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Robert Mugabe: a complex legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Zimbabwe election round-up

It’s election day in Zimbabwe today. Since the (not quite a) coup in November, the last 8 months have been a political rollercoaster, with the final pre-election stretch suggesting a tight race, with the last Afrobarometer poll suggesting the presidential candidates were separated by only 3 percentage points.

Whatever the outcome, land and agriculture will be high on the agenda of a new government. As discussed in an earlier blog, the manifestos of both main contenders – ZANU-PF and the MDC Alliance – were full of promises, but had little detail.

The election campaign of course hasn’t been full of  detailed policy discussion. There’s been lots of debate about electoral process, plenty of ‘fake’ news especially on social media, and even Robert Mugabe – whose absence defined the election – making a last minute intervention yesterday, saying he won’t be supporting his ‘tormentors’ in ZANU-PF.

There has been a huge amount of coverage on Zimbabwe in the last days, as the international media becomes interested for a short window and journalists flock to the country. But as ever much of the commentary has been typically shallow.

So today, instead of a normal Zimbabweland offering, I thought I would offer links to some rather more substantive pieces that I enjoyed (even if I didn’t agree with them all).

First up, McDonald Lewanika offers a useful backgrounder on the debates and issues, while Wilf Mbanga speculates on potential outcomes, including the prospect of another national unity government. David Moore, in turn, explains some of the complexities – and murky history – of Zimbabwe’s elections.

Big governance issues are raised by the election, most crucially the discussion of what is free, fair, credible and feasible. Following an overview of the build-up to this historical poll, Piers Pigou digs into debates about the electoral process, which has been mired in controversy, as Alex Magaisa outlines.

Meanwhile, Dumisani Moyo discusses how this election, so dominated by social media engagement, has meant that sifting fact from fiction has often been tough. Just scroll through any Twitter stream and you will see, let alone the doctored pictures and made up statistics.

While much has changed during this election, including more openness and so far little violence (despite the bomb attack), some things haven’t. Particularly notable has been the absence of women in the lead of either main party and making up only 15% of candidates, commented upon by Rumbidzai Dube.

Africa Confidential asks the question, what next? after the vote, and the role of investment – good and bad – needed to restore the precarious economy. Whatever the outcome, this is going to be crucial, and both main parties agree wooing international investment is a priority. The conditions associated and the form investments take will shape the future for many years, including what happens to land and agriculture.

Much hangs on this election, therefore, and the next days will be tense ones for everyone committed to Zimbabwe’s future.

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

Picture credit: zimbabweelection.com

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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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Beyond Zimbabwe’s ‘politics of despair’

There have been two excellent commentaries on Zimbabwe’s political situation recently by Brian Raftopolous and Joost Fontein. Both point to a ‘politics of despair’, a sense of despondency that no alternative is possible at least in the short-term. They make rather depressing reading. I agree with their analysis in broad terms, although as I point out below, they miss out another more pragmatic politics of hope. They focus on (mostly) a view from the metropolitan middle classes, committed to a democratic transition. In different terms, this is the view expressed widely in the diaspora. The excitement around the potential for change that was seen in the late 1990s and into the 2000s, has dissipated.

Raftopolous points to the changing global configuration of power and interests that frames the Zimbabwe situation. Contrary to the last decade, he argues, “calls for democratisation are being pushed back by the statist imperatives of securitisation and stabilisation with few attempts to confront the constraints of neoliberalism”. This is apparent amongst western nations whose concentration on southern Africa has been diverted to the concerns with militant Islamic insurgency in eastern and west Africa. SADC as a body seems not to be pushing a democratization agenda, and with Mugabe at the head of the AU this year, his focus will be on other questions, not least the threats of Boko Haram and Al Shabaab. As Raftopolous points out, the Chinese, now major backers of the Zimbabwe state, with bilateral trade reaching $1.4 billion, are not, despite claims to the contrary, interested in disrupting a neoliberal status quo that benefits their commercial interests.

Given this, “the challenges for the opposition in developing an alternative vision for Zimbabwe are immense”, comments Raftopolous. “At a domestic level the opposition has to confront the combined coercive and patronage structures of the ruling party. On a broader regional and international plane the opposition must contend with Zanu-PF’s capacity to combine its nationalist and Pan Africanist invocations with the ‘normalisation’ discourse of neoliberalism and the clear international trend towards re-engagement with the Mugabe regime”.

Combined with the “constant bickering” of the opposition parties, there does not seem much prospect of an organized opposition response, even in the 2018 elections. With the opposition in disarray and key leaders on sabbaticals in the US, writing biographical reflections of their earlier heroic struggles, and the ‘Renewal Team’, at least for now, being expelled from parliament, there does not seem to be much likelihood of early regrouping.

This is the politics of the long-haul. A view reflected in the commentaries picked up by Fontein. He reflects on the hope that characterized the mood of the early 2000s. Correctly he observes, this was far from universal,  “but the doom and gloom of ‘authoritarian nationalism’, and the ‘end of modernity’ for a ‘plunging’ Zimbabwe, that preoccupied scholars, did not always match the confidence in new and better futures that one also encountered on Zimbabwe’s streets and resettled farms”.

He, however, observes that with hindsight, “all this hope seems profoundly misplaced”. He goes on to paint a rather dismal picture, where no hope for change is offered. He concludes “Despondency is prevalent and a new timescale of hope and aspiration has taken hold that makes both the present and any immediate future appear equally uninspiring. If people are just waiting, as many have suggested, most have resigned themselves to the long haul”. For his friends working in local government in Harare who had not been paid for months, this is indeed the reality (although perhaps offset by the growth of an excellent underground strand of satirical comedy).

Raftopolous points to the underlying factors leading to this politics of despair. These range, he notes, “from the re-organisation of Zanu-PF and its political machinery of patronage, coercion and electoral chicanery, to the massive dissipation of opposition energies in the context of large-scale changes in Zimbabwe social structure since the 1990s”.

But it is these changes in social structure – rooted in the land reform – that I think have been missed in these analyses. Maybe I am overly optimistic, but while these portrayals – of the international setting and for the employed, urban middle class – are unquestionably accurate, I don’t think they reflect the whole picture.

In our work in the resettlement farms of Masvingo, Mvurwi and now Matobo, we come across a spirit of optimism. Yes there are hardships and frustrations, and often damning tirades against the elite political class (but also, as noted last week, examples of resistance). People point to how things are better than they were, and are improving. We have been recently analyzing data from our surveys in Mvurwi, and you can see where this comes from. Across five years from 2010, all households across three A1 farms have been averaging production of maize at 3.2 tonnes (although with much variation), and tobacco averaging nearly a tonne. Around half of all households sold over a tonne of maize in 2014, many considerably more. And the numbers of cattle, cars, combis, tractors, trucks, cell phones, solar panels, pumps and more that have been bought in the last five years is phenomenal, according to our data.

These figures far exceed anything possible in the communal areas from where many came. And those who came from jobs in town swear they will never go back. Perhaps surprisingly, even though extremely income and asset poor, farm workers still resident in the compounds on these farms registered improvements, with many increasing cultivation, and acquiring assets. They all mentioned many problems of an often fragile existence, but nearly 60 per cent indicated that things had improved since land reform.

The contrasts with the depressed and demotivated discourse in the urban areas, where hope of change had been offered by the MDC in the 2000s, the resettlements seem a world away. Many problems remain, but things seem more hopeful and positive, focused as they are on the day to day travails of farming rather than on uncertain government salaries and a failing old, core economy. In a month or two (probably in June), there will be a blog series on our data from Mvurwi to illustrate the underlying patterns of livelihood change that generate this. But this is not just in the higher potential areas such as Mvurwi; even in Matabeleland where I was last month, and in the midst of a poor rainy season, many expressed a sense of achievement and potential when talking about their farms, and the future.

Generating a new sense of hope, out of which a new politics might emerge, will have to come from the fields and farms of rural Zimbabwe, and especially the resettlement areas. The opposition’s failure to engage with the realities of the land reform, and for much political commentary to ignore it too (including the otherwise excellent pieces from Brian and Joost) means that the other side of the Zimbabwe story is not heard, and another, more positive, future is not imagined.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared first 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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A1 permits: unleashing contradictions in the party state

On 2 July, President Mugabe launched the new permit system aimed at all A1 farms. Previously, Minister for Lands, Douglas Mombeshora, had announced that all previous ‘offer letters’ were null and void, and that everyone with land officially allocated in A1 resettlement schemes should apply for a new permit. These permits were aimed at regularising land tenure arrangements, and provide security of land holdings in perpetuity.

The permits, Mombeshora claimed, could be used as collateral to raise money from commercial banks. Both husband and wife would be named on the permit, and this would avoid any disputes around inheritance, offering women in particular security. The permits would come with conditions, however. They would not be issued to those who were not utilising the land, nor those who had been allocated land illegally outside the ‘fast-track’ allocations. A total of over 220,000 permits would be issued (although this seems high), and the first were handed over as part of a presidential ceremonial occasion at Chipfuri farm in Mhangura.

Some argued that the permits were illegal, however. Since compensation had not been paid for the land, the title deed is still notionally valid, and so no new land ownership arrangement can be applied. The ministry disputes this interpretation, but the issue of compensation certainly still remains very live, and must be a high priority.

On the face of it, the issuing of permits seemed to me like an excellent move. Indeed very much in line with arguments made on this blog before. Uncertainty about land tenure has plagued development in the new resettlements, and many had pointed to the limitations of the ‘offer letters’. A clearer, more transparent approach, with conditions and backed by an audit, would provide a firmer basis for planning and development efforts. Clear ownership arrangements would also offset attempts at ‘grabbing’ land by elites, or the growing practices of informal land allocation by a range of different authorities. The Ministry of Lands, backed hopefully by an improved land information system and greater clarity in land administration, would be doing its job.

However, rather than providing stability, normalisation and security, the announcement appears to have had the opposite effect in some places. A spate of land invasions has occurred again. These seem to have been in part prompted by the speech made by President Mugabe at the launch. Whether this was misreporting by the press or the president, as ever, was playing to the crowd, he was reported as saying that whites had no right to the land, and that ‘supping with whites’ through ‘fronting’ farms would not be countenanced. This has been interpreted variously as an affront to the Constitution, a racist attack and a spur for more land invasions, including of black farmers suspected of colluding with whites.

Emmerson Mnangagwa, minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, had to defend the president’s speech in parliament, arguing that it had been misinterpreted, and of course the President is fully committed to upholding the Constitution. Equally, Minister Mombeshora has reiterated that the land reform is over, invasions should not be allowed, and those moving illegally, for example into forest areas, would be removed in a crack-down on illegal land deals. However, some others may have not been listening to the parliamentary record and ministers’ statements, and in the last few weeks a series of, sometimes violent, invasions have occurred.

One of the most disturbing occurred in Masvingo East near our study sites. Black farmers on a series of farms, many purchased long before the land reform, were accused by war veterans of providing cover for whites and underutilising their land. Repeating an invasion that resulted in evictions last year, the farms were invaded again by a group of youths recruited from nearby areas, and there was a stand-off. This escalated into a conflict in which Mr Mufaro Mukaro was seriously injured in an axe attack, and remains in hospital. The local lands department say that the invasions are illegal and the occupiers should go. The local MP and deputy agriculture minister, Davis Maripira, condemned the attack. But the situation remains tense, although the lead war veteran was arrested.

Other invasions have occurred in Mazwi nature reserve near Bulawayo; in Goromonzi associated with an ownership wrangle with local big wigs, and disputes over periurban housing offered as part of election sweeteners last year; as well as in forest estates in the Eastern Highlands. A violent attack in Guruve earlier in the year also occurred, leaving Malcom Francis and his daughter Catherine both dead, signalling increasing insecurity for remaining white farmers. William Stander of Benjani ranch in Mwenezi also recently lost a Constitutional court contest to retain his farm. The most recent invasion, garnerning substantial publicity through activist Ben Freeth, was the attempt by deputy presidential secretary, Dr Ray Ndhlukula to take over Figtree farm in Matabeleland South, despite a High Court ruling against this.

Just as we thought that a sensible, ordered reform of land tenure and ownership was to happen, backed by a long-called for audit, then confusion and uncertainty emerges again. The recent period is a telling sign that Zimbabwe has a long way to go before a formal, effective and accountable bureaucratic state is allowed to operate. The Ministry of Lands under Mombeshora has been trying to move in this direction, recognising the urgent need to move on from the land reform to rebuild agriculture and spur rural development. Yet political factions within the party state, including perhaps inadvertently the president, but also senior members of his own office, are resisting this move to a normalised situation. Political and personal benefit can be gained from instability just as it has been over 14 or more years.

Others resisting are those disappointed with the way the state is moving to regularise things, and so exclude some from potential future spoils. And there are those too who are disillusioned with the party, including core supporters inside the war veteran movement, seeing it as selling out in its attempts to become ‘acceptable’ to the international community in the post July 31 2013 era. Jabulani Sibanda, the notorious war veteran leader, commented recently: “This is a struggle; this is war against multiple black farm owners. Some of them have farms registered under the names of their children who are not even in the country. We will take such farms and redistribute them. We are against land hoarders and people who have too much land; excess land to be precise,”

As discussed last week, the complex manoeuvres, the competing factions, and the layers of commercial and political interests at the heart of the ZANU-PF state can result in all sorts of contradictory and conflicting results. So within one month, we had a move to regularise and formalise land tenure, along the lines that many had long been calling for, and yet a reaction that resulted in more violent land invasions.

Those stuck in the middle, including many ministers, civil servants, but particularly people on the ground, including frontline government officials, find it difficult to navigate a way forward. They urgently want a clear, transparent system to prevail in line with the Constitution; and with whites involved in the new agrarian system, contributing in multiple ways. It is no wonder, as discussed last week, that things are stuck, and reforms and the economy are not moving forward as fast as many, including many within ZANU-PF, hoped.

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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