Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Government must urgently pre-empt the evident 2011-2012 drought.

Government must urgently pre-empt the evident 2011-2012 drought.
*By Takura Zhangazha.

There is probably nothing as forlorn as watching your crops wilt in January and February  2012 for the subsistence communal farmer in Zimbabwe. This is because it is these two months that are most indicative of  whether one will have a successful harvesting season or not. In our country’s instance, the rains have been poor during the 2011 -2012 planting season and the plants have been a disappointment for many a subsistence farmer. This is particularly so for the most drought prone Zimbabwean geo-political provinces of Matebeleland, Masvingo, Midlands and in parts of Manicaland and Mashonaland West. It  is however important to note that it is information relating to such a potential development was available to our government.

The Famine Early Warning System Network (Fewsnet) had already projected that there would be serious resource mobilization challenges for food assistance programmes for those that it refers to as the ‘food insecure population’.  Even though the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Climate Services Center had already indicated that this season’s  majority  rainfall for Zimbabwe would occur between November and December, it is now apparent that the amount that fell to date has been inadequate. It also appears that even the projected outlook for rainfall is low for the period between February and April 2012.

So as it is, it is fairly evident that there is a drought pending in greater parts of Zimbabwe this season. Whereas in some instances the fault for empty domestic silos may be the fault of bad farming techniques by individual farmers, it would be fair to say that for the majority it is the fault of nature. It simply did not rain adequately and therefore even the hardest working subsistence farmers are now vulnerable to the threat of hunger and loss of some sort of income for their livelihoods.

And this is a point that must be made very clear to the inclusive government and other powerful agricultural stakeholders. In the occurrences of droughts over the last ten years, the state has had the wrong approach of seeking to react to the occurrence of the event in its aftermath as opposed to pre-empting and preparing thoroughly as the rainy season progresses. This is regardless of  the fact that there is generally a direct reliance by the government on the assistance of international aid donors to provide food aid in the occurrence of the drought. Whereas the government  has been told to prepare for drought relief and has had a drought relief strategy, its ability implement such programmes has lacked the necessary urgency that would reduce the inhumane trauma of famine.

Further to this, the government has generally suffered from the mistake that sometimes afflicts those with the power and ability to help drought stricken nations and societies. This is the mistake of being too slow to react even in circumstances where the warning signs of a pending famine have been clear. An example of this, though our situation is nowhere near being as dire, is the famine in Somalia which was reported by Oxfam and Save the Children as having been exacerbated by an overall slow response by the international community.  

To make matters worse, recent statements attributed to the provincial governor of Masvingo, Mr Titus Maluleke relating to the banning of, amongst others,  food aid related international non-governmental organizations point to the politicization of drought relief assistance.  Such statements that place politics at the heart of food aid and agricultural/ water reticulation development assistance is as negative as it is most unfortunate. They evidently point to a government that is insensitive to the inhumane and degrading experience that famine or food shortages visit upon all citizens regardless of political affiliation.

Regardless of the politicized nature of food aid during droughts, it is imperative that it be brought to bear on the inclusive government that the issue of drought related hunger is an urgent national matter. Any form of procrastination on it will lead to the needless suffering of the country’s citizens, particularly a population majority whose livelihoods are dependent on subsistence agriculture.  Central, provincial and local governments have to revisit whatever drought mitigation strategies that they have in order to pre-empt the adverse effects of famine in greater parts of Zimbabwe.

This would also include immediate public announcements by relevant ministries and the highest political offices in the land as to the nature and gravity of the drought that has affected the 2011-2012 agricultural season as well as an urgent call for outside help if we do not have adequate food reserves to feed the people of Zimbabwe.

In this it would be particularly important that the inclusive government de-politicizes the drought for selfish political benefit and approach the matter with the fortitude of a leadership that is responsive to the needs of the people it claims to lead.  It would be even more important that all this debate and public acrimony on constitutional reform or elections not be allowed to interfere with drought relief processes. This can be done by setting up an independent Drought Relief Agency to tackle not only this nascent 2011-2012 famine but any such future famines.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

President Mugabe’s ambiguous revolution by political default

President Mugabe’s ‘ambiguous revolution by political default’
By Takura Zhangazha
On the occasion of  his eighty-eighth birthday, President Mugabe gave what appears to be two separate interviews where he talked on matters to do with his political and personal reflections. The first interview which appeared in the Sunday Mail seemed to be less rehearsed while the second one which appeared on the state controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC)  television seemed to be a bit more cautious and diplomatic particularly with regards to his counterpart political parties in the inclusive government.

