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A very Zimbabwean (not) coup

It has been a dramatic week in Zimbabwe. There has been a (not) coup, Robert Mugabe has been expelled from ZANU-PF, but so far has not stepped down from the presidency [he has now, resigning a few hours after this was posted]. No-one could have predicted this, and no-one can guess what will happen next. I will not try, but just offer some links to some other commentary.

So what happened? The tanks rolled in, an officer in army fatigues made announcements on the TV, and the rumour mill on social media exploded. It certainly seemed like a coup. For those of us with links to Zimbabwe, we stayed up much of the night, had our attention diverted during meetings the next day, as we kept checking Twitter feeds and WhatsApp messages to make sense of the confusion.

And then, all smiles, General Chiwenga, the head of the army, appears at State House with President Mugabe, and a delegation of South Africans, plus a Catholic priest for negotiations about the departure of the president and a transfer of power. Photos were taken and tea was had. And bizarrely, negotiations on-going, the next day the President shows up at a graduation ceremony in full academic regalia. It could not have been scripted.

On Saturday, people of all races, creeds and political backgrounds, marched on the streets alongside the army, celebrating the possibility of change, and rejecting the meddling external intervention of SADC and the AU. The marches were a spectacular demonstration of peaceful, non-violent solidarity with the defence force’s intervention, although questions must be raised about what was being backed.

And then on Sunday, ZANU-PF removed Robert Mugabe as head of ZANU-PF, replacing him with Emmerson Mnangagwa, recently dismissed as Vice President. Others in the G40 group, led by Mugabe’s wife, Grace,  were also expelled, with threats of prosecutions to follow. Later on Sunday evening, after a long wait, it got even more bizarre. Everyone, possibly even the generals in attendance, thought this was the resignation of the president, but in a long and rambling speech and much shuffling of papers, it ended with thank-you and goodnight, polite applause and a stunned silence from the rest of the world.

We must remember that this is no people’s revolution, but is all part of a long-running generational struggle over power within ZANU-PF, with Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Lacoste faction, backed by the army and firmly rooted in the older generation with liberation war credentials, ousting the younger G40 faction, with Grace Mugabe as its figurehead. That, as ever, the focus has been on Robert Mugabe himself may ultimately be missing the point. Many of the potential players in any new dispensation have long, often extremely murky, histories; are embedded in complex business networks and have deep security service connections. It’s a complex web woven over many decades, and it will not be easy to unravel, even under the veneer of constitutional transition. For the opposition groups in any prospective transitional authority [which of course didn’t materialise], the ZANU-PF network will be tough to influence, as they found to their cost during the Government of National Unity from 2009.

What happens next remains very uncertain. Impeachment proceedings are starting, but these may not be as straightforward as some suggest. A resignation may yet happen [it did], but since this is officially not a coup, the army are playing by the constitutional rule-book. There are a lot of constitutional lawyers in Zimbabwe, from all sides, it seems.

It has been an extraordinary, exhausting week. No panic, no violence, and (so far) all very civil. Very Zimbabwean. Blessing Musariri offered an amusing commentary on the mood. There was lots of humour in the Twitter commentary too. Suggestions that General Chiwenga and the Zimbabwe National Army might be deployed at the Emirates to deal with a long-standing succession question at the Arsenal. The #apolojersey meme that began circulating after ZANU-PF Youth League head Kudzanai Chipanga, wearing a jersey and showing poor fashion judgement, apologised on TV for criticising the army. Tweets suggested that all apologies forthwith should be done while wearing the jersey, and there were many photo-shopped suggestions of who should do so. And then there was the outline script of the Hollywood film was proposed, with American actors playing all the leading roles and unable to pronounce Mnangagwa and Zimbabwe. And of course the much shared comment that Zimbabwean coups are so much more peaceful than elections, and that they should be held every five years (retweeted approvingly all over Africa).

This social media melee was the only way of getting information; things have been happening so fast. Thanks to @TrevorNcube in particular for keeping a lid on the speculation, and checking before informatively tweeting. Invaluable. In the UK, you are of course subject to the ill-informed mainstream media barrage on Zimbabwe. The narrative of decline is endlessly trotted out: the ‘basket case’ of Africa, a cabal of incompetent cronies at the helm, the ‘disaster’ of land reform, and on and on. Tedious, tiresome and very often inaccurate.

But unlike on previous occasions when Zimbabwe has hit the global headlines, there are some really thoughtful Zimbabweans available for the TV and radio punditry. Alex Magaisa and Miles Tendi, coming from different angles, were great. It’s excellent to have Zimbabwean profs in our UK universities to give a sophisticated, nuanced take. Most journalists are just too lazy to get into the detail, but assume they know the story without asking the questions. A point made by the brilliant Petina Gappah in a perceptive tweet (@vascodagappah). One exception (and of course there are more) is @fergalkeane47 from the BBC who, thanks to his superb reporting from South Africa in the early 1990s, knows the southern African context, and vitally its history, well.

What more in-depth commentaries have I found useful? Here are a few [and more in the postscript below]:

All of these analyses are fast being superseded by events. We don’t yet know the configuration of any new political settlement. In the process, complex manoeuvres must show that this was all aligned with the constitution, and not a coup. Those likely to back any new regime – China, South Africa and the UK are key – all need to be convinced.

Change in Zimbabwe has most definitely long been needed. Ironically, Mugabe’s undoing has been a result of perhaps his greatest legacy: a highly educated population – and elite political-military class – able to mobilise effectively, and in this case together. However, whatever happens in the next days and weeks, Zimbabwe’s problems have certainly not gone away, and these momentous events are only a beginning. Hopefully a longer-term, democratic transformation will occur, but it is far from assured. Just as with Zimbabwe’s Independence in 1980, issues of land, agriculture and rural livelihoods will be central. More commentary on this on Zimbabweland in the coming months.

*****

POSTSCRIPT: SOME MORE COMMENTARY THAT I HAVE ENJOYED IN THE WEEKS SINCE (posted on 15 December):

Everjoice Win on the ‘old man’ and why he should have been surfing channels with his slippers on, not trying to continue to run a country, but not forgetting the past: : http://www.huffingtonpost.co.za/staff-reporter/robert-mugabe-from-liberator-to-the-walking-dead_a_23285070/

Percy Zvomuya on alien and guardian spirits and political transition: http://www.theconmag.co.za/2017/11/23/13697/

Rudo Mudiwa on Grace Mugabe, misogyny and ‘political women’: http://africasacountry.com/2017/11/on-grace-mugabe-coups-phalluses-and-what-is-being-defended/

Miles Tendi interview on the political roots of the crisis: http://www.capetalk.co.za/articles/281503/mnangagwa-vs-mugabe-distrust-and-political-hits-roots-of-zim-s-crisis-run-deep

Knox Chitiyo on the ‘new era’: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/22/robert-mugabe-departure-heady-new-era-zimbabwe-emmerson-mnangagwa?CMP=twt_gu

McDonald Lewanika: on the new regime, new or old, change or continuity? http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/africaatlse/2017/12/13/zimbabwe-and-zanu-pfs-continuing-hegemony-meet-the-new-boss-same-as-the-old-boss/

Alex Magaisa on the MDC Alliance’s ill-judged and poorly timed visit to the US: https://www.bigsr.co.uk/single-post/2017/12/15/Big-Saturday-Read-Going-to-America

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

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

zimbabwe-protests

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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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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