Tag Archives: Robert Mugabe

Boris as PM: it’s no laughing matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Military muscle and populist promises: authoritarian populism in southern Africa

Last week I was at an amazing gathering at the ISS in The Hague, which brought together nearly 300 activists and academics to discuss the origins and implications of authoritarian populism. A short reflection on some of the themes emerging was published this weekend in openDemocracy.

Whether in the form of Duterte or Trump, Maduro or Mugabe, Modi or Erdogan, the rise (and sometimes fall) of authoritarian regimes with populist, sometimes religiously inflected, often militarily enforced, is evident all over the world.

In the build up to the event, we published a series of articles on openDemocracy with cases from India, the US, Myanmar, Brazil, Indonesia, Colombia and South Africa. The parallels are striking, although the contexts and political implications are very different. Do take a look. More from Russia, Guatemala and Colombia are coming soon!

The focus of the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative is the rural and agrarian dimension. Much debate has focused on urban metropolitan areas, yet the support for many authoritarian populist leaders is rural, and the consequences of neoliberal neglect, extractivism and resource grabbing is keenly felt.

Among the 80 odd papers prepared for the event (all available via the Transnational Institute, one of the co-hosts), there were quite a few papers from Africa, including several from Zimbabwe. How does Zimbabwe fit within this wider picture? Not obviously is the short answer.

Mugabe’s economic populism was well known, with land reform the centre-piece, and anti-democratic, often militarised authoritarianism has always been central to ZANU-PF’s political culture. Yet, Mugabe’s anti-imperialist rhetoric and socialist flag-waving did not put him in the group of regressive right-wing regimes.

Indeed one of the ambiguities of the term, authoritarian populism, is the difficult match to the now outdated categories of left or right. With liberation movement parties still in power in southern Africa, a particular form is evident. Former president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, had a well-honed populist streak, but maintained control by leveraging power in different ways through a ‘captured’ state. Julius Malema the firebrand Economic Freedom Fighters opposition leader is the supreme populist, with often extreme authoritarian tendencies.

It’s not surprising given their histories that both in Zimbabwe and South Africa, land is central to the populist discourse – linking in turn to nationalist narratives and liberation struggle commitments. With debates about ‘expropriation without compensation’ this has risen to a higher gear in South Africa, and parallels (usually wildly inaccurate) with Zimbabwe are frequently made.

Now with Zuma and Mugabe gone, what are we to make of Ramaphosa and Mnangagwa in this frame? Both have been spouting populist promises in their first months in power, but this is fairly standard political fare, and large pinches of salt are recommended. Both also appear to be committed to a business-friendly, open investment economic position. Both countries are ‘open for business;’ presumably including both leaders’ businesses, of which there are many.

It is too early to see whether a new state project is being cultivated, and whether this could be described as ‘authoritarian populism’, as Zuma and Mugabe clearly were, although with very southern African flavours. Key will be to understand the nature of underlying power, and how accountable this is. Neither have faced national elections as yet, so we don’t yet know how popular the populist pleading will be. While South Africa’s democratic roots run deeper, the concerns validly expressed about the military influence in Zimbabwe are real.

Much discussion of southern African politics – and perhaps especially Zimbabwean – is rather insular. However, the intersections of authoritarianism (in various forms) and populism (also with many dimensions) is a phenomenon across the world. Reflecting on other settings may help us understand how military muscle and populist promises mix and match in the Zimbabwe setting. It’s often not a pretty sight.

Effective resistance and opposition mobilisation with new styles of emancipatory politics are needed to counter authoritarian populism globally, but currently in Zimbabwe this doesn’t look likely, as in its early days Nelson Chamisa’s MDC seems to be exhibiting some of the worst authoritarian populist traits, this time with an evangelical Christian religious tinge.

As the election year in Zimbabwe unfolds, making sense of the new politics will require some new lenses, and different responses. Thinking about authoritarian populism and how to confront it across the world may help focus thinking in Zimbabwe, so do check out the many materials emerging from the ERPI.

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

Illustration is by Boy Dominguez produced for the event, titled Populismo

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Zimbabwe’s diamond theft: power and patronage in Marange

miners

In February last year President Mugabe announced that the eight mining companies operating in the Marange diamond fields in the east of the country would be nationalised, claiming that the companies had ‘robbed’ the country of its mineral wealth. Since 2006 when the surface alluvial diamonds were ‘discovered’ in Marange, the massive wealth generated by these small stones has caused havoc. The experience of Marange over the past decade is an important lens on Zimbabwe’s tortured politics and economy in this period.

An excellent book has just been published by the wonderful Weaver Press in Harare – Facets of Power: Politics, Profits and People in the Making of Zimbabwe’s Blood Diamonds. Edited by Richard Saunders and Tinashe Nyamunda it offers a series of chapters covering the Marange story from different angles.

