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Zimbabwe’s latest crisis: it’s the economy – and politics, stupid!

The images of economic crisis in Zimbabwe are all too familiar. Queues for petrol and cash, commodity hoarding, parallel markets in currency, rising inflation and so on. It all seems reminiscent of the dark days of the mid 2000s, in the build-up to the full-blown crisis of the hyperinflationary collapse of 2008. This was not meant to be how the much-hailed second republic started out.

Bill Clinton’s 1992 election slogan, ‘it’s the economy, stupid’ does ring true. Years of economic mismanagement, deep corruption and failure to invest, combined with sanctions, credit embargoes and investment freezes, have taken their toll. But the current crisis is also to do with politics, both domestic and international.

The dimensions of the economic crisis

Tony Hawkins, an economics professor at the University of Zimbabwe, recently gave a widely-circulated talk to the British Council on the economic travails of Zimbabwe. There was much to agree with in his summary of the situation.

The economy is uncompetitive, he argued, not helped by the appreciation of the US dollar by 17 percent since dollarization, the huge loss of value of the South African Rand and rising oil prices. Estimated 14% revenue increases from tobacco, gold and other minerals are offset by a massive hike in state expenditure, up 57%, exacerbated by election commitments to public servant wage hikes. The budget deficit has ballooned to $3.3 billion, with a projected trade gap of around $2.5 billion.

What’s more, he said, the total national debt now stands at a staggering $22 billion, now more than the GDP. Government borrowing continues to grow, crowding out the private sector, and putting pressure on available finance for investments, as people seek cash on the (expensive) parallel market. Inflationary pressures are also increasing dramatically therefore, with money supply far exceeding (formal) GDP growth.

But, despite the value of this description (repeated of course in numerous assessments by the IMF, the World Bank and other economists), his diagnosis of causes was only partially on target, and his solutions missed crucial dimensions.

Causes were laid largely at the door of domestic economic policy (or lack of it) and corruption by the ruling party. This, as is well documented, is a key part of the story. From Gideon Gono’s use of the reserve bank as a political tool in the ‘casino economy’ years to the massive expropriation of diamond resources, both show how the Zimbabwean economy has been destroyed from within.

This has not been the only story. The sanctions imposed following the land reform of 2000 took their toll too. While only targeting select individuals, and withdrawing aid from government led programmes, this signalled diplomatic disapproval from the West, and it had a major impact on patterns of economic support.

Aid programmes still continued but under a humanitarian label channelled through NGOs. But much more significant was the withdrawal of international finance and credit lines. This had a devastating impact and, even if not directed by official sanction policies, were their direct consequence. Despite the easing of diplomatic tensions in the post-Mugabe era, and the charm offensive that Mnangagwa has been engaging in from Davos to New York, the situation has not fundamentally changed.

Hawkins does point to the problem of ZDERA (the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001, amended this year) in particular. This is the US law that prevents the US government supporting Zimbabwe at the IFIs, without implementing a set of political reforms. In the coming months, this will likely prevent the US rep at the IMF backing a recovery plan, making the position of others on the IMF board crucial if any changes to support Zimbabwe’s recovery are to be realised.

Reforming the economy

The new finance minister, Mthuli Ncube, knows all this, but does he have the leeway to change course? He is severely hampered by the political legacy of sanctions and other ‘restrictive measures’, and deep distrust across international actors. However, there have been some good signs. His interviews with Bloomberg and speeches around the world have mostly been impressive, and suggest that he is committed to a major economic restructuring.

Some of this will be tough, and will be highly political. A test of the new government’s commitment will be how far he is allowed to go. Already attempts at introducing taxation measures have resulted in protests. What happens when he is forced to cull the public sector, massively reducing the salary bill, or overhaul the currency system, which benefits those dealing on the black market, including powerful individuals well connected to the political system?

Clearly the stop-gap measure of a “multi-currency” environment that followed the abandonment of the Zimbabwe dollar and the adoption of the US dollar is no longer working. Local ‘bond notes’ were supposed to be backed by external hard currency finance, but are clearly no longer, and are fast losing value. Stalling the massive flow of hard currency out of Zimbabwe is vital, and this means ending the pretence of equivalence between greenbacks and bond notes. Sticking to the US dollar in a period when US protectionism is boosting its value is risky too, as it makes everything absurdly expensive. But setting up a new currency in such straitened times is not wise either, given the low levels of confidence in the economy.

What to do? Given the dire experiences of structural adjustment from 1991 – which in many ways set the scene for much of Zimbabwe’s current malaise – making the case for IMF stabilisation intervention, combined with a HIPC-style debt relief package, with all the raft of expected conditionalities does seem rash. But there really doesn’t seem to be any other option currently. The Chinese are fed up with Zimbabwe given its failure to pay back loans in the past, and the ‘socialist solidarity’ line has worn thin. Reluctantly, this may be the only route.

The centrality of the rural economy

Assuming a political route to reform can be created, it therefore matters a lot what such reforms look like, and how they are implemented (lessons from Greece and others of course). Where I fundamentally part company with Hawkins’ analysis is his disparaging rejection of the importance of the rural economy. Like so many conventional economists, he focuses on the urban, industrial sector, forgetting that this is dependent on a wider economic system that remains substantially small-scale, informal and rural. The distinctions between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ economies in Zimbabwe are irrelevant today: most of the economy is ‘informal’, and that’s where livelihoods are made.

In the rural areas this is especially so. And, as we have shown in our research over many years, this is vibrant, growing and generating employment in significant ways, particularly when linked to land reform areas that are producing surpluses and creating spin-off linkages in local economies. It is far from dead, as Hawkins suggests, but it is different to what went before. This is not backward-looking rural traditionalism, bound by archaic cultural norms, as Hawkins seems to suggest, but the new economy; one that everyone must get used to and support. For sure, it is the ZANU-PF support base, and the reason they won the parliamentary elections, but that makes it even more important that the government gets its reforms right for rural people, as well as the urban middle classes.

The small steps towards a positive dynamic of rural growth spurred on by land reform however stalls dramatically when the wider economy is in crisis. With no liquidity, investments dry up, and with a lack of credit, the financing of new operations cannot occur. If inflation kicks in, as it is now (some estimate that annual inflation is touching 50 percent already), then the value of goods is uncertain, and economic transactions are risky. The result is that the economic dynamism ceases, and livelihoods are affected up and down value chains, from agricultural producers to traders to processers to wholesalers to retailers and consumers.

This is what happened in the mid-2000s, and again is what is happening now. But rather than dismiss rural people and areas as economically backward, somehow culturally unable to engage with a modern economy, policymakers and economic advisers need to appreciate the potential of the agrarian economy, and encourage investment. Simply wishing an industrial revival without a core agrarian productive base supporting the mass of the population is foolish, especially in Zimbabwe’s context, as a small economy operating in a highly competitive global environment.

Wider stabilisation, debt write-offs and addressing inflation and currency instability is vital at the macroeconomic level and must be central to Mthuli Ncube’s agenda. But his next step must be to set up the type of investment strategy that allows a dispersed, largely informal economy to thrive, and contribute to growth and employment in multiple ways for long-term, sustained and equitable recovery.

Only then will links be made that allow the industrial and service sectors to thrive, and taxation and so government revenue raising to be applied. The post land reform economy does not look like that of the 1990s in the earlier adjustment era, or the post UDI sanctions period in 1980. Big ticket ‘modern’ investments in agriculture, tourism, maybe even some industries, will be important, but they must not undermine or take attention away from the key challenge, which is supporting the real, predominantly rural, economy where most people make their living.

It’s politics, stupid!

The on-going negotiations with the IMF and the wider diplomatic and donor community are of course not just about economic restructuring, investment and financial prudence. They are also (of course) about politics. With Nelson Chamisa and the opposition MDC still not recognising the results of the elections, their lobbying of western governments continues.

Their strategy is unclear, but it seems to be to encourage the US in particular to maintain sanctions and the ZDERA law, with the aim of extracting political concessions for the long-term. You can see the rationale, but the consequence is that the economy is nose-diving and people are suffering; if not from cholera due to lack of investment in urban infrastructure, certainly from growing economic hardships, even if this is only queuing for petrol at night. This may backfire, with the opposition seen as holding the country hostage, undermining recovery for political gains.

Calls for demilitarising the state apparatus as part of conditions are appropriately central to many demands. The latest bogey-man for the international community is of course the Vice President General Chiwenga. But, with ZANU-PF, despite the new, PR-branded version that President Mnangagwa is projecting, a securitised state is likely to persist, even after the army has returned to the barracks or swapped uniforms for suits. A technocratic-military state is a feature of the current dispensation, and by some seen as a positive route to implementing a state-led (aka ‘command’) developmentalist policy, in the mode of Kagame in Rwanda or previously Meles in Ethiopia.

Where next?

There are divisions amongst the western diplomatic community on how to move forward. Some take a pragmatic stance and argue that a stabilisation bailout will create stability, and allow the economy to function, arguing that conditions for future elections and a deeper embedding of (western-style, liberal) democracy will emerge only when the country is not in crisis mode. Others make the case that a crisis of legitimacy following the elections means that this is the moment to exert pressure on Mnangagwa and exact the maximum concessions in favour of the opposition’s stance. Economic crisis is a price worth paying if political reform emerges, goes the argument. Within ZANU-PF and the MDC, as well as commentators not linked to any party, all shades of opinion exist.

What all agree is that a return to 2007-08 is not desirable, and that action to avert this needs to happen soon. And I would add: a focus on supporting the informal sector and the agrarian economy – and the linkages beyond – is vital to any way forward.

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

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What if Greece was in Africa?

I ended last week’s blog with a call for the rejection of the economics of the mainstream. Last week the Greek people voted resoundingly against the conditions of austerity imposed by creditors. Democracy spoke loudly with the ‘no’ vote in the referendum, and it was the younger generation who came in behind Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Yet in a rollercoaster week the Syriza government reversed its principled rejection of the measures, and proposed a draconian if pragmatic alternative. This in turn was rejected by hardliners in Europe, isolating Greece and forcing a ‘deal’ (see #Thisisacoup). Some have asked what can Africa learn from Greece?; in this blog I argue that Greece (and others) can learn a lot from African experience.

Debt is on the rise again not just in Greece, but across the world. A decline in commodity prices with a strengthening of the US dollar makes debt unsustainable in many economies, with rising proportions of government revenues being spent on debt servicing and debt accounting for higher and higher proportions of total GDP. The extremes of Greece are rare, whose debt had risen to some 178 per cent of GDP, probably more now as its economy has crashed, but the signs are ominous. Zimbabwe has a massive external debt, amounting to 40 per cent of GDP, while other countries in the region, such as Mozambique and Tanzania, are racking up debt to fuel growth. But, as a timely new report from the Jubilee debt campaign shows, such growth masks growing inequalities, huge liabilities linked to ‘public private partnership’ deals, and a debt servicing requirement that will squeeze public expenditure for years.

Is this a return to the 1980s and 1990s, when many countries across Africa – like Greece today – were saddled with unsustainable debt and forced by their creditors to take the unpalatable medicine of austerity packages imposed by the International Finance Institutions? Can lessons for Greece and debt vulnerable nations in Africa be learned from this period and its aftermath? I think so. The new Greek finance minister, Euclid Tsakalotos, knows a thing or two about this. An MPhil graduate of the IDS at Sussex in the 1980s (before my time), he later published a paper in the Journal of Development Studies in 1994 on ‘the scope and limits of financial liberalisation in developing countries’, and a paper in the Cambridge Journal of Economics arguing for a commitment to values in economics. He comes from a different branch of economics to the mainstream, and like his predecessor has run up against the hawkish positions of the German government, the IMF and others.

In Africa of course, IMF/World Bank austerity measures were not put to a popular vote in the 1980s and 1990s. Like in Greece, they would I am sure have been roundly rejected. Governments of all political persuasions were instead bullied into compliance with drastic structural adjustment measures. Zimbabwe abandoned its measured ‘growth with equity’ strategy in 1991 in favour of the notorious ESAP policy (known locally as ‘Economic Suffering for African Peoples’, alongside many other versions of the acronym). We know the consequences of this disastrous period, both economically and politically, as I have commented before.

But what if structural adjustment (aka austerity) across Africa had been replaced by a more balanced debt restructuring, encouraging investment alongside reform, while protecting basic services and the vulnerable? What if the enforced liberalisation of markets had been more managed, and the predatory capitalism that often took over more restrained? What if there had been more accountability in such liberalisation processes, would there have been less venal corruption taking over? What if governments across Africa had not lost core capacities due to structural adjustment measures, would there have been more extension services, clinics and schools, with benefits for agriculture, health and education, and so less poverty and inequality? What if debts had been released, so that investments in development could take place, rather than channelling revenues into debt servicing?

These are lots of big ‘what ifs?’, but the damage imposed has been long-lasting: not only on economies and the lost decades of low growth, but also directly on people; on those who missed out on an education, and with the decimation of health services, the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic unfolding across the continent at the same time was much, much worse. Of course lessons have been learned and in some quarters the ‘Washington Consensus’ of those years has been rejected. In the 2000s, the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt release deals were linked to a focus on poverty reduction, and for some countries in Africa it had a positive effect – even if this was only temporary.

Escaping debilitating debt while promoting both growth and social justice is possible, however. This was the deal struck following the end of the Second World War in Europe. Greece indeed was one of the parties that signed the agreement to cancel German debt, and allow it to grow successfully after its decimation by war. The London Conference of 1953 was a key moment for Europe, sadly not being repeated in Brussels this past weekend. Germany is a nation that has come to terms with its history, but clearly not this particular detail. The aggressive rejection of Greece’s plight, runs against these wider lessons. Structural debt, imposed through a range of forces, never wholly the fault of the countries concerned, requires radical solutions, and not just an imposition of austerity and suffering. Yet, as with Africa a few decades ago, Greece’s creditors continue to reject a long-term solution, and seem intent on humiliation, teaching a wayward country a lesson. The rhetoric of those involved is shocking. A few weeks back, the head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, called for dialogue ‘with adults in the room’. African negotiators will recall the way the international institutions humiliated, demeaned and infantalised, rejecting pleas for a more balanced way forward. They will have much sympathy with the Greeks today.

On resigning his post, Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, argued, “yes to a proper resolution – to an agreement that involves debt restructuring, less austerity, redistribution in favour of the needy, and real reforms”. Despite the arguments of many economists from around the world, this path has it seems been rejected, and Greece, and Europe, will suffer. But what of Africa? Africa is now beyond the structural adjustment period, the Washington consensus has been diluted, and there are new players, and new ideas, on the scene. Unlike Greece, African countries are not so behoven to a dominating power such as Germany, and less tied to a particular regional economic and political ‘project’. This is a good thing. Today, across Africa new perspectives are on the table, and not just the tired, old, failed medicine from the IMF and others. Most notably new ideas, and finance, are coming from China, Brazil, India, Malaysia and South Korea, among others. A new state-led developmentalism is the flavour of the day. In Rwanda or Ethiopia a new African formulation of a ‘developmental state’ is being forged. Others too are interested, including maybe Zimbabwe. Like Paul Kagame and the late Meles Zenawi, Emmerson Mnangagwa draws insights and experience from the ‘emerging nations’, and notably China.

Later this week, government representatives from across the world assemble in in Addis to discuss a financing for development, in advance of the signing of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in September. The conference document is full of high-sounding words, but the debates are framed in a very different way to those of the 1980s and 1990s. Sustainable finance, patient capital, long-term investment, balancing productivity with social protection are the watchwords. Much more Keynes than Friedman, and a focus on long-term sustainable development, not short, sharp shock treatment according to ideological disciplining and subjugation. The UN discussions in Addis of course only touch on a small element of the wider picture. Financing from the BRICS are barely mentioned in the documents, yet the BRICS bank, the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank and the Chinese or Brazilian state investment banks are increasingly important players, as well as of course huge private investment flows, as global capital restructures with Africa firmly in its sights. Balancing these investments, offsetting risks and avoiding unsustainable debt will be a tricky balancing act for all African governments in the coming years, as commodity-led growth tails off. Greece, as well as many countries in Africa, have suffered the long-term consequences of a combination of structural underdevelopment, oligarchic corruption and patrimonialism and poor economic governance. Finding a way out of the bind without succumbing to more pain and suffering will be tough, requiring new ideas and new allies.

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

 

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BRICS and development: new hubs of agrarian capital

When talking about the BRICS countries and their role in development, there is a lot of hot air surrounding debates on ‘South-South cooperation’ and plenty of warm words offered about ‘mutual learning’ and ‘solidarity’. But it was refreshing to be at a conference last week at PLAAS in Cape Town on the engagement of Brazil, China and South Africa in patterns of agrarian change to start from a different perspective: the influence on development pathways by the BRICS as new hubs of capital. The proposition of the BICAS group – similar but with different emphases to the CBAA project (also affiliated to the Future Agricultures Consortium) – is that we have to understand the origins, political and economic driving forces and limitations of the new hubs of capital, in order to get to grips with new dynamics of agrarian change across the world. There was a huge amount discussed at the conference, and the details are only now sinking in, but let me offer a few first thoughts on the emerging debates and their implications.

Emerging dynamics

Despite the hyperbole often associated with ‘rising powers’, one thing that struck me from across the presentations was the limits to accumulation and the extension and penetration of new forms of capital. There has been much debate about ‘land grabbing’, alongside much misinformation and confusion about its extent, but many of the big investment deals that were profiled soon after the 2007-08 crisis have not materialised, and even very high profile programmes – such as Prosavana in Mozambique, the subject of much debate and a panel at the conference – have not really materialised on the ground.

Capitalist accumulation of course takes many forms, and not always those of violent displacement and dispossession. Instead, a much longer, quieter pattern of accumulation may be happening, driven by a new global configuration of capital. This is what Jun Borras called for southeast Asia, the ‘thousand pin pricks’ of small scale transfers of land and extension of (often) Chinese capital in the region. In Africa too, while land grabs still continue, Ruth Hall emphasised the extension into processing, input supply, agricultural technology including seeds, transport and retail. The multiple ‘value webs’ created are crucial in understanding the impacts of the extension of capital from the new hubs. Compared to dramatic grabs, the slow, cumulative ‘dull compulsion of economic relations’ may have as big an effect in the end. But, participants argued, this requires a different lens to understand its dynamics.

Of course since the financial crisis, the possibilities of accumulation have changed. Africa with its vast land area, and apparent emptiness, was seen as a new frontier. But since then commodity prices have collapsed, and the urgency of seeking new markets via Africa – to Europe and beyond, possibly assisted by aid-funded preferential access and state support from African governments eager for investment – has receded. Africa in particular has proven a tough place to extend business ventures. Red tape, local politics, harsh environments, poor infrastructure plague new capital, just as they have old capital.

Domestic political contexts and economic imperatives in China, Brazil and South Africa have changed too. Talk in China is of the ‘new normal’ where consumption demand stabilises, and growth rates decline from the supercharged levels of a few years ago. As China turns to rebalancing and making the economy more sustainable, the massive commodity demand has tailed off. This of course has a direct impact on Brazil, where the decline in commodity prices, particularly in agriculture, has major consequences. This has combined with the domestic political crisis dominated by corruption scandals and a backlash by the middle classes. Concerns again are more inward looking. South Africa has its own economic and political crises, reflecting its failure to deal with the legacies of apartheid, as discussed on this blog last week. This at one level pushes capital to seek alternatives elsewhere, but also highlights the rather fragile claim to be a ‘rising power’, when perhaps Nigeria will prove its economic might in the region if conflicts in the north can be addressed.

Another theme running through the conference, and now more thoroughly understood thanks to some great new work, is the influence of financialisation. This is transforming land and agrarian change, as new players – be they equity funds, sovereign wealth investments, or banks of different sorts – see land and agriculture as new asset classes and investment opportunities. As Moises Balestro commented, the old landowning rentier class of Brazil has a new ally in financialisation. This transforms the way capital operates – no longer necessarily driven by companies associated with nation states (whether BRICS or not), but often truly globalised flows of finance that upset the notion that new political blocs centred on states rule the roost. Such finance has no particular national character, nor any form of political accountability, yet has enormous power and influence.

The mirror effect

Alongside these changing dynamics of capital and accumulation trajectories, another theme of the conference was how the political economy of the new hubs of capital establish the nature and direction of new investments abroad. This is a strong theme of the CBAA project that argues that the histories of domestic political economies in China and Brazil, and the associated imaginaries and narratives of agriculture and development, strongly influence what forms of agricultural development cooperation arrives in Africa – and so the meanings of agriculture, farming and development, and with this the pathways that emerge through these encounters.

In Brazil the long-running tension and political accommodation of both agribusiness and ‘family farming’ with agrarian reform, that Sergio Sauer and Sergio Schneider both talked of, is exported in various projects and technical assistance programmes. Models appropriate to Brazilian contexts – and reflecting this on-going very Brazilian political struggle – arrive in Africa, resulting in frequent confusion, as various cases under the CBAA project describe.

From China, the tension between ‘filling the rice bowl’ and the need to keep a stable, rural peasantry and the narrative of agricultural modernisation was discussed by Ye Jingzhong. This is also reflected in its ‘going out’ policy, as elaborated in CBAA work by Chinese Agricultural University colleagues led by Li Xiaoyun. Thus in different Chinese Agricultural Technology Centres, emerging from different provinces in China, very different visions of agriculture and development are reflected. There is no one China, and variegated forms of capital, reflected in the range of emphases of Chinese State Owned Enterprises that generally run these centres in Africa.

South African capital as it extends into Africa reflects a more unified vision, with its projection of large-scale commercial farming and vertically integrated value chains. This of course mirrors the historical evolution of South Africa’s agrarian sector, from the apartheid era to today, linked closely to what Ben Fine calls the minerals-energy complex that has historically defined South Africa’s political economy. With the power of large agribusiness even more entrenched by the processes of post-apartheid liberalisation, and now reinforced by financialisation, the extension of South African capital, perhaps especially in retail, processing, transport and logistics, but also technology and input supply is, as Ruth Hall and Ward Anseeuw, described, pushes a very particular logic and vision.

There is thus a striking mirroring of domestic struggles, tensions, accommodations and political-economic dynamics as capital extends from the new hubs. This imposes particular directions for accumulation and investment, and smooths certain paths for capital, and so the nature of investments. For this reason, in order to understand agrarian change, the scope must be cast wider, as much activity is focused on roads, mines and infrastructure development. Across the world, aid and state backed investments in ‘corridors’ and ‘investment zones’ are providing conducive conditions for capital accumulation. New agribusinesses follow on behind, often as the second or third wave of investment. This is a long game, where the quick wins of the speculative post-crash boom have gone, but state-capital alliances are forging longer term patterns, setting in train investments and visions of development framed in very different contexts, as Chinese, Brazilian and South African hubs (as well as Indian, Turkish, Indonesian, Vietnamese and other new hubs) extend their reach.

Beyond the rhetoric of South-South cooperation

To my mind, this is the context in which the high-sounding rhetoric around ‘South South cooperation’ must be set. For Zimbabwe, ‘Looking East’ to China – or to south of the Limpopo to South Africa or across the Atlantic to Brazil – must be seen in this light. While ‘conditionalities’ are not as imposed by the west or the old International Finance Institutions of the World Bank or IMF, there are consequences of engagement. Transfers are not just cash or technology, but much more. They include visions and trajectories of development that were constructed elsewhere, and so carry with them different politics and economic relations.

Talking about the emergence of a class of new entrepreneurial farmer, linked to urban markets, in Tanzania (very similar in many ways to what we see in Zimbabwe today), Marc Wegerif, only half jokingly, commented that being low on the World Bank’s index for doing business may be a good thing, providing some level of protection for smaller, domestic economic players. No-one denies Zimbabwe needs investment, but this conference reemphasised that understanding the wider system of finance and capital accumulation in a regional and global context is essential, so this can be responded to strategically.

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

 

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Greece and Africa: learning the lessons of structural adjustment

For nearly two decades, from the World Bank’s Berg report of 1981 onwards, Africa suffered the consequences of structural adjustment – or more kindly economic reform – at the behest of the international finance institutions. The consequences were devastating for employment, livelihoods and state capacity. But the neoliberal medicine did not work. There was a period in the 1990s when there were all sorts of arcane debates on why. Was it the imbalance of economic measures, was it the timing and sequencing, was it the lack of political will to implement properly? But in the end most agree that it was a disastrous period, the consequences of which are still being felt.

These consequences include the massive undermining of state capacity, including health services, agricultural research and extension and more, along with the loss of a generation of potential. The recent shocking impacts of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa can be in part related to these long-term effects of systematic underdevelopment – what some call ‘structural violence’.

In Zimbabwe, the Mugabe government abandoned its post-Independence ‘growth with equity’ strategy for one modelled on the designs of the World Bank and the IMF in 1991. The Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP – also known as ‘economic suffering for African peoples’, and many other plays on the same) was rolled out through the 1990s. It presaged the unrest that provoked the labour movement and war veteran mobilisations in the latter part of the decade, and was of course the backdrop for the land reform from 2000.

Of course some benefit from such neoliberal economic reforms. Despite the high-flown rhetoric, the Mugabe government did not push for land reform or other redistributions in the 1990s. Instead elites accumulated, corruption extended and a new politics emerged. In this period large-scale, mostly white-owned (but also now incorporating some of the new black elite) farming and other businesses profited. In agriculture, high value farming operations boomed, seeking profits in export markets as part of the new, competitive neoliberal order. In some ways, it was a great success. But in many ways a troublesome anomaly, as the benefits were not widely shared, and the festering discontents around land distribution, unresolved from the colonial period, continued unaddressed.

So what has this all to do with Greece? A week ago a new party, Syriza, dramatically came to power in Greece committed to ending the structural reforms imposed by the European Union, and Germany in particular, but also committing to tackle the deep corruption and oligarchic elitism that had come to characterise Greek political economy. The rise of Syriza has sent shockwaves through Europe with its rejection of the status quo, and the deep inequities of the ‘austerity packages’ imposed, what have been described by the new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, as “fiscal waterboarding” that had turned Greece into a “debt colony” (see excerpts from his book via this link).

A former colleague of mine, Diana Conyers, who lived in Zimbabwe during the ESAP period, and now lives in Greece wrote a thought-provoking blog for the IDS website recently. It drew the parallels between Greece and Africa in interesting ways. On the day of the Greek election, the UK Sunday broadsheet, The Observer, had an extended editorial on the Greek situation. If you replaced ‘Greece’ with ‘Africa’ (or any particular African country) in the piece – as I do below – the parallels that Diana drew attention to are striking:

Africans have been subjected to what many feel is a sustained, brutal and unnecessarily destructive attack on their basic living standards, way of life and national independence. If a country is invaded and occupied by hostile forces, it might expect to lose its freedom and its voice. But the subjugation of Africa, in the name of fiscal responsibility, debt reduction and structural reform, was undertaken by so-called friendly powers, principally, [western donors, the World Bank and the IMF[…[A]usterity is not working, either, as a group of leading economists noted… “The historical evidence demonstrates the futility and dangers of imposing unsustainable debt and repayment conditions on debtor countries [and] the negative impact of austerity policies on weakening economies… Debt should be cancelled”.

In the 1990s the global policy elite and the international commentariat, let alone ‘leading economists’, did not offer such a perspective on Africa. Partly Africa was far away and had less influence on the West than even Greece, but also the ‘historical evidence’ – mostly resulting from the failed experiments in Africa, post-Soviet Russia and elsewhere – had not been learned. And of course in Africa, where emergent democracies were being controlled through the same route as their economies via programmes of ‘good governance’, the prospects for an insurgent, popular, progressive, alternative politics, as has emerged in Greece (and maybe Spain too), was not feasible.

Through the 1990s, in Zimbabwe and elsewhere, political and business elites were quite happy to build their wealth and power on the back of austerity and ‘reform’, with inequality and deepening structural poverty growing with this. The Greek Syrzia moment perhaps has some parallels with Zimbabwe in 2000. The challenges will be similar: the prospects of diplomatic isolation, capital withdrawal, external pressure to conform and political tensions regionally, but equally the need to compromise, manage change and seek an alternative, while offsetting corruption, political division and social conflict that threaten a more humane, redistributive growth path.

In the past 15 years, Zimbabwe has sought an alternative political-economic trajectory, breaking some of the shackles of the past; but it has also failed dramatically to address other challenges, with the consequence that the economy continues to languish, corruption has extended even further, growth has failed to take off and the benefits of redistributive policy remain to be realised. Let’s hope the Syriza coalition fares better. Perhaps in the future Athens, rather than Washington, will be able to send economic advisers to Africa.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared first 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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Land use planning is back in vogue in Zimbabwe

Land use planning has a chequered history in Zimbabwe, but despite this it seems to be back in vogue. As the state and its associated technocracy tries to get to grips with the informality unleashed by land reform, creating order through planning is a more and more frequent refrain.

Land use planning was used as a tool of control during the colonial era and, as a result it became a focus for resistance during the liberation war. Managing land and its use is always political, despite the proclamations of a technocratic state that science should prevail. The height of land use planning was of course during the implementation of the notorious 1951 Native Land Husbandry Act. Mike Drinkwater and Jos Alexander among many others have described the consequences, and the implications for people’s livelihoods and also social and political configurations in the countryside. Terry Ranger in particular described the implications for political mobilisation before and during the liberation war.

The plans associated with the Act had precedents in the technical advice of ‘Chief Instructor to the Natives’, E.D. Alvord, dating back to the late 1920s. Indeed the Southern Rhodesian state had a long history of imposition of plans, rules and regulations that influenced and limited how people could live and farm. People were put in settlement lines, contours were dug in particular ways to prevent soil erosion, gardens were banned from within 100 feet of waterways, the pulling of sledges was banned, and so on, and so on. Perhaps the most extreme imposition was destocking that was aimed at bringing livestock populations within a notional ‘carrying capacity’.

All of this was justified by science. There was a science of ‘civilised agriculture’ as described in a paper I co-authored with William Wolmer back in 2000. There were impressive scientists and field practitioners involved in defining the parameters. Alvord himself was of course one, but there were many others. Illtyd Pole Evans was another. He had a major influence on grazing management policy, influencing the 1939 Commission of Enquiry into Natural Resources of the Colony, and extension policy on ‘communal grazing’ ever since (despite my and others’ attempts at a critique from the 1980s onwards!).

There was a scientific rationale justified according to certain assumptions, usually derived from large-scale commercial farming. Thus ‘optimal’ stocking rates were based on beef ranching, and rotation and cropping systems based on extensive commodity production. Thus mixed livestock and cropping systems, and such practices as intercropping were banned. Indigenous systems for soil and water conservation were looked over, and engineering solutions derived from elsewhere (often South Africa or the US) were imposed. Optimal land uses were defined according to ‘suitability’ and  ‘capability’ maps based not on people’s social-cultural and economic needs but on soils, rainfall and vegetation patterns.

The most famous such mapping was conducted by Vincent, Thomas and Staples in 1960 in their agroecological survey of Southern Rhodesia that defined five ‘natural regions’ in Zimbabwe. Even today we still hear cries that particular areas should not be used for cropping, and are only suitable for livestock, even if cropping has been part of livelihood systems for centuries. Again, an industrial, modernist, commercial production imaginary is imposed, in neat, scientized maps and charts that carry with them an authority that has had huge implications.

Today there are calls for a new effort in land use planning. The World Bank is reportedly planning a major exercise. There are some good arguments put forward, not least by Mandi Rukuni, who knows the history well. Through the land reform the use of land has changed dramatically, and without a sense of what is where, sensible planning cannot take place. Some areas need to be protected from encroachment, such as agricultural land near urban areas, and so some form of regulated zoning is required. And with a clearer picture of how land is being used, a land administration system can be developed, allowing registration, the issuing of leases, perhaps land taxation. These are all sound reasons for investing in some efforts.

But the lessons of past attempts should be borne in mind too. The temptations of over-eager technocrats in 2014, just as 60 or more years ago, need to be offset. There is too often a sense that ground level problems will be solved through ordering, control and technocratic imposition. The view from above, from satellite images or air photos, can be misleading. And the urge to draw lines with the chinograph pencil or (more likely these days) the computer cursor that runs roughshod over people’s own constructed and lived-in landscapes is high.

There has been much wringing of hands among Zimbabwe’s planners, as well as many others, about the ‘chaotic’ nature of land reform. Indeed ‘chaotic’ has become the statutory epithet in both academic and media commentary. Yet, as we showed in a paper now over a decade old, there was order in the chaos, and war veterans involved in land invasions often bizarrely followed old planning rules in the early allocation of land and settlement before the formal ‘fast-track’ planning took over. The technocratic impulse is strong, even among those who fought a war that mobilised people against the impositions of Rhodesian planning laws.

Indeed, as we have shown in our work in Masvingo, it was the responsive informality and often the breaking of old rules and regulations that has allowed A1 farms in particular to develop. Unconstrained by particular requirements, they have been able to adapt to circumstances without the strictures of a constraining technocracy. Similar results have been found from across the Limpopo where in South Africa the technocratic impositions on land reform have been highly disabling. Here too it was the informal settlements that prospered most, whereas those that followed the rules and land use plans were almost designed to fail from the start.

While not advocating a completely anarchic approach (there are clearly some regulations around land and its use, perhaps especially around environmental management that make sense), avoiding closing down flexibility and options for change should be avoided at all costs if the current revival of land use planning is to have a benefit. There is an urgent need to develop a more locally-rooted, participatory approach to planning, where external experts become facilitators, rather than imposers of state-defined scientific diktat. This really would be a revolutionary approach to land use planning for Zimbabwe.

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

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Rethinking agricultural extension

Zimbabwe’s agricultural extension service, Agritex, was the pride of Africa in the 1980s, before the ravages of structural adjustment hit in the 1990s. There were extension workers throughout the countryside, and a network of subject matter specialists, most highly experienced and qualified. The quality of the training and advice offered was unparalleled anywhere on the continent, and for a time the service was well resourced with extension workers reasonably paid and with transport and so able to move around.

Today the extension service is a sorry reflection of past glories. Many qualified staff left or passed away (the ravages of HIV/AIDS hit many government services very badly), posts are unfilled, the transport capacity virtually non-existent and the ability to offer up-to-date advice severely hampered by the parallel decimation of government research services. Most farmers rely on private input suppliers, agrodealers and their neighbours for advice these days. Of course there are extension workers in the field, and they are usually extraordinarily committed and informed, despite the poor conditions of their posts. In the communal areas many get additional incentives from NGO programmes, often diverting their work to projects like conservation agriculture or group gardening.

I had some interesting discussions recently with a number of former Agritex staff and resettlement farmers about what they thought of the service today, and what they thought about its future, particularly in the post land reform era. They reminisced about the past of course, and acknowledged how effective Agritex had been, but they were also sanguine about the future. What do the ‘new farmers’ really need?

The discussion identified three important things: information (and particularly up to the minute market and price data), brokering (between farmers and contractors, suppliers, markets and service providers, to ensure that deals struck are fair and regulated) and business management skills (they were confident about agronomy, but not running a business, even a small one: managing accounts, cash flows, investments and the rest). This is a very far cry from the standard Agritex approach, based as it was on the old World Bank Training and Visit system, and of course with its roots in the colonial era with the post of ‘Chief Instructor of Natives’ held by the famous American missionary, E.D. Alvord for many years. Today the emphasis should be very different, my informants suggested.

This would require a total rethink of Agritex, and agricultural extension in general. Indeed a department in the Ministry of Agriculture may not be the appropriate organisational vehicle at all. My informants pointed out that the new farmers, compared to their compatriots in the communal lands, were younger, better educated, more mobile, and with good access to town. They all had mobile phones, and many had smartphones with Internet access. Many were making money, and had investment, marketing and business planning decisions to make, often juggling an agricultural enterprise with other activities. Many women were independent operators, or took on particular roles within a more complex business than the standard communal area farm.

Of course not all resettlement farms are like this, just as not all communal area farms are classic family smallholder farms focused on subsistence agriculture with some off-farm activities. There is a huge diversity, and tailoring approaches to extension and development more generally to different groups is essential. In our study in Masvingo we identified 15 different livelihood strategies across the sample of 400 households in 16 sites that we clustered into four broad types. In a recent DFID-funded initiative three categories are identified that roughly chime with our livelihood types: market oriented surplus producers, smallholders who are surviving and are in need of livelihood support, and those who are struggling and in need of social protection.

Our discussion focused on the first, and some of the second, group. But this is a big and growing proportion of the new farming population, and the one that is really going to get agriculture moving. While social welfare approaches are clearly necessary, if there are to be long-term transitions out of poverty and onto growth paths that are sustainable backing those who are engaging with markets, developing their farms, and investing should be a priority. And supporting such people with the type of service that meets their needs I would argue is a useful public service. Some of it of course could be paid for in time, but as a strategic government investment it could easily be justified.

The new DFID programme is being implemented by FAO, and appears to be focused on ‘training’ focused on building ‘resilience’ through ‘climate smart agriculture’, with a range of high-sounding objectives set. But is this going to be old-style training, rekindling the glory days of 1980s Agritex (although in this case implemented by NGOs) and focused on instruction and demonstration around farming techniques (including conservation agriculture)? Or will it be building capacity around the priorities of information, brokering and business that we identified? There has been a repeated default in new programming by aid agencies as well as government to return to the past, and not rethink for the future. This is $48 million of UK taxpayers’ money, so let’s hope it is better focused than previous efforts, and helps to rebuild an agricultural research and extension capacity in Zimbabwe that is fit for its new purposes.

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

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