Friday, 30 January 2015

Zim's Chairing of the African Union: Almost Routine but not 'Revolutionary'

By Takura Zhangazha*

President Mugabe’s election as chair of the African Union (AU) for the first time since its formation is obviously a feather in his cap that he will celebrate and be lauded by many of his supporters and admirers for.  For neutrals this might be no more than symbolic.  For his adversaries it will be cause for disappointment and occasion for disparaging the AU. 

The reality of the matter is that the post is largely ceremonial.  It is not since the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi unsuccessfully tried to not only extend his tenure but also propose structural changes that were more akin to a federation that any leader has attempted to make it more than what it is.

And I do not think the Zimbabwean president would even harbor such unrealistic ambitions.  He essentially knows that he is in from the cold, albeit a second time after having become the current SADC chair. So beyond the rotating regional recognition of AU member states’ right to hold the office and  the visitation of delegations of members states under mediation, there will not be much else to Zimbabwe’s role. 

The negative import on this assumption of office is that the new AU chairperson may not be able to attend global summits that involve other international organizations/ summits that have imposed sanctions on him.  Eventually he may be able to attend some of these summits given emerging media reports that there may be a  revision of sanctions against Zimbabwe by the West.  He would however have to be cautious to claim that eventuality as a Zimbabwean victory as opposed to the crediting the AU if it occurs during his tenure as chair.    

There are however some evident realities that will be faced by the new AU chair despite his much publicized pan Africanism or popularity on the continent.

Key among these is that whatever radical Pan Africanist rhetoric he harbours will have to be tempered. The African continent is a highly contested geo-political terrain for varying reasons. These include but are not limited to the war on terror, the scramble for natural resources (including water) and the competition for African markets by global corporations.  To radically attack the West or pander to the East will not create an impression of a leader who really understands Africa’s placement in the world.  Or its own complicity in any same said unfair placement in world affairs.

So apart from veiled attacks on imperialism  with specific reference to Zimbabwe, the new AU Chair cannot speak against the interests of the varying regions which have countries with bilateral or military agreements with global superpowers such as the United States  and France. Or those that have embraced the principles of the free market economy, especially with regards to land ownership, IMF and World Bank policies. 

Secondly, Mr. Mugabe would have to defer to the African Union  Commission (AUC) which is chaired by former South African cabinet minister Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.  It is the AUC that essentially runs the continental body which is much more sophisticated and less politicized than SADC. 

The long running programmes and themes of the AU cannot be overturned merely because there is a new and robustly Pan Africanist chairperson.  Nor can Zimbabwe’s fast track land reform programme be exported on the basis of the same. 

It was only perhaps at the infancy of the African Union, under the leadership of former South African president Thabo Mbeki, with the assent of former presidents Obasanjo (Nigeria), Wade (Senegal), Bouteflika (Algeria) and the late Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi ,  that there was greater control over the AUC.  And this was not by a single president or head of government but by many.  Since then, every other chairperson has largely allowed the AUC to run the body, thus creating a tradition.

There is however some influence that the new AU chair will definitely have if he can play his diplomatic cards correctly.  And this influence will be found largely at the level of the United Nations Security Council and the contentious issue of liberal interventionism.  Unlike the case of Libya where the AU made an unfortunate misreading of resolution 1973, perhaps it will be more particular given the fact the Mr. Mugabe has had to stave off allegations of intended intervention by the United Kingdom.  And that may be the specifically distinct trait that he will give the AU. That is, greater caution on permitting other international bodies to wage war or claim to be preventing it on the African continent.

In the final analysis however President Mugabe would probably think of himself as representing the legacy of the founders of the OAU.  Unfortunately for him, the heady days of assumed unity against imperialists and capitalism are essentially over. What obtains now is a perhaps more muted,  technocratic and multi-polar African continent without the previous fervor of liberation struggles or socialist consciousness amongst its leaders. So Zimbabwe’s chair is no more than procedural than it is an affirmation of truly shared values and beliefs. Were he to wish it any differently, Mugabe does not have the continental goodwill to enable him to be as influential as his long time friend, Thabo Mbeki.  
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Monday, 26 January 2015

Zim's Urban Land as the New Profit Frontier of the Political Elite.

By Takura Zhangazha

In the process of undertaking its radical land reform programme, the Zanu Pf government conveniently but by default retained what renowned academic Mahmood Mamdani refers to as the ‘bifurcated state'. That is a structured colonial era divisions of the rural and the urban with the latter always being the arena of the ‘civil’ in relation to not only law but lifestyle. 

A number of studies have also sought to explain the impact of this fast track land reform programme (FTLRP).  Their emphasis however has been on how it has affected the rural/peasant farmer or the overall capacity of agricultural production of the country.

What has hwoever been emerging, minus the radical rhetoric and demonstrations is the utilization of the FTLRP to acquire land that is adjacent to urban centres, not for the purposes of farming or reclamation, but for urban investment projects. Particularly for the lucrative housing market. 

The latest such case is that of Crowhill farm on the outskirts of Harare.  It is a farm that has been in dispute since 2011 when the government gazzeted it for redistribution while the ownership was retained by a private company, Crowhill Private limited. A dual process began to operate on the farm.  

A war veteran claimed the farm while a private company was claiming ownership of it as an urban residential housing development area. The matter is now before the courts with the added drama of Crowhill Private Limited owner, Cephas Msipa (Jr) being sued about the same land by the actual owner of Crowhill farm, Ozias Bvute.

In the entirety of the process and its outcomes, the most affected will be residents of the farm who may have paid for stands and are living there.

The bigger picture points to an alarming ambiguity about land use within the context of FTLRP. Particularly where it concerns land that is adjacent to major urban areas.  It is a trend that is also emerging in areas referred to as ‘growth points’ where property developers and rural district councils are converting rural land or redistributed farms to urban residential  land use. 

Given the shortage of affordable housing in the country and the much touted housing waiting list, this is lucrative business.  Property developers are getting land, both by way of local government approval and through the FTLRP, subdividing it into stands, and making a killing.

The only problem is that sometimes these approvals from both central and local government are not necessarily transparent and clear.  This was the case in Chitungwiza and Manyame where houses were demolished and the potential case in other areas where people are set to lose homes or their investments. 

It is a trend that should have policy makers quick on their feet investigating and examining what is really going on.  Some of the key questions that need answers relate to the honesty of property developers, rural district councils and central government officials in claiming to provide residential stands at premium prices without legal veracity or certainty.

Even more important questions relate to examining the link between urban land and the FTLRP.  Are there emerging land barons/baronesses who are unprofessional and take advantage of citizens that are desperate to own urban houses?  And by so doing, utilize the FTLRP to not only get the land for a pittance only to make huge profits from it.

There are many other issues that will emerge with the passage of time and the shifting allegiances in Zanu Pf linked businesses and other entrepreneurial endeavours.  The only problem is that it is the residents of these areas that will continue to suffer the brunt of eviction and loss of investment, even at a high asking price. 

It is the murky linkages of politicians, property developers and the potential abuse of the land reform programme that should worry all Zimbabweans. 

This is not to say that investors in property should close shop. Not at all.  It is however to query why investments are made in unclear circumstances or without fully explaining to residents the full import of their land purchases, together with the risks involved (eviction, loss of money).  

In some cases there is downright abandonment of residents by property developers, central and local governments. 

So we come back full circle to the urban versus the rural. The '3rd Chimurenga' may not have been as 'revolutionary' as ruling party apparatchiks claim.  We remain with skewed land ownership patterns that favour a new elite at the expense of a majority landless.  

Such patterns are increasingly apparent in areas peripheral to urban areas. Land and housing in the latter may be  profit driven endeavours but sadly are used to manipulate the fast track land redistribution programme for personal benefit.  All at the expense of the desperate homeless who remain uncertain of their tenure while, in some cases, land barons/baronesses laugh all the way to the bank. 
 *Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity ( 

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Key Considerations for Mainstream Zim Media in 2015

By Takura Zhangazha*^

The mainstream media in Zimbabwe has generally been functioning in difficult economic circumstances.  Apart from competition for a shrinking readership, there are stories and claims of serious viability challenges for media houses.  Especially where it concerns running costs such as newsprint, salaries and benefits of journalists and supporting staff. 

