Tuesday, 31 March 2015

A Gokwe Village's Struggling 4 Year Dip Tank Project and Rural Zimbabwe's Default Self Reliance

 By Takura Zhangazha*

Far from the madding political crowd, there is a small but very important project to complete constructing a dip tank in the village community of Ward 10 in Gokwe, Zimbabwe.  It’s a project that was started in 2010 with each family in the village volunteering to pay at least $US20.  

Through this, the Dip-Tank Committee of the same ward raised at least US$4000 over a three year period.  This money went to the completion of the phase that involves the digging up and fortification of the dip-tank in June 2013.  They also managed to get donations of bags of cement from a German international aid organization and technical assistance from the Zimbabwe Division of Veterinary Services (ZDVS).  

The key reasons for embarking on this project are that the previous dip tank collapsed and therefore there is need for a new one.  Add to this,  the long and tedious distance to get to the next wards dip tank and the necessity to pool community resources together was established.  

The role of the Gokwe Rural District Council (RDC) and Gokwe-Sesame Member of Parliament Mr. Jeffery Runzirwai have also been recognized although villagers appear persuaded that both could do more.  This is probably because the project remains incomplete. It is now in requirement of a permanent top level structure to direct the animals. The wooden logs that have been used since 2013 are not durable and are relatively much more expensive to maintain and are therefore in need of replacement by a concrete structure.

The stones have been collected. What is missing, again, is the money to purchase 50 bags of cement.  At current rates, the cheapest bag of cement is at least US$12. The community at the moment does not have the total US$600 that would be required and is therefore looking for well wishers to assist them complete the project. 

I have told this real story because it is one that has been conveyed to me by one of the community leaders of the project in question for the last four years.  It is a project that is close to not only his heart but that of the community in which he lives.

It is however not an isolated story.  Across rural Zimbabwe there are many such village self reliance projects.  They are not only limited to dip-tank construction but also water retention and access projects such as the building of dams and deep wells.  

They involve in most cases, an international development aid agency, local government official, a traditional leader but above else, the collective action of an affected community. It is the latter that is the primary motivator of the projects because it is normally a necessity than a want.
Sometimes it involves a local politician such as a Member of Parliament or his/her rival and the local councilor and in most cases toward an election campaign.

The key issue is however that there is an evolving culture of self reliance among rural communities in order to maintain or attain decent livelihoods.  That donors are involved does not make this any less significant. The initial $20 that families paid to the dip-tank committee is not small change.  

Accompanied by regular update meetings on the nature of the progress of the projects, together with volunteer and hired technical labour and you have a new consciousness about collective well being at a micro-level.

Essentially communities no longer wait for government, though they know that they need it’s permission.  They deal with their realities, seek technical knowledge and assistance with their project budget deficits from willing and able stakeholders.  Even if it takes a disproportionate period of time.  In the case of the Gokwe Ward 10 dip-tank it has taken close to four years to reach the stage they are at now.

In democratic circumstances the construction of the dip tank should have been the prerogative of the rural district council and central government . But as has been the case for a while now, RDCs are under-funded.  This must not mean that they can wash their hands of the project or outsource development to donors or poor villagers who now act out of collective necessity or risk losing their livestock. 

The problem however resides with central government and its continuing inability to provide resources to rural communities for livelihood as well as livestock sustainability. That communal farmers understand that they too must play their part is a good thing but that does not take away central government’s responsibility to provide the infrastructural framework.  

Furthermore, Members of Parliament cannot argue that they are waiting for their now annual disbursement of the controversial constituency development fund (CDF) to address basic issues such as the construction of dip tanks.  Instead they should be asking the executive to provide more direct funding to the ZDVS and local governments to expand access to services even if rural communities appear to be trying to do it for themselves. 

As it is, the Gokwe Ward 10 community is looking to complete the new dip-tank. If you can, please help them get the remaining 50 bags of cement that are needed not wanted. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

MDCs' Boycott of Own By-Elections: Reason Minus Political Rationale

 By Takura Zhangazha*

Zimbabwe’s largest opposition party, the MDC-T announced recently that it will not participate in by-elections that it caused to be called.  This was after it had successfully caused the Speaker of Parliament in terms of Section 129k of the constitution to expel 21 MDC-Renewal members from the National Assembly and Senate.  This section of the constitution allows a political party’s leadership to write to the Speaker of the National Assembly and/or the President of the Senate advising that  specific members have ceased to belong to their respective parties and therefore should be removed from parliament. 

That it happened is now water under the bridge, pending any court applications by the affected members of parliament. What is most intriguing is the subsequent decision by the MDC-T, and the hints by MDC Renewal  to not participate in the pending by elections that they have both willfully caused. 

In a statement attributed to its spokesperson, Obert Gutu, the MDC-T argued that it cannot violate a congress resolution to the effect that it should not participate in any further elections until electoral reforms are completed.  He added the caveat that his party ‘does not blow hot and cold. We believe in sticking to principle.’ The latter statement might not be completely true in relation to his party’s commitment to ‘democratic principles’ but it is evidently convenient for the moment.

The same can be said for the MDC Renewal, which while using the argument that it will not contest because of the flawed electoral system, is evidently not ready to stand on its own feet to face a disaffected electorate. 

The political implications are another matter altogether.  In the first instance, it is a huge contradiction to seek ascendancy over rivals and then not want to reclaim political space that all along they have been clamouring for.  It was the MDC-T, in its demonstration of  its understanding  of the constitution and knowing the consequences of the action of recall, that chose this particular route.  Only to claim the sanctity of its congress.

It can only be argued that in its actions the MDC-T acted largely out of anger that borders on malice as opposed to principle.  If it believes in parliamentary democracy and the new constitution that it co-authored, it would have been a logical cause of action for it to immediately then say we are still committed to representing our constituents as a party. 

Alternatively for the MDC Renewal to not contest would be indicative of the fact that they were perhaps never ready to be stand alone politicians with their own direct electoral mandate. One would be forgiven for thinking that they were all along riding the coattails of a non-existent pact of an assumed ‘red-line that can’t be crossed. ’  It turns out that the MDC-T called their bluff and placed them in the dilemma of having to  ‘walk their political talk.’

The MDC-T’s resolution not to contest also means that their constituents or even their traditional strongholds will have other parties representing them.  All for lack of trying.  This generally defies political logic in the sense that it should be in more tenuous circumstances that one does not plan or see what exactly is going to happen.  Unless they have a secret plan to their method, it is impolitic for them to want to reclaim seats via proportional representation and simultaneously abandon the direct democratic route of by-elections. Especially for seats they still won in 2013, warts and all.

Apart from the argument both MDCs  give of their commitment to principle, there are other more realistic reasons that may be preventing them from taking the risk of contesting the by elections. 
Foremost among these is that they probably do not have the resources. Both parties are recent beneficiaries of the Political Parties Finance Act. One more than the other but still the hundreds of thousands of dollars they have received from government in the last year should have been earmarked for this current eventuality.  It turns out  they no longer have this money nor will their leaders be asked to account for where it went. 

This point is raised primarily because whichever way one looks at them, electoral campaigns in Zimbabwe are increasingly materialistic.  It is one of the most serious threats to whatever semblance of democracy we claim to have.  Many an aspiring candidate/ party will tell you that in the final analysis they won or lost because they either had or did not have the money. Rarely do they mention their key campaign issues anymore.  Judging by the campaigns in those by elections whose dates have been set, it appears Zanu Pf is showing voters that it has the resources to campaign. 

If the opposition MDCs had the money, I am certain that they would have been in the running for these latest by elections. And there would have been little talk of principle as is now conveniently the case.  It does not mean that their issue of a level playing field is of limited consequence. It is however opportune for reasons that can best be described as opaque in the context of not only a new constitution but an illogical willingness to let go of what they had in the bag for only less than two years. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Pessimistic Zim and the Search for A Silver Lining

By Takura Zhangazha^

The Mass Public Opinion Institute  (MPOI)* this week published its latest Afrobarometer report for Zimbabwe.  This November 2014 opinion survey found that 63%of adult Zimbabweans have a pessimistic view about the direction in which the country is headed. Especially  where citizens were asked about what they view as the economic outlook.  It also found that 43% of those that participated in the survey  are of the view that the economy or living conditions will deteriorate further. 

This important survey also has further aggregated data based on geographical location, gender and age in relation to Zimbabweans’ perceptions of their living conditions. These include the extent to which they access health, water, money and education.

A number of other issues that stand out in the survey is that there is little support for the current government indigenization policy and that the youth are primarily worried about unemployment while the elderly are concerned about access to health and education.

The significance of this recent survey cannot be understated.  MPOI and the Afrobarometer opinion are credible and scientific institutions.  In one of their last surveys prior to the July 2013 harmonized election, they had indicated that it was most likely that the ruling Zanu Pf Party will sweep to victory much to the chagrin of the opposition.  That particular survey turned out to be closer to the truth when the results were announced.

So the reality is that, at the moment, we are a generally a pessimistic nation. Especially where and when it comes to the national economy or the possibility of our livelihoods improving.  It’s a bitter pill for all of us to swallow.  Even if there will be loud denial from the ruling party and government apparatchiks.

The key question is how do we rekindle hope of the people in their own country.  It first of all begins with the political leadership. Particularly those in government and with proximity to power that cane effect change.  If, for once, they were to take their responsibilities with greater seriousness and less partisanship, the country would always have hope.  At least in the fact that they have leaders who not only listen but act concertedly to address the difficult living conditions we are all facing.  

Unfortunately at the moment the opposite is true.  We have a leadership that is in the throes of factional politics across the political divide and one that continues to laud its past as what we should accept as success. Economic blueprints are generally more for the demonstration of appearing to have a plan even if they are  inorganic and a dangerous framework for elitist state capitalism.

Secondly we have to all eventually be responsible in finding solutions to our current circumstances.  Where we have seen that government is not fulfilling its social contract we must bring it to account. In the most non-partisan way possible.  Representative organizations outside of government, also known as civil society, must try as best they can to shake off assumptions of loyalty to those in power or political office and address key issues directly.  This would include taking on the political economic challenges not just in  the moment but for posterity. 

For example, it would be prudent to query the hastened pace of privatization of water, health services and education  provision under the guise of  public private partnerships.  It may appear workable on the surface but its end effect is denial of access by the majority poor (also read as the pessimistic 63%).

Thirdly , the media as the fourth estate must also begin to transform itself to reflect more than the infighting in the ruling and opposition political establishments.  While the print media is in a slump due to the dire state of the economy, there is still need to bravely report on key issues that are affecting the people.  This would entail that media owners balance their profit motive with the public interest role that the fourth estate plays in a democratic society. 

Journalists too have to protect the public integrity of their profession in the most trying of economic circumstances by demonstrating that they do not always follow the money but more the public and democratic interest of society.  In the current circumstances, propaganda only works to entrench the pessimism and powerlessness of the people. 

To conclude, this latest Afrobarometer/MPOI survey’s findings are scientific testament to the fact that apart from the sloganeering, by elections and political factionalism, all is not well with the people Zimbabwe. The pessimism that is currently afflicting the country is both as real as it is a call to collective action.  We are all in this together, even if some among us will be in denial of the reality that confronts us.  And it is only all of us, whatever our stations in life, working together that we can find the silver lining in the dark clouds that hover over the country.  
^Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)
*For further information on the Afrobarometer survey please contact  Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI), Stephen Ndoma, Telephone: (04)771358, Email: stephen@mpoi.org.zw

Monday, 9 March 2015

Parliament's Undemocratic Game of Musical Chairs

By Takura Zhangazha*

There is a game of musical chairs currently going on in our Parliament. Using Section 129 (1k) of the new constitution, political parties that have split or are in the throes of factional fights have decided to recall MPs that they claim are no longer their members.  Zanu Pf has already written to the Speaker of the National Assembly to recall Didymus Mutasa and Themba Mliswa with success.  The MDC T has also done the same in a bid to get 21 MPs from the breakaway faction led by Sekai Holland and Tendai Biti removed from the legislature.

These actions as permitted by the constitution are not new political developments as this is not the first time parties have sought to use them.  They have been used by both ruling and opposition parties to get rid of leaders that no longer tow the party or party leader's line as far back as the year 2000.  

They  also  had the opposite effect of factions in  political parties quietly agreeing not to raise that spectre in order to share the money that the Political Parties Finance Act grants them.  Or in the latest case of the MDC-T wanting a record 21 MPs recalled probably to have that money all to itself, at least for a while.

All of this raises many questions as to the democratic significance of the right to recall MPs by political parties. Add to this the by elections that have to be held when such vacancies emerge and you have a country in perpetual election mode. 

Not that it’s a bad thing to get to vote for a member of parliament before their initial term of office expires.  It’s the reasoning behind this that is problematic. 

Political parties to all intents and purposes should learn to solve their own problems internally.  To argue that they have the right to recall MPs merely because they have violated one or the other party rule is to diminish their broader non partisan role for their constituencies. Especially in our country where we have the greater percentage of our legislators elected via geographical constituencies and on a first-past-the-post basis.

A question that emerges is to whom does the MP primarily belong?  In terms of the law he/she belongs to the political party on whose ticket they campaigned on.  And there should no longer be any pretense about this. 

This also means that the executives of political parties to all intents and purposes are interfering with parliament even after an election campaign. This is regardless of the fact that the President of the country is not elected by Parliament sitting as an electoral college, save for when he retires or dies in between general elections. 

So there is no virtuous reasoning behind this permission give political parties to remove elected MPs from Parliament by way of a letter coming from their  administrative arms.  It has never added democratic value and will not do so in the near future.  In most cases  it has been used to settle personal political scores without an iota of democratic justification.
The full import of the recent actions by Znau Pf and the MDC-T is that by elections are going to be the norm throughout the life of this current parliament.  And the electorate is going to be harassed with solving personal squabbles via the vote or reconfiguration of proportional representation candidates. 

It will also mean that there will be electoral expenses for the already strained fiscus which were not budgeted for in as many numbers. Perhaps the only benefit for the many unemployed young Zimbabweans will be new additions to their wardrobes by way of tickets and occupation of time via campaign rallies and canvassing.

For the country it will only mean the continued politicization of Parliament and its role as a rubber stamping authority of political parties. MPs will have to self censor, avoid meeting with constituents that are deemed ‘enemies’ of their respective parties leadership while simultaneously singing praises of the latter to protect their tenure.  By so doing, the MPs and their political parties of choice are demonstrating the height of political arrogance and disdain for the electorate. Almost as though they will be mockingly telling the people of Zimbabwe, ‘we don’t care, you will vote anyway.’
 *Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com) 

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Just How Much Influence Does Econet Zimbabwe Have Over Government?

 By Takura Zhangazha*

Econet Wireless Zimbabwe has over the years come to be a key player in Zimbabwe's national political economy.  Recently, a local weekly The Zimbabwe Independent published a story on its front page that Econet had bailed out the government to the tune of US$ 30 million. The story had also appeared on a web based business news agency, The Source
This is not the first time government has either solicited or somewhat emphatically ensured either Econet or other mobile phone companies provide it with urgently needed money. In the years of the inclusive government, the former Minister of finance was occasionally at loggerheads with telecommunications companies   over what he described as the ripping off the poor for super profits. 

In earlier instances, it was reported that telecommunications companies and their subsidiaries were arm-twisted to fund the constitutional referendum and in part, also the elections in 2013.  

So there is a somewhat complex relationship between government and mobile phone operators.  .  This may be as a result of the fact that at a time when the economy is at a downturn, the telecommunications sector stays afloat.  And lucratively so. 

The largest mobile phone company Econet Wireless Zimbabwe however is almost always the one that interests government.  Not least because of the history around its formation and initial hostility to its existence.  It is the best performing of them all and makes the most revenue by a long shot. 
Its relationship with government however appears to have shifted from general suspicion to one in which there seems to be a quid pro quo understanding.  

Government allows it to expand not only its core business but also enter the other sectors such as banking, insurance, health and vehicle tracking which already had other players registered under different pretexts.  While there have been some complaints from the banking sector, Econet has not been deterred. 

So when a story appears that it has given government a loan to pay civil service salaries, it is initially surprising but in the final analysis part of a growing tendency in the relationship between the two.  And it appears to be an increasingly symbiotic one which bodes the question, just exactly how much influence does Econet Wireless have over the government? Or alternatively just how much influence does government want the company to have? 

In the latest transaction, Econet states it did not lend money to the government. Instead it defines the transaction as a NetOne debt repayment agreement.  The inference is that government has merely taken over the debt its parastatal/public enterprise has with a private company.  Either way, money was transferred from one account to another with the government being the key beneficiary.

One could argue that it is a good thing that government can look to local companies to bail it out to the tune of millions of dollars.  Add to this the possibility that Econet is being somewhat patriotic and it would appear that the relationship is a cozy one. In reality things may turn out to be different. Not that there will be acrimony but that eventually government may owe Econet not only too much money but also political capital.  

This is a development that may see the latter company expand even further with the knowledge that the hurdles it might face from government will possibly be fewer.  After all, the government owes it a number of favours. Or it at least knows that government will inevitably come for assistance, again.
So it is fair for any Zimbabwean citizen to ask for an explanation of the full import of such a relationship between government and one of the country's largest companies.

To what extent will it affect government policy particularly in the wake of the company’s expansion into fibre optic cable with an intention of being a key player in how social services are billed (also read as privatized).

What is apparent is that government knows the full profit import of the telecommunications industrial 'bubble' (and complex).  It will therefore seek to work closely with those whose profits it has an idea about.  With Econet, it would appear that the age of acrimony is over. So long they can occasionally be agreeable to the occasional  ‘bail out’ or ‘debt re-arrangement’.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)