Friday, 18 May 2018

Political Activism and Zimbabwe's 2018 Harmonised elections


A Presentation to the University of Zimbabwe, Election Resource Centre Symposium on the 2018 Harmonised Election. 
Friday 18 May 2018
  

By Takura Zhangazha*


Cde Chairman,

Let me begin by thanking you, the Faculty of Arts here at the University of Zimbabwe and the Election Resource Centre for inviting me to share my views at this important symposium on the country’s 2018 harmonised general election.  And to be particular to share my perspectives on ‘Political Activism and the Harmonised Elections’ as advised by the organisers.

On the face of it, this is a fairly straightforward topic.  Mainly because wherever there is an election, obviously all the political activists come into full bloom.  Even those that you would have thought were more preoccupied with religion or sport than all things electoral or political.

The more ambitious activists become candidates or campaign managers of others. 

This is the lighter side of political activism around elections.  And on the assumption that it is done in a democratic context.  But I will return to this point toward of this brief presentation.

The reason why this topic is important is because of the dark history of political activism and elections since national independence and as informed by the culture of violence that stemmed in part from, the liberation struggle. 

Since 1980 the dominance and power of he ruling party has set the tone around what it means to be a political activist or an activist for a political party in pursuit of political power.  Intentions at dominance led to ruling Zanu Pf party leaders carrying over the culture of violence that informed the liberation struggle into its own civilian structures, particularly in the rural areas.  Hence where there were differences with the then main opposition PF Zapu, there were regular incidences of violence meted out against opposition activists trying to hold meetings especially in what were considered ruling party strongholds in the early 1980s.  This violence was to escalate with the historical tragedy that was to become Gukurahundi in the same decade where at least 20000 civilian lives were lost in the Southern parts of the country.  

Even after the unity accord between the two main liberation movements in 1987, an intrinsic culture of violence in political activism did not peter out. It continued with ruling party activists continuously harassing the new Zimbabwe Unity Movement opposition activists in 1990.  And the same became more evident in 2000 onwards with extreme levels of violence being meted out on the Movement for Democratic Change activists. 

Historically therefore, the dominant form of political activism has largely been one characterised by resort to violence against those that are not in support of the ruling party.  Ideas rarely mattered.  Defence of personalities and the ‘party’ did.

In recent times an interesting dynamic has occurred.  The victim has also learnt how to become a perpetrator.  Opposition activists, so long bearing the brunt of ruling party violence (with state assistance) have taken on similar characteristics of not only violence but more significantly protecting the party and its leading personalities.  Again, the activism is less and less about ideas but power, even if only internal party power, and protecting it.  Hence the perpetual splits and violence against former party members in the main opposition MDC party.

Where we consider this year’s general election and the political activism that we are witnessing around this, we must not lose sight of these historical considerations.  While the events of November 2017 have been touted as a new dispensation by the ruling party, the proximity of the general election makes it diffiuclt to tell if indeed the latter has changed its approach to political mobilisation. 

The current political activism that we are witnessing largely through primary elections and rallies has been admittedly less violent.  this is a tone, as in the past, that is being set by the ruling party and its leadership.  The reasons for this new approach is as they have stated, to give the elections an irrefutable legitimacy in they yes of the international community.  And after the departure of Mugabe, they had had a lot of goodwill from the diplomatic community which they do not intend to squander in the short period before the election.

So the activism this time around will be much less violent with such incidences being the exception rather than the rule.  

But I must make a specific point about this state of affairs based on what we witnessed in 2008.  The relatively peaceful political activism of the moment and on the part of the ruling party is predicated on an assumption that it will still be able to win the election.  Where it fails to win the 50%+1 presidential vote count required for victory, it may change its spots in a run-off.

There are is one other key aspect concerning contemporary political activism that I will allude to before concluding.   This is the startling fact of how in the now a lot of political activists (never mind their ages) are motivated by materialism.  And its not just the t-shirt, cap or bag of rice that they are given in return for political support but I am referring here to bigger materialist motivations.  More and more campaigners, ‘kingmakers’ are thinking beyond the t-shirt and more at tangible economic opportunities that proximity and ascendancy in a political party can bring.  And some of these material benefits can be in the form  of residential stands, tenders, access to credit and protection of business interests (including for those in the informal sector). 

In conclusion cde Chairman, the political activism of the 2018 harmonised elections is largely going to be peaceful as informed by the approach and attitude of the ruling party.  The opposition will tend to mimic this except in incidences of frustration or where they become victims and resort to retaliation.  It is an activism that will not be driven by a pursuit of ideas but a motivation to protect the party and its leading personalities.  All in return for sometimes crass but general material reward.
*Takura Zhangazha spoke here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 

Monday, 14 May 2018

Zim 2018 Election: Trading Democracy for Neoliberal Foreign Policy


 By Takura Zhangazha*

President Mnangagwa’s spokesperson and permanent secretary in the Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services, George Charamba's  recent statement on the scheduled 2018 harmonized elections should have quite literally stopped the press.  Or at least had one or two an activist apoplectic about the pre-empting of what would/should be a democratic process.  

At a conference organized by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC)  and other media  stakeholders, he is reported to have said that these elections are about international re-engagement and (international) legitimacy of the Zimbabwean government and the country. 

To quote him at the length,

“This election is about restoring international re-engagement and legitimacy; that is where we are. It must be flawless, it must be transparent, it must be free, it must be fair, it must meet international standards, it must be violence free and therefore it must be universally endorsed because it is an instrument of foreign policy...it’s about re-engagement and legitimacy; we are playing politics at a higher level.”

This was a statement said with a great amount of confidence.  Not only on the basis of its assumed irrefutable political logic but also its evident link with the expected political fortunes of Mnangagwa’s short tenure government.

Read in another way and looking for nuance, Charamba’s statement is a declaration of intent on behalf of the ruling establishment/party.  And its most obvious intention is to win this election.  Not in aide of true democracy.  But instead only in order to further its re-engagement with global powers and capital while at the same time shedding off any international concerns about its ‘electoral’ legitimacy beyond accusations of coup-de-tats.

So for the ruling establishment this election is a mere formality to what it considers a consolidation of its intended long duree hold on political power. All the while currying favour with global capital and giving pretense to concerns of a liberal international political gallery. 

Everything else therefore around the 2018 election is not necessarily driven by any deep notions of commitment to democratic practice let alone values.  At least not by those with incumbency. 

So as they say, this election will appear to be the most normal, the most peaceful, most observed or monitored and even most reported in decades.  The end effect however is pretty much choreographed and elitist. 

Choreographed in the sense that it is almost the equivalent of a political rite of passage for those that would have been accused of undemocratically/forcibly removing a president from power.  They therefore need this election, not as a rite of passage fraught with the risk of an electoral loss, but more with a guarantee of a legitimacy that may be more for the outside world than it is for the country’s own citizens. 

This may not matter as  much as most elections on the African continent have to pass the test of global capital in collaboration with global superpowers (if you can tell the difference between the two). 

What makes Zimbabwe’s case unique is that the collusion between the incumbents, global capital/superpowers may be enough to ensure the election passes the legitimacy test and enhances the re-engagement (neoliberal) agenda. 

And I do not think that Charamba’s statement demonstrates any fear of the mainstream political opposition, let alone an unexpected ‘cliffhanger’ political situation in which his party loses the election.  The opposition, divided as it is, fits snugly into the broader scheme of things.  The ruling establishment needs an opposition for it to pass the test.  If the MDC-T was not there on its own, they would, for the purposes of 2018, have invented it. 

But there is an opposition which appears to have greater freedom to campaign than it had under Mugabe.  The only regret is that the opposition may be too preoccupied with itself to miss the full import of Charamba’s statement.   And in any case, the whispers in the corridors of opposition political power is that the 2018 election is a dress rehearsal for 2023.  So a greater majority of opposition leaders don’t expect to win this year.  They however want to either be in parliament or be considered strong enough to have the ear of a ‘victorious’ establishment  and hopefully be around to be presidential candidates in 2023.

So what Charamba calls ‘high stakes’ is not so sophisticated.  Its basically a new cohesion of the ruling party leaders, private capital and religious leaders in order to consolidate a new hold on power with an intention at permanence in it.  The main opposition players, mostly by default, but others a little more deliberately, are bit part players in this (with due recognition and material reward to be realized at a later stage). 

You may ask, does any of this really matter to the people?  A well-considered response would be yes it does and where there is any doubt, yes it should. What we are witnessing is a coagulation of two types of elites.  The political and the economic. The former being those at the head of Zanu Pf (with a sprinkling of opposition individuals/leaders) and the latter being global and local private capital(ists).  They are all united in one thing, their (long term) right to dine exclusively at the high table of the free market.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)




Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Africa and the Internet as Religion

 By Takura Zhangazha*

The internet’s relationship with Africa is always going to have moments of colonial throwbacks. Mainly because it is not just a technological construct that emerged from thin air.  It is a representation of technology that comes with the historical, social and contemporary baggage of racism, sexism, discrimination and even manipulation of human behaviour. 

This is an issue I was reminded of while listening to presentations/talks from experts on the internet, algorithms and privacy a the recently held re:publica 2018  three day meet up in Berlin, Germany. 

These discussions/interactions were very much aware of the fact that the internet has done more good than harm (social media, engineering, communications, augmented/ virtual reality, internet of things and artificial intelligence).  The point however was to elaborate on what is least discussed about it. 

As an African who had been invited to be on a panel about blogging in Africa via the website AfricaBlogging, I was always going to be keen to see, hear and understand the continent’s placement and interaction with the internet and its offshoots. 

What emerged (for me at least) was the very harsh reality that in Africa we don’t take a critical let alone objective appreciation of the internet.  At least in relation to how it impacts our rights (both positively and negatively, for instance, juxtaposing the right to free expression and the right to privacy). Or how we may/don't consider immediate comparative analysis of how the internet may be used to manipulate our own perceptions of political, social and economic events using algorithms based on its major currency, big data.  

So Cambridge Analytica may not be that much of an issue on this side of the world.  Yet it should be.
This also includes considerations on what exactly are the internet and social media  global monopolies such as Google and Facebook really up to on the increasingly connected continent. A participant in one of the sessions made an all too familiar assertion that ‘in Africa the internet is Facebook and Facebook is the internet.’ This assertion is based on the given fact that the application has around 177 million subscribers. And is also offering what is referred to as ‘free basics’ to an increasing number of countries.

What then becomes important is how Africans derive meaning from the internet and its utilitarian value.  In general, this value has largely related to its social media aspects as they relate to a phenomenal increase in the capacity of us Africans to receive and impart information.  And as it relates to the human rights of freedom of expression, access to information and in part the right to freely associate.  The jury is still out on how the application relates to the human right to privacy.

The catch is that even these universal values may not apply equally over and about the internet across the world. (I dont quite know if any African in Africa has earned the right to be forgotten by the internet.)  

As a result a key question is what do the inventors let alone controllers of the internet intend for it to do/impact on the African continent?  And what would it be similar to?

In my very personal view, the reach of the internet and its mitigated content (algorithm anyone?) is as enlightening as it can be limiting.  It sort of reminds me of varying strands of missionaries bringing the bible, its teachings with both an outline of a new and 'better' lifestyle as well as more significantly, the Livingstonian perspective on the significance of 'commerce'. 

The internet connected (free basics) mobile telephone therefore becomes not only a tool of this profit motivated perspective but also a controlling mechanism of how we as Africans may be able to perceive of the internet.

As abstract as it may seem, we are in the age of the reinvention of the African persona.  Both as global human beings but more tellingly as those that are on the backfoot of this no longer so new technology and its epistemological (knowledge production) implications. Almost as though it is the contemporary version of the colonial 'new frontier'.

As Africans, we have not explored enough of what this all means.  Nor will we be allowed to do so, especially via the same platform(s).  We are viewed as a market for its products as well as potential reinvention.  Mainly as the 'Saidian' 'others' and as consumers of the  internets' massive arsenal of the convenience of communication never before witnessed in global human history.

But it is here to stay.  Algorithms and all.  We are better off, as Africans,  seeking to harness to our contextual interests and ensuring that we produce enough content for its gigantic 'content appetite'. And also understanding how it functions, at the moment on 'big data'.

We should be screaming back at the global north and the monopolies that have the greatest internet influence over it on the basis of our own ability to understand for example coding, algorithms and more significant its contextual utilitarian value.

Where we fail, we will continue to attend society and internet 'get togethers' in similar fashion to those that attended, as Africans, global religious summits, by being considered as those that were on the right path to new knowledge but never close enough to help determine the same's future. Gatherings that had and now have high priests, popes, archbishops and followers of 'the way'.  Hence we return to colonial throwbacks. Online. Resistance may not however be as futile as assumed.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)



Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Africa, Algorithms and Resilience @re:publica2018


By Takura Zhangazha*

Its great to be back in Berlin after a two year hiatus for re:publica18. This year’s conference main motto 'POP', as it suggests, seeks to ‘pop the filter bubbles, step out into the public and make net culture and politics tangible for everyone.

Its turning out to be an enlightening experience that is motivated by fun, intellectualism and a firm grasp of issues such as the internet and knowledge production (epistemology), algorithmic influence, digitization’s impact on labour and how resilience really works (the future as a commodity).  Among many, many other topics of great interest.

There were and will be many other topics that have/will be discussed in the remaining two days.  But for the first day I participated, there are a number of issues that are worth highlighting.

The first being the issue of algorithms and their impact on perceptions, political attitudes and persuasions.  It is a hotly debated topic in the global north and significantly so on how algorithms have come to be default (or de-fault if you want) purveyors of racist and sexist attitudes.  It turns out there are some phases you may ‘google’ in good faith (even if full trust of your preferred search engine) but the first page of our ‘your’ results may have links to sexist/racist content.  

And how all of this is not driven by what individuals on the internet prefer but how they are working on algorithms through ‘clickbaiting’ and how search engine companies/leading monopolies such as google may be more motivated by following the advertising revenue/profit over than promoting fairness and equality.

If you are an African or of African descent, this is nothing new in real life but very significant in relation to your online presence.  And as some of the amazing speakers such as Dana Boyd, Safia Umoja Noble and Wendy Chun (see their profiles here) outlined, these algorithms or about getting the numbers/clicks are not merely mathematical but also informed by tapping into historical prejudices (colonialism, racism, sexism).  And therein lies the challenge not only globally but also specifically to be considered on the role of algorithm in influencing African societies.

African countries, largely as a result of colonial legacies/global cold wars (with some complicity), generally do not have as strong a tradition of democratic values and by dint of the same, an ability to push back against the conforming and persuasive influence on perception that are algorithmic functions of the internet/ and social media.  There is therefore need for African governments and citizens to reexamine the role of algorithms in creating perception that may reinforce racist, sexist attitudes or that may altogether create false and valueless political realities much to the detriment of much needed democratic values. The latter having reportedly been tried in the most recent Nigerian presidential election and the first round of the Kenyan general election. 

The second issue I picked up was one on the significance of always linking up any social media activism with action on the ground (basic point, I know).  But in her presentation Ece Temulkuran titled, ‘How to lose a Country, the New Political Ice Age’, I learnt that genuine or at least public interest intellectualism of sorts is always key.  And that social media platforms are facing a huge vacuum in this respect.

A final topic that was of great interest was one on resilient speculation by Orit Halpern. Illustrated with equations, engaging thoughts on data and climate change and examples of smart mining, smart cities, the chilling knowledge that the future has become an exchangeable commodity gives one pause for serious reflection.  While most of the examples given were from the global north and east, the uptake of smart cities as a concept on the African continent is growing.  The speculation and investment around a future that may not obtain as envisaged by those with the capital to do so is not yet well known.  And may never be unless we all step up.

A final thought however that crossed my mind was that in all of the issues/topics I picked up during the course of the day, I realized that back home, be it in Zimbabwe or the rest of the African continent, these are issues that we haven’t begun to deal with at such a thoughtful, passionate and even intellectual scale.  Perhaps in the near future we will do so with a new sense of urgency.  Because after all, the internet as a medium will invariably be everywhere. Deriving democratic utilitarian value from it requires greater understanding of context and an active pursuit of ensuring that it also retains a significant public interest role in Africa. And now on to Day 2 of @re:publica18 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)


Friday, 27 April 2018

Zim Nurses Strike Aftermath: A State's Undemocratic Disdain for Labour


 By Takura Zhangazha*

The recent nurses strike was dramatic in its ending. It had crippled the already struggling national health delivery system (or at least what remains of it) and no doubt placed many innocent lives at risk.  But it is and remains the democratic right of nurses and other health staff to undertake industrial action. Especially within the context of a perennially insensitive government/employer. 

The main reason for the strike was the demand for a salary increase and outstanding allowances. 
The government in turn claimed that it had paid a total of US$17 million in the backdated allowances and therefore advised that the striking nurses return to work.  They refused. 

In an abrupt fashion Vice President Chiwenga, dismissed them by dictat through a public statement. And tellingly asked all unemployed nurses to apply for the now ‘vacant’ posts.  Newspaper headlines played on the legality of the summary dismissal but also the apparent defiance of the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (ZINA).   The latter also filed an urgent high court application challenging the legality of the matter.  Social media was sympathetic and even led to acts of solidarity at Africa Unity Square in Harare. 

Then it all came crashing down.  First with allegations of alleged political meddling levelled by government at the ZINA leadership.  Then secondly the hard reality faced by the thousands of striking nurses of the possibility of really losing their jobs. And thinking about all the new applicants thronging state hospitals seeking to replace them.

In a sign that there were now negotiations behind the scenes, the minister of health announced that the dismissed nurses could reapply for their jobs.  And then the bombshell followed.  ZINA withdrew its urgent court application.  Their lawyers advised the High Court that the ZINA leadership did not give a reason for this withdrawal.  But it would not be far-fetched to say this was part of a negotiated deal.  Even though its not too clear who can claim victory over the other here.

What is apparent is that the government intended to bully the nurses into calling off their strike.  And it sort of did with the summary dismissal. The most unfortunate statement  however came from President Mnangagwa who told a church gathering that the striking nurses should learn that the country has owners (vene vayo). What he meant by that is not all together clear save for the intimidatory implication of his words. 

Overall however the state’s reaction was very disdainful if not altogether arrogant toward labour and the nurses’ grievances.  And this should worry the unions.  Especially as we approach workers day on 01 May. 

The ‘Zimbabwe is open for business’ mantra of government is in no way designed to work closely with labour but capital.  Hence the disdain for the nurses and their industrial action.  If anything in the aftermath of its strike ZINA should be wary of a further backlash concerning its right to strike let alone organise its association independent of government interference.  As well as having the membership subscription fees removed from payrolls.

Where the government has countered the ZINA action with arguments about the sanctity of human life and dismissed issues of working conditions, it is being ridiculously dishonest.  The disastrous state of hospitals and the services they offer is the responsibility of government.  And where such a parlous state of affairs continues to obtain, including poor working conditions for hospital staff, it becomes government that all along has not been respecting the sanctity of human life.

And this is why the nurses strike has been an important pointer to all of us as to the national importance of a people-centered national health delivery service.  While we cannot stop private players in the sector, we must defend it as a public service.  This would include challenging government’s ‘ease of doing business’ plans with the health services sector by insisting on the retention of all major national, provincial and district hospitals under the policy and financial auspices of the state in order to guarantee equal access to health services for all Zimbabweans.  If we do not push back against an impending attempt at not only privatising what remains of our public health system, but also subduing unionism of health service workers, we will become a very sick nation. Literarily.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Monday, 23 April 2018

Africa's Left: An Undying Intellectual, Activist + Contemporary Liberatory Consciousness

By Takura Zhangazha*

The editorial team of a legendary academic/activist journal the Review of African Political Economy (Roape) recently organized a workshop in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  Themed 'Imperialism in Africa Today: The Place of Class Struggles and Progressive Politics'  it was a  workshop that was always going to definitively capture the attention of many a Pan African and Africa based socialist. 

It was a workshop that had as its primary intention an historical assessment of the state of Africa's liberation and ideological liberatory left and its placement in contemporary anti  global neoliberal/imperialist politics.   With a purposive intention of discussing the future of Pan-Africanism, socialism and how to counter contemporary imperialism. 

I agreed to attend the workshop largely because of my own leftist political persuasions but also because of the evident need to revive Pan-Africanist and socialist alternatives to the current regrettable dominance of contemporary African political and economic discourse by neo-liberalism. And also because in the words of Professor Shivji,  Roape was never meant to be entirely academic but activist in intent and result.  It helped inform not only socialist strategy during liberation struggles but has held its head high in countering contemporary neoliberal political and economic narratives.  

And also because of the importance of linking the past with the present, which Roape still helps us to do.  That is, a left leaning academic perspective on the political economy of the continent that spanned the liberation struggle decades and a post independence optimism that remained, even in academic practice (within the journal at least) a people centered and socialist optimism of a better life for all on the continent and in the world.  

Roape therefore has come to represent the link between the organic intellectual and the organic activist, either of whom could be found in one person.  Hence most liberation struggle icons would find their way into the journal at the height of the struggle or in explaining their post –independence projects.  

This is why there are so many of our struggle luminaries (Nyerere, Cabral, Nkomo, Machingura, Saul among others) that would feature either by way of their own writing or analysis of the same who came to feature in its historical pages. 

But more significantly is the fact that Roape has spanned so many decades of analyzing Africa from a socialist perspective and in respect to how socialism was/is the founding ideology of African liberation.  As informed by the October 1917 Russian revolution as well as the Arusha Declaration of 1967 as authored by Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.  These two global historical departure points (Russia 1917 and Africa 1967) are indelible in the history of Africa’s struggles against imperialism both in its past and contemporary forms. One representing genesis and the other contextual idealism for a better future for all, respectively. 

It is the African contextual idealisation of struggle and revolution that was therefore an important and salient reminder of the noble history of the struggles of the African people (locally and in the Diaspora) against imperialism and unrepentant global capital. And this is what remains most important for this write up but also an organic and historical understanding of the improtance of Africa's left.  

Even though I had not until the Dar es Salaam workshop been involved in Roape activities, I understood full well the urgency and importance of keeping the pan Africanist and socialist counter narrative in academic terms and counter hegemonic alternative in activist terms, alive. 
It therefore emerged that  from the three day meet up with new perspectives on the state of Africa’s left, I was nudged into remembering how we, as Africans and people with an evident sympathy toward the global left, are quick to forget our past in favour of a catastrophic neoliberal perspective to the lives of those people we should be proffering progressive alternatives to.     Both from an academic perspective as well as that of a leftist/socialist activism. 

From an academic perspective and as informed by the values of the Roape journal I have come to a firm appreciation that Africa’s socialists must never abandon the pursuit of academic knowledge as it relates to socialism and  people centered democratic solutions.  And that this always requires linking up with colleagues and cdes in the global north who also require acts of academic solidarity from those of us in the global south. 

But even beyond this solidarity, I also realized that context always matters and that while socialism is still a credible global alternative it is not dogma or borderline religion.  It must always be contextualized and utilised to enhance a national/continental historically grounded and progressive leftist consciousness.  

I also realised that in discussing activism of the left, there is always need to organically link older generations of activists with younger ones.  That is, to ensure that knowledge is passed on between more experienced activists and younger but more enthusiastic ones  And that this knowledge is not just in the form of what texts to use but what strategies and tactics need to be applied in contemporary times to keep the original vision of African liberation alive within younger Africans.  There is therefore need for greater inclusive conversations between younger and older socialists on what would be a contemporary  way forward. As informed by the past, contemporary reality and the persuasive dictum, ‘another world is possible’. 

I also came to terms with one of the most difficult elements of Africa’s contemporary struggle against neo-liberalism.  Especially if one is an activist.  This being that of survival.  Whereas in the struggles against direct colonialism there was an element of self sacrifice, in contemporary times it has become more difficult to pursue.  The rampant consumerism African societies face and the neoliberal hegemonic onslaught that makes a greater majority of our people appear hopeless makes for pessimistic reading and analysis in some elite circles.  The intellectual reality of the matter is that we have not thought hard enough about the means and methods to counter these seemingly dominant narratives.  

And this is the purpose of Roape. To keep the socialist/leftist intellectual and activist fire burning beyond the crass neoliberal materialism that is creeping into African and global consciousness. Almost as though we have forgotten the historical departure points that were the 1917 Russian revolution against global capitalism and the contextually revolutionary Arusha Declaration in early 1967.

Drawing form the intellectualism and organic activism of the past, fusing it with the energy/impatience of the more youthful present we can work out newer approaches that exploit the self destructive contradictions of neoliberalism.  for the betterment of our people.  In Africa and in the world.

This is why continual questioning as to the reality of imperialism remains important.  Not only because of the energetic lecture by Trevor Ngwane of South Africa who recalled the 'Spirit of Marikana' as linked to Ujamaa.  But more significantly because with greater concerted socialist intellectual and activist effort we can indeed raise our minds and fists high to claim as in the past that 'another socialist world is possible'.

Thank you Dar es Salaam. Asante Sana.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Zimbabwe-Rwanda Relations: Fortifying Free Market and Strongman Politics?

By Takura Zhangazha*

I have only been to Kigali, Rwanda, once. I was impressed by its cleanliness.   I was slightly traumatized, by seeing soldiers with FN rifles on various street corners after dusk.  Its for security they said. I felt, though I really couldn’t say it out loud, that this is probably a reflection of who has power in this country. 

And so when the Zimbabwean government invited  the chief executive of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), I raised an eyebrow.  Apart from the fact Rwanda currently chairs the African Union (AU) Assembly and recently hosted its meeting there, I am very curious as to the new found and apparently enthusiastic relationship between our two governments.

Rwanda, the country, is one that is now regarded as an African ‘miracle’.  From the international tragedy and crime against humanity that was the genocide in the 1990s it has arguably come to be regarded as a role model, not of democracy, but free market economics. 

I know the latter point will startle some of my  colleagues in the blogosphere who are very supportive of not only Rwanda as an African role model country but also in awe of its long serving leader Paul Kagame. 

The international community, particularly the Global North and East through their various governments also hold Rwanda and its ‘strongman’ leadership of an ‘entrepreneurial state’ in high esteem.  Not just because of the controversy of their arguable complicity (the United Nations included) in that country’s tragic genocide. But more significantly because of its embrace of neoliberalism or the free market. 

For them it remains a stellar African (country) example of how to rise from the ashes of the equivalent of a national holocaust to being a model free market economy/country.  Never mind concerns about the abuse of human rights and the detention of opposition presidential candidate Dianne Shima Rwigara.

And this is why our ‘new dispensation/era’  Zimbabwean government leaders are latching on to Rwanda.  They want to be part of that country’s story not only by way of economic policy deeds but also political action.  That is to say, to be immune from political criticism in the name of running what global capital would consider, for now, an ‘efficient free market economy’. 

But behind this shared ‘spirit of entrepreneurship’ is also a firm shared understanding about the retention of political power.  Though this will never be publicly announced by either governments.  What obtains behind the scenes is an assumption of the significance of  ‘strongman leadership’  in order to retain the necessary political power that enables free market economic policies.  And this with the support of global superpowers  and global capital.

It would however be instructive to recall the political character of both ruling parties in the two countries.  They both have a strong if not organic military background.  Their party leaders, Mnangagwa and Kagame,  are former freedom fighters.  One from the liberation struggle for independence, the other from a post-independence struggle for ‘democracy’.   And both believe the military to be integral to political power, i.e, they are advocates of a re-emerging military-political complex in Africa.  In aide of free market economics or the expansion of global capital. 

So context matters in seeking to understand the relationship that Zimbabwe and Rwanda are trying to re-define.  This is apart from the fact that we were protagonists during the first major regional inter-country war since the end of colonialism in Southern and Central Africa in 1997 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  It would appear we have made ‘business peace’ and are letting bygones become bygones.  For now. 

So we would be correct as Zimbabweans and Rwandese to look behind the curtain of our newfound governmental friendship.  And ask about its basic values beyond the dictum of international relations studies of ‘no permanent friends but permanent interests’.   We must query the military-political complex that informs it and its specific intent at long duree hold on political power to not only promote neoliberalism but also by default, personal/political aggrandizement. 

It would follow that in the short term, after the visit by the RDB executives (who it turns out report to that country’s cabinet), there shall be a state visit by either of the presidents to our respective countries.  Again, this will raise some eyebrows especially south of the Limpopo river, but new era’s tend to be fraught with attempts at deceiving the people as to their motivation. 

This is the beginning of a shared ‘spirit of entrepreneurship’ by former military but now political strongmen.  With the support of global capital.  And truth be told, we should be more worried than we accept it as the norm. While at the same time remembering political prisoners/victims of state repression. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)