Not that the media will want to put any of this in the public domain on a regular basis but over the last year, through the government appointed Information and Media Panel of Inquiry (IMPI),  publishers, unionists and other media stakeholders have publicly pointed out these sustainability  challenges.  How the same problems, among others,   may be addressed with government assistance is something that will be seen when IMPI publishes its report.

There are however issues that the media needs to flag out on its own in its continued engagement of government and in defense of the integrity of its profession. Especially where governments across the globe while sometimes claiming to support press freedom, freedom of expression and access to information are increasingly caught up in anti-terrorist policy actions that inevitably lead to the exact opposite of their stated intentions. 

In order to retain its integrity and respect, Zimbabwe’s mainstream news media must strive to retain or regain its editorial independence and adhere to its own professional codes of conduct and ethics.  Particularly so in the aftermath of the Zanu Pf congress of December 2014 which had seen state controlled and in some instances, the private media,  taking sides in an unprofessional way.   Not that the media cannot take sides based on its own editorial values and principles. These must however not compromise its reporting on facts accurately and with the relevant balance. 

Editorial independence however is not only in relation to political interference but also due to what is increasingly a profit motive of newspapers and radio stations.  Make no mistake, media houses are businesses and are there to not only generate incomes but also make profits for their owners and shareholders.  An aspect  which in fairer circumstances should lead to better remuneration for journalists and other employees of the same said media institutions. 

What has however become an evident challenge is that mainstream print media houses now have to survive almost from ‘hand to mouth.’ This means that daily or publication day sales are a key priority for media houses and these often times can only be ratcheted up by sensational stories that hopefully will ensure publications sell out.  Such a reality affects editors on a regular basis and oftentimes forces their hand in deviating from the editorial tradition of the media house. 

This fluidity is unavoidable in these trying times for the sustainability of Zimbabwe’s media. But they can be mitigated in part by a coming together of editors, publishers/ media owners and journalist union branches on further expanding and agreeing on editorial traditions of their respective institutions.  And by so doing, also establish a clearer nexus between ‘profit’ and editorial principles and values. 

Advances in social media and mobile telephony as mediums of news have been in vogue for a while now.  In Zimbabwe’s case it is apparent that the mainstream media is still the most trusted medium of news but either way, there is the inevitability of the continued expansion of social media and mobile telephony that needs to be harnessed. 

Some mainstream papers have begun the process of doing so but only sparingly for fear of losing out on regular/familiar revenue brought  by the main print/physical publications. Given the global shift in business models for media houses to multi- media platforms and pushing numbers on website/social media account visits or followers, Zimbabwe will not be an exception.  It however requires a more holistic approach to the value of news both in its physical (paper/conventional broadcast) form and its virtual or immediate accessibility format.  

Again this requires greater collaboration between media owners, editors and journalists if news is going to be valued for its content rather than its form.  And in tandem with clearer editorial policies the numbers can be played to greater marketing effect.  This is however a herculean task that will require diversification of news content from following mainstream politics or fashionable celebrities. This would entail utilizing models of global brand newspapers by way of structure but with sensitivity to context.  

Finally, there are many other key considerations that mainstream Zimbabwean media must undertake and act upon. These would also include pursuing legal reforms in a much more unified manner and with concerted application of knowledge of our local context to democratic ideals and universal values of media freedom.  But for the purposes of sustainability, mainstream media has to undergo a mini-revolution in the way it approaches its work where it concerns editorial independence, values,  professionalism and embracing new media technologies in a less haphazard fashion. Where it fails to do so, its importance as the fourth estate and public interest role will remain tenuous going forward.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (
^An edited version of this blog appeared in the Thursday 15-22 January 2015 edition of the Financial Gazette (  

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

We too are Human: Terrorism, Media and Africa’s 'Othering' of Self.

By Takura Zhangazha*

In reading reactions to the differences of media coverage/global outrage at the terrorist attacks in Paris and  those which occurred in the north eastern Nigerian town of Baga, one is struck by two feelings. One of deja vu and the other of complicity in the very fact of being the African ‘other’.  And there have been many articles/blogs that have picked up on these feelings. Deja vu in the sense that some writers have chosen to correctly argue that in a world that claims universal equality of human beings, sadly, some human tragedies are less important. Especially if they occur in Africa or the Orient. Or at least less deserving of coverage by international media. 

'Complicity' because in other instances journalists have cited the inaccessibility of the area(s) in which such atrocities occur in Africa and how getting to them is unsafe or geographically difficult.  Or alternatively that the governments, in this case that of Nigeria, is vague and evasive about events as they occur. Particularly where these events put them in a bad light when reported. 

What however emerges within these objectively justifiable narratives is the ‘othering’ of the African as was the case in colonial times.  Both by the West and Africans albeit for different reasons.  

With the West and its 'global' media its appears that there are limits to universality based on place of origin/occurrence and source of news.  This is entirely understandable if one looks at the current business models of the media, which exude not only values specific to countries of origin but also project the same as  the best on the globe largely due to competition for these already lucrative news markets. 

And where 'outsiders'  ask genuine questions such as ‘what about us?’, the answer may be polite but its subaltern will be ‘start your own media, do your own technologies, tell your own stories’.  Even if pragmatically the ‘others’ do not have either access to satellite media technology let alone control of the editorial intentions covered by the same. 

These hidden answers are the sum total of where global representation and recognition of the other now reside. It is almost a given mantra that if you do not recognize yourselves as you deem fit, we have no business filling the void. Or if you attempt to recognise yourselves outside of our own image, again, we have no business recognizing you in the manner that you prefer.  

Hence despite our progressive historical struggles against imperialism in its varying forms, our leaders and innovators winning global awards, the mainstream western opinion/media will always view us, in the final analysis, as the ‘Caliban’ other. 

The striking irony however is that the somewhat angry, somewhat resigned  responses from Africans or Africanists expected equal if not much more apparent recognition from a hegemonic system that has the belittling of things African as its raison d’ĂȘtre. Even if with the best of intentions.  

That we can in any way assume the global media will cover us in a manner akin to those of of global centers of power is not only futile but to misunderstand the continued struggles for recognition as equals to the Western citizen. Mainly because it is not our media neither is it global beyond geographic reach. (Even if we were all to get onto Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc)

Our yearning for this equality, at least via qualitative representation on global platforms is with merit but it is always going to be shown to be impossible  in times where the West is in gripped by its own crises. Or in times where it matters the most to us. 

So to clamour for equal if not better qualitative recognition in the Western media  is to fall into the trap of being ‘othered’. It is also to misunderstand the global legacy of colonialism in relation to representation and recognition.  This being the equivalent of asking someone else to go public with your problem before you have adequately explained it to yourself.   

It would appear that our fault, including that of our leaders, is to want this global recognition or the telling of our tragic stories merely for the sake of it.  Almost as though our issues become issues once they appear on CNN, Al Jazeera or the BBC.

And there is a difference between this and asking for solidarity as was the case with #BringBackOurGirls.  Or with the tremendous work being done by Amnesty International, the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders in helping bring to global attention various crises from Ebola through to human rights violations in various parts of Africa. In the case of the terrorism in Nigeria, we wanted it reported with as much fervor yet the reality is that it is viewed as external to the West, and therefore not nearly as significant.

So we have to contend with a global hegemony that will not change easily, even after all the anger has subsided.  Especially because it is not our, let alone a truly global media. It is  firmly grounded in its own values and place of origin. So unless we develop our own media to be organic and intrinsic to our beings as global equals, even though we are African, we will always play second or even third fiddle.

It could all end if we had a continental satellite, African owned and controlled satellite television news stations and an organic appreciation that we too, Africans, are human.

 *Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity( 

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

No Room for Abstract Optimism: 7 Realities of Zim's 2015 Political Economy.

By Takura Zhangazha*

There are many ways of dealing with dire political/economic circumstances. The first is always optimism, some of which will be patently false but predicated on loyalty to someone/something to eventually make everything miraculously alright. Even if for  a period as short as twelve months.  The second is to deny that specific circumstances are evidently difficult and are in need of redress. This would include stubbornly and blindly insisting that whatever previous (but obviously ineffective) formula to solve the long standing problem still works. 

The third is to claim a decadent realism/pragmatism.  This entails making do with whatever corrupt, inefficient system is in place, which would include evading the state and possibly joining the bandwagon.