 But overall the interviews had the same intention and probable effect to his supporters of presenting the Zimbabwean leader as a ‘revolutionary’ who is keen on being known and remembered as such. That is well and good since we all have the right to be persuaded by one political idea/individual or the other. 

And since President Mugabe said in his ZBC TV interview, we are all ‘sons and daughters of the soil’ and are entitled to different opinions, I have an opinion on his leadership and the issues he has raised on his 88th birthday. 

My initial point of analysis is with regards to his reference to the revolutionary intentions of the current policies of his party, Zanu Pf. This, he argues, is via the ‘taking back’  of the land and now the ongoing indigenization processes in mining and other sectors of the economy. On paper, the language appears revolutionary and talks to what can be considered nationalist sentiment stemming from the liberation struggle. In reality and practice, the policies that have and are being undertaken have been largely indicative of ‘revolution by default.’  

This should be taken to mean that the land redistribution was done under specific political pressure that made it more of a political survival strategy than a value based revolutionary one. But the land redistribution exercise has occurred all the same.  It however remains a ‘default’ policy position which is now controversially being undermined by the Mugabe government’s ambiguous commitment to leasing off large tracts of land to bio fuel companies, safari operators and mineral exploration companies. This has led to the eviction of villagers as well as negatively affected the environment. As a result, there is a growing chasm between the nationalist rhetoric of the president and the realities on the ground. 

Where the president mentions indigenization of the national economy as one of his policy priorities he has not done a clear ideological examination of what exactly he means. It is inadequate to merely equate the 51% taking over of a multinational company or bank by indigenous Zimbabweans as revolutionary in and of itself. There must be clarity as to the ideological purpose of taking over such companies as well as the expected societal end product. 

The current rush by big business in offering communities shares in mining concerns is more indicative of a new found ‘elite cohesion’ around wealth accumulation and does not particularly point Zimbabwe toward a more equitable and economically just society. Wanting a share in a company on the basis of 'indegeneity' is the stuff of identity politics and nowhere near being positively revolutionary. Given the fact that there is a new found global ‘new scramble forAfrica’ Zimbabwe’s political economy is likely to lean further toward an African neo-liberal and unjust framework. In so doing, the indigenous business people will be more of a ‘comprador bourgeoisie’ for global capital, no matter whether it is coming from the West, the Chinese or the South Africans. 

A second point of analysis about President Mugabe’s interviews is where he outlines his views on the contentious and problematic issue of leadership succession in Zanu Pf. In both interviews he contends that he is still capable of leading. It is however in the Sunday Mail interview where he comments on how the matter is a serious cause of division in his party, a point which indicates his rather convenient claim to championing his party’s unity in place of leadership succession. It is a convenience that he must know will not last, not by dint of age but by the fact that political parties that have been in power for as long as Zanu Pf have always had an evident successor (even his erstwhile friends the Chinese have an evident  successor). It is therefore a serious indictment on his leadership style that it is not evidently so for his own party, no matter how many congratulations he may get on his birthday. 

On the other matters that relate to elections, the constitution and his colleagues in the inclusive government, the President’s views have been known for some time now. Save to say that his insistence on elections is now clearly based on the constitutional prerogative of the President to call for them as he states in the ZBC TV interview. Essentially he indicated that he has no problem with unilaterally calling for an election this year, with or without a constitution. Whether that becomes a reality or not is probably dependent on the ability of the other GPA principals and the SADC appointed facilitator  to dissuade him from calling for them  in 2012. 

Finally, it is evident that President  Mugabe has great admiration for Fidel Castro of Cuba and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. He makes mention of the two leaders to stress the need for exemplary leadership or to make an historical point in relation to either sanctions or the African Union. In this, he may be indicating how he might want to be remembered but I wouldn’t know if like Castro, President Mugabe is persuaded that ‘history will absolve him’.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Zimbabwe’s "Unemployed and Poverty Occupied 80%."

Zimbabwe’s "Unemployed and Poverty Occupied 80%."
By Takura Zhangazha.*

Zimbabwe’s national economy is increasingly becoming a very complicated arena, particularly for those that are in government and influential  positions in the business sectors. It has many  twists and turns that mainly derive from the inclusive government ‘s holistic economic policy as defined by the ministries of finance, economic development, trade and commerce, and other institutions such as the Reserve Bank and state owned development/economic investment corporations.

The mantra of those that head either the relevant ministries or institutions is that the economy is ‘work in progress’. This is particularly so if they are not arguing about which political party in the inclusive government initiated the current multi-currency monetary policy or blaming each other for the economic sanctions that remain in place for Zimbabwean individuals and selected corporations.

There is however a component of the national economy that they rarely argue about loudly or acrimoniously. This is the component of Zimbabwe’s  rate of unemployed(and poverty occupied) 80%. This is not to say the issue of unemployment is not mentioned in policy documents or by policy makers. Indeed the last time it was mentioned was in the 2012 national budget that was presented before parliament in November 2011.

In it, the government, through the Ministry of Finance, proposed that there shall be at least three funds that will be set up by government to ostensibly tackle unemployment. These are given as the youth fund, a jobs fund and a small to medium enterprises fund. It is yet to be announced whether the millions allocated to the three funds have been disbursed from treasury but that is not the crux of the matter.

The key issue has been the politicized narrative around these funds as if every unemployed citizen of Zimbabwe is a member of  a political party or is generally  expected to mollycoddle one of the three parties in the inclusive government. The attendant culture to such  politicised processes inevitably becomes one of partisan political patronage as well as the unsustainable  ‘feeding at the trough’ of the few.

And this also means the 'unemployed 80%' are not going to disappear. They will remain without jobs throughout the lifespan of the inclusive government and beyond because they are continually sidelined to the periphery by those with power, access to power as well as access to resources, however acquired.

It is however necessary to explain the nature of the unemployed and therefore poverty occupied sections of Zimbabwe’s population. They are unemployed because they do not have formal jobs. Where they are in the informal sector as it is referred to, they remain at the mercy of those with political power and influence in order to remain in business. As a result, the same 1 in 8 unemployed become ‘occupied’ by a vicious cycle of political patronage, a politicized informal economy and an unsustainable social process of living from hand to mouth, even if on every other day, the hand has nothing to forward to the mouth.  The consequences of this sort of occupation has been the emergent decadence of Zimbabwe social and democratic societal fabric to the extent that it is no longer democratic values that count. Instead it becomes how close an individual is connected to a particular powerful politician or political party.

This is even more problematic in the sense that it is Zimbabwe’s younger generation that is most affected and is beginning to lose hope as to their lives ever getting better.  In a number of instances, young Zimbabweans upon leaving school or tertiary level training have been unable to find decent jobs, decent housing and access to basic health care.  Some have resorted, whether with degrees or not, to cross border trading (which the government seems intent on reducing without providing a viable alternative).

Others have taken to making it a life priority to leave the country of their birth while others have resorted to commercial sex work and general crime as a way of making ends meet.  Those that consider themselves lucky normally find themselves embedded to one political party or the other in order to get access to a gold-panning or diamond  field (only to be chased away after an election) or to become a part of the very politicized policy of economic indigenization. The latter policy which is already showing signs of being not so much about new found entrepreneurship among indigenous Zimbabweans but more about who gets what government tender or contract/account.

As it is, Zimbabwe has its own unemployed 80% which is also occupied by poverty, state and political party patronage, as well as a lack of a clear sign of hope on the horizon. Whether they will decide to follow the route of the 99% in the north who formed, for example, the Occupy Wall Street  Movement (OWS) is yet to be seen. But that they will at some point begin to make specific political noises of disgruntlement is a given, unless the inclusive government demonstrates a new found and democratic seriousness at addressing their plight. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity. (please attribute if you use this article)

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Bikita and Zimbabwe's Curse of Elitist Diamond Extraction

 Bikita and Zimbabwe's Curse of Elitist Diamond Extraction

By Takura Zhangazha.

The Masvingo Mirror newspaper of 3-4 February 2012 recently carried a story, ‘Diamonds Discovered in Bikita’ on its front page and  its website. For those in government, this was news that they probably already knew even though the story says that some relevant officials refused to comment on the matter. In any event those in political leadership either at local and national government levels had probably already celebrated given the prospect of more revenue for them to distribute initially among themselves and perhaps allow small trickles of the same to reach the people of Bikita and of Zimbabwe. 

On the contrary for the everyday Bikita resident,this may not be immediate cause for celebration if any at all.  This is because they saw and experienced the tragic and socially calamitous events that visited Chiadzwa in Marange.  The concerns that arise for the common man then become whether they will be  forcibly relocated, whether there will be the introduction of the military and police into the community and the attendant culture of fear and violence that was witnessed in Chiadzwa.  

The long and short of it is that the residents of Bikita are now faced with an even more uncertain and potentially unsecure future. And I make this assertion based on a number of factors that are now no longer just a challenge in Bikita, but across the entirety of Zimbabwe. 

These factors are those that initially relate to the fact that our government, before and after Chiadzwa has been extremely secretive about our country’s national mineral wealth. In the aftermath of Chiadzwa, there has never been a comprehensive follow up plan to the issues of a national mineral wealth assessment plan that are in the public domain. 

While the state has recently established a mineral’s assessment authority, its role has not been made adequately public and it is yet to issue information relevant to a planned strategic utilization of whatever mineral deposits we have in the national interest.  In the wake of the Bikita discovery (and whatever other minerals that are being kept secret from us), it is reported that there is a company called Bayrich that is the licensed operator. Whether the Bikita public were aware of such a company and its primary intentions vis-à-vis compensation for the damage  to the environment, change in livelihoods and culture as a result of the influx of miners and related businesses, is a question that the Ministry of Mines, the local member of parliament and councilors must answer. It is however apparent  that if anyone knew of the awarding of this license to Bayrich, they can only be people with political and financial influence.  

A further factor to consider is that the government is betraying a characteristic that is potentially undemocratic in relation to how there seems to be silent collusion between prospective miners and the licensing authorities.  Given the fact that there are laws the determine how a license is awarded, the fact that there is limited obligation on the part of the state to interact with an affected community such as that of Bikita, makes everything appear murkier and leaves an unpleasant aroma of elitist collusion at the expense of the public good. 

Obviously the government will be the first to claim that everything was above ‘board’ and that anyone who is complaining about the manner in which Bikita was prospected and a mining licence awarded is bitter. Such posturing will be indicative of a government that is being dishonest with the people . No one is disputing the national significance of the discovery of a precious mineral in profitable quantities. What is however in dispute is the secretive methodology of prospecting and awarding of mineral licenses without the participation of members of a directly affected community and without public hearings to the same.  It is patently undemocratic to explain the awarding of a mining licence after the event and as the mining company is already moving equipment into the heart of a resettlement village as is now the case in Bikita.

The mantra of promoting development and foreign direct investment in Zimbabwe via this route does not hold water, no matter how the inclusive government would want us to believe that they are functioning in our best interests.  In fact the inclusive government is to all intents and purposes now functioning in the interests of its members, those closely associated to them and international or local companies whose primary interest is extraction and departure. Even if these mining companies sponsor a local football tournament or coverage of international football tournaments, it remains a flawed private-public partnership by any stretch of the imagination. 

As it is, Bikita is now in the birth pangs of a development that will change its landscape significantly for the foreseeable future. Whereas in democratic societies this would be cause for celebration, in this instance it is news that makes one wonder how such a decision was arrived at and who stands to benefit.  Sure, there will be explanations from government, but these will only be to paper over the cracks, extract the mineral and limit further public scrutiny without adequate compensation to the affected community. And once again, in another part of the country, another community will be a sitting target.