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#Hashtag activism: will it make a difference in Zimbabwe?

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Over the last few months a new type of politics has been brewing in Zimbabwe. Fed up with the mainstream parties, people have been taking to social media to express their demands. The most prominent has been the #ThisFlag movement, adopting the national flag as the symbol to rally around.

Led by a pastor – Evan Mawarire – it has generated massive interest, both in Zimbabwe and in the diaspora, and resulted in a successful stay-away in early July. Other movements, linked by social media, include: Occupy Africa Unity Square and Tajamuka/Sesjikile, as well as numerous bloggers, Twitter commentators, Youtube channels and Facebook accounts. Will this make a difference?

Some say this is the start of a ‘Zimbabwean spring’, echoing the movements that toppled governments in the Arab world a few years ago. But we need to be cautious about such parallels. There have been some excellent, reflective commentaries on this emerging phenomenon from Alex Magaisa, Miles Tendi and Brian Raftopolous in recent weeks. Let me highlight some key points made.

Genuine grievances are being expressed as the economy nosedives

Corruption, repression and lack of economic opportunity certainly are real concerns in Zimbabwe today, particularly among youth and urbanites. The riots discussed last week were an expression of this among vendors, taxi operators and others working hard to make a living in the ‘informal economy’

On Twitter, the core demands are stated, thus: “#ThisFlag will continue to be a civil rights movement driven by its citizens against: Poverty, Injustice, Corruption”. Most would sign up to this. But how does it translate into a political project, beyond the demands? This requires reaching out to wider constituencies.

This is an urban phenomenon, but Zimbabwe is largely rural

Only 34 percent of Zimbabwe’s population is classified as urban by the World Bank. This is far less than say Tunisia where the Arab spring started, where 68 percent is urban. This makes a big difference, as Twitter, Facebook and other social media are not active in many rural areas. People are of course engaging through multiple routes, and Whatsapp connections reach further. But most activists live in the major towns and are young, and hashtag activism doesn’t reach older generations, or people in rural areas where the majority live.

Rural people certainly have grievances against the government, but they are different. Many got land during the land reform, but they want state support to help make their farms productive and their rural economies grow. These are different demands, and different people; coalitions across the whole electorate will be vital in any future election. ZANU-PF, by both fair and foul means, have been past masters at assuring a vote.

The commentaries make this point, but only in passing. Miles Tendi asks: “where are the voices of Zimbabwe’s rural youth, who despite their numerical majority, have played a marginal role in online activism? Alex Magaisa comments: “The new citizens’ movement which has made waves in recent weeks has been concentrated in the urban areas. In this regard therefore, it is not very different from the traditional political opposition and organised civil society.”

To my mind this is the crucial issue, meaning this will remain a protest movement, but not one that brings change, unless wider alliances are built and a rural agenda is forged – something that opposition groupings coming from trade union backgrounds have singularly failed to do in the past. A failure to engage with rural politics by the urban and diaspora commentariat along with activist organisers is a big mistake.

If hashtag activism is not linked to civic movements and structures on the ground it will not result in change

Raftopolous comments on the new type of politics: “This movement is different to earlier forms of civic activism in a number of ways. First, it does not appear to be driven by any particular political party. Second, since the demise of the structures of the labour movement in the first decade of the 2000s, the forms of organisation in the informal sector have become much more fluid. The result is that this form of activism is more difficult for the state to track, but it also makes such interventions more fragile and more difficult to sustain. Third, the modality of protest appears to have drawn from forms used in South African protest movements. These include the burning of buildings, such as the torching of the Zimbabwe Revenue Service building at the Beitbridge border between South Africa and Zimbabwe, and the burning of tyres in the streets”.

Raftopolous argues that we may be witnessing “a change in the idea of citizenship” in Zimbabwe, as new people engage in politics. But Tendi argues, “These predictions of Mugabe’s imminent downfall are wrong….. social media activism can never substitute for organized political activity on the ground”. He continues: “it is not enough for Zimbabwe’s urban youth to simply oppose the status quo through social media. Let’s say that a successful youth uprising were to remove Mugabe from power tomorrow: Who would take over in his wake? What sort of political and economic agenda would this new leader have? Most of Zimbabwe’s social media activists have yet to give lucid answers to these important questions, while the few who do are plagued by a lack of consensus about who would lead a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe and what that leadership’s agenda should be….If social media activists want to make a successful contribution to political change in Zimbabwe, they need to work in sync with traditional civil society groups and, crucially, effective opposition political parties”.

The problem, as Alex Magaisa, comments is that opposition parties are not effective, and civic movements are poorly funded and have over the years fallen into “the rigid confines of donor-demarcated programmes”.

The opposition parties are in turmoil

Alex Magaisa’s always-informative Big Saturday Read this week has dissected the recent announcements of the MDC-T president, Morgan Tsvangarai, with two additional vice-presidents appointed in the party. This was spun as preparing for the next election, but does it represent an attempt to control an unseemly succession struggle, or a clever route to cooption of different factions? Tsvangirai has revealed that he has colon cancer, so the party requires a new strategy. A recent statement tried to link itself to the #ThisFlag movement, but the connections through to local party structures are not clear. The wider movement has a broad political base, rooted in disaffection with the status quo, rather than any particular party loyalty, so it may be difficult to connect new citizen activism to opposition politics and votes.

Repression and control of social media and protest is likely

ZANU-PF has always been effective at suppressing dissent, both within the party and within the country. It has used violent means in the past, and will do so again. And of course there’s tweeter-in-chief, Prof. Jonathan Moyo MP, Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, with an impressive 78k followers. Cyber security has risen up the agenda, and there will be attempts to monitor and restrict social media for sure. The Central Intelligence Organisation has had much advice from Israel and others, and blocking online activism is certainly possible.

As Magaisa argues: “We are likely to see more arrests of activists in the citizens’ movement. Ordinary members of the public will also be arrested and prosecuted as examples to others. There will also be new laws to criminalise conduct on social media and other similar spaces. There will be further statements and warnings from the coercive elements of the state, all designed to deter and scare people from using social media to challenge government. In this regard, the citizens’ movement will find that its struggle is really not very different from the struggle which the traditional opposition parties and organized civil society have faced in the past. The question is whether this new citizens’ movement has devised new tools to overcome or get around these impediments”.

Key to the unfolding story, as Tendi explains, will be the role of the military. Also divided but held in check by webs of patronage and control, if any group breaks loose, then the dynamic changes immediately. Not paying the army on time is clearly unwise. But as Tendi says the hashtag activists have no route into these military-security networks, and have paid such issues little thought, a “fateful omission”, he argues. He explains, “Mugabe maintains his hold on power largely because of the army’s internal divisions, particularly among the senior officers….. He has also used the intelligence services to sow divisions and maintain surveillance among the generals. Unless Mugabe’s opponents can develop a strategy to bring a decisive majority of senior military officers over to their side, even the most effective social media campaign will be for naught”.

Looking forward

Tendi concludes his Foreign Affairs piece, looking forward: “Young people, urban and rural, do not seem to be discussing among themselves whom they should support in the 2018 election, or what sort of political and economic agenda they want to see for their country. What Zimbabwe needs now, most of all, is a well-thought-out and pragmatic approach to the 2018 election — one that will unite civil society, the opposition parties, online activists, and urban and rural youth. That is the key to finding a new path ahead”.

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 UK election, Africa and Zimbabwe

On Thursday it’s the UK election. The most open for ages, and no-one knows who will come out on top – and more importantly what configuration any post-election coalition will look like. As a small set of islands and a dwindling economic and political power, elections in the UK should not really matter for the rest of the world. But bizarrely they do; and perhaps especially this one. The tectonic shifts occurring in British politics may have long-run consequences. Depending on the outcome and the political battles that follow, the UK could either split up – with the Scottish Nationalists demanding an early re-run of the referendum – or leave the European Union – with the Tory right and UKIP urging an exit. Any of these scenarios will mean major changes in how Britain (or perhaps a new union of England, Wales and Northern Ireland) interacts with the world.

How then are the various parties addressing ‘international issues’, and African and development issues in particular? On African Arguments, Magnus Taylor and Hetty Bailey have offered a very useful summary of the different manifesto pledges. With the inevitable exception of UKIP, all the parties have committed to maintaining the 0.7 per cent of GDP commitment to international development. The Greens even urge that it be increased to 1 per cent. In the age of austerity this cross-party consensus to ring-fence aid money seems extraordinary. It is however a fragile consensus, continuously attacked by the right-wing press and others. Any post-election wrangling, particularly if UKIP are involved in some type of deal in alliance with the right-wing of the Tory party, will challenge it. But for the time being the view, forged by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown before 2010, that the UK should commit to an internationalist agenda, involving humanitarian and development aid is, amazingly, sticking.

However, as the African Arguments piece shows, the way ‘international development’ is framed in the manifestos is – with some exceptions – very different to the hey-day of the late 1990s, when the Department for International Development was formed. Today, because of the political threat, aid is very much constructed as expenditure in Britain’s often quite short term interests. Aid is for building platforms for British business abroad (a return to a ‘mercantilist power’ – and of course competing with China who has no qualms about link aid and commerce); for quelling conflict and reducing immigration to Europe (and with the horrific scenes of boats arriving to Lampedusa, this is high on the news agenda); and for preventing Islamic extremism that may have an impact at home. Humanitarianism has not gone though, and the massive public response to the Nepal earthquake has demonstrated again, that small-island selfishness is not universal. However, the aid for trade agenda in particular has become very prominent under the current government, and DFID’s work is often indistinguishable from the export promotion wings of the Foreign Office and BIS, the Department for Business, Industry and Skills. The focus on ‘fragile states’ means the Ministry of Defence is also heavily embroiled in the ‘development’ agenda too. It remains to be seen if DFID survives this election along with its budget. Certainly in the last decade DFID has become a shadow of its former self, and very much lost its way (see this brilliant blog by my colleague, Robert Chambers on the extreme pathologies hampering DFID’s work).

What does this all mean for Africa – and Zimbabwe in particular? Zimbabwe retains a peculiar fascination in British politics. There is an All-Party Group on Zimbabwe for example that provides an essentially anti-ZANU-PF/anti-Mugabe lobby group within parliament, with regular meetings, reports and parliamentary questions. It has been chaired for by the Labour MP for Vauxhall, Kate Hoey. Her website documents her ‘undercover’ visits to Zimbabwe in the 2000s and support for human rights and the opposition MDC. Her other passion for country sports and fox hunting probably makes for common ground with other members of the committee, who include a number of Tory Lords and establishment figures. The group reflects the very British complexion of political links with Zimbabwe. It includes Labour party human rights campaigners – with their backgrounds often in the struggle against apartheid (most notably Peter Hain, but also Baroness Kinnock – a leading member of the group, and someone who regularly asks questions on Zimbabwe in parliament), the Tory grandees with post-colonial connections to ‘kith and kin’ in Zimbabwe, and those more squarely interested in trade and business in southern Africa. This unlikely coalition have been brought together in the past 15 years with their support for the opposition in Zimbabwe and their detestation of President Mugabe. Lobbied by former white farmer activists from Zimbabwe, business associations, and diaspora networks, mostly notably the die-hards of the Zimbabwe Vigil, the Foreign Office and DFID are under continuous pressure on Zimbabwe. And too often, as I have found on too many occasions, subject to extreme forms of misinformation and bias.

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Nothing perhaps illustrates this better than the most bizarre of outbursts from the Mayor of London, prospective MP, and potential future Conservative Party leader, Boris Johnson. On the occasion of President Mugabe’s birthday bash in February, Johnson used a column in the Tory flagship, the Daily Telegraph, to let rip. Too often dismissed as a posh buffoon, Johnson is a smart and dangerous political operator. And if Cameron and co stumble on Thursday, he could find himself in the top position in the Conservative Party, maybe in time even Prime Minister. So read his diatribe in this light – and be scared, very scared. While pitched as a pre-election jibe at Tony Blair (blaming Blair for appeasing Mugabe), it demonstrated in full flow the narrow-minded, colonial, almost racist, attitude of too many (highly intelligent – and Boris is no fool) commentators on Zimbabwe. As noted by Wilbert Mukori in his column the Telegraph piece was full of an “obnoxious and overbearing British imperialist mentality” that simply acted to boost Mugabe’s position. Of course the ZANU-PF spin-master, Jonathan Moyo lapped it up, and the clumsy intervention was used (as ever) rather effectively as a propaganda weapon in ZANU-PF’s on-going tussle with the British establishment.

British politicians repeatedly fail to understand Africa, and perhaps especially Zimbabwe. From Clare Short’s disastrous letter on the land issue to this most recent outburst from Boris, the lack of appreciation of history, the gross insensitivity to global relations, and the absence of reflexivity of position and power, is flabbergasting. The 2013 elections in Zimbabwe were badly called by British diplomats, characterised by Richard Dowden as “the biggest defeat for the United Kingdom’s policy in Africa in 60 years”. I have no idea who advises the UK Foreign Office or DFID at the highest levels on Zimbabwe (it’s not me – they’ve never asked!), but the lack of understanding is frequently quite shocking. It comes from their own isolation (they don’t get out enough), the extraordinarily poor reporting of Zimbabwe in the British media, and the briefings influenced by the London and parliamentary lobby groups of course. And their hands are tied by the strictures imposed by the UK and the European Union following 2000 – the ‘sanctions’ and ‘restrictive measures’ that have caused so much confusion and damage.

With a European lead, the UK is beginning – sensibly, but all too slowly – to re-engage with Zimbabwe ‘on an incremental basis’. The overall UK aid budget has remained high but it has to be allocated very selectively – with new resettlement areas and support to post-land reform still out of bounds. This means that aid efforts get distorted, and the conversations that are needed to allow a greater ‘normalisation’ do not happen. And so with this misunderstandings and misperceptions continue. Applying diplomatic pressure and focusing aid is of course perfectly appropriate, and I subscribe to nearly all the broad objectives of the UK aid programme, as outlined on the website. But much of this gradual, painfully slow, movement in the right direction may be undermined by the outcomes (immediate, and longer-term) of this election. What if the UK leaves Europe? This will leave UK diplomacy very exposed in Zimbabwe, as elsewhere. What if, in time, Scotland leaves the UK? Will there be a radical, progressive Scottish aid programme in Zimbabwe, alongside DFID’s? Maybe. And what if the likes of Boris Johnson, with a bunch of UKIP allies, take over? Heaven help us. Despite Britain’s dwindling power and economic influence, elections in the former colonial power do still, strangely, matter, so look out for the news on May 8, and the days and weeks that follow.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Spurious statistics: why figures on Zimbabwe’s ‘lost growth’ mislead

There is a lot that is written about Zimbabwe that is misleading. But sometimes a piece appears that really beats the field. This week a blog from the Centre for Global Development in Washington joins that category. This claims that ‘misrule’ has cost Zimbabwe US$96 billion.

I would normally ignore such articles, but the CGD regularly produces some quite good material, if a bit close to the Washington view of the world on occasions. I also have been sent this article several times by my regular ‘correspondents’ to show (again) how wrong I am about Zimbabwe. So I thought it deserved a bit more attention, and now a blog, as I think it illustrates rather well a wider problem of the use of statistics in misleading ways.

This is not exclusive to this piece. Far from it. For example, a few weeks back when I was in South Africa I was reading the Cape Times over breakfast and was confronted by a whole page on Zimbabwe (the hook was Mugabe’s birthday) written by Professor Robert Rotberg from the Harvard Kennedy School.  This purported to show how disastrous things were through ten points. I was so flabbergasted by the content that I totted up the ‘facts’ that were presented that could be challenged with real field data that I and others had collected. There were 12 – one for each of the ten points made and two more besides. It was quite extraordinary how an author (nay illustrious ‘expert’) and an editor (of a perfectly respectable paper) could get away with it. But sadly it happens nearly every day, and most such interventions go completely unchallenged.

Anyway, the point is that in writing this blog each week I have plenty of material to reflect on, but most is not worth the time of day. However, I thought I should offer some response to the CGD piece, given its provenance and the way it illustrates a wider problem. The blog is written by Todd Moss who is COO and Senior Fellow at CGD, and was formerly Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs at the U.S. Department of State and previously advisor to the Chief Economist in the Africa Region at the World Bank. He certainly has impressive credentials, and has written other material on Zimbabwe, but I cannot see from the website whether he has actually done field research in the country.

So where does the $96 billion figure come from? The blog presents the sorry story of Zimbabwe’s collapse in the formal economy from the early 2000s to 2009 and its slow and weak recovery since. The indicator used is the standard GDP measure. This is compared with a ‘what if?’ argument. What if Zimbabwe instead of declining grew at the rate seen in Zambia? The difference between the two scenarios is presented as the ‘loss’ that Zimbabwe has suffered.

The main argument is encapsulated in a graph, with the large deficit highlighted. The blog urges readers to tweet the graph to the world. Here is a very explicit and in some ways quite effective attempt at creating a ‘killer fact’, one that will become a focus for media articles, and a hook in the wider discourse (a phenomenon that Duncan Green from Oxfam has written on).

So why is this ‘fact’, and its wider narrative problematic? There is no denying the catastrophic collapse of the formal economy in the 2000s, and also the weakness of the recovery since, now faltering once again. Equally, the scale of graft and unaccountability was recently illustrated in the media exposes of highly paid parastatal officials, although these have now been capped. But what else needs to be taken into account when making an assessment? Here are four points.

  • First is the problematic statistic of GDP, particularly in African contexts. Morten Jerven has written lucidly about this issue in his fantastic book Poor Numbers; a book I highly recommend to Dr Moss, and anyone else thinking about African economies. GDP numbers are usually fabrications with little basis in reality, and they shift dramatically depending on the assumptions made and the data collection techniques used. They show something about the formal economy, at least in terms of trends (no denying that for Zimbabwe), but they need to be viewed with very large pinches of salt.
  •  Second the official statistics only pick up a fraction of the range of economic activity, especially in economies that have large informal sectors. With the restructuring of the economy since 2000, the informal sector in Zimbabwe has grown massively. Tendai Biti, the former MDC Finance Minister, argued recently that it represented most of the economy, perhaps over 80%. If so then the recent figures in the CGD graph represent only represent a small proportion of total economic activity and should be multiplied many times – in which case the disparity with Zambia would shrink dramatically. Of course this would be equally spurious, as Mr Biti’s guess is just that, and in fact we have no idea what the scale of economic activity is, as the standard statistics do not tell us, as statistical services measure only a fraction of the ‘informal sector’; a point made forcefully by Professor Jerven.
  •  Third, Zambia’s economy has certainly grown but from a low base. In the 1980s and 90s in particular the economy was in dire straits. So the growth rate that has been used in the projection is to some degree a bounce back, driven in large part by the growth of commodity prices internationally. As a resource dependent economy, the dramatic growth is highly dependent on the price of copper, for example. And this has accelerated, in turn driving growth. There are of course other vibrant sectors, including tourism, but Zambia’s economic growth, and its projection into middle income status, is based on quite fragile and narrow foundations, with question marks being raised about job creation.
  • Fourth, we have to ask how economic activity is distributed to make any useful assessment in relation to development. The benefits of growth in Zambia is massively concentrated. The bigger winners are international mining capital and South African retail and services. Of course this generates some jobs and tax revenues, but the distributive effects of such forms of growth have to be questioned. A broader based growth grounded in redistributive policies is perhaps more sustainable, and certainly more equitable in the longer term. Zimbabwe has certainly not got there yet, but the land reform for example has laid the foundations for this in the agricultural sector.

I could go on. If we probe a bit we can see that the ‘killer fact’ loses its shine quite dramatically. Its construction and deployment in an essentially political argument is clearly problematic. It would be just as problematic for example if Professor Jonathan Moyo – Zimbabwe’s Minister of Information and spin doctor extraordinaire – used the same figure to argue that this was the cost of international ‘sanctions’ on the country in the same period. Both Moss and Moyo would be using a spurious statistic to bolster a political narrative that is far too simple an explanation for a complex and evolving process.

So if you hear this figure again, or any other presented in this sort of way, think twice. More likely than not the statistics will have been conjured up to a suit a predefined narrative. Ask about its source, and whether real field research underpins it. More questioning and critique of such statistics and the narratives that they give rise to is essential to pick apart complex realities from dubious myth making.

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

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