In some academic circles this is referred to as ‘disorder as political instrument’ where those with power or proximity to it profit from dire political and economic circumstances.  This has been the general tendency of a majority of our political leaders, those closely connected to them and those that have vested business/livelihood interests in the maintenance of the status quo.

The fourth but sadly rare approach is that which actively seeks to construct an alternative framework to solving the holistic challenges presented by a specific national context.  This is a preferable approach but would require a firm understanding of context and reality minus the intention to profit from it. 

Where we look at Zimbabwe’s political economy for the year 2015 there are about seven broad realities we will have to confront. These can be explained as follows:

a)      Mainstream political developments will not improve the economy: Normally it would be expected that any leadership changes to a ruling party or even mainstream opposition means the beginning of a general shift in the political economy of the country. In our case this will not turn out to be a given. The leadership changes at the recently held Zanu Pf congress are no indicators of a change in broader economic policy let alone implementation of what obtains on paper. 
The same can be argued for the mainstream opposition wherein changes to the leaderships of either factions have not meant a new economic impetus let alone intention to redress issues as the emerge and affect the majority poor in the country. Or even the new constitution and all the outstanding realignment of laws.
b)      No one is going to give Zimbabwe a ‘Marshall Plan’: If in 2014 there was talk of Russian or Chinese  ‘mega deals’ these are not going to materialise in any way similar to what the USA did for Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War. Neither are any of our neighbors going to try and ‘bail us out’ in the short term except only if we demonstrate tendencies of political instability.  So yes there will be signing ceremonies of agreements but there will also be no money or visible improvement in peoples livelihoods because of the same.  The seeming evidence of investment progress will remain in road rehabilitation activities, which the truth be told, are not ‘progress’ but a restoration of the ‘old’.
c)       Elitist accrual will become further entrenched: The haves are going to continue having with impunity.  Even though because those in Zanu Pf have been reconfigured to demonstrate loyalty to their leader, they may initially be a purge but this will be temporary.  The trickle down effect will mean more state tenders, mining concessions, council land will be in the hands of fewer mafia like elites who are closely linked with the political and security system.  Unfortunately, because they do not run their businesses professionally even after acquiring tenders/permits in unclear ways, the trickle down effect to ordinary people through the creation of jobs will be minimal.
d)      Government will force privatization of social services: This will take the now familiar form and phrase of public private partnerships where deals are deliberately vague and also generally lead to shoddy services. The major target for privatization will be water via local governments and the central ministry of environment and water.  Pilot projects will be pursued in Bulawayo, Harare and Mutare.  Health services will be the next target, again with local government health services being outsourced to private operators and rising steeply in cost whilst being accompanied by a largely ineffective municipality medical aid scheme. All of these will not be people centered nor alleviate challenges of access and availability.  They will however no doubt make those that win the tenders very well off.  Education will continue being a cash cow with students/graduates continually being churned out at great cost to families only to remain unemployed or to pursue teaching as a fall back profession. 
e)      Land ownership and usage will be further politicized:  the issue of multiple farm ownership will emerge continually within the context of the reconfiguration of patronage with the ruling Zanu Pf party and the granting of 100 year leases to multinational corporations for either bio-agriculture or massive mineral extraction (as is the case with Darwendale). The landscape will also be re-imagined through the eyes of the former colonial state with the peasantry being displaced for largely elitist development projects such as the Tokwe Mukosi irrigation project in the south east. 
f)       The informal sector will continue to reinvent itself: As was the case last year, the informal sector will refuse to be harnessed by a state it remains highly suspicious of. Efforts to tax, control and even provide facilities for it will not be taken up with enthusiasm.  It is here to stay and will get more complicated as the processes of privatization continue and poverty bites.
g)      Young Zimbabweans (generically speaking) will continue to seek escape:  Youths will continue trying to leave in order to find jobs (no matter how menial) in the region. Particularly in the informal trade sector. Secondly they will also try and  seek a basic survival salary in the civil service (teaching, local government) and then work on further survival from there. The third option will be joining the security services (police, central intelligence, army).  If they are to engage in political activities it will be to either fit into the already existent patronage system.  There may be one or the other rare occasion where some of the young Zimbabweans may decide to pursue bringing the state to account on the basis of social democratic values, principles and objectives. 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (