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What will the inauguration of President Trump bring to Africa?

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Later this week Donald Trump will be inaugurated as president of the US. There has been much speculation about his foreign policy position, assuming oil industry boss, Rex Tillerson, is confirmed as Secretary of State. An ‘America first’ position will certainly mean a more inward-looking stance, focusing on domestic concerns. Globalisation and compassionate, liberal internationalism will not be on the agenda. The aid agency, USAID, will probably look very different, and preferential trade arrangements, such as under AGOA, will be given short shrift. Gone will be the spreading of ‘good governance’, democracy, the ‘rule of law’ and food security; instead support for US business interests will dominate (although these of course were hardly absent before).

Some have argued that the Trump presidency will see the end of the idea of ‘the West’ – that great post-war alliance of political, commercial and military interests, generated under globalised neoliberal policies, that have helped forge multilateral institutions, trade pacts and environmental/social policy agreements.

Is this all under threat? Somehow I doubt it. No matter the undoubted power of the US presidency there are plenty of other forces at play that will see such alliances hold, even if transformed in their objectives, membership and support. But what is certain is that geopolitics will look different.

At a time when the prospects for the old world order look threatened, and many fear the consequences for global trade, peace and stability, new arrangements will have to be forged. Already, Trump has alarmed the world with connections with Putin’s Russia, by praise for Pakistan, and by engaging directly with Taiwan, as well as threatening commitments to hard-won agreements on trade and climate change. For sure, the status quo is about to be seriously disrupted.

Opportunities for Africa?

For some this may be a positive thing. The meddling in foreign lands by western powers, led by the US, has often been challenged by those arguing for a new post-colonial order, where aid is not seen as a route to imposing liberal, western values. Instead a greater independence and geopolitical and commercial autonomy may open up new avenues. Of course many in Africa, including Zimbabwe, have been ‘looking east’ for both cash and political support. China as the great competing superpower of the twenty first century has many ambitions in Africa. China sees the long game, and is investing in social, cultural, political and economic capital across Africa. Already the US’ standing in Africa looks different, and this will change again.

Yet there may be opportunities for Africa from a new US stance. Despite the belligerent rhetoric, Trump is clearly a well- practised pragmatist, born of his experiences of building his business empire. Working from instinct, direct personal connections and relations are crucial, and high-flown policy is secondary. In many ways, he is more similar to most African presidents than his predecessors, who also share some of his less than liberal views.

Surrounded by family, senior military officials, and with politics firmly linked to business interests, there are striking, if not always positive, similarities. Trump is associated with a different type of political dynasty, far from the more familiar Clinton and Bush version, perhaps more akin to those seen in Africa, where business and politics mix easily. Such family and business connections may be important for Africa, as suggested below.

As African governments have got used to a different type of relationship with the other major superpower, China, new forms of engagement have emerged, very different way to the standard diplomatic and aid connections of western powers. Business is central, geo-political interests are clear, and deals are struck based on often quite personal connections. Just look at how the late Meles Zinawe and of course President Mugabe cultivated China, often to good effect.

Trump’s inconsistent and rare commentaries on Africa reveal little of his policy position. He has called South Africa ‘a mess’ (but few would argue about that), and has challenged President Museveni of Uganda, arguing that he should be locked up for corruption (well he may have a point too). But overall there is little to be gleaned beyond the usual Twitter-led knee-jerk commentary that has characterised Trump to date.

The Zimbabwe connection: sport hunting and golf?

So what are the implications for Zimbabwe? Robert Mugabe in his usual mischievous style has both backed Trump – as a challenger of western liberal hegemony – and castigated him – arguing that Adolf Hitler must be his grandfather! Trump has said that, along with Museveni, he will personally see that he is imprisoned. Beyond the campaign rhetoric and political posturing, Zimbabwe though has more direct and positive connection with Trump, via his sons. This suggests an interesting set of common interests, arising from a slightly bizarre route.

The new US President’s sons – Eric and Donald Jr., now in charge of the Trump business empire – are very fond of Africa, and indeed in 2010 visited Zimbabwe on a high-end trophy hunting trip organised by an exclusive South African company, Hunting Legends. Their time in Matetsi safari area near Hwange was much enjoyed.  During their hunting safari they hunted leopard, elephant, buffalo and waterbuck and more, and paid huge sums in trophy fees, as well as their no doubt luxurious bush accommodation and safari services. A small media storm occurred, with outrage at the horrors of hunting from the usual quarters (check out the photos – you can see why), although it was completely above board.

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So perhaps Zimbabwe can make the connection to Trump through his sons and via the promotion of sport hunting? Trump Senior prefers golf (he has his own golf course in Scotland, but I am told some of Zimbabwe’s are world class), but as a route to promoting US business and African development, sport hunting may be a win-win. Personally I don’t like hunting or golf, and many will no doubt object to the idea that hunting can result in development gains, as in the outraged global reaction to the death of Cecil the lion at the hands of a hapless dentist from Minnesota.

Nevertheless, there are good arguments for the sustainable use of wildlife, and trophy revenues are the ones that usually make it economically profitable, as I argued in a blog on Cecil. So perhaps the relevant ministers need to get on a plane to the US, and be the first in the queue to make the case for Zimbabwe as an investment destination.

Last time the Trump brothers came to Zimbabwe they were escorted by a white-owned South African company; perhaps next time they can engage with a community-led business, with more benefits to local people from the significant fees paid. Perhaps the Save Valley Conservancy can get involved, along with their outreach schemes; and maybe the long-lost ‘wildlife-based land reform’ can be revived, with dividends spilling over to support development in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the country.

Just as diamonds were the platform for Chinese engagement with Zimbabwe (see next week’s blog), perhaps sport hunting could provide the same starting point for new political relations and joint business ventures with the US; although hopefully – but far from guaranteed – without all the murky corrupt, politics that ensue when investments in valuable resources occur in Africa.

This all may be grasping at straws. I suspect so, as the more serious global challenges are more fundamentally about Trump’s challenge to rights, democracy and the global political order. Certainly, we are about to enter a new era, where old rules don’t apply. Thinking out of the box, and developing a new discourse for African engagement with the US will definitely be necessary; and this must start from Friday.

Further reflections of mine from last year: http://steps-centre.org/2016/blog/trump-and-brexit-whats-the-alternative/

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Lowveld politics

The controversy surrounding the ‘indigenisation’ of shareholdings in the Save Valley Conservancy involving ZANU-PF big wigs has been revived again in the past two weeks. Although much of this is old news, several new developments have taken place, including the granting of hunting licenses to the new joint venture ‘owners’ and mounting pressure on aid donors to reimpose sanctions ahead of the hosting of the major UN international tourism conference in Zimbabwe next year. Also, local chiefs, including Chief Tsovani and Sengwe, have weighed in, complaining directly to the President that local people have not got a good deal from the conservancy arrangements as well as the resettlements on the sugar estates. Meanwhile, in nearby Chisumbanje, Billy Rautenbach’s ethanol project looks in trouble, as the government refuses to require ethnanol mixes in fuel, and local opposition around the reclaiming of ARDA land and the eviction of farmers mounts.

Lowveld politics remains hot, and the complex political wrangles that characterise Masvingo in particular are never far below the surface. Behind the headlines there is a more complex story. As Takura Zhangazha explains in a recent blog for African Arguments, the intra-party conflicts within ZANU-PF are an important context, as the public spat between former Gutu South MP Shuvai Mahofa and tourism minister Walter Muzembi clearly shows.

As is often the case, there is more going on below the surface, and a more in-depth analysis of political dynamics is needed. Such an analysis of lowveld land struggles is provided in a paper just out in African Affairs. The new paper called: “The new politics of Zimbabwe’s lowveld: struggles over land at the margins” was written and researched by Ian Scoones, Joseph Chaumba, Blasio Mavedzenge and William Wolmer. It explores the contrasting story of land struggles in the lowveld outside the ‘fast-track’ areas of Masvingo province, and draws conclusions on the implications for understanding the relationships between the state and citizens on the margins of state power: all issues highly pertinent to the recent rush of press commentary on the area.

Based on over a decade of research in the area, the paper focuses on three high profile case studies – Nuanetsi ranch, the Save Valley and Chiredzi River conservancies and Gonarezhou national park. For each case, the article examines who gained and who lost out over time, from entrepreneurial investors to well-connected politicians and military figures, to white ranchers and large numbers of farmers who have occupied land since 2000.

In Nuanetsi ranch, controlled by the Development Trust of Zimbabwe, an ambitious plan to create a massive irrigated sugar plantation and ethanol plant was proposed by the notorious Billy Rautenbach, a staunch supporter of ZANU PF. Yet, land invaders had occupied huge areas of land, and removing them was difficult. The paper documents the twists and turns of the story, as Rautenbach’s investment plans shifted, and finally the informal settlers were granted the right to stay. Land invaders also moved onto the world-renown lowveld conservancies, but the major challenge to this white, elite enclave came from a high profile grab by politically well connected politicians, military figures and traditional leaders, who were granted leases and most recently hunting licenses. This elite grab was contested by the conservancy owners who rejected the claims that this was ‘wildlife based land reform’, but also local people who wanted to settle the land for farming and cattle rearing. Finally, in Gonarezhou national park, a group led by Headman Chitsa invaded an area that they claimed was a veterinary corridor. They were told to move, but stubbornly stayed put, arguing that this was their land, and it was linked to an ancestral claim. A stalemate persisted for more than a decade, and the villagers were seen to be a block to the realisation of the high profile Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which promised infrastructural investment and tourist income. In the end, again, the villagers’ persistence won out, and they were granted permission to remain on what the parks authority finally agreed was indeed a corridor not the formal park.

In all cases, the paper identifies a dynamic of elite accumulation and control over resources, led by quite different groups, that has been resisted by shifting alliances of land invaders, war veterans and local political and traditional leaders. By documenting this struggle over time, we demonstrate that in these marginal areas, outside the formal ‘fast-track’ land reform programme where more formal administrative-bureaucratic procedures came to operate – local communities retain the capacity to resist state power and imagine alternative social, economic and political trajectories – even if these are opposed by powerful actors at the centre, from the president downwards.

While much discussion of recent Zimbabwean politics has appropriately highlighted the centralised, sometimes violent, nature of state power, this is exerted in different ways in different places. A combination of local divisions within political parties, bureaucratic discretion within implementing agencies and local contests over land create a very particular, local politics in the lowveld, at the geographic margins of the nation. As the paper shows, this offers opportunities for a variety of expressions of local agency and resistance which temper the impositions of centralised state power, and suggesting diverse, as yet uncertain, future trajectories of land control.

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Elephants and people

I recently received an email from the Britain-Zimbabwe Society list that had the subject line: PLEASE VOTE:  URGENT SUPPORT FOR ZIMBABWE ELEPHANTS NEEDED – YOUR VOTE CAN HELP THIS ENDANGERED HERD. Yes it was in capitals. I read on. There were photos of dead elephants and a passionate plea to save the herd. And where was this? In the Chiredzi River Conservancy, where I had been a few weeks before.

The conflict between people and wildlife, always a hot topic in Zimbabwe, is accelerating, as more and more people come onto what was previously ‘white-owned’ land through the land reform. Elephants, lions and people just do not mix. This is presenting many dilemmas for conservationists, national parks rangers and ministry of lands officials alike. In the 1990s large areas of former ranch land were combined in the southeast lowveld to form conservancies. Fences were pulled down and the world’s largest continuous private game reserves were formed. Save Valley Conservancy alone covers 3200 square km. These offered lucrative business opportunities, and investment from within and outside Zimbabwe flowed. Hunting opportunities, high-end safari lodges and game farming flourished. The argument was that the lowveld ecology was not suited to cattle ranching, which had been hit by economic problems combined with a devastating drought in the early 1990s. Whether it was to be cattle, wildlife, both or neither was a hot debate in the 1990s, and continued post land reform.

Privately, game ranchers admitted that conservancies were a better protection against land reform than individual ranches. Concessions to local communities surrounding these areas were made, and various ‘community outreach’ schemes and CAMPFIRE concessions were brokered. These were small sops in the bigger scale of the economic ventures concerned, but for a while these seemed to offer some protection, and deals were made with key headmen, chief and local leaders. Even grander schemes were proposed under the aegis of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area, where southern Mozambique, Kruger National Park in South Africa and Gonarezhou National Park and the Conservancies in Zimbabwe were to be connected in one massive sweep of conservation estate. If the hype was to be believed, this was to bring great riches – for the national economy and for local communities alike, and was to revitalise the tourism economy of the country.

Certainly the lobbying of the conservation groups seemed to work, and the conservancies were seen to be outside ‘fast-track’ land reform. Instead of being overseen by the lands ministry the ministry of environment was the government authority. Even the president gave his backing. But on the grounds things looked different. In 2000, to great outcry in the national and international press, the conservancies were invaded. This process has continued, with many areas now being farmed, and wildlife, now seen as a pest, hunted out. This has brought outrage from many quarters. But others pose the question bluntly: should it be animals or people who have the priority? This traditional battle between elite (often white) conservation hunting interests and poor local livelihood needs has been complicated by another set of interests in these areas. Smelling a business opportunity, a series of politically well-connected ‘partners’ have been imposed on the existing conservancy owners, as part of a supposed ‘indigenisation’ programme. The reported roll call of those involved lists the top echelons of the political-military elite, with a number of local leaders and well positioned chiefs offered a slice too. Add into this mix some fairly ruthless poaching syndicates who have made use of the uncertainty allegedly to create alliances between political-military figures, Asian buyers and local hunting groups. This has all added further complications to the already tense stand-off in the conservation areas of the lowveld.

The elephants who we were urged to vote for through the BZS site sit in the middle of this political tussle over resource access and control. Their watering holes are now being used by cattle. Their territories are increasingly being farmed. And they are being shot and snared by local people who regard them as pests, or valuable for the illegal ivory trade. The land on which the elephants roam is contested, between the ‘owners’ and the new ‘business partners’. And confusion between government departments and local government authorities over who has jurisdiction over what just adds to the complexity.

The lowveld is a site of ongoing contestation over resources. Wildlife is at the centre of this, as an important economic asset at the centre of a once booming but highly elite hunting and tourism industry. The elephants, unfortunately, are stuck in the middle of this tussle for control.

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