The basic storyline of corruption, patronage, violence and theft is well known, with parallels in other mining sectors as discussed previously on this blog. No-one knows how much of the diamond wealth was siphoned off and never declared. When Tendai Biti was Finance Minister in the ill-fated Government of National Unity (GNU) he was in constant battle with the Ministry of Mines, attempting to get transparent declarations. No-one knew the scale of corruption and theft, but it was clearly massive. President Mugabe himself claimed that only $2bn of a potential $13bn of mining revenue was ever declared.

In the introductory chapter, Richard Saunders describes the ‘perfect storm’ that was the Marange story: “The confluence of extraordinary conditions – a once in a lifetime diamond strike; a state characterised by military partisan control, elite predation and withered professional capacity; and the presence in willing partners in a shadowy international trade – cast Marange’s diamond fields into the centre of politically inflected, violent and ultimately destructive struggle for control over extractive resources”.

But there are important nuances to this standard narrative repeated in the introductory chapters that are revealed by other chapters in the book. These make any simplistic, sweeping perspective on Zimbabwe’s ‘blood diamonds’ more complex. As various contributions to the book show, although gaining the epithet from international campaign groups, Zimbabwe’s diamonds were not the classic ‘blood’ or ‘conflict’ diamonds of, say, Angola or Sierra Leone, directly feeding armed militias and insurgents. Instead Zimbabwe’s diamonds fuelled different forms of patronage and corruption, sometimes for sure linked to violence, but with multiple beneficiaries who shifted over time. In this sense Marange became the symbol of a classic ‘resource curse’, undermining accountability and fuelled by a corrupt legal and political order, linking political struggles with accumulation and elite formation, as Alois Mlambo describes in the Foreword.

But this was not just a Zimbabwe phenomenon, as is sometimes suggested. The international connections, feeding local corruption, were important. The chapter by Alan Martin offers a detailed and fascinating account of the murky international networks associated with the diamond trade over time. The connections with Dubai, India, Belgium, South Africa, the UK, US, Israel and more were crucial. Competition in the international diamond trade – from traders to distributors to processors to retailers – had big effects on who became involved at the Zimbabwe end, and what deals were struck with both companies and state officials. Of course the evidence is inevitably patchy and secretive, as much of this activity was illegal, but the chapter sheds important light on the international dimensions of the story, including the clear limitations of the Kimberley Process, the global certification attempt established in 2003 to ensure accountability and transparency in the diamond trade, and the focus for much local and international civil society action.

As the book shows, there were clearly different phases of exploitation of the Marange diamond fields over the last decade, involving different actors, with different political connections, and with different patronage networks. The first phase involved African Consolidated Resources, a company with British connections, who had the mining rights to the newly discovered field. However their license was quickly withdrawn. Here the rhetoric of indigenisation and resources for the people was used, although the party-state at that stage showed little interest at the highest levels, not knowing the extent of the find.

From mid-2006 followed a period of ‘free-for-all’ when informal miners arrived en masse. This was a period when the economy was in crisis, inflation was accelerating, and when many were looking for alternative sources of income. People had been displaced by Operation Murabatsvina in 2005, and younger people often had not benefited from the land reform in 2000. At its peak in 2007-08 there were reputedly 35,000 people – miners, traders, service providers of various sorts – living in and around the Chiadzwa area. The excellent chapter by Tinashe Nyamunda provides an important insight into this period, showing how mining was organised, and how miners had to link with policy and security syndicates, paying off other officials in turn, in order to operate. Links to traders were facilitated and cuts were taken at every stage. As the chapter shows, this phase resulted in major gains for many, both in the area and more broadly. The rapid accumulation of wealth – notably cars and trucks, but also a range of consumer goods – was tangible, resulting in a boom at a time when the national economy was nosediving. I remember being in Masvingo at this time, and young men (and some women) were coming back with a range of smart clothes, music systems, and more.

This all changed in late 2008, when the state announced the privatisation of the diamond fields, expelling the informal miners overnight in a ferocious, violent clampdown. The stories I heard back then were terrifying and the chapters in this book relay them again. About 200 people are reported to have been killed as security forces enforced the ban, making way for a series of state-sanctioned investments, where the government held a 50 percent stake. A number of these companies became major operators, bringing in huge equipment and massive workforces, including the infamous Chinese company, Anjin, with its close connections to the Zimbabwe armed forces.

In this phase, as Nyamunda shows, the patronage networks shifted. It was no longer the local officials, police and security personnel who were involved, but this now all moved to a much larger scale. This was the period, during the GNU, when ZANU-PF were re-establishing their base, and diamond money was an important source, and when what some have called a parallel or shadow government was in place. It was also a period when some senior party and military/security officials gained huge wealth. The book mentions the then minister of mines gloating that he was the richest cattle owner in the country. Certainly across Matabeleland the building boom associated with his tenure in office is legendary. Ironically, from 2009 was the period when Zimbabwe re-entered the Kimberley Process, and Zimbabwe’s diamond trade became legal. Certification requires formal mining by companies, and not informal systems, and the privatisation with government oversight ensured compliance. This period is when theft became legal.

