Friday, 29 August 2014

Ebola Virus Outbreak and Africa’s Continuing ‘Nativity' (That Natived Us)

 By Takura Zhangazha*

The outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa evokes both sadness and self introspection for many an African. The loss of lives both to the fact that the virus is incurable as well as due to poor health facilities in the areas directly affected.  These factors have been compounded by the fact that the citizens affected have limited knowledge about how to prevent the disease.

In Liberia there have been forced quarantines of residents of some cities that have led to demonstrations and riots.  President Johnson-Sirleaf has also had to fire government officials who fled their own country for fear of catching the dreaded virus.  Elsewhere on the continent, governments have been trying to calm concerned and panicky citizens that they are doing everything in their control to prevent any infected persons crossing borders. 

Globally there is a narrative that is familiar to many and largely purveyed  through the media. This being the projection of Africa as a place of disease and death.  Partly because the Ebola virus is killing many innocent souls but also because this is how the global West and East prefer to view our continent.

It  however does not end there.  Africa also needs help to stem the epidemic in providing both the medial personnel as well as medicines that are urgently required. 

So once again Africa is in sadly  familiar territory wherein we are unable to respond to crisis that affect us not for lack of will but for lack of capacity and preparedness. The latter two stem largely from the fact that we do not have adequately contextualised knowledge production systems or governments that function conscientiously on behalf of the people they claim to lead. 

In considering our lack of knowledge production as well utilisation capacity of the same it is important to remember that this is not the first time Ebola has affected the continent.  The first outbreak which was officially recorded in then Zaire, now Democratic Republic of the Congo should have seen us learning from that experience and crafting the right responses.  The truth of the matter is that we never took it seriously. 

Because then Zaire was considered a Conradian backwater it is possible that the  initial outbreak was not taken as seriously as it should have been. 

Where we fast forward to recent years, the greatest challenge in combating the disease from an African perspective has largely resided in our continually poor medical knowledge and facility infrastructure.  This state of affairs has been blamed largely on the lack of resources. 

A different and better way to look at it is the lack of prioritisation of health service provision by governments not only in the West African region but in most parts of the continent.  Add to this the lack of not only academic freedom but over reliance on foreign medical knowledge production systems, inventions and technology. 

Moreover our models of health service provision because of our wholesale adoption of privatisation and neo-liberal frameworks have now become the preserve of those in upper echelons of society.  Hence a government, as did the Liberian one, can quarantine those in poor, crowded places.

So when arguments are raised about how the economic impact of the current epidemic relate to the loss of markets, these ironically miss the essential point that it is because of lack of public health services to poor communities and regions that it has spun out of control.

The biggest indictment for our continental failure to manage the current outbreak in a much more concerted and holistic way falls squarely on the shoulders of Africa’s political and  business leadership.   The political leaders in the sense that they have sought more personal aggrandizement and pandering to de-contextualised economic development models than they have been people centred.

The business leaders in not only taking advantage of these proclivities of the political leaders but also being a comprador bourgeoisie that mimics with little contextual production or social democratic intent the practices of transnational companies. 

With this approach by business and the scramble for either a cure or a vaccine what we are faced with are the ominous prospects of disaster capitalism, where instead of rectifying the actual problem of lack of health service provision, the outbreak will be used to fortify elitist privatised healthcare. 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

A Third Way to View the Recent Zimbabwe -China Investment Deals

 By Takura Zhangazha*

The full details of  ‘mega deals’ that President Mugabe is said to have been signing during his state visit to China are yet to emerge.  From the snippets that we have read in the state controlled media, these deals range from infrastructural investments pacts through to a greater number of memorandums of understanding.

The latter will require feasibility studies while the former are largely related to Chinese corporations investing in our railways, roads and in the extraction of gas from Gwayi-Shangani in Matebeleland North.

The reception to these deals has been dual in tone. The state media has generally lauded these deals not only by describing them as major, but also referring to them as historic. The private media has urged caution and also sought to emphasise the point of how the country may now be beholden to the Chinese by mortgaging the meagre mineral resources that we have.

For ruling party supporters these  bilateral investment agreements are something that they have celebrated even amidst their own factionalism. While on the other hand opposition party members and supporters have decried what they have referred to as the ‘selling of the country to the Chinese’.  

Some civil society activists have also sought to  frame these investment in the same manner as the opposition but perhaps for different reasons given the general public suspicion of the role of China in assisting Zanu PF maintain a repressive state apparatus.

There is however a third way of looking at these Chinese investment deals.  And in order to do so, a key departure point is to consider the economic inevitability that, like our sister African countries, we would turn to China for economic assistance.  Whether Zanu Pf celebrates or the opposition castigates the deals, the truth is that we have to engage and court Chinese investment.

Our only particular uniqueness in SADC and the African Union is that we do not have the political capital to also court such deals with the West. Largely due to the good governance and neo-liberal conditions the latter insist on. This is as opposed to the Chinese who do not put governance conditionalities to their aid even though they pursue neo-liberal frameworks couched in the rising hegemonic ideology of state capitalism.

What we must accept as Zimbabweans is that China is here to stay. Primarily because of its long history of direct support to our liberation struggles but also in search, as is the case elsewhere on the continent, for natural resources and new markets for its booming economy.

The problem that has always  emerged with these sort of  deals in Zimbabwe however is the ineptitude of our government in either implementing them according to  specific development plans and allowing them to become part of our generally corrupt culture around state tenders, mining concessions, infrastructure development and elite aggrandisement via the state. 

Add to this the utilisation of such investment deals to distribute political patronage has led to failure before launch of most of these investment packages or loans.  The caseof the City of Harare loan from  China for the refurbishment of Morton Jaffray waterworks  is just one case in point at local government level. 

The more pertinent issue is therefore not so much that these deals should not be made with China. Given the fact that every other country is flocking to the same seeking investments  or intending to invest there, it is folly to argue plainly against Chinese investment in our economy. 

The main problem instead has been how our government has not only negotiated these deals but even more importantly how they have been implemented.

Particularly with regards to infrastructural investments which should basically be self evident in their impact on our society.  For example if we get investment (though not from the Chinese) for the dualisation of the Joshua Nkomo Highway  from Harare International Airport in order for it to be ready before the world cup in South Africa in 2010, it must be completed.  It is a road that five years after that and another world cup tournament in Brazil, is yet to be completed.

So it is not in itself a bad thing that President Mugabe is signing investment deals with China on behalf of the country. And the Chinese hold no brief for those that come to it seeking assistance.  In the end they want their returns, in as far as we have promised those returns and by way of mutual agreement. 

What matters is that these investments are used for what they are intended for instead of  political patronage after the money comes or the tender application processes are opened.  The Zimbabwean government has to depart from its unfortunate culture of cronyism, corruption, inefficiency and elitist economics if these ‘mega deals’ are to have any domestic meaning. 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity ( 

Monday, 25 August 2014

Five Not So New Tasks for Zimbabwe’s Opposition Political Parties.

By Takura Zhangazha*

Zimbabwe’s mainstream political opposition is in serious trouble.  Its continued diversification or factionalism would have been viewed as progressive if ours was already a democratic society.  Unfortunately it is not. But neither is the call for democratic change in the country universally accepted. Especially on the basis of democratic value or principle. Add to this, the lack of acting for posterity and we have a recipe for disaster in the opposition rank and file. 

Arguably there is much in common between the opposition and the ruling party.  From personality cults through to longue duree political leaderships spiced up by ambiguous rhetoric about development, most times it is difficult to discern one from the other. 

Bu the mainstream opposition has had to forge a character of its own over the years. A character that saw it enter parliament and even government after SADC intervention in 2009.  The defeat that was mutedly predicted and publicly decried  in the 2013 general election should have been a cause for serious introspection for the opposition. 

After all, it had been part of electoral and constitutional reform processes that it publicly defended to the hilt against better advice.

As to be expected in the aftermaths of heavy political losses, no matter how controversial, opposition parties tend to split. Ours have been no exception.  The reasons for their new found factionalism appear to range from blame games for losses through to desires for what are largely cosmetic changes to leadership and even just basic but often times dangerous cult-like personality clashes. 

All of which neither improve nor serve even the minimal performance tenets of a democratic opposition or a continuing struggle for people centered democracy in Zimbabwe.

In order for the opposition to find its bearings once again, there are five tasks that it must undertake in order to be directly relevant to not only the general political economy but also to remain as viable alternatives to the ruling Zanu Pf party.

  1. 1.    Being Grounded in its own Historical Genesis and Remaining true to the Founding Democratic  Principles: All opposition parties have a past or reason to exist.  It may be an event or an ideological consideration that led to their formation or eventual strengthening, but all the same, it is a past that must be remembered continuously in the work of the opposition parties.  Remembering it however entails a continuous recognition of the founding democratic values, principles and actions to seek to achieve the intentions of seeking power.  A continual thread of remembering the past without being imprisoned by it will mean that the actions taken by subsequent leaders remain organic and contribute to the creation of not only a democratic culture but an historical accountability of both opposition leaders and members.
  2. 2.       Embracing Internal Democracy : Our opposition has generally argued that it is in a struggle and that they cannot fathom changes to founding leaderships.  In the aftermath of their electoral  performance in 2013, the opposition leaders would be well advised that the age of long term struggles under a leadership that is not accountable to its members while convenient does not in the end bring the desired results. Mimicry of the ruling party in this regard does not work either, especially if one is claiming to be a credible alternative party. Disputes must be resolved amicably and policy differences must be measured on the basis of founding ideologies, values and principle of the party.
  3. 3.       Continual Engagement of Members in Policy Formulation and Organic Actions: It is not enough to seek to run a party on the basis of popular events.  Party policies must be regularly debated, linked with economic and social realities at basic party structure level as opposed to occasional lip services by national executives.  This would entail that individual and especially grassroots members are regularly empowered to debate policy positions and to respond to socio-economic conditions with contextual perspectives. It is also a mechanism where ordinary members are given an opportunity to lead on issues of broader concern to the public.  Where members are left to wait for rallies and the holding of by-elections, the party generally takes the undemocratic path of event based activism which is breeding ground for vote buying and the creation of internal oligarchs.
  4. 4.       Ensuring Organic Cross Generational and Gender Representation- In most opposition movements, there is limited scope for the participation of young Zimbabweans in key policy making processes.  A successful opposition party will respond with urgency to the needs of Zimbabwe’s young on the basis of their socio-economic concerns and with the intention of ensuring that these are represented at the highest levels of important party documents or structures in the party.  This in order to not only to keep in touch with young citizens but also to ensure the development of a future leadership in the party that is grounded in democratic values and principles from an earlier stage.
  5. 5.       Linking Policies with Civil Society Concerns:  In order to understand broader society, opposition parties need to look beyond eh pursuit of power and understand the aggregation of interests in the societies in which they operate.  Where research is done into what non-political actors (churches, labour unions, students unions, residents associations, youth groups, womens groups, war veterans, farmers unions, civil servants unions, business associations, informal traders interests) party policies must respond to these in order to not only incorporate them but to  demonstrate a greater understanding of the challenges Zimbabwean society faces.  

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Zimbabwe's Chairing of SADC: In from the Cold and an Attempt at Normalcy.

For the first time since the Southern African Development Coordination Conference became the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 1992, Zimbabwe hosts the latter’s 34th Heads of State and Government summit.  

We have previously chaired the SADC Organ on Politics,Defence and Security, a post which saw us leading the incorporation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo into the regional bloc in 1997. This also provided the pretext for our costly intervention in the same country ostensibly on the basis of that government's request. 

The South African government, then led by Nelson Mandela and chairing SADC was to differ with us on that particular regional flexing of our muscle but nonetheless we triumphed  and got our way. 

In the aftermath of that intervention we have never managed to influence SADC directly. 

Never mind the fact that we were the hosts of the inaugural SADCC summit in 1980.  And that in part, the Frontline states, a regional conglomeration of liberation movement supporting governments led by former Tanzanian, Zambian and Mozambican presidents, had been established primarily to help us, South Africa and Namibia achieve our independence. 

We shifted from being a Southern African powerhouse to one that was, in the considerations of an expanding  globalisation discourse, a pariah state.  Largely because of the manner in which our then (and even now) government dealt with internal politics through repression and also sought to justify the same through recourse to previously  long abandoned liberation struggle value discourse and radical land reform.
Furthermore, the deterioration of our domestic politics and economy to levels that were unprecedented for an assumed to be stable government only compounded our regional status for the worst.

It was to be the intervention of Tanzanian and South African Presidents, Jakaya Kikwete and Thabo Mbeki respectively that was to make  us a direct responsibility of SADC in an age of global liberal interventionism in April 2007.   Our government probably does not understand the full import of that SADC intervention on the stability of Zimbabwe, warts and all, but the truth be told assisted us to get out of our self made political and economic  morass.

