Tag Archives: zimbabwe

Turning the populist tide: what are the alternatives?

The last week has seen major gains for nationalist, populist parties in elections, both in Europe and India. Is this the end of the centre-ground consensus? What are the alternatives?

In India, the BJP swept to victory on the back of anti-Muslim rhetoric and Hindu nationalist slogans. Only Kerala stood out as a state where progressive politics resisted. In Europe, the picture was more mixed, but in France, Hungary, Italy, Poland and the UK, populist parties won, while in Germany a proto-fascist party won 10 percent of the vote.

Such parties rail against ‘elites’ and ‘outsiders’, notably migrants and minorities, and set a nation-first policy agenda seemingly against any forms of internationalism and globalisation. But who are their supporters? What are the connections to rural areas? Are there any lessons for Southern Africa?

Authoritarian populism and the rural world

The rural roots of such regressive, populist movements have been the focus of research linked to the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative over the last couple of years. Yet, as we argued in the framing paper that kicked off the initiative, the rural dimension is frequently missed out in much contemporary commentary.

A major event last year gathered together researchers and activists to debate the issues. Emerging from this, a number of papers have been published in the Journal of Peasant Studies Forum on Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World. New papers (all currently open access) look at the US, Belarus, Hungary, Turkey, Spain, Russia, Bolivia and Ecuador…. and there are more in the pipeline.

Together, these papers demonstrate how the failure of neoliberal economic policies over the past decades has resulted in often extreme rural deprivation, combined with land and resource grabbing, and declining opportunities for young people in particular. A good overview from the ERPI-Europe group is offered by Natalia Mamanova. It is no wonder that populist politicians can easily enlist those who have been left behind. The dynamics are different across countries, of course, but the failure of the centrist consensus – what Nancy Fraser refers to as ‘progressive neoliberalism’ – is clear.

Whether it is the mainstream parties in the UK, the Indian National Congress or Macron’s En Marche, people do not see the jobs or livelihood opportunities being generated, and blaming migrants or minorities is an easy political win. Even when there’s a failure to create jobs or regenerate the countryside, as with Narendra Modi’s BJP over the past five years, nationalist-populist, religiously-inflected rhetoric seems able to deliver the votes, especially when a convincing alternative is absent.

Southern African challenges

In southern Africa, the nationalist populism of Zuma and Mugabe has gone, but their successors are struggling to find a convincing alternative. In South Africa, President Ramaphosa has just won an election offering a vision of stability, apparently appealing to everyone. But, if the pressing demands around land reform are not met, and a radical vision of economic transformation not pursued, the pent-up tensions at the heart of South Africa’s fragile post-1994 settlement may burst to the surface.

In Zimbabwe, meanwhile, President Mnangagwa’s appeal as being ‘not Mugabe’ is wearing thin, as a process of economic reform creates austerity and widening poverty. The IMF’s economic medicine didn’t work in the 1990s, and is unlikely to do so now with a fragile economic base. Popular fury burst onto the streets in January, and may do so again, with unknown political consequences.

Emancipatory alternatives?

So what of other alternatives that offer more hope, and tap into a more radical desire for economic and environmental transformation?

Across Europe, the Green parties had a good showing last week, committing to social justice, economic transformation and environmental policies.  In Kerala, the Congress-led alliance won with commitments to poverty reduction and social welfare. In southern Africa, the political starting point for alternatives are absent, with all main parties seemingly committed to some form of neoliberal consensus. Meanwhile, the populist radicals, led by Julius Malema in South Africa, offer little in the way of alternative economic and social programme.

Alternatives have to respond to real, lived, local problems, and, as we discussed at the ERPI conference last year – and shared in a number of short videos – there are many emergent examples of alternatives across the world that are creating new economies and generating sustainable alternatives. Whether these are experiments in food or energy sovereignty; new forms of mutual, collective economic regeneration; or commoning practices using new technologies that generate jobs and livelihoods, they all challenge the standard neoliberal recipe of austerity, efficiency and externally-led investment in rural areas.

Mobilising against right-wing populism

Too often, though, connections are not made between rural and urban efforts, between farmers and workers, between land-based and housing design initiatives. If isolated, the opportunities are missed for political mobilisation, based on new emancipatory narratives – what Chantal Mouffe calls left-populism. This is frequently the failing of the Green movement, seen too often as a privileged, urban, middle class concern; or indeed the Left more generally, with its roots in industrial unions.

Yet, taking a leaf from the right-wing populists and the Steve Bannon playbook that was well-rehearsed in Trump’s America, networking across potential supporters, linking diverse concerns, is essential. A great new paper from Jun Borras explains how mobilising alternatives in agrarian settings is tough, but not impossible.

The rural dimensions of creating emancipatory alternatives to both neoliberal capitalism and populist nationalism are essential, whether in Europe, Asia or Africa. The elections this week are yet another wake-up call.


ERPI Framing paper: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03066150.2017.1339693

JPS Forum (series of articles): https://think.taylorandfrancis.com/journal-of-peasant-studies-forum-on-authoritarian-populism-and-the-rural-world/

Open Democracy blog series: https://steps-centre.org/authoritarian-populism-rural-world/#articles


Open Democracy video series: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/authoritarian-populism-and-rural-world/


This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Picture credit: David Sierralupe: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sierralupe/25937491768/in/album-72157662852000427/

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative: what’s in it for Africa?

The huge Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Forum recently concluded in Beijing. 37 heads of state attended, along with droves of policy advisors and numerous thinktanks and research institutes, including IDS where I work. Monica Mutsvanga, Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, attended on behalf of the Zimbabwe government. By all accounts it was a lavish affair, with grand speeches and big commitments totalling $64 billion. But what to make of it all from an African perspective?

As discussed on this blog several times before (see here, here and here), while Chinese engagements with Africa can be framed in terms of ‘new imperialism’ or part of a benign process of ‘mutual learning’, in practice a more nuanced perspective is needed. African states have agency in the process of negotiation, and the Chinese always adopt an incremental and adaptive approach to policy, in Africa as in China. There is no single top-down plan to be forced on unwilling recipients.

As our studies of Chinese (and Brazilian) investments in African agriculture (in Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe – reported in an open access World Development issue) showed, what emerges varies from country to country, project to project, depending on how negotiations play out. And this very much depends on which Chinese state owned company, from which province in China, is involved, and how African states and officials negotiate. Sometimes the outcomes are disastrous – inappropriate technologies and failed projects – but sometimes positive dynamics unfold. No surprises here: Chinese engagements are very similar to aid from Denmark, the UK or the US, just more focused on productive infrastructure and perhaps more honest and straightforward.

Beyond the BRI rhetoric

At the BRI Forum there was grand talk of mutual benefit, inclusive approaches and green and sustainable development. Just as with western aid, forget the rhetoric, and look at the practice. Chinese geopolitical and commercial ambitions are clear. The BRI is certainly about regional, even global, political influence, especially through trade. With coal mines and power stations being opened under its banner, forget the green credentials for now. As a strategic player, who plays the (often very) long game, the benefits to China of all the roads, ports and other infrastructure being built are obvious.

This does not mean though that such investments are disadvantageous to host countries and regions, just because China benefits too. The TAZARA railway built between Tanzania and Zambia in the early 1970s still provides an important trade link, assisting economic integration. New investments may too – but only if designed in the right way, and subject to careful deliberation and negotiation at a local level. Being too eager (or desperate) to receive Chinese investment could be dangerous.

Minister Mutsvanga’s speech in Beijing had a hint of this. Repeating the ED ‘mantra’ (her term) that Zimbabwe is ‘open for business’, she continued:

Zimbabwe has fertile soils and a favourable climate for farming and agro-industry. It is a treasure trove of much desired mineral wealth. Zimbabwe has gold, diamonds, emeralds and other precious stones. There is the diverse energy offering of hydroelectric power, thermal and coking coal, methane gas. For new and green energy there is, platinum, lithium, uranium and abundant solar. Base metals galore include chrome, nickel, vanadium, tin, rare earths and scores of others.

This sounds more than being open for bilateral negotiations around mutually beneficial investment; more an invitation to a resource grab. The Chinese are not immune to this, as the sorry tale of diamond mining in Marange shows. But it needn’t be this way: being open for business doesn’t mean open for any business on any terms.

Waving the flag, the state-run newspapers in Zimbabwe hailed the minister’s visit, and the prospects for Zimbabwe. But the list of supposed BRI projects – such as the new parliament – were planned long before, and nothing to do with building a corridor for trade. To link with the BRI hype in Beijing, the Chinese Ambassador to Zimbabwe opened a BRI art exchange exhibition, demonstrating how the two countries were connected. Cultural exchange is certainly a good thing, but Minister Mutsvanga, I think, was looking for more.

Corridors for development?

So what might a corridor development look like that has wider benefits for development, and is not simply a route to facilitating extractivism? A recent study carried out along the eastern seaboard of Africa – in Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique – has looked at four very different corridors, all notionally connected to the BRI – LAPSSET, SAGCOT, Nacala and Beira. All involve major port and road/rail developments, linked to a variety of energy and agricultural investments of varying scales (see the earlier blog on Mozambique).

Our research contrasted corridors constructed as ‘tunnels’, conducting valuable resources out of a country and importing goods to metropolitan centres, and ‘networks’, that allow linkages to rural hinterlands and a dynamic of development associated with the investments. Each of our case studies showed elements of both at play.

Corridors, as Euclides Gonsalves explains for Mozambique, are about ‘acts of demonstration’, linking political ambitions to local development. The grand, stylised performances at the BRI Forum in Beijing also play out in villages and project sites in African rural areas. Enlisting and enrolling actors, and material artefacts (grain siloes, extension centres, new roads and so on), are part of the game. Enacting corridors has political and material effects, as some people are included and some excluded, and certain political interests are promoted. The net benefits may be positive, but the performative aspect is key, he argues.

Many corridors are about constructing imaginaries, and creating an economy of expectations, Ngala Chome argues for LAPSSET in Kenya. The corridor has been long planned, and while port facilities are being built in Lamu, many follow-on investments have not yet materialised. Anticipation, expectation and speculation create a new political economy around prospective corridor sites, as we see in the pastoral rangelands of Isiolo where the pipeline and road is expected to traverse. As our work under the PASTRES project shows, pastoralists in these areas complain this has resulted in a massive growth in speculative land deals.

A struggle over development and its directions is unleashed by corridor developments. Everyone has been crying out for investment, but when it comes, the terms of incorporation are inevitably uneven. As Emmanuel Sulle shows for the sugar and rice plantations in the SAGCOT corridor area of Tanzania, processes of displacement and disenfranchisement unfold. And this is even with ‘inclusive’ business models, such as outgrower schemes, heavily promoted by agricultural investors across the corridors.

Networks not tunnels

What are the policy recommendations from our APRA corridors research? Here are the highlights:

  • Policy appraisal must include political economy analysis to explore the potential winners and losers. External capital/infrastructure investment mobilises local interests, including local capital and the state, creating new patterns of differentiation. This means appraisal must go beyond the standard economic assessment to a wider social and political analysis.
  • The design of a corridor – and the associated business models promoting agricultural investment – make a big difference. Opportunities for a more networked organisation, avoiding the limitations of a ‘tunnel’ design, need to be explored, especially around the design of transport infrastructure that can benefit local economies.
  • Terms of inclusion and exclusion in corridors are mediated through a range of local institutional and political processes. For example, land speculation and the revitalisation of older conflicts over resources may occur as a result of corridor development. Benefits may be unevenly shared in already unequal societies, with women and poorer households missing out.
  • Processes for negotiating corridor outcomes require the mobilisation of less empowered actors – including women and poorer people – and their organisation around clear guidelines – such as those within the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on land tenure – that ensure terms of incorporation into corridor investments are not disadvantageous.
  • Support for legal literacy and advocacy, as well as the organisation of disadvantaged groups, will help people to be able to articulate demands. This requires building on local organisations and networks to help counter the power of appropriation of local elites in alliance with the state and investment capital.

All these are relevant for any investor, and for any corridor-style investment. I hope Minister Mutsvanga and the BRI planners take note, and avoid the rush to invest and take a more patient, deliberate approach that creates networks not tunnels.


This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Photo credit: Ian Scoones. Photo credit: Ian Scoones, Nampula, Mozambique

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Models for integrated resource assessment: biases and uncertainties

What are the most appropriate ways of understanding changes in natural resource change in rural areas, particularly in the context of climate change? How can we make use of data that is patchy and uncertain? How can models help decision-making about future management?

These questions are at the heart of three recently published journal articles on Zimbabwe. The three papers focus respectively on climate impacts on livestock feed (in Nkayi), land use intensity patterns (in Wedza) and the prevalence of grass fires (in Mazowe). What connects them is the use of remotely-sensed data on land use with an integrated modelling approach, aimed at policy prescriptions for resource management.

This style of research on natural resource use has become more and more common in recent years, as increasingly detailed data derived from satellite systems has become freely available. Integrated assessment models, modelling everything from climate impacts to crop production to land-use to water scarcity, can be linked to geo-referenced spatial data and parameterised with field-based data collection.

As a style of inquiry, integrated modelling approaches have a number of advantages. Diverse data sources can be combined, and predictions made around key policy issues. But there are also problems – and, in different ways, these three papers illuminate some of them.

Five problems with integrated resource assessment modelling

First, models are always framed by assumptions around problems and solutions. Each of these studies adopts a particular stance, resulting in recommendations for interventions to address the highlighted problem. So, climate change results in feed gaps for livestock, which can be solved by ‘climate smart’ adaptation measures in Nkayi. High land use intensity – excessive extraction of primary production – means that ‘hot spots’ of land degradation ‘externalities’ can be identified for intervention measures in Wedza. Increasing fire frequencies are assumed to be universally a bad thing, not a necessary consequence land clearance or a reflection of natural cycles in savannah dynamics, as fuel load builds up. Instead, recommendations, including the deployment of fire teams, creating fire-breaks and developing monitoring systems, are put forward for Mazowe.

Second, the uncertainties embedded in complex models are legion, meaning that any predictions have to be heavily qualified. These papers all acknowledge important uncertainties. In the assessment of land use intensity against a baseline of net primary production in Wedza, these arise, for example, from problems of estimating primary production in the baseline case, especially below-ground. Linking biomass harvesting to specific areas when livestock move is also recognised as a source of uncertainty. In the analysis of climate impacts on fodder management options in Nkayi, the uncertainties surrounding climate predictions across scenarios is acknowledged, and the model in turn is developed with parameters that are constrained within a ‘reasonable range of uncertainty’. Yet, by the end of the papers, important uncertainties are seemingly put aside in the desire to reach a definitive conclusion for the way forward. The apparent need for prediction, directions for ‘decision-making’ and control-oriented intervention are all-consuming.

Third, the style of argument too often leads to a closing down of discussion of more diverse options. All three papers are structured in the standard way of scientific papers, with propositions tested according to a set of methods, leading to results and conclusions. In the methods section, the qualifications, imperfections and uncertainties are duly noted. But, by the time the results are presented, around a particular quantitative model, such difficult issues are quietly put to the background. By the time of the conclusions, they have all but disappeared, and much stronger causal, predictive statements offer a definitive way forward, frequently hinted at by the original framing. For example, a model of land use intensity Wedza, focused on the extraction of net primary productivity, inevitably side-steps questions of how landscapes are understood, and how future resource use is seen by different groups of people. The social and political dynamics of change are not part of the storyline, despite the attempt to link resource use with different wealth groups.

Fourth, models are only models – simplified ways of thinking about the world – and they certainly can be helpful in thinking through options. But sometimes the assumptions just don’t make sense. Models to have any purchase need some ground-truthing, and some stress-testing with reality. The paper on grass fires shows clearly that there are no statistically significant differences across tenure types in fire frequency and extent. In other words, land reform farmers cannot be blamed, but without field based data, the paper is unable to explain the patterns, and instead uses a model that extrapolates future patterns from the past. In respect of fire, this is rather unlikely – fires due to land clearing will decline as farms and fields are established, while hunting will decline as game animal populations are eliminated. As a result, the regression-based models become detached from likely future realities. Instead, the regressions play a political role: by extrapolating increases in fires, they justify a set of externally-defined interventions.

Finally, the rush to a definitive recommendation for policy too often results in missing out on complex system dynamics, histories and contexts. The paper in this trio on livestock fodder systems, for example, assumes that the ‘feed gap’ will be filled by improved fodder quantity and quality, including the growing of fodder crops and the application of fertiliser to crops to improve stover. And this in dryland Nkayi? Surely not. The paper acknowledges that past attempts at improved fodder management have consistently failed, but does not probe why in the rush to provide an intervention-friendly recommendation aligned with a ‘climate-smart’ intervention narrative.

Styles of science: how to broaden out inquiry and open up debate

All three of these papers make important arguments and present significant data. They all have been peer-reviewed in respectable journals (Agricultural Systems, Ecological Economics and Geocarto International). The data is (mostly) of high quality, the models are consistent (if problematic) and the arguments are clearly made (although open to challenge). But reading these (and these are only exemplars of many, many others, perhaps rather unfairly singled out), the five wider concerns raised above kept coming back.

It makes me uneasy when a style of science closes down debate. Uncertainties are not embraced and alternative interpretations are not given space. An assumption that the end-point must be a science-based ‘smart’ intervention means other possibilities – more social, political for example – are not countenanced. This is less a critique of the particular methods and models, but more the style of policy-oriented science, centred on integrated assessment modelling, now central to a huge industry of ‘global change’ research.

What might an alternative approach look like? Modelling that takes uncertainty seriously would not close down to definitive solutions, but would aim to open debates up. Models that are interrogated with deep, field-based data, thus triangulating between modelling approaches, result in greater robustness and wider interpretation. When reading the papers, I had to ask: are there alternatives to new fodder regimes and crop fertilisation to address the consequences of climate change on livestock production in Nkayi? Of course there are! Does fire management have to be focused always on fire prevention; are fires always bad? Of course not! But such alternatives were not debated.

Suggesting diverse, alternative options for the future – different interpretations and solutions from an open approach to data, evidence and integrated assessment modelling – allows for an engaged, inevitably political debate, about what makes sense for whom. This would make for papers that are less neat, but perhaps ultimately more useful.

This is the fourth 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: Ian Scoones

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The politics of land occupations in Zimbabwe

How land was invaded and occupied during Zimbabwe’s land reform in 2000 remains a contentious issue. The lack of detailed empirical work uncovering the histories of occupations has hampered the debate, but this is now changing.

To date, there have been two main narratives. The most popular in many academic and media circles is that the occupations were directed from the top as a route to propping up ZANU-PF in the wake of the referendum loss. Others, by contrast, argue that the occupations represented a popular movement emerging from below, demonstrating a revolutionary autonomy from the party and the state. As ever, the facts don’t sit easily with either explanation.

Two new papers by Sandra Bhatasara (from the Sociology Department at the University of Zimbabwe) and Kirk Helliker (from Rhodes University) help to improve the evidence base for two districts in Mashonaland Central. They are: The Party-State in the Land Occupations of Zimbabwe: The Case of Shamva District and [PDF]Inside the Land Occupations in Bindura District, Zimbabwe, both out in journals last year.

The papers, based on fieldwork in 2015-16, offer nuanced accounts of what happened. As previous studies have shown, the story is not straightforward, and differs dramatically over time and space. This is what we found out in our own work in Masvingo province relayed in particular in the 2003 paper, from jambanja to planning, and in our 2010 book. The important participant-observer research by Wilbert Sadomba on the occupations shows a similar story for Mazowe.

The results reported in the two papers are broadly the same. They conclude that, “involvement by the party-state did not take on an institutionalised form but was of a personalised character entailing interventions by specific party and state actors”. In other words, the dominant narrative is challenged. However, an alternative radical populist position is not supported either. What then were the findings from Mashonaland Central?

History and memory

The way individual land occupations played out (all were different) depended very much on particular local histories and how these were remembered by local participants. The land occupations for many of the research informants was about completing the struggle for land so central to the liberation war. In these areas, experiences of the war are core to collective memories. Many communal area residents were moved to ‘protected villages’ by the Rhodesian state (also known as ‘keeps’). As one informant commented, “we were harassed to unimaginable proportions when we were at these keeps”. Memories of colonial injustices go deeper too, from compulsory destocking and contour ridging to forced labour (chibaro).

The occupation of farms was not random. The conduct of farmers both during the liberation war and in relation to their contact with communal residents since played a large part in which farms were initially targeted. The violence of the liberation war, and the resentments built up over generations of harsh farmers impounding cattle or mistreating workers was a central part of how farms and farmers were seen by the invaders.

For many, including the war veterans who led most of the invasions, the relationship with the ruling party, ZANU-PF was not a supportive one. Many informants complained that the promises of liberation after Independence had not be fulfilled. When war veterans were demobilised after the war, they were offered jobs and land, but they did not materialise for most. War veterans had previously mobilised against the state demanding pensions (in 1997), but the resentments still ran deep, and the invasions were seen as a protest against ZANU-PF, rather than as something orchestrated by the party. One informant commented, “During the war of liberation, our ZANU-PF leaders had promised us office jobs, a decent way of living, with plenty of food for us and our families. Sadly all these promises were not fulfilled…. [T]hey had forgotten all about us as they were now comfortable and in power.”

Once the referendum had been rejected, the prospect of the state doing anything further on land seemed gone, so the moment acted as a spur to do something radical. Land invasions, which had been happening sporadically since the late 1990s, provided that opportunity.

Organising occupations

The war veterans were central to the organisation of land occupations, linked through loose networks. Most war veterans were in jobs or were farming in the communal areas at this time. Although some had connections to the National War Veterans Association, they were not centrally organised. But they were connected. Within the two districts studied there were key figures central to mobilisation across war veterans. One was a teacher, another a nurse, for example. All war veterans had multiple identities, but the experience and connections forged in the liberation war 25 years before were important.

In popular commentary on the land reform, it is often referred to as ‘chaotic’. While the disturbance and protest of the ‘jambanja’ period certainly disrupted, there was also a strategy and method. One war veteran explained the approach to early ‘demonstrations’:

“When we got onto farms as war veterans, we would ask for a map or other questions like how big the farm was. Our intention was not to remove the white farmers but to share the land … So as the commander I asked the white farmers which part of land they wanted to retain and which part they wanted to give us. When they showed us the land, we occupied the part that they wanted to retain instead of the part they wanted to give us. I also instructed base commanders that the deployed people could use resources at the farm like water but they should remain camped outside farm houses”.

As the paper explains, “Each and every occupied farm had a base camp (or local authority structure) involving a committee of seven people which was led by a base camp commander or chairperson, who was invariably a war veteran. The committee of seven coordinated the activities on the farms. Members of the committee would oversee certain tasks, such as food provisions, transport and pegging of plots as well as security and maintaining discipline. Pegging, involving the measuring and allocation of plots for the occupiers, was an important activity in laying claim to the farm and in giving occupiers a sense of permanency on the farm.”

As we discussed in our 2003 paper, having a presence and deploying the practices of the state (pegging, committees, permits, security regimes etc.), offered occupiers a legitimacy, being seen like a state by the state, which, at these early stages, was sending in police to evict illegal occupiers. Military discipline derived from liberation war experience also meant that security was a key issue. Farmers after all had guns. As the papers admit:

“Violence by occupiers did take place, though they claim that this was a reaction to farmer-instigated violence. Otherwise, the sheer presence of occupiers and their tactics of intimidation were the weapons often deployed to force farmers off their land. For instance, occupiers were involved in singing, dancing and beating drums on the farms, and normally just outside the farmer’s main homestead, day and night”.

Farm workers were seen by many invaders as a problem – potential competitors for land, and having been working for white farmers often regarded as opposition supporters with no commitment to land reform. Many were treated very badly. All night pungwes were held, with compound workers on occupied farms obliged to attend. Suspected MDC supporters were intimidated, sometimes beaten, while ‘political’ education was forced on participants, replicating the liberation war night rallies in the communal areas.

Again, there were exceptions. In some cases, farmers left their properties without resistance or amicable sharing arrangements were decided upon. In other cases farm workers joined the land invasions, working undercover by assisting the occupiers in providing information about farm layouts and farmer presence as well as necessities such as food and shelter.

The occupiers

In all cases studied there was a great diversity of people who ended up as occupiers in the ‘base camps’. In most cases, these were people mobilised from nearby communal areas. War veterans were central, mostly coming from these areas too. But there were also spontaneous occupations by communal area people, with no input from war veteran networks.

The occupations were dominated by men. Patterns of patriarchy were replicated, with women usually taking on reproductive roles such as cooking. Men mostly occupied the posts in the seven-member committee. Independent women also joined the occupations, although in a minority. Many described how they sought to escape oppressive polygamous relationships, common in the communal areas.

The motivations for joining varied; most were quite personal and specific. The invasions were voluntary and widely supported. For example, informants explained, “We decided to join the war veterans in land occupations because my husband’s father has a polygamous marriage so there is no land for farming. We have been farming on a very small piece of land”. Another woman added that, “I came to the farm in Shamva in April 2000 with my two [communal] neighbours. I came to take part in the land occupations because I was facing problems. My husband and I had no land of our own, as we were living with my parents. I did not feel okay staying on my parents’ land whilst my husband was away working at the mine”. Land reform was liberating, the opportunity to create new life, many argued.

Role of the party-state

What then was the role of the party-state? The picture painted by the two papers – corroborating other earlier research – was one of decentralised action, supported by key networks of war veterans, with selective links into party-state structures. The occupations were not coordinated systematically by the central party-state, or even the national war veterans’ association. The situation in the first months was very diverse – within districts, across farms and nationally. The most commonly repeated narrative simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

That said, nor does a solely bottom-up movement, without links to the party-state. These links took on different forms. Some war veterans had party positions, and were able to mobilise state resources. In Mashonaland Central, the radical and influential political commissar in ZANU-PF, Border Gezi, was provincial governor. He became enlisted early on, and personally provided support.

But in other instances, the state pushed back. These were illegal occupations, and the police often tried to evict invaders. The war veterans had to intervene, and confront state authority, sometimes using political connections to get certain officials moved, or orders overturned. Agricultural extension officials were horrified by the uncoordinated use of land in their official capacity, and berated land occupiers, but some were also involved personally, and so wore different hats at different times. District Council officials were similarly conflicted.

However, the land invaders realised that they needed state officials too – to provide a stamp of approval and a sense of legitimacy. The technical ministries were enlisted to support pegging operations for example, even before such efforts were sanctioned under the later ‘fast-track’ programme. One agricultural extension officer explained:

“The war veterans had no technical background and proper records or documentation, so they relied on people who worked in government departments and others who knew about land use to advise them on the types of farms that existed and what was being done in farms. These people helped war veterans in an independent capacity.”

The papers conclude that, “the party-state did not initiate, orchestrate or direct the land occupations. Rather, individual party and state agents engaged with the war veterans as the occupations unfolded, or were engaged by them”.

However, this all changed significantly with the introduction of the fast-track land reform programme in July 2000, when the ruling party and state moved in on a very pronounced institutional basis, and began to ‘own’ the land reform. This was in part political expediency, but it was also necessary. There was no other option – the invaders could not be removed. A post-hoc bureaucratic rationale had to be imposed, with models and plans and, through this, a political accommodation with a ZANU-PF supporting elite, as they were offered land through the new A2 programme that unfolded over the coming years.

Why does this history matter?

An accurate history of land occupations matters because it illuminates the nature of the state in this period, and the highly contingent, fragmented forms of authority exercised. While after July 2000, a semblance of uniformity emerged through the edicts of policy and the practices of offering permits to occupy (offer letters) and so on, this was often tentative and contested. In our study areas ‘informal’ occupations persisted for years, before they were recognised by the state, often requiring significant political mobilisation.

The period of land occupation highlighted the ambivalent nature of state authority, and the way state and party agents had multiple identities and could play different roles, often with great flexibility. The agency of individuals in the process is important, as it counters the narrative of control, direction and centralised authority.

Yet, despite this partial autonomy, and the flexibility and responsiveness associated with the invasions, resulting in a huge diversity of experiences, this process did not create a radical, emancipatory alternative. The hierarchies and exclusions of previous social and political formations were replicated, the papers argue. Women were largely excluded, or relegated to domestic provisioning roles. Farm workers were rarely incorporated, and very often side-lined, sometimes violently. A selective, patriarchal authority, based on war veterans’ often militarised norms were imposed. This was frequently far from the romantic vision of collective emancipation through a bottom-up land movement.

Very often out of necessity, party-state resources were drawn upon to supply transport or food, often through quite personalised connections. This meant that autonomy was already reduced. But, once the state created the framework of fast-track land reform, state authority was again imposed, and war veterans, the seven member committees and the alternative forms of planning and governance were quickly subsumed by the state. As the papers state:

“While local forms of authority and solidarity existed at the base camps on the occupied farms, there was no real attempt to bring about a new kind of sociality in terms of everyday practices, which is exemplified most clearly in the maintenance of patriarchal arrangements”.

Together these two papers shed important light on the land occupation period. The occupations were initially an anti-state/party protest, largely autonomous and decentralised, but the war veterans made strategic bargains – in exchange for police protection, transport, food and so on. The state in turn recognised the need to accommodate the invaders, and find space for elite demand for land in the A2 schemes, and so shift tack around the ‘illegality’ of the invasions creating the ‘fast-track’ programme. While the result was certainly a dramatic shift in agrarian structure, the tentative period of radical challenge was quickly undermined.

This is the third 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: Tapiwa Chatikobo.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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: WHO/Paul Garwood

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Mining farmers and farming miners: what opportunities for accumulation?

This blog starts a short series of reviews of recent papers on Zimbabwe. First up is an excellent paper by Grasian Mkodzongi (from the Tropical Africa-Land and Natural Resources Research Institute in Harare) and Sam Spiegel (from the University of Edinburgh) in the Journal of Development Studies, entitled “Artisanal Gold Mining and Farming: Livelihood Linkages and Labour Dynamics after Land Reforms in Zimbabwe”.

In the post-land reform setting, the relationship between farming and small-scale artisanal mining is increasingly important (see an earlier blog). This is especially so in areas where there are large mineral deposits, such as along the Great Dyke, as in the study area in this paper in Mhondoro-Ngezi near Kadoma. Sam Moyo described the land reform as ‘liberating’ natural resources, and those who took the land have exploited mineral resources as a complement to farming, either through opening up new areas or mining old deposits.

Gold is a key mineral resource and mining takes many forms, ranging from exploitation of alluvial sources along rivers and streams, or digging below ground to seams below. Small-scale artisanal mining, however, very often remains illegal and criminalised, making the negotiation of access to new mineral resources tricky.

A complex network of actors

The paper explores three neighbouring farms, which are now A1 settlements and examines the different associations with mining among a complex network of actors. In particular, the paper explores differential accumulation dynamics in artisanal mining, and the complex links between farming and mining. Based on qualitative interviews, the paper offers some interesting profiles of people who combining mining and farming in different ways. There is huge differentiation in roles and opportunities for accumulation.

Young men in particular are involved in the hard labour involved in mining. Many come from other areas, and work in the land reform farming areas, often in cooperative groups. Those with land in the resettlement areas may hire in groups of labourers to exploit deposits in their areas, working out a share of profits. Farmers may provide equipment, or they may join up with others to supply the range of digging and processing equipment required. Key players are ‘sponsors’ who allow the sale of gold. They may have contracts with the government-sanctioned buyers, or they may engage in illegal trade, linked to smuggling networks to South Africa.

The ‘sponsors’ include a mix of politicians, security personnel, civil servants and others with political connections. Able to manoeuvre through the system (or avoid it), they are able to extract significant surpluses from the growth of artisanal mining. That much of it remains illegal is to their advantage, as they can exploit the system. Joining the local group of ‘sponsors’ are others too. Chinese entrepreneurs are involved, either in the buying trade or in support for extraction through the supply of equipment and contract arrangements with farmers with deposits or labourers digging or panning. The paper offers some insights into the murky networks of sponsors, illegal trade and political patronage, but – for obvious reasons – much of this remains opaque (see discussion in another blog).

As a result of this complex set-up, the relationships between mining and farming livelihoods are varied. Unlike their counterparts in the cities who have no jobs and increasingly limited opportunities (as seen with the riots in January), rural youth can migrate to mining/gold panning areas in search of work. Operating in cooperatives, they may be able to bargain, but the terms are poor. Work is harsh and dangerous too, and returns are small. This is survival labour rather than offering any opportunity for improvement. However for their livelihoods, and for those of their immediate kin, living either in the area, or often in the areas to the north, where mining has long been a key part of livelihood activity, these meagre earnings are important.

For those with land, the benefits of land reform include not only the opportunity to farm on larger plots, but to exploit the mineral resources below ground. Many do not have formal permits, but illegal operations continue. In areas, such as the study areas reported on in this paper, the land is pock-marked with old shafts and mining pits, often long-abandoned. These have may have been rehabilitated by farmers, although certainly not to any approved safety standard. New deposits have also been found in many farms, both on the surface and below ground, and these too have attracted investment to ensure exploitation. This involves the mobilising of resources for equipment, as well as labour.

The relationship between farming and mining is complex. Some shift towards mining but keep their plots going for subsistence food, including feeding mining labour. Others see mining as a complement to farming, which remains the more stable, secure income source. As interviews in the paper noted, mining requires patience. You may not find anything for ages, and so need other sources of income, and food, to keep going. But sometimes it pays dramatically, and this new source of funds can be vital for new investment – both on and off the farm.

Pathways of investment and accumulation

As the paper outlines, the way mining revenues are invested varies between different people. For labourers, immediate consumption items may be the most important, notably food. However, for others, particularly with mining windfalls, there are opportunities for investing in farming, housing or other assets, such as livestock, or alternatively in off-farm businesses, including in local towns. Who invests in what, the paper suggests, depends on their origins. The new resettlements include people from all walks of life. Most came from other rural areas, and they see farming as the best route to livelihood improvement. Others came from town, and they have aspirations and connections to allow investment in businesses and other urban-based enterprises that become linked to their farming and mining operations.

Across the gold value chain, there are varied accumulation opportunities. Some are able to move up the value chain, buying equipment, establishing more formalised arrangements, and moving into dealing. Others, as mentioned, invest their resources in improving farming or setting up off-farm businesses. Unlike in other cases of mining booms elsewhere in Africa (or indeed in Zimbabwe, such as the early Marange diamond rush), there is less ‘hot money’, involving ostentatious consumption and purchasing of flash items. It happens, but for most involved, the focus is on improving livelihoods, investment and accumulation.

Those in these rural settings are thus ‘accumulating from below’, making use of local resources to invest and improve livelihoods through different pathways. However, there are also those ‘accumulating from above’, engaged in what the paper sees as ‘primitive accumulation’ through direct exploitation. The use of political patronage networks to capture trading opportunities means that the ‘sponsors’ – the king-pins in the value chain – can call the shots, and make serious money.

Here investment is focused in bigger business investments – from networks of shops to transport businesses and so on – with some having connections outside the country, making sure new mineral wealth is protected from the chaos of the Zimbabwe economy. This trajectory of accumulation is not available to anyone. You can move up the value chain only so far, as these key positions are protected through networks and connections. These of course shift with the political winds, but those involved in production rarely get a look in.

Complex mining-farming intersections

The paper therefore paints a diverse picture of social differentiation and patterns of accumulation, linked to complex intersections of farming and mining. This is a poorly understood, yet important, dynamic.

Moves to legalise and formalise artisanal mining through the offering of permits and licenses are afoot, but it will be important to have more studies of this sort that examine the complexities of mining-farming relationships and the economic, social and political dynamics of gold value chains to assess whether such moves will have the desired impacts.

Given Zimbabwe’s mineral-rich geology, mining and farming (as happened before on the large-scale farms) will always be intimately connected, at least in some parts of the country. Thinking about the use of resources – both land and minerals – in an integrated way, and how their use affects different livelihoods, is an essential task. This paper is an important contribution towards this aim.

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

Photo credit: Business Daily News, Zimbabwe


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Zimbabwe’s fuel riots: why austerity economics and repression won’t solve the problem

A day after the president announced a 150 percent hike in fuel prices, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trades Unions and others called for a peaceful three-day shutdown. Their demands were simple: end the economic crisis and hardships, reverse the fuel price increase and pay US$ salaries. By the end of day one, there were several dead and many injured. There were riots in many towns and cities. Property was destroyed, road blocks mounted, police stations attacked, and there was widespread looting. The security forces responded brutally, as tear gas filled the air.

On day two, the state executed an internet blackout, an attempt it said to disrupt organisers of the protests. The military deployment continued and, across urban areas, opposition activists and others were being beaten and rounded up. By the end of the week, around twelve deaths had been recorded (including the stoning of a policeman), 70 odd were being treated for gunshot injuries and several hundred had been arrested. There was a mixture of confusion and outrage, and blame being apportioned by all sides (see this overview from the International Crisis Group).

What should we make of this latest twist in the troubled tale of contemporary Zimbabwe? With the president out of the country on a desperate attempt to raise funds, it seems he was not expecting such a reaction. The opposition MDC have kept very quiet, presumably fearing reprisals.

Fuel riots are common occurrences, but have different political origins and consequences. Cheap (often heavily subsidised) fuel is often a key route to sustaining rule; a contract between the state and its people, and way of ensuring livelihoods and jobs are secured, especially in precarious economies. Unrest explodes when such a lifeline is threatened. A timeline compiled by colleagues from IDS, led by Naomi Hossain, shows the variety of energy related protests from 2007-2017. And for the last year you can add in others – of course France and the gilets jaunes, but also recently Sudan and elsewhere.

But what are the particularities of the Zimbabwe case, and what lessons can be drawn for the future? There are different ways of looking at the Zimbabwe events; here I want to highlight three.

The politics of contention

The IDS team made use of a ‘contentious politics’ framework in a paper that looks comparatively at energy protests in a number of countries, including Zimbabwe (although the analysis here was rather limited). They argue that a contentious politics framing would look at: “the identities of protestors and their grievances; modes or repertoires of protest and the responses they elicit from the state; the means by which protests are ‘amplified’ or undergo ‘scale-shift’, transforming from local or particularistic struggles to wider, more systemic political complaint; and the political alliances and political cultural effects to which these episodes contribute”.

How do these elements fit for Zimbabwe? Young, urban men were at the forefront of the recent street protests, living often precarious existences, often without stable ‘jobs’, but reliant on transport to go and seek work, commuting from townships to the business and industrial areas. Zimbabwe’s inherited colonial urban geographies makes transport – and so fuel – crucial for those on the margins.

The repertoires were familiar. Sometimes violent street protests – involving criminal behaviour, including looting – were at the centre. Social media networks were vital (until the internet shutdown) for organising. Meanwhile, music, jokes and memes providing a cultural backdrop of resistance. The state’s reaction has been swift and violent, repeating its reaction to the post-election violence last year. While there was plenty of incendiary material on public Twitter accounts, and no doubt much more on ‘private’ WhatsApp and FB groups, a full internet blackout to quell protests was an illegal overreaction, and an abuse of basic rights. Many suspected (correctly) that this provided cover for extreme forms of state repression out of the glare of publicity.

How these protests might result in ‘scale-shift’ effects remains unknown. Protestors appeared to involve many groups, with multiple affiliations. Among those arrested were ‘ZANU-PF youth’, as well as ‘MDC activists’. Many though were just angry with the government, and wanted to express it, and some criminal opportunists made use of the chaos. The crackdown by the security forces has however been directed at opposition and union activists, using the riots as a pretext. Whatever happens next, this is clearly a significant moment, with unknown consequences.

Underlying class dynamics

A focus on the dynamics of contention only goes so far, however. A deeper understanding of how and why such protests emerge must look at the class (and generational) relations at the heart of such tensions. In Zimbabwe, the ruling party has never constructed a successful accommodation with a growing, but marginalised and poor, urban population. In a declining, crisis economy – a situation persisting for more or less two decades – the opportunities for social reproduction, let alone accumulation for young people in the larger towns and cities has been extremely limited. As ‘footloose’ labourers, they have to make ends meet through a variety of strategies, living under extremely precarious conditions. Fuel price rises have a huge impact on already marginal livelihoods, given the importance of transport for work.

By contrast, in the rural areas, and particularly in the land reform areas, there have been opportunities for people to emerge as successful petty commodity producers or even as a class of rural petit bourgeoisie. Fuel price increases are not popular for sure, but have less direct impact. This year tobacco production was the highest it has ever been and some rural areas are booming. This is not the case in town, and urban youth, many of whom have no longer any connection to rural areas, have no access to land, having missed the opportunities of land reform in 2000.

While Mugabe always had a contract with rural people – support us, and we will not let you starve – the same was not the case with the urban poor. Seen as hotbeds of opposition politics, intimidation, repression and violence has been, as this week, the standard state response. The fragmented ‘classes of labour’ that result from neoliberal restructuring and extended periods of economic crisis rarely have a strong political voice. Unruly protests may provide one outlet for pent-up frustrations brought by poverty, alienation and disenfranchisement, but confrontation with state-military power is inevitably one-sided.

A political economy of fuel

To understand the particularities of the Zimbabwe fuel protests, a broader political economy analysis is also required. This needs to look at the interests behind the fuel supply and the control of the industry. In Zimbabwe, this has come under intense scrutiny, with accusations of oligarchic cartels linked to certain factions within the ruling-military elite, with ‘queen bee’ at the centre. National fuel supplies thus reflect competition within the governing elite, as different groups jostle for position. This is compounded by the increasingly absurd parallel market arrangement for currency. This has created untenable distortions, as well as massive incentives for dealing and extraction.

Foreign trucking companies, for example, have been making good use of the disparities between the currency rates, buying fuel in Zimbabwe in large quantities with hard currency at reduced prices, resulting in shortages. In the strange world of Zimbabwe’s currency system, what is the price for a commodity is never clear. Which rate do you accept? The fuel price hike in effect was just an acknowledgement by the state that the parallel market exists.

The murky world of parallel currency dealing, fuel trading cartels and political-military patronage thus adds a particular complexion to the Zimbabwean story. While the protests started with fuel price hikes, wider discontents with the corrupt and dysfunctional system are being aired. For this reason, an analysis of underlying political economy remains important.

Beyond austerity economics?

While most stayed at home during the shutdown – often as a result of extreme intimidation tactics – those on the streets undoubtedly had genuine grievances. But will the riots translate into progressive change?

As E.P. Thompson argued many years ago, historically, food ‘riots’ arose when public authorities failed to guarantee the right to eat, allowing others to profit from the trade in food commodities. As IDS colleagues argue, the same could be said today of fuel, and certainly this rings true in Zimbabwe. This is what John Bohstedt calls the ‘politics of provisions’ – the ways ordinary people interact with their rulers over subsistence. If the state’s economic policies do not have a moral economic commitment at their core, then resentment will inevitably grow. This is what is happening in Zimbabwe.

A large, disenfranchised youthful urban population is the consequence of long-term economic decline, without the sort of redistributive opportunity that land reform brought to some in the rural areas. Rebooting the economy, as everyone agrees, is vital. However, the technocratic approach of the finance minister, Mthuli Ncube, with his slogan ‘austerity for prosperity’, may require recalibrating.

While appealing to donors and the Davos elite, such slogans do not take account of underlying class tensions and political economy dynamics at the root of the riots. Unless these are addressed, and the moral economy responsibilities of the state for public provisioning taken seriously, strong doses of austerity economics will only bring more protest, more repression and more trauma.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Photo credit: nehandaradio.com



Filed under Uncategorized