In 2013 a brave parliamentary portfolio review exposed some of the extent of the looting that had gone on following an in-depth, although obstructed, investigation. The cries of Tendai Biti were reinforced. But still these went unheeded, and the diversion of funds on a massive scale continued. We do not know why the president decided suddenly nationalise the diamond industry in 2016 and put it all under a single body. Many are crying foul with court cases challenging the decision. The official rationale was that this was to stamp out corruption, and ensure revenues flow to the finance ministry. Of course the on-going attempts to woo the international community by Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa under the banner of economic reform must have played a part. The IMF inspection missions were certainly on his case with respect to minerals revenues. But the suspicion must also be, as hinted in the epilogue to the book, that this also reflected shifts in power and patronage, ones that required new people to benefit, as those who profited from 2009 lost favour.

As is the case too often with mineral wealth in Africa – whether oil in Nigeria or diamonds in Sierra Leone – massive natural resource wealth can result in chaos if not well managed. Accountable, transparent systems of resource governance are rarely in place, and greed, corruption, and shadow authority takes precedence. Once thought to last for 20 years or more, Zimbabwe’s diamond fields are producing less and less. The extractivist boom has lined the pockets of some – initially more widely and then narrowing to a well-connected state-party-military elite, and their international connections – but the wider wealth such a resource could have offered to the nation, as glimpsed at in the early informal phase, has since tragically been squandered.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The politics of reform in Zimbabwe

chinamasa-02

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From liberation to liberalism: what prospects for reform?

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

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

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

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

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

Political alliances for reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Zimbabwe’s political uncertainty continues

mugabe-at-airport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: No powerful or decisive role whatsoever.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

China: Zimbabwe’s ‘all-weather friend’

china zimbabwe

At the end of last year, President Xi Jinping dropped in to Harare en route to South Africa and the major FOCAC (Forum on China-Africa Cooperation) meeting, held every few years, where $60bn was pledged for African development. The road to Harare airport was adorned with huge posters welcoming Zimbabwe’s ‘all-weather friend’. The Chinese delegation included around 200 officials, all keen to consolidate the long-standing relationship with Zimbabwe.

There was much hype in the local press. Was China going to bail out Zimbabwe, with the ‘look east’ policy finally paying off? In advance of the ZANU-PF Congress, was the Chinese president going to help with the succession issue, publicly backing Vice President Emerson Mnangagwa, who has long ties with China? Was this going to be the turning point for Zimbabwe’s politics and economy?

Well no. As with many other engagements with China over the past few years, the expectations were not matched with the reality. China certainly values its partnerships in Africa, and connections with Zimbabwe are certainly important. Chinese interests in mineral exploitation in the country are significant, and as a sympathetic country not captured by Western interests in the southern African region, Zimbabwe can be important to Chinese diplomatic efforts. But of course Zimbabwe is small fry for China – even its significant mineral wealth – and this is not a new ‘colonisation’ as some suggest.

In China’s ‘new normal’ – characterised recently by a slowing economy, overvalued currency, collapsing stock markets – China is attempting to switch from resource-dependent industrial growth to a more service-oriented, knowledge-based economy. This will take time, but the heat has gone out of China’s voracious drive to acquire resources in Africa, and elsewhere, with trade declining. This has had a major impact on resource-dependent economies in Africa and elsewhere, most notably Brazil.

So Zimbabwe may be more important as a symbolic friend, one where connections and networks that date back to the liberation war, and early careers of the now aging generation of ZANU-PF politicians. Of course the political economy of the relationship is very different to the 1960s and 70s, but these connections of solidarity matter – on both sides. And both are happy to make use of them, whether through joint deals on land, support for the mining industry, investments in power and infrastructure, security sector support or diplomatic solidarity in Africa – President Mugabe is after all the chair of the African Union.

Zimbabwe hit the international headlines with the (re)announcement that Zimbabwe would adopt the yuan – China’s currency – as part of its multi-currency basket (it has actually been so since 2014), down-grading in turn the South African rand, which has suffered badly recently. This will have virtually no tangible effect, and the US dollar will continue as the main currency for now. Instead, it was an importantly symbolic move, as China is keen to move the yuan to the status of an internationally tradeable currency. Just as the British PM and Chancellor offered the City of London as a place for international trading, so too President Mugabe – bizarrely on the same diplomatic and economic mission – could offer China the opportunity to symbolically showcase its currency, even if in one of the most depressed economies in the region.

There were of course agreements and signings and some tangible offers as part of the visit. There was the long hailed support for the rehabilitation of the Hwange power station; a commitment to help build a new parliament building; there was the promise of a debt write off to the tune of $40m; and there were other promises of investment into the future. Chinese investment in Zimbabwe of course continues, both through official state-facilitated channels and more informal routes – whether small-scale mining operations or deals with A2 farmers made by Chinese companies. The security services, with their strong historic links to China, are an important conduit – including in retail and agriculture. And Zimbabwe will in turn continue its strong trade in tobacco, and occasionally elephants, with China.

It was a whistle-stop tour, and the delegation was soon gone. But long after the posters on the airport road come down, the connections will remain important, and other investors, diplomatic missions and aid agencies will have to take note.

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

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized