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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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A fictitious budget or a sensible plan in constrained circumstances? Zimbabwe’s 2014 budget

The national budget was finally presented on December 19. It was much delayed, provoking multiple rumours that the government had run out of money, that the missions to the International Finance Institutions had failed,  that the Chinese had refused to offer a bail out, and that confidence was so low that there was likely to be a run on the banks. In the end a $4.4bn budget was presented by Finance Minister, Patrick Chinamasa. The Source offered the highlights:

  • Economy to grow by 6.1 % in 2014.
  • Exports seen reaching $5 billion in 2014, from $4.43 bln this year.
  • Imports ballooning to $8.3 billion in 2014 from $7.6 bln this year.
  • Government to assume $1.35 billion Reserve Bank debt, to recapitalize central bank by $200 million.
  • Indigenisation laws to stay.
  • Royalties on gross diamond earnings up to 15pct .
  • Interbank market back, Afreximbank to provide guarantee.
  • Zim gets $1.6 billion Diaspora remittances annually.

Here is the full statement; all 262 pages of it!

The budget was greeted with derision in certain quarters. Yet in many ways the budget statement contained plenty of sensible proposals, not hugely different to those offered in previous years. Contrary to the arguments of some, the focus on the ‘informal sector’ is to be welcomed.

But the big questions were: was there enough money to back the proposals, and were the projections anywhere near accurate? The budget is based once again on assumptions about the growth of agriculture (9%) and mining (11%) in particular. Given the experience of the last year, when the agricultural sector shrunk, and mining did not grow as much as predicted, some argued that these figures were more wishful thinking than sound economic analysis.

In the agricultural sector, a number of sensible measures are proposed. The central one was the continued effort to ‘drought proof’ production, and substantial investment in irrigation was again identified as the priority. Timely provision of inputs was also again on the table. And there were other specific measures for particular commodities, such as wheat, dairy and so on where production has been languishing. There was help for the sugar sector too, with a hike in customs duty for imports to avoid further dumping of cheap sugar on the local market.

Overall, the agriculture policy focus was on A2 farms, with proposed investments in infrastructure and credit and finance instruments. This may be appropriate given the poor performance of the A2 farms to date, but given the need to get things moving fast, backing the winners in the A1 areas may have made more sense.

On land, there is again a commitment to push ahead with the registration and issuing of leases for A2 farms. This is important, but the issue of compensation has yet to be addressed, and there is no evidence of substantial financing for this coming from the Treasury.

The ongoing concern about ‘indigenisation’ policy is also addressed, with attempts to clarify what is proposed, with differences between natural resource based industries and others. While requirements for a 51% national ownership are not unusual, even in very progressive, fast-growing economies in Asia, such as Thailand and Indonesia, this particular policy in Zimbabwe has been plagued by controversy and confusion. This has arisen from the extreme politicization of the debate, and the way ‘indigenous’ has been defined in racial terms, combined with the rather aggressive stance of the previous minister responsible, Saviour Kasukwere. Now under the rather less flamboyant Francis Nhema, the rhetoric has been scaled down a peg or two. For example, just before the January 1 deadline, the government backtracked on the proposed ban on foreign ownership in certain sectors, with the minister assuring investors that they had reconsidered.

Nevertheless uncertainty prevails and, even though potential investors might be happy to contemplate a 49:51 split in ownership, the prospect of things changing due to political whim remains. And it is this that is perhaps the most unnerving, still preventing significant foreign investment in the Zimbabwean economy.

As Chinamasa commented in his statement “policy consistency, credibility, certainty and transparency are critical building blocks for confidence building” (p 89). Absolutely. And the sooner these become sacrosanct principles of Zimbabwean policymaking the better.

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

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Zimbabwe’s election aftermath: what next?

The SADC report has given a clean (or nearly so) bill of health to Zimbabwe’s elections, and despite protests from the MDC, it looks as if it is a done deal. The flaws were clearly very real, but the political context means further serious dispute looks unlikely, although political uncertainty continues (see earlier blog).

So, what next? There have been various commentators speculating. This blog is a round-up of some of these. Richard Dowden in African Arguments suspects:

“Mugabe will now go into reconciliation mode as he did after his first (also unpredicted) election victory of 1980 and again after he brutally crushed the Ndebele uprising in the mid 1980s. Now he will deploy his considerable charm and hold out a hand to African and western governments that have criticised him in the past….. He may not fully implement the indigenisation programme… just as he failed to implement socialist policies in the 1980s after he took power. In all these moves, the only question in his mind will be: will this keep ultimate power in my hands?”

Apart from “state control and manipulation of the election process”, Dowden argues that Mugabe retained power because of the “do not upset a Big Man” factor. “If he is a Big Man and is president and wants to go on being president, then let him have it. Otherwise he will create problems. ‘I will vote for him because he is president’, is a phrase I have heard in many elections in Africa”, he observes. Also, his victory will be applauded more widely he thinks: “many people in Africa feel that the relationship [with the West]is still not one of equality: multi party democracy has been imposed, resource nationalism is blocked by a Western-controlled economic system and attitudes to Africa are still patronising and sometimes bullying”.

A Zimbabwean election is of course won or lost in the rural areas. The reconfiguration of political forces following land reform in particular has often been forgotten by the Harare-centric commentariat. Brian Raftopoulos observes:

The deconstruction of former white-owned, large-scale commercial farms and their replacement by a preponderance of small farm holders has radically changed the social and political relations in these areas. The new forms in which Zanu PF and the state have penetrated these new social relations have affected the forms of Zanu PF dominance in these areas. The rapid expansion of small-scale, “informal” mining companies has also brought a larger number of workers into the fold of Zanu PF’s accumulation and patronage network.

This is a crucial point; one that all political parties should take note of. The rural areas are by no means uniform, and even with Masvingo province there are different dynamics, reflecting different factions, interests and coalitions: for example between the core land reform areas and the lowveld.

From now on, the political elite is going to have to take note of rural politics much more. And this is going to be especially important for the opposition to ZANU-PF, in whatever form it takes. The MDC’s 2013 campaign focus on a liberal human rights agenda, combined with a western investor-friendly macroeconomic policy, often forgot questions of distribution, restitution and socio-economic rights, and in particular around rural issues. Also, with its focus on western powers and interests, attention to regional, African political realities was sometimes forgotten. Simukai Tinhu recommends a major overhaul, “embracing nationalism and a pan-African outlook” as part of a ten-year renewal strategy.

As Stephen Chan points out, one thing is certain about these recent elections: they will be the last for the great protagonists of the past 15 years, Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai. Who will take over and how will their legacies be settled have become the big questions. There has been plenty of commentary on this too. Will it be Emerson Mnangagwa or Joice Mujuru in ZANU-PF and Tendai Biti or Nelson Chamisa in the MDC-T? All sorts of internal contests are going on right now. For Zimbabwe as a whole, the sooner these are settled the better for everyone.

It’s taking longer than billed for the new cabinet to be announced (I was expecting to be commenting on the allocation of the agriculture, land and finance portfolios this week (here’s the list from 10 Sept pm)). This probably reflects too a complex balancing act between groupings within, maybe even outside, ZANU-PF. Its final composition will be a strong indication to the country and, crucially, the wider world of how ZANU-PF intends to govern. We must hope that an inclusive and pragmatic approach is taken.

With the elections duly won (even if involving some foul play), hopefully ZANU-PF can tone down the rhetoric, take a more conciliatory stance and begin to deal with some of the big policy issues. What no-one wants is a return to the strife and economic chaos of the mid-2000s, a prospect that is genuinely feared on the streets. An accommodation with the international community will be essential. China may be the new ‘development partner’ on the block, but its support is insufficient. A further economic implosion would be catastrophic, so placating the western donors and international finance institutions is a must, while not conceding too much to their conditionalities.

Meanwhile, in the coming months, the new government must deal with a major food security crisis, some say of its own making. The complex issues of the food economy, food production vs imports and how to assess food security and what should be done will be turned to in the blog next week.

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

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Zimbabwe’s elections 2013: more confusion, more uncertainty

Zimbabwe’s trauma continues. The Zimbabwe Election Commission has announced a landslide victory for ZANU-PF. ZANU-PF reportedly took two-thirds of the parliamentary seats and President Mugabe won 61% of the presidential vote, with Morgan Tsvangirai picking up 34%. MDC-T has called the elections ‘a sham’, ‘a farce’, ‘null and void’. GNU education minister, David Coltart, argued that “Zimbabwe has been subjected to electoral fraud on a massive scale”. Tendai Biti called it all a ‘loquacious tragedy’.

Meanwhile, the official observers from SADC and the AU have called the election ‘peaceful, credible and efficient’, ‘free and peaceful’, reflecting ‘the will of the people’, with high turnouts and orderly voting. Some have called for a rejection of the ballot and the staging of mass resistance. Baba Jukwa, the massively popular Facebook avatar with 350k ‘likes’ who claims he is a disaffected ZANU-PF insider, has declared war.

We will never know the ‘true’ results, although as last time there was probably a rural-urban and regional split, with more of a balance overall than any political grouping claims. Both main parties naturally proclaimed before the poll that they were likely to be certain victors. Results of prior opinion polling were mixed, although pointing towards a rehabilitation of ZANU-PF and disillusionment with the MDC’s performance in government. Meanwhile, the MDC and the allied NGO groups long before the elections pointed to the potential for electoral fraud, and the cynical manipulation of the vote.  While unlike 2008 there was thankfully minimal violence during the election period, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network argued that there were major problems with the process, including:

  •  Voters’  roll discrepancies
  • Intimidation
  • Late  opening of polling stations
  • Slow pace of assisting aspiring voters in some urban polling stations
  • High number of assisted voters recorded in rural areas
  • Shortage of ballot papers in some wards
  • First time voters denied the chance to vote as they were not appearing in the      voters’ roll and their registration slips had missing ward details.

A joint statement from the NGOs rejected the election results. The AU observer team also expressed ‘grave concerns’. The UK and the US have also called the elections ‘flawed’. China, India, South Africa and others have remained silent so far, although this is how it was reported in the China Daily and The Hindu.

The scale and implications of the problems remain unclear. Claims and counter claims are being made. In a small country, rigging the vote by over a million is a hell of lot, especially consistently across presidential, parliamentary and council elections. The turnout was high at around 3.5m, making it even more challenging. Maybe they did win as many had expected, but perhaps not by as big a margin as declared.

However, suspicions of foul play are running high. ZANU-PF is a sophisticated and ruthless operation. Such suspicions are increased by bizarre rumours about dodgy security companies, Israeli pens in the voting booths where the ink disappears, special ballot papers with watermarks with crosses against ZANU-PF already inserted and a specially imported Chinese solution for removing the pink ink from voters’ fingers. No-one really knows what happened; and we probably never will.

The final tallies are being published (check here and here for details), but the scale of the ZANU-PF win is clear. What is for sure is that the disputes over the results will run and run, with legal challenges to follow. If the confusion and uncertainty persists, the tentative recovery that had been nurtured since 2009 may be quickly wiped out if a new government does not move quickly to assure investors, donors and others.

What to make of it all? I am unsure, but here are a few quick reflections and some links to some interesting sources and commentaries that I have found over the last few days.

The rehabilitation of the image of ZANU-PF and President Mugabe in particular has been striking. For example on a flight from Addis to London, a colleague of mine was handed a copy of the New African, with a special glossy insert feature on Zimbabwe. It had articles from all the leading presidential candidates, but in the small print you could see that it was produced by the Ministry of Information. The message was clear: Zimbabwe was back on track, and Mugabe was in charge.

The MDC formations meanwhile were floundering. While having some successes in government – notably on the economy (under Tendai Biti) and in education (under David Coltart) – in many people’s eyes they had been tainted by power, lacking ideas and vision, and reverting to the corrupt practices that they had criticised in opposition.

The election manifestos of the main parties (ZANU-PF, MDC-T, MDC and ZAPU) were predictable enough, but none really fired people’s interest. The issue of land was of course ever-present in the electioneering discourse, deployed in particular by ZANU-PF to bolster its nationalist and rural credentials. The MDC groupings, even after over a decade, sadly still failed to offer a convincing alternative narrative on land and rural development.

Of course the elections were not being fought on such policy issues. Those opposed to ZANU-PF however failed to broker a coalition of opposition, and the vote was often divided, particularly in Matabeleland, but also in some urban centres, including Masvingo. David Coltart of MDC-N for example lost his seat to a MDC-T candidate. Political and personal differences, combined with narrow regionalism and factionalism, provided a perfect opportunity for ZANU-PF, despite it also being divided and weak.

This was Zimbabwe’s first electronic, Internet age election. There was hope that these mechanisms – checking voter registration, crowd mapping election violations, posting votes, monitoring election sites and mapping results – would bring greater transparency and accountability. There was an impressive array of engagement, from the 7000 ‘citizen monitors’ deployed by the ZESN to the websites of  Sokwanele, MyVote and Simukai. Twitter and Facebook pages have gone wild, with intensive commentary and debate not least via the Baba Jukwa pages.

But, in the end, it didn’t seem to have an impact on the legitimacy and credibility of the process. Too many questions remained unanswered, and confusion still prevails, as the various ‘independent’ observers and monitored contradicted each other, declaring either the elections broadly free and fair or discredited by foul play.

The international media has as a result of all this also been deeply confused. No-one is quite sure what to make of it all. As Andrew Harding of the BBC commented, there is now a battle over the narrative of the election, not the specific results. Some of the media had decided what the narrative was before it was held, but there has been some thoughtful commentary too. Lydia Polgreen of the NYT was typically nuanced, bringing in the land dimension into one of her pieces. The FT had a good article on the key role of the military. David Smith of the Guardian had a few good pieces too. Also, African Arguments posted several good commentaries in the build up, including by Brian Raftopolous and Simukai Tinhu. And then there were the bloggers and the twitter sphere, with #zimelection carrying all sorts of commentary and links; some sensible and sound, some weird and whacky.

The political uncertainty that these elections have delivered means that, sadly once again, the immediate future is in the balance. Whoever individual Zimbabweans voted for, the final overall outcome may not be what anyone wanted – which was peace and stability. As a friend commented on the phone from Gwanda just now: “It’s trouble again”.  Let’s hope that a spirit of accommodation and compromise prevails.

In the next period at least, ZANU-PF can organise the succession from Mugabe from a position of strength, and the opposition will have to regroup again, probably under new leadership. The political landscape has certainly changed with this election, but the full implications still remain unclear.

UPDATE: Since this blog was published there have been two very good comment pieces in the Guardian by Knox Chitiyo and Blessing Miles Tendi. Both are well worth a read:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/05/zimbabwe-inconvenient-election-truth

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/05/robert-mugabe-zimbabwe-election-zanu-pf

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

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Making friends in London: is a new rapprochement on Zimbabwe occurring?

Recently, the ‘Friends of Zimbabwe’ group of western donors met in London, together with representatives of all of Zimbabwe’s main political parties. The ‘Friends’ group – formerly known as the ‘Fishmongers’ after an expensive restaurant in Harare – is a grouping aimed at the discussion of international donor policy on Zimbabwe, including sanctions. While all the western donors are represented, its positions are firmly influenced by the EU and the US, and perhaps especially by the UK. London was therefore a fitting destination for the latest meeting.

The final communiqué was the usual non-committal diplomatic statement, indicating continuing commitment to Zimbabwe, and recording the actually substantial aid flows that are being offered. But the departure for this meeting was the presence of senior ZANU-PF officials whose travel bans had been removed following the successful Constitutional referendum.

Justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa, was among the delegation, and he got a roasting on BBC’s Hard Talk, as he tried to defend the government position on a variety of policies. However, there were also other more civil exchanges, including one at Chatham House when senior officials from all parties, commented on the current situation with a clear tone of compromise and conciliation.

The political context in Zimbabwe remains highly uncertain, but there are unexpected shifts – partly as a result of the relative success of the ‘unity’ government, and partly as a result of failures in the opposition, both to offer a convincing alternative and to develop a clear set of alliances.

Simukai Tinhu offered a useful overview in a recent African Arguments piece. Phillan Zamchiya in a very detailed Crisis in Zimbabwe report reckons ZANU-PF is gearing up to win the election by stealth, stealing votes and fixing the results through a number of tactics. These are well worn tricks of course, but there may be wider political shifts underway too. However, simply blaming a poor result for the MDC on foul play may not be enough. For this reason many see another coalition as an inevitable result, with the big questions being who will occupy the presidency and what the balance of power will be in parliament.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti was also in London recently on his way back from negotiations with the IMF in Washington, and again spoke at Chatham House. Analysis by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum was revealing:

“Judging by the Minister´s tone and the way he addressed some of the key issues, it is our opinion that the gap between ZANU PF and the MDC(T) on key issues appears to be narrowing. Similarly, the Minister was quite diplomatic in trying to demystify the myth that the MDC and pro-democracy civil society organisations are synonymous and are working together towards the so-called regime change agenda. He obviously did not want to alienate pro-democracy civil society organisations which traditionally helped the MDC in its formative years.

However by expanding the definition of civil society organisations beyond the usual narrow definition and stating that there is an operational civil society in Zimbabwe, the Minister sought to, in our view; keep a healthy distance between the MDC as a political party and other pro-democracy groups. This, it appears, was his counterpoint, against the ZANU PF argument that all pro-democracy forces are bent on a western-sponsored regime change agenda.

The view that points to a political convergence is supported by the plea the Minister had made to the USA and the IMF that Zimbabwe ought to be treated equally according to the same measure that has been used on countries with troubled pasts such as Burma. By saying this, he echoed his strong views for the lifting of sanctions by the European Union in July 2013.

On the issue of indigenisation, the Minister again struck a note which doesn´t quite resonate with some of the sentiments from the Western countries.

It would appear that behind closed doors, both the MDC and moderate ZANU PF Ministers agree on key issues than they disagree in public.

That´s how politics work. The current widely held view that President Mugabe hasn´t softened on his legacy ignores anecdotal evidence that indicate that lately he has been softening his clenched fist, so to speak. An example is his calls for peace, which has widely been dismissed by most people as rhetoric which doesn´t match what is happening on the ground. However anecdotal evidence from various sources including Zimbabwean equivalent of Wikileaks appear to suggest that the President´s attempts to soften are negated by some within his party who fear what might happen if ZANU PF softens on its legacy inspired by its liberation war credentials.

Although the Minister spoke about the current issues of concern, he was very measured in his approach. He exhibited every sign of a principled man, who, despite having undergone the vagaries of his difficult job and the incarceration he underwent in 2008, has matured, forgiven his persecutors and might even have undergone a paradigm shift. This shift, which is also reflected in the entire MDC, has seen it move from its widely perceived Eurocentric roots to the moderate pan-African approach. It also appears that there are some within ZANU PF who have softened on their legacy by moving to the centre ground although there are still some still on the far right. Those on the far right are in our view, the ones the Minister referred to when he said there are Ministers within the government who make irrational political statements that affect the economy”.

In light of other pieces of evidence we have gathered, particularly the likelihood that the US is to announce policy shift on Zimbabwe, there is every indication of a national and political consensus on key issues, which might see an unexpected political landscape after the elections.”

The consensus may be surprising to some who have been viewing Zimbabwe’s tortured process of transition from afar. There may be much more consensus on thorny issues of land reform, national ownership of key businesses and the role of civil society than is commonly understood.

Clearly the consensus is not universal and the more progressive elements across all the parties may be out-manoeuvred by those with other agendas, whether the military elite, fearing post-election reprisals, or white capital, seeking a reassertion of power. As Biti, a clear presidential contender in the (maybe not so far off) future, tentatively repositions the MDC, it may not just be the traditional western ‘friends’ of Zimbabwe, but others including China, Brazil and South Africa, who become the important brokers into the future.

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

 

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