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Learning from crises: state-citizen relations in the time of cholera

The cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe in 2008 was the worst ever recorded in Africa. There were nearly 100,000 infections and some 4,300 deaths. The disease swept through the crowded urban areas in particular, and spilled across the borders to neighbouring countries. The deadly bacterium caused illness and death, but also new forms of politics in its wake.

A fascinating new paper by Simukai Chigudu has recently been published in African Affairs, entitled The Politics of Cholera, Crisis and Citizenship in Urban Zimbabwe. Based on recall interviews 7-8 years on, the paper reflects on how the spread of cholera was not a ‘natural’ disaster, but one that was created by the fundamental failures of the state. It was, in the words of Paul Farmer, a form of ‘structural violence’, where poor and marginalised people living in townships where the housing, water and sanitation infrastructure had decayed were exposed to the disease, and ‘died like flies’, to quote one of the paper’s informants.

The cholera outbreak was unquestionably a major health crisis, but it was also a significant political moment, coming as it did on the back of accelerating economic chaos, hyperinflation and infrastructural collapse. I remember the period well. This was the moment when things really did seem to be falling apart. A friend of mine, working then in Beitbridge, was hospitalised, and nearly died. Luckily for him, South African doctors came across the border bringing rehydration medicines. Others were less lucky.

Forging new political subjectivities

The paper makes the case that the response to the crisis was not post-political coping and adaptation (as suggested by much of the ‘resilience’ literature), but one that forged new political subjectivities (relationships between citizens and the state, and other sources of authority). The failure of the state to provide safety and security – part of the modernising, developmental project of the post-Independence years – was laid bare. A politics of ‘disposability’ was generated. The state did not care; people were disposable.

The paper shines a light on the changing relationships between the state and (poor, urban) citizens in this period. The paper is rather vague about the sampling of informants, but a mix of cholera survivors, government officials, local activists and others are interviewed. The paper admits that most were positioned as against the ZANU-PF government when the research took place in 2015-16, but not all were signed-up members of the opposition. Given the locations of the research, this is of course not surprising, but the narratives inevitably offer a particular position, particularly as honed by the intervening years.

The paper argues that “despite their sense of abandonment by the state—a politics of disposability—and despite their claims to substantive citizenship from the state—a politics of expectation—townships residents also exhibit a remarkable politics of adaptation in how they negotiated and survived the cholera crisis”.

These politics, the paper suggests, were generative of a new form of citizenship emerging from the crisis that rejects a corrupt and ineffective state and creates new forms of social and political belonging.

Drought, hunger and crisis in rural areas: comparative reflections

In reading the paper, I was struck both by the parallels and contrasts with how crises of drought and hunger are faced in rural settings. Clearly, a cholera outbreak is far more dramatic. Mortality rates without treatment can be up to 50 percent. A drought is more of a slow-onset disaster, where direct threats to life, at least in Zimbabwe, are much lower. This year another El  Niño event is unfolding, with predictions of food deficits in certain parts of the country.

Yet vulnerabilities to drought-induced food insecurity are not ‘natural’ either. Those without access to food are often the structurally vulnerable, those without ‘entitlements’ (to use Amartya Sen’s term). It is not absolute lack of food that causes famine but its distribution and the politics of access. This is why the annual numbers game around the people likely to face food insecurity is so problematic.

Drought crises too produce new forms of political subjectivity. Since Independence, the Zimbabwean state has always provided the guarantee that no one will starve. Food aid will be provided in some form. This was the social-political contract with the communal area population offered by the ZANU-PF government. But, just as in the urban areas where the party state has abandoned people, new political relations are being forged in the rural areas. Those in the communal areas are frequently reliant on projects from donors, with the state almost completely absent, while those in resettlement areas, where donors choose not to operate, often feel that the offer of land reform has not been followed up with support and investment.

In the context of drought crises, food aid, it seems, is increasingly politicised and selective. This is not a contract with all citizens, but is reliant on conditions. This might be showing party membership and allegiance, for example, in areas where the government delivers food aid, or participating in certain projects, where it is NGOs who are in the lead. Crises always provide moments to exert control, generate patronage relations and create new forms of citizenship.

In the narratives of people, drought – or El  Niño, which entered popular discourse particularly during the 1997-98 event – is related to politics very explicitly. In interviews we did in Chivi in 1997-98 (draft report here), El  Niño was described as a ‘wind that brought bad things’. Fingers were variously pointed at South Africa, Britain, local ‘witches’, failure to appease certain spirts and the state. Drought was not just a climatic phenomenon, but one that reflected political relations; just as was the case for cholera.

Things (don’t quite) fall apart

The overriding narrative of Chigudu’s paper is one of despair, neglect and anger. People feel abandoned, neglected and disposable. More than ten years on, the riots last month are witness to how these feelings have festered and grown. The failure of the state and the political system more broadly is the central storyline.

For sure, this is certainly part of the story of the last decade or more. However, the paper, perhaps surprisingly, doesn’t nuance this with any analysis of what – despite everything – was working. The mortalities from cholera were shocking, but were in the end 5 percent not 50. This was in large part due to deeply committed and massively underpaid state health professionals who were able to treat people, and encourage more effective hygiene and preventive measures. There were of course outsiders – including finance via NGOs and the South African doctors who saved the life of my friend – but there were also government doctors, nurses and health assistants, operating in decrepit hospitals and clinics with limited medicines across the country.

Chigudu’s paper emphasises a common refrain about how the Zimbabwean state has been captured by a military-security elite, and how the modernising bureaucracy no longer functions. Research on the prisons service and the Attorney General’s office, for example, shows just how politicised (and sometimes militarised) some parts of the bureaucracy have become.

Yet, as Chigudu argued in an appearance in the UK parliament a few weeks back, assuming the state – and government agencies – are all the same is deeply problematic. Sectors such as health (and also in some parts of the system, agriculture) retain committed professionals who, under extremely difficult situations, are continuing to operate (indeed the same goes for those areas of the bureaucracy that are highly politicised, as discussed in an earlier blog). Technocrats and service professionals are frequently deeply committed to their jobs, and in the case of disease outbreaks and severe droughts, saving lives.

As discussed in the parliamentary evidence session, sanctions in 2008 (which are still in place and according to the UK Africa minister may be extended) meant that support to confront cholera was fragmented, as sanctions prevented international aid – from DfID and others – being channelled through the state. NGOs had to deliver, with funds disbursed by UN agencies. External aid was unquestionably significant, but as Chigudu argued in his evidence, it could probably have saved more lives if a more coordinated approach was allowed, involving committed government officials in the ministry of health.

As the paper shows, crises are always political. And, in Zimbabwe’s fraught context, this applies not only to the reframing of political subjectivities of township dwellers confronting cholera or rural people facing drought, but also the relationships between the state, civil society and external players, including donors. The current crisis – including a recent, but thankfully more contained, cholera outbreak starting in September last year – is of course generating new state-citizen political dynamics, with uncertain consequences.

This is the second of a short series of blogs profiling recent papers on Zimbabwe. This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Photo credit: SABCnews

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Hopes dashed in Zimbabwe as the economic crisis deepens

It is now a year since people came out onto the streets of Harare to celebrate the army-led ‘coup’s’ ushering in of a new post-Mugabe era. The year has not delivered the dreams and hopes of those on the streets, however, and now an economic crisis is enveloping the country once again.

Despite clear wins for ZANU-PF in the parliamentary elections, even in surprising places (see this interesting recent report focusing on Matabeleland), the July presidential elections between Emmerson Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa were disputed. In the aftermath, violence erupted on the streets and the ruthless backlash by the security forces resulted in civilian deaths that shocked the country, and the world.

The uncertainty surrounding the presidential elections, despite numerous international reports, has made international re-engagement difficult. The opposition has capitalized on this to try and push the Mnangagwa regime into concessions. Added to this, the failure to agree a long-term economic stabilization deal with the international finance institutions, so far, has resulted in an accelerating economic crisis. This has resulted in commodity shortages, a growth in a parallel currency market and rising inflation. As in 2006-08, the impacts on those in the cities, and particularly the middle classes, has become in the words of one commentator, ‘unbearable’.

The political roots of the crisis are becoming more and more openly debated. In an extraordinary outburst, presidential advisor Chris Mutsvanga named Kudakwashe Tagwirei, boss of the network of companies linked to Sakunda holdings, as getting preferential access to foreign exchange from the Reserve Bank and being central to manufacturing scarcities, particularly in the fuel market. Close ties to the political-military elite of influential business people who control the economy, and with this parts of the state have been exposed. Meanwhile, maverick politico, Acie Lumumba, the short-lived adviser to the new technocratic minister of finance, Mthuli Ncube, in a bizarre Facebook live broadcast made a dramatic set of allegations about RBZ corruption, the process of state capture and the role of ‘queen bee’ at the centre of the network. Social media speculation went wild, but these interventions only served to confirm what everyone knew already: some ZANU-PF factions and some in the security forces are intimately tied up with controlling oligarchic forces in the economy. This makes effective economic reform and stabilization extremely difficult, without getting rid of these networks of power and economic control.

In the midst of rising crisis, the MDC appears to be holding out for a renegotiation of power. But as Brian Raftopolous argues in a typically perceptive article, there are several problems with their approach.

“Firstly, as we have seen in other parts of the continent, crisis authoritarian states can maintain their rule for long periods of time through minimalist state forms of rule that combine a control of certain extractive forms of revenue with command over the central means of coercion. Moreover, as Paul Nugent points out, such states can combine coercive, productive and permissive forms of rule involving varying relations of coercion and consent and different episodes of negotiations and conflict between states and citizens. The reductionist view that economic crisis will deliver what the election could not is extremely precarious.

Secondly, the social base of the opposition, particularly in the now largely informalised urban sector, is likely to be further weakened by a deepening economic crisis. This is unlikely to result in more protests and a strengthening of the opposition presence in the public sphere. It could lead to a further retreat into individualised forms of survival and already well supported religious structures and their more optimistic ethereal futures.

Thirdly, the international pressure that the opposition is counting on will not take the forms of more open political conditionality in favour of the opposition. At present, key players in the international community are more concerned with keeping Zanu PF on the reform agenda than with any more open or surrogate support for the opposition as in the past. For many countries in the EU the stabilization agenda in countries like Zimbabwe remains a key factor in the face of all the changes in European politics, particularly around the massive migration issue that is currently dominating European politics.”

At the moment there remains a stand-off. While the government desperately seeks international political agreement for a stabilization programme, and the injection of liquidity into the economy, the opposition pushes for the maintenance of sanctions, holding out for political reforms and perhaps a sharing of power. It is a dangerous moment, with little sign of anyone shifting from entrenched positions.

Strangely, both main political parties seemingly agree on the broad contours of the way forward, and both are committed to a radical neoliberal reform package, with unknown, perhaps disastrous, consequences for the long-term. Currently debate on what types of reform are needed, and how Zimbabwe moves from this crisis mode is limited.

Raftopolous argues that, to move forward, “there is clearly a need for a new national dialogue, including but not just limited to, the major political parties”. The terms of any macro-economic stabilization programme alongside political reforms “should be the start of such a national discussion”, he argues, leading to “a serious critique of this currently shared economic policy”.

This is a hopeful, positive position that I share, but it currently has few backers, given limited evidence of progressive visions for economic policy from all sides. As argued before on this blog, unless a locally-developed response to the economic crisis emerges, rising inequality, lack of sustainability and capture – this time by new actors – will likely result. A future, resilient economy must therefore be rooted in the existing productive economy where most people work and gain a livelihood. Reform efforts therefore must focus on small-scale agriculture and the informal urban economy linked to area-based local economic development, and not expect large, external investments to do the job, even if they paper over the cracks temporarily.

Building long-term resilience for a broad-based economy that will reduce poverty and share wealth will take time. But small steps – most notably through providing reliable and cheap sources of funds to support farming and small businesses – can have a big impact.

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

Photo credit: Flickr CC, Baynham Goredema

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Post-election round up: what now for Zimbabwe?

I haven’t got round to doing a normal Zimbabweland this week. These are not normal times, and I have spent too much time following events on Twitter this last tumultuous week. So, again, I will offer some links to things I have found useful, even if I didn’t agree with everything in each article. I have also included some older links from Zimbabweland that relate directly to the dilemmas now faced.

Last Monday’s election produced a significant win for ZANU-PF in the parliamentary poll, largely due to the rural voters continuing to back the party, and the opposition splitting its vote, especially in Matabeleland. Overall ZANU-PF gained 144 seats and the MDC Alliance, 64. However, this represents a large swing to the opposition since 2013, but not enough to undo ZANU-PF’s grip on power.

There were a couple of independent candidates who won, and some upsets for some big party beasts (Mutsvangwa and Chinamasa being two), but also some disappointments for some progressive and inspiring candidates such as Fadzayi Mahere in Harare. In the local council elections the #This Flag leader, Pastor Evan Mawarire lost in his attempt to gain a local political hold.

Despite this being billed as the social media election, this may reflect more the ‘Twitter tyranny’ of the urban elites and others (including myself) who get a distorted picture. This is a theme developed by Hopewell Chin’ono. The rural masses who voted for ZANU-PF by and large do not follow Twitter debates, nor read blogs (although sometimes I am surprised). As discussed before so-called hashtag activism is significant, but only among certain groups. Instead, they look to their local candidates, and who they think can deliver.

Most eyes were focused on the presidential race between Mnangagwa and Chamisa. Here there was a much tighter race. Chamisa and the MDC Alliance announced even before the election that they had won, and continued to do so afterwards, fomenting fears of a stolen vote. Some perceived delays in announcing the results and on-going accusations of rigging of the elections in turn prompted riots on the streets by opposition supporters. The disastrous and disproportionate intervention of the military resulted in the killing of six, and further clamp downs on opposition support. David Moore gives an overview of the results and their aftermath.

On Thursday, the electoral commission announced that Emmerson Mnangagwa had won, and at 50.8% there would be no need for a run-off (Chamisa got 44.3% according to ZEC). In many ways, the outcome is not a surprise. We will see in time whether rigging took place, and if it did so whether it would have changed the result (there was a similar discussion after 2013 elections). The well-respected ZESN (Zimbabwe Election Support Network), a group of non-government organisations, produced an assessment that reflected the results announced by the ZEC, based on national sampling.

While offering many cautions, the teams of international observers regarded the election as adequate, if not ideal. Yes, of course, it was an uneven playing field with the incumbent making the running; yes the state media supported one party, while the private media largely supported the opposition; yes state resources were used to bolster the incumbent’s position and help with electioneering; and yes irregularities and delays were there. But, overall, nothing has been uncovered yet (and this may of course change) to dismiss these elections in the way some have been.

Indeed, most expected Mnangagwa and ZANU-PF to win handsomely, despite the energetic campaign of Chamisa and the Alliance, with their (not always welcome) backing from the expelled G-40 faction of ZANU-PF, most notably Jonathan Moyo via Twitter and latterly through Robert Mugabe (with his wife Grace close by) at the bizarre pre-election press conference.

It is important though to note how the gains made by the MDC Alliance are significant. Hopefully lessons have been learned about avoiding splitting the vote in key parts of the country and aggressively isolating competing candidates (the Khupe factor was significant in some places). Remembering the late Morgan Tsvangirai, some of Eddie Cross’ reflections provide a helpful focus on the future, and the importance of consolidating gains, building to the next election.

Zimbabwe today is a deeply divided country. Between rural and urban, between the educated social media connected elites and the rest, between different groups within the security forces and the police and between different vying factions within all main parties. Mnangagwa has a big job on his hands to create unity.

Whether the indiscriminate killing of opposition supporters (and other passers-by) in Harare after the elections was ordered or was directed by an independent rogue group of securocrats is not known. Recent events suggest that the ongoing divisions within ZANU-PF and within the security forces (with the police often being side-lined in favour of a violent military support) are a real threat to economic and political stability that so many yearn.

These are themes that were raised around the (not) coup in November, and again have been put into sharp focus. In different ways, both Miles Tendi and Alex Magaisa pick up the dangerous role of the ‘shadow’ military state in their thoughtful articles, with a follow-up BSR today from Magaisa arguing that the brutal events of this past week have tarnished the reputation of Mnangagwa irretrievably, unless he can regain control.

What this reconfiguration of power means for the politics of land and agriculture is not yet clear. The political elites of both ZANU-PF and the MDC Alliance professed a commitment to modernising agriculture and increasing production, and much of this could be read as support for a new capitalist class of farmers, largely on the A2 farms. How the military elite, also invested in land including on the A2 farms, see the future is not articulated, but probably not very different.

Where this leaves the rural poor, the vast mass who continued to vote for ZANU-PF despite everything, is unclear. Who are their advocates? With a lack of coherence in rural policies (as seen in the manifestos) and relatively few of the high profile politicians of either main political formation really having a deep commitment to rural development (beyond the usual rhetoric), the voters will have to hold their MPs and the government more generally to account. Patterns of rural (and urban) differentiation result in different political alliances, and the tendency of political parties – and perhaps particularly the MDC as a movement with urban labour origins – to ignore rural issues is fatal. How class dynamics and rural politics will pan out in the future will surely be a focus for discussions on this blog into the future.

Earlier this year, I did a series of articles for The Conversation on what next for the post Mugabe era on land and agriculture, focusing on the issue of compensation for expropriated land, the need for an effective land administration system and ten priorities for agriculture. These issues all remain crucial, and we look forward to a new government with a wide range of talents, and perhaps including others from other parties, so that an inclusive, progressive commitment can be sustained. Certainly, Zimbabwe urgently needs a period of investment, peace and stability, but the big question remains, given the divisions, can Mnangagwa’s ZANU-PF deliver?

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

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Zimbabwe election round-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture credit: zimbabweelection.com

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Race and privilege in Zimbabwe: a rural and urban divide

A recent paper in Africa by Rory Pilossof and Jacob Boersema offers a nuanced and differentiated account of ‘white’ attitudes to land reform. Distinguishing urban-based whites and ‘farmers’ (although recognising the blurring and connection between the two), they highlight that there was not a simple racialised solidarity in the face of the land invasions.

Interviewing urban whites, they surprisingly found limited sympathy for the plight of the farmers. Their informants argued that farmers had “retained their power, settler identity and colonial attitudes” and “had called the attacks upon themselves”. While white owners of businesses in town were worried that the invasions might spread and affect their properties, this in the end did not happen (although ‘indigenisation’ policies certainly caused some problems).

One urban informant thought that “the suffering of white farmers was overplayed, particularly internationally. He argued that the farmers used their white privilege to mobilize international sympathy, while at the same time bringing the whole white community into disrepute for drawing attention to whites and (inadvertently) to their continued privileged position in the country. He also contended that farmers were not the only ones put under pressure in the years following 2000. Civil servants, opposition supporters, unemployed workers, the urban lower class and evicted farm workers also faced hardships.”

The paper notes that “White farmers certainly suffered… but their wealth also assured them relative comfort after their evictions. Urban whites claimed that many farmers maintained a comfortable lifestyle due to the wealth they had accrued as farmers.” The paper argues that “urban [white] privilege has remained invisible because white Zimbabweans and white privilege are imagined to be connected to the land and to being a farmer”. Maintaining this stereotype of course helped to conceal the on-going benefits of white urban privilege, which had remained intact through this turbulent time.

The paper observes that urban whites “still defend their privilege, although in a different way than the farmers do: not by denial but by naturalizing it or by pointing to the new black elite”. A greater reflexive awareness of privilege was seen among the interviewees, a direct result of the post 2000 situation. While racialised tropes are still trotted out, particularly by the older generation, an appreciation of the impacts of race, class and white privilege was evident amongst others, even if defended and legitimised.

Given the often simplistic, essentialised and racialised accounts of Zimbabwe’s recent history, this paper is extremely useful. Not all whites are the same (of course). As has been pointed out many times, ‘rural’ whites (farmers) were not uniform either, with different groupings associated with the CFU, JAG or independent. As the outcomes of land reform show, the attitudes of different farmers to their workers and surrounding communities over time had a huge impact on how land invasions played out initially, even if land was later acquired by those distant from local political accommodations.

The international media wanted a good vs bad, white vs black story grossly simplifying a complex situation. Stereotyped heroes and villains were presented alongside the highly selective media imagery of violence and chaos. These misleading simplifications of course helped no-one, except perhaps a few journalist hacks and newspaper editors looking for racially-inflected copy from the ‘dark continent’.

This manufacturing of a storyline of course helped push both Mugabe/ZANU-PF and the British government into extreme positions, peaking under Tony Blair’s premiership, when he was rumoured to have threatened armed intervention by the former colonial power on behalf of beleaguered whites (confirmed again by Thabo Mbeki in a recent interview). No wonder many whites in Zimbabwe thought this was the worst sort of ill-informed ‘diplomacy’ from the mother country.

Given the diversity of perspectives seen across informants, and the political imperative to move beyond these racially divided positions, the paper concludes with a challenge: “Whites will need to move beyond acknowledgement, become less defensive, and take more robust steps to undo the advantages they have enjoyed.”

38 years after Independence, this is rather a shocking indictment of Zimbabwe’s post-colonial story.

This is the eighth in a series of short reviews of new work on agriculture and land in Zimbabwe. Nearly all of these studies are by Zimbabwean researchers, reflecting the growing research capacity and ability to comment on important issues of policy in the post-Mugabe era. If there are other papers or books that you think should be included, please let me know!

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

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Morgan Tsvangirai: a leader and a fighter

Morgan Tsvangirai has died. Zimbabwe has lost a great leader, a true fighter. As founder of the Movement for Democratic Change he was the first opposition leader in Zimbabwe to emerge from outside the ruling party. Starting out in the trade union movement, he knew how to mobilise. A great orator, and a man of the people he was widely popular, even amongst his foes. Today he is buried at his home village in Buhera next to his first wife at a state-supported funeral.

He might have become president had the violence of the 2008 elections not got out of hand. Instead he withdrew fearing worse, and later took on the poisoned chalice of the prime minister role in the Government of National Unity. And then in 2013 the MDC lost the election, as he later admitted, and began to fall apart, especially after he became ill with cancer, which finally killed him.

Like his great opponent Mugabe he failed to deal with the succession issue, and the current unseemly wrangling among the power-hungry MDC trio is witness to this failure in leadership at the end. Whatever political position you take, having a vibrant opposition is essential in any country. The MDC-T, as it became after the 2005 split, has been a vital part of political debate in Zimbabwe since 1999.

Where the MDC failed particularly was to generate an effective narrative that would appeal widely to people in the rural areas – of course the substantial majority of the electorate. ZANU-PF held sway, with its often simplistic populist, nationalist rhetoric, and with state resources for food aid and development projects could show its concern for rural issues.

Tsvangirai surrounded himself with top constitutional lawyers and white businessmen and farmers. All exceptionally smart, and deeply committed to change, but probably not the right people to lead new policy thinking on agrarian reform, nor develop strategies for rural mobilisation. Eddie Cross was for example the main spokesperson on agriculture and land, while the late Roy Bennett was also influential.

Tsvangirai, himself from a rural background in Masvingo province, deferred to these advisors. This was a mistake, and meant that, with equivocation around land reform and lack of vision around post-land reform rural development, the political terrain was left to ZANU-PF, who defended it vigorously, especially around elections.

As I have discussed on this blog before, the emerging class differentiation in rural areas was a potential open electoral opportunity for the MDC. Educated, aspirant, entrepreneurial, increasingly rich farmers, linked to urban areas, were an ideal constituency, but were ignored in favour of the urban masses, which of course was Tsvangirai’s territory from ZCTU days.

There were mistakes and misfortunes, intimidation and violence, as well as turns of events that meant that Tsvangirai’s ambitions were never realised. But over the last 20 years he has been central to political life in Zimbabwe, and made a massive contribution, as a strong, brave, courageous and principled politician. You can’t say that about many people.

***

Below are a number of links to obituaries and personal tributes, with much more detail on Tsvangirai’s life and important achievements. Twitter is of course full of many comments and tributes. On youtube, Oliver Mtukudzi has offered his own musical version.

  • Alex Magaisa offers a very personal and heartfelt BSR written hours after his death. He was a close adviser to the prime minister during the build-up to the fateful 2013 elections.
  • Stephen Chan provided the obituary for the Guardian newspaper. He again knew him well, and they wrote a book together. While recognising his great achievements, he makes some important comments about Tsvangirai’s failings and limitations.
  • Evan Mawarire, the #ThisFlag leader, highlights Tsvangirai’s courage in a piece in the Mail and Guardian, written just before he died.
  • David Moore offers a piece in The Conversation, reflecting on what might have been.

Other obituaries from some the major international newspapers tell a less interesting story – more the heroic narrative of peasant boy to union leader to valiant but brutalised opponent to the evil Mugabe (all true, but told without the nuance of those above). The NYT, Washington Post and The Telegraph offer some examples.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Photo from @263chat

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A very Zimbabwean (not) coup

It has been a dramatic week in Zimbabwe. There has been a (not) coup, Robert Mugabe has been expelled from ZANU-PF, but so far has not stepped down from the presidency [he has now, resigning a few hours after this was posted]. No-one could have predicted this, and no-one can guess what will happen next. I will not try, but just offer some links to some other commentary.

So what happened? The tanks rolled in, an officer in army fatigues made announcements on the TV, and the rumour mill on social media exploded. It certainly seemed like a coup. For those of us with links to Zimbabwe, we stayed up much of the night, had our attention diverted during meetings the next day, as we kept checking Twitter feeds and WhatsApp messages to make sense of the confusion.

And then, all smiles, General Chiwenga, the head of the army, appears at State House with President Mugabe, and a delegation of South Africans, plus a Catholic priest for negotiations about the departure of the president and a transfer of power. Photos were taken and tea was had. And bizarrely, negotiations on-going, the next day the President shows up at a graduation ceremony in full academic regalia. It could not have been scripted.

On Saturday, people of all races, creeds and political backgrounds, marched on the streets alongside the army, celebrating the possibility of change, and rejecting the meddling external intervention of SADC and the AU. The marches were a spectacular demonstration of peaceful, non-violent solidarity with the defence force’s intervention, although questions must be raised about what was being backed.

And then on Sunday, ZANU-PF removed Robert Mugabe as head of ZANU-PF, replacing him with Emmerson Mnangagwa, recently dismissed as Vice President. Others in the G40 group, led by Mugabe’s wife, Grace,  were also expelled, with threats of prosecutions to follow. Later on Sunday evening, after a long wait, it got even more bizarre. Everyone, possibly even the generals in attendance, thought this was the resignation of the president, but in a long and rambling speech and much shuffling of papers, it ended with thank-you and goodnight, polite applause and a stunned silence from the rest of the world.

We must remember that this is no people’s revolution, but is all part of a long-running generational struggle over power within ZANU-PF, with Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Lacoste faction, backed by the army and firmly rooted in the older generation with liberation war credentials, ousting the younger G40 faction, with Grace Mugabe as its figurehead. That, as ever, the focus has been on Robert Mugabe himself may ultimately be missing the point. Many of the potential players in any new dispensation have long, often extremely murky, histories; are embedded in complex business networks and have deep security service connections. It’s a complex web woven over many decades, and it will not be easy to unravel, even under the veneer of constitutional transition. For the opposition groups in any prospective transitional authority [which of course didn’t materialise], the ZANU-PF network will be tough to influence, as they found to their cost during the Government of National Unity from 2009.

What happens next remains very uncertain. Impeachment proceedings are starting, but these may not be as straightforward as some suggest. A resignation may yet happen [it did], but since this is officially not a coup, the army are playing by the constitutional rule-book. There are a lot of constitutional lawyers in Zimbabwe, from all sides, it seems.

It has been an extraordinary, exhausting week. No panic, no violence, and (so far) all very civil. Very Zimbabwean. Blessing Musariri offered an amusing commentary on the mood. There was lots of humour in the Twitter commentary too. Suggestions that General Chiwenga and the Zimbabwe National Army might be deployed at the Emirates to deal with a long-standing succession question at the Arsenal. The #apolojersey meme that began circulating after ZANU-PF Youth League head Kudzanai Chipanga, wearing a jersey and showing poor fashion judgement, apologised on TV for criticising the army. Tweets suggested that all apologies forthwith should be done while wearing the jersey, and there were many photo-shopped suggestions of who should do so. And then there was the outline script of the Hollywood film was proposed, with American actors playing all the leading roles and unable to pronounce Mnangagwa and Zimbabwe. And of course the much shared comment that Zimbabwean coups are so much more peaceful than elections, and that they should be held every five years (retweeted approvingly all over Africa).

This social media melee was the only way of getting information; things have been happening so fast. Thanks to @TrevorNcube in particular for keeping a lid on the speculation, and checking before informatively tweeting. Invaluable. In the UK, you are of course subject to the ill-informed mainstream media barrage on Zimbabwe. The narrative of decline is endlessly trotted out: the ‘basket case’ of Africa, a cabal of incompetent cronies at the helm, the ‘disaster’ of land reform, and on and on. Tedious, tiresome and very often inaccurate.

But unlike on previous occasions when Zimbabwe has hit the global headlines, there are some really thoughtful Zimbabweans available for the TV and radio punditry. Alex Magaisa and Miles Tendi, coming from different angles, were great. It’s excellent to have Zimbabwean profs in our UK universities to give a sophisticated, nuanced take. Most journalists are just too lazy to get into the detail, but assume they know the story without asking the questions. A point made by the brilliant Petina Gappah in a perceptive tweet (@vascodagappah). One exception (and of course there are more) is @fergalkeane47 from the BBC who, thanks to his superb reporting from South Africa in the early 1990s, knows the southern African context, and vitally its history, well.

What more in-depth commentaries have I found useful? Here are a few [and more in the postscript below]:

All of these analyses are fast being superseded by events. We don’t yet know the configuration of any new political settlement. In the process, complex manoeuvres must show that this was all aligned with the constitution, and not a coup. Those likely to back any new regime – China, South Africa and the UK are key – all need to be convinced.

Change in Zimbabwe has most definitely long been needed. Ironically, Mugabe’s undoing has been a result of perhaps his greatest legacy: a highly educated population – and elite political-military class – able to mobilise effectively, and in this case together. However, whatever happens in the next days and weeks, Zimbabwe’s problems have certainly not gone away, and these momentous events are only a beginning. Hopefully a longer-term, democratic transformation will occur, but it is far from assured. Just as with Zimbabwe’s Independence in 1980, issues of land, agriculture and rural livelihoods will be central. More commentary on this on Zimbabweland in the coming months.

*****

POSTSCRIPT: SOME MORE COMMENTARY THAT I HAVE ENJOYED IN THE WEEKS SINCE (posted on 15 December):

Everjoice Win on the ‘old man’ and why he should have been surfing channels with his slippers on, not trying to continue to run a country, but not forgetting the past: : http://www.huffingtonpost.co.za/staff-reporter/robert-mugabe-from-liberator-to-the-walking-dead_a_23285070/

Percy Zvomuya on alien and guardian spirits and political transition: http://www.theconmag.co.za/2017/11/23/13697/

Rudo Mudiwa on Grace Mugabe, misogyny and ‘political women’: http://africasacountry.com/2017/11/on-grace-mugabe-coups-phalluses-and-what-is-being-defended/

Miles Tendi interview on the political roots of the crisis: http://www.capetalk.co.za/articles/281503/mnangagwa-vs-mugabe-distrust-and-political-hits-roots-of-zim-s-crisis-run-deep

Knox Chitiyo on the ‘new era’: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/22/robert-mugabe-departure-heady-new-era-zimbabwe-emmerson-mnangagwa?CMP=twt_gu

McDonald Lewanika: on the new regime, new or old, change or continuity? http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/africaatlse/2017/12/13/zimbabwe-and-zanu-pfs-continuing-hegemony-meet-the-new-boss-same-as-the-old-boss/

Alex Magaisa on the MDC Alliance’s ill-judged and poorly timed visit to the US: https://www.bigsr.co.uk/single-post/2017/12/15/Big-Saturday-Read-Going-to-America

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

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