early 2000s sent signals to many western investors and there was a massive flight of funds. Indeed the decline in investment had a far greater impact than the sanctions per se. European business has therefore lost out from the isolation of Zimbabwe. And it’s widely recognised that much has been conceded to the Chinese, Indians, Brazilians, South Africans and others. In some sectors – mining and tobacco for example – traditional commercial relationships with the west have been pushed aside in favour of new partners. This has cost Britain and others market share and economic influence. The trade delegation from the UK was keen on a range of investments, from infrastructure to agriculture; all areas where British business can make money in Zimbabwe.

The new focus on investment is certainly good news. Zimbabwe has been starved of finance, causing a serious crisis of liquidity, and declining investment in key assets. A return of the aid programme is helpful too, but it’s the investment that really counts. The ambitious ZimAsset economic recovery programme is premised on the arrival of such investment; nothing can happen without it as the government is bankrupt and has a massive debt.

Of course there are constraints. ‘Trust’ has been the watchword in the discussions of the past weeks. Is Zimbabwe a reliable investment destination? Do the ‘indigenisation’ policies limit possibilities? Interestingly the UK Ambassador emphasised that it was less the policy on indigenisation, something she noted was the sovereign right of Zimbabwe to pursue, but the clarity of the laws and regulations, and the importance of assuring security of investment. Lack of clarity, often promoted by the media and other commentators, causes uncertainty, rumour and misunderstanding. The Minister of Finance, Patrick Chinamasa, once again assured the trade delegations, but for good reasons doubts remain.

Does this mean that everything is back to ‘normal’? The answer of course in no. EU travel restrictions still remain on the President and Grace Mugabe, despite the cordiality of the discussions at State House. And there are a number of outstanding issues, notably relating to land. Compensation for land acquired during land reform is still due for most properties, and an agreed formula has yet to be negotiated and financed. The particular case of land acquired that was under Bilateral Investment Protection treaties still has pending court cases, and remain unresolved.

But the thawing of relations and the reinstatement of financial aid by the EU is an important signal. More day to day interaction with government will build the necessary trust, and hopefully ways forward on the most tricky issues will be found.

Meanwhile, let’s hope the new aid for agriculture in particular is well directed. With the new agrarian structure, the key is to provide support for the growth of local economies based on agriculture, and that includes a focus on the new resettlements and particularly the A1 areas, that have the potential for driving economic growth and employment through agriculture, and processing.

Investments in basic infrastructure, including roads, markets, veterinary and agricultural extension systems, as well as water management, storage and irrigation systems are long overdue. The failure to invest in the new resettlements has held them back for over a decade, but now is the opportunity to put that right. Hopefully the EU support will not shy away from this challenge.

The post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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