For that all Zimbabweans must be grateful. The tradition that was begun by the Frontline states of looking after one’s neighbour assisted us to remain a peaceful country despite the odds stacked against us. The political violence and the perpetrators of the same may remain unaccounted for but either way, we are definitely no longer a ‘failed state’ as is given in Western parlance. 

We are returning to ‘normalcy’ in SADC with the burden of our mistakes regardless of how populist our government’s policies may appear in the region.  

However the fact that we are going to chair the regional bloc does not mean we are going to give it the character of our country because none of the member states want to learn from us in a positive way. Instead they have learnt what not to do. At least for now.

Zimbabwe is therefore not primed to make a big impact on SADC during its tenure as chair. Neither is it remotely expected to do so.  It will be asked to hear out regional grievances, of which there are currently few, but beyond remote facilitation of resolution of the same,  we will not be regarded as having specific moral authority to do so fairly.

We will try to posit our model of indigenisation together with our radical land reform as exemplary but this will fall on deaf ears.  Our foreign policy traits will not rub off in the region but we will have the benefit of a regional platform to seek the removal of Western sanctions on the government and select businesses.

In similar fashion we will be scrutinised for our human rights records and our adherence to standing SADC protocols and treaties in relation to the same.  Because we will be expected to lead by democratic example in the region, our government will not seek unnecessary attention through wanton acts of repression as it has regularly done in the past fifteen years.  

Because we are in from the cold, it is likely we will try to take the lead on major SADC development goals. So we will most likely speed up our digitization programme, improve our road networks to meet regional standards (even at great cost), and generally pay populist service to every major SADC secretariat policy announcement.

But in the final analysis, our tenure as SADC chair will not be particularly unique.  It will raise the 'scrutiny stakes' as to whether our domestic politics are exemplary for the region but it will still be largely a return to normalcy.  

We will occasionally need to be defend  a majority of member state  countries on the basis of previous support they gave our  past inclusive government as well as the informal regional grouping of former liberation war movements. 

Sadly however, the regional solidarity that was given to our local civil society on key issues of human rights will not be replicated from our side. As already been the case, our domestic civil society organisations have not had as much enthusiasm for the challenges faced by colleagues in Swaziland, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

But at least for now, while Zimbabweans may have mixed views on the significance of the 34th SADC Heads of State and Government  Summit in Victoria Fall this weekend, at least we are not as bad off in the region as we were two years ago. And for that, we have the very same SADC to thank.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Friday, 1 August 2014

Zimbabwe’s Elusive Economic Revival: Our ‘Friends’, ZimAsset and Radical Nationalism are Not Enough Mr. President.

By Takura Zhangazha*

Recent statements by President Mugabe concerning the national economy have had the political effect of both muted confirmation and loud derision.  Both from sympathisers of his party and those in opposition to it respectively. 

The main template used to argue about his statement are largely the forte of economists and/or financial analysts. Tools to measure projected GDP, Foreign Direct Investment, mineral beneficiation, infrastructure development, government expenditure and indigenisation have been drawn out in pursuit of one argument or the other.

The analysis will  however tend to be more politicised than it will be factual. Or the facts will be conveniently used to defend one political opinion or the other. And that is a good thing. After all,  if we were to learn from Marx, the economy informs the political. So, robust debate is good even if it becomes over-politicised.
For ordinary Zimbabweans  however, the state of the national economy is not as sophisticated nor does it have connotations of the directly political. At least not until the eve of an election.

 Its simply about how one is making ends meet. Or to borrow from a common phrase during church prayers, its about keeping body and soul together.  That is why very few Zimbabweans are waiting for handouts from government or expecting formal employment in the private sector.  They are trying to make ends meet in whatever way they can.

Even if they are employed in government or the private sector, they have taken to the informal sector like ducks to water to supplement meager incomes.  It’s a struggle but it helps keep destitution at bay, no matter if it is mostly in the short term. 

What is becoming apparent is that there is no economic revolution that is occurring for Zimbabweans.  Instead, there is the perpetuation of a political economy in which elite circles, especially those linked to political parties, remain far above the poverty threshold line. And with impunity. 

Where one considers what should have been the cornerstone of an economic revival based on the equitable re-distribution of land, question are emerging as to its economic efficacy. Especially where  it relates to issues of tenure for new farmers, evictions of those that were resettled on prime land by elite political players and even environmental questions as to the sustainability of tobacco farming.

Due to the quantitative aspect of the fast track reform programme,  our agricultural economic base has changed. At least on the basis of the historical injustice that was the Land Apportionment Act of 1930.
The structural questions however remain where and when it comes to land use and even land ownership specifically with regards as to how they impact the performance of the national economy.  Hence the continued ministerial changes to leases for new farmers, the scepticism of the banking sector and the contestations over large scale bio-fuel farming by private but politically connected concerns. 

From a political economy perspective the key challenge is probably that our national economy has not structurally changed from that which we inherited at national independence.  The difference between the two largely resided in performance legitimacy. With the pre-independence one largely seeking to serve a minority population, while the post independence one sought serve more effectively a majority population.

The latter was obviously going to perform in increasingly difficult circumstances going forward, especially given the fact that it was premised on the structure of the settler state political economy.

A few examples are necessary to explain this point further.  After independence, our national economy initially pursued what to all intents and purposes was a social democratic direction that had a capitalist base.  The latter caught up with the social democratic intentions of our first government in the late 1980s where we abandoned people-centered economic policies in pursuit of World Bank and IMF sponsored neo-liberal ones.  These entailed that we reduce the role of the state in the economy and allow the free market to determine the distribution of goods and services.

When this was done, we opened our economy’ to global competition and in the long run, we lost that battle. Our industries, most of which were established largely under the aegis of the Rhodesian settler state, crumbled. From textile through to minerals processing, motor car manufacturing and even pharmaceutical industries, we lost our internal self reliance in favour of importing finished goods while exporting raw materials.  As an obvious consequence, unemployment and poverty rose only to be compounded by a series of devastating droughts in the 1990s and early 2000s that debilitated our food security. 

After the fast track land reform programme in 2000 the subsequent imposition of sanctions by the European Union and the United States of America, on not only the government but government related companies and restrictions on Zimbabwe’s ability to trade with the West,  our economy was to reach it weakest. Our response to the sanctions was however more political than it was economic. 

Because we had opened up under ESAP and lost a significant measure of our self reliance, we have been unable to recover from  the damage done not only by economic sanctions and a government that lacked an effective strategy to deal with the latter.

Where we came to the tenure of the inclusive government whose primary mandate became that of stabilising the economy and in the process seek solutions for its revival, we applied methods that hardly suited the national catastrophe we faced.  Our pursuit of public private partnerships (PPPs) while at the same time targeting the private sector for indigenisation did not promote the investment required. Neither were the PPPs suited to revitalising our social services delivery given the fact that our people were too poor to afford either the healthcare or education at the exorbitant costs that returned in 2009. 

It became a question of not a lack of availability of goods and services but the lack of affordability of the same for a majority of the Zimbabwean populace. This remains the case today.
The new government’s economic blueprint, the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Social and Economic Transformation (ZimAsset) is sadly no great shift from the state of affairs under the inclusive government. The main difference appears to be more political than it is economic. 

What the blueprint appears to be keen on is a return to an economy that is structurally similar to the ESAP years in an elite capitalist pact between the state and capital. Its pursuit of PPPs is least likely to revive our manufacturing sector or support agriculture as our backbone.  It is a programme that is suited more to acquire approval from the IMF and World Bank than it is primed to have a direct impact on the livelihoods of the country’s majority poor. 

The argument of beneficiation of mineral resources when the extraction of the same continues to be not only unaccountable to the fiscus has not built any public confidence in the programme.
Instead it will continue to extract more from the citizen than it will seek to give.  On paper it will make for good speeches and limited little progressive action in reality.  It will essentially bring a new version of state capitalism to our national political economy only in order to retain a political elite as the major beneficiaries of state largesse.

As it is, an economic revival might be just for those who are politically well connected as opposed to the majority poor. 

What is required is a social democratic economic model that takes into account the mistakes of the first decade of independence, discard the neo-liberal approach of the 90s and depart from the emotive nationalism of the 2000s.  Such a social democratic agenda would restructure the political economy from being one that is premised on the skeletal framework of the Rhodesian settler state to one that systematically empowers our citizens beyond the rhetoric of land reform and indigenisation.  Its base would be the provision of heath services, education, transport, land security,  transparent mineral extraction, basic political rights and the reward of innovation not political loyalty.  There would be no doubt a new democratic and self reliant political economic superstructure would emerge.  
 *Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity