Tuesday, 26 April 2016

New Ambassador Hotel’s New Ahistorical and Undemocratic Corporate Censorship Role

By Takura Zhangazha*

The management of the New Ambassador hotel in Harare last week deemed it fit to prevent a discussion on commemorating 36 years of independence at the Press/Quill Club that is housed in their building.  The reason they gave was that there was need for a police clearance letter.

It turns out, and sadly so, that this new undemocratic attitude of the hotel management may have been motivated in part by the fact that they recently got summoned to Harare Central police station over a press conference that was held by those who have since been convicted in the Gushungo Dairy attempted bombing saga.  

The questioning of the hotel management is similar to that visited upon the director of the Media Center  and his colleagues in Harare over and about the same case. Neither of the two institutions has issued an official statement to explain what exactly transpired. 

The development that we ostensibly know is that hosting a press conference, even for a targeted group of people, which is not a public meeting, can get you questioned by the police for a decent time period. And we can only hope that journalists, media freedom activists, lawyers and organisations can get to the bottom of the matter sooner rather than later. 

What we definitely now know is that the New Ambassador Hotel management has decided in part, to attempt at administering the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) on behalf of the police over and about press club debates. This, through using their security department for good measure. 
This is obviously a first since the press club does not hold or host public meetings.  Instead it generally holds press discussions or press conferences that are specifically aimed at small audiences that are not considered ‘public’.  

This understanding that the Quill Club is generally a professional space for those that work as journalists and in the media had before the recent actions of the hotel management been a shared one. 

Various political actors, inclusive of government ministers, senior civil servants, civil society activists, unionists, gender activists, youth leaders have not only frequented the Press Club but also sought to utilise it to speak to the press.  

Almost as though it were tradition the New Ambassador Hotel has been home to all sorts of civil debate, formal and informal.  Luminaries such as the writers Charles Mungoshi, Stanley Nyamfukudza, Freedom T.V Nyamubaya and Dambudzo Marechera used to visit it to not only socialise but also to discuss issues they felt were pertinent.  The same with political figures such as the late national heroes, Eddison Sithole,  Eddison Zvobgo, Sikhanyiso Ndlovhu, Willie Musarurwa as well as others such as the late James Chikerema.  

This tradition of debate continued through even the more turbulent years of the 2000s (including 2008-2009).  Various debates were held on  seemingly more 'volatile' issues which included electoral violence, media reform and the welfare of journalists.  Politicians from both the ruling and opposition parties were always willing to visit and use the press club to share ideas and debate key issues affecting the country. 

It is therefore disheartening that with such an illustrious contribution to freedom of expression and a largely amicable relationship with the press, the hotel’s management has decided to try and control what meetings the Press Club can and cannot hold. 

Even if there were administrative challenges around the nature of the relationship between the Quill club and the management, these are always going to be amicably resolved.  

What is problematic is the reach into what essentially should be the function of the state in terms of the law. While the proprietors of the hotel have a right to decide who comes into their hotel or uses its facilities, it does not change the fact that it acted against democratic values. 

Unfortunately this trend with regard to the collusion of business with the state in effecting undemocratic laws or actions has precedence.  Particularly where it comes to the enjoyment of freedom of expression, media freedom and freedom of assembly.  Corporate entities such as Steward Bank have already demonstrated this repressive trend with its attempts at getting journalists to reveal their sources last year.  

One can only hope that this recent undemocratic act by the New Ambassador Hotel management and its parent company, Rainbow Tourism Group shall not be repeated.  Whatever their fears for the profit or relationship with the state, there is always a better way of addressing their challenges.  What they cannot do is to play a direct part in diminishing the independence of the press club, media freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Zim’s US$200m Cash Injection: Whose Money is it Anyway?

By Takura Zhangazha*

Zimbabwe's current cash crisis was always going to be a development that to all intents and purposes is not understood by a great many Zimbabweans. And in similar fashion the solution to it was going to appear more in keeping with somewhat simplified populism but innately problematic underpinnings.   As recently reported by a local weekly paper,  the country is set to ‘import’ US$ 200 million in order to alleviate what business experts, economists and accountants refer to as a ‘liquidity crisis’ or 'cash crunch'.  

Quoting the governor of the Reserve Bank, John Mangudya, the story outlined that the primary source of this money is the African Export and Import Bank (AfreximBank).  It is also the same bank that has already underwritten, via another US$50 million loan, our other currency, the ubiquitous bond coin. 

This new money that is going into be injected into our financial system is also part of a broader loan agreement we have, again with the same bank that comes to a total of at least US$ 1, 3 billion. So it is not charity but further debt.  It is also debt that is not accrued by philanthropic individuals on behalf of the country, but by our government and as a result thereof, by all Zimbabwean citizens.

In terms of global fiscal practice this is not a new practice.  The European Central Bank and the American Federal Reserve have as recent as the 2007/8 global financial crisis practiced what they refer to as ‘quantitative easing’.  This is a euphemistic term for when central banks print money to inject into their economies in the midst of a cash crisis or where and when their economies are in recession.

It is broadly intended a s a measure to increase the availability of money to banks and as a result thereof other businesses and thus make the market or consumers able to purchase more at somewhat cheaper cost.  Financial lending institutions will also offer loans/mortgages at lower interest rates due to the increased availability of money in the market. The general functional logic is that if there is more money available at cheaper cost, a depressed economy will pick up through a trickle-down effect to low end economic players. 

The major risks associated with this practice is that it has what are largely referred to as short term benefits or economic bubbles that inevitably burst.  Especially where the trickle down does not bear long term results.  The end effects, particularly in poorer or developing countries of such a strategy by central banks is normally inflation, capital flight and high levels of debt and unemployment.  A greater risk is that of political instability.

In our case however, the injection of US$200 million into the economy on the backdrop of a loan is a double dilemma.  In the first place our Reserve Bank does not print/make the money that it is introducing into the economy.  It borrows or pays for it with significant amounts of interest and thus contributes to our already high international debt.  

Secondly there is no guarantee that the assumption of a trickle-down effect of such an injection of cash would occur either in the immediate or short term.

The reasons for this are varied but the most significant being that of a lack of public confidence in our fiscal system by the very same intended first beneficiary, private capital.  Recent announcements by the president of billions of dollars that are unaccounted for in relation to diamond mining remittances to the state are a case in point.  Furthermore, the ministry of finance has also regularly stated that there is a major problem of illicit financial flows from the country and therefore there is a challenge of fiscal and corporate transparency and accountability. 

A legitimate question that might therefore be asked by many a Zimbabwean citizen is whose money is it anyway?  This being a question primarily to inquire after who would be the primary beneficiaries of such a cash injection into the economy without an adequate public explanation as to who and what is causing the liquidity crisis in the first place.

In the process, it appears more likely that this new cash injection will not in our specific case have as its key deliverable a trickle-down effect.  Unless there is greater transparency and accountability as to how and when this new money will actually reach a majority poor Zimbabweans as opposed to only tobacco farmers. Even if only after those at the top of our elitist and voracious economic food chain have gulped down most of it.   

What is increasingly apparent is the fact that with each debt or loan agreement that we are signing up to, our national economy shall increasingly be out of our control. We are now firmly at the mercy of the global financial markets and this latest attempt at quantitative easing by the Reserve Bank will leave us the worse for wear.  And with no trickle-down effect in sight.

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

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Africa and the Panama Papers: Waiting on Popular Disapproval

By Takura Zhangazha*

In Africa, the Panama Papers and their revelations will most likely not reach a particular popular crescendo.  In part, like the global and phenomenal Wikileaks revelations, they will lead to astounding local/continental media revelations.  African journalists, like their counterparts on other continents will try their level best to sift through the monumental and cumbersome documents to find our more information that relates to their own leaders and report on it in the public interest.  In some cases governments, media owners or corporations may take greater caution than their European, American and Asian counterparts in how they react to the startling revelations.  

They will cite issues of the right to privacy even where and when it flies in the face of public accountability, transparency and the best public interest.  Especially where it concerns issues to do with tax and illicit financial flows out of the continent.

The Panama Papers will regardless have a distinct political impact on the African continent.  This is despite the extent to which they expose political and business leaders (read as corporate and individual ones).  The emerging question will be the extent to which these revelations about both African and other regions/continents leaders will raise popular disapproval at such deceptive maneuvers to skirt public accountability and the impact that they have had on a continent shared understanding about the best democratic interest.

This is because the tremendous work that has been undertaken by the courageous journalists and the primary whistleblower in this particular and phenomenal case of investigative journalism while making global headlines, cannot be left to elitist redress. 

The particular point to be considered  is how the people of the African continent react to these revelations.  Not only specific to country cases of tax evasion but also in relation to the continent’s popular understanding of the fact that a significant number of the revealed transactions are directly or indirectly connected to investment in African countries. 

Already there has been movement from the level of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the African Union (AU) through what is referred to the as the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa (HLP) to address these challenges. This is currently chaired by  former president of South AfricaThabo Mbeki,. 

This work by the HLP is commendable not only on the basis of it being initiated from a continental  initiative but also because it has been long overdue in implementation. 

What however it misses, for now, and as demonstrated by the Panama Papers is that there are other issues that relate to the global financial system that require greater scrutiny from an African perspective. 

There would be need for a larger popular explanation and campaign of what offshore accounts are and how they have been used to evade paying taxes at the expense of the majority poor. This includes the complicity of not only African governments but also African businesses that would range from mining concerns to other offshore havens based on the continent.  

And the primary challenge to such a campaign would be that the rich, famous, infamous and powerful of Africa also tend to be the hegemonic class

Our own fair share of such people on the continent, especially where they are persons in government or those with links to the globally rich and powerful have rarely hesitated to use all at their disposal to avoid eventual accountability.  Even if, thus far, a good number of them have been listed in the new leaks from a number of African states and with links to former and current presidents.

There will be investigations of their roles by revenue collection authorities but sadly not as much political pressure as that which has been witnessed in Iceland which led to the resignation of that country’s prime minister.

What is however required in the short and long term is a new popular African approach to off shore accounts and deals that hide the movement of money and avoidance of tax via illicit deals.  This is because it is our political and business elite that to are involved with a level of impunity that indicates that they do not see themselves getting into any sort of trouble if they are caught.  If there is in fact any specific allegations against them, they have the money and influence to stall state investigations or have their issues ignored altogether. 

What is more telling is how the global financial system works in relation to these tax avoidance schemes that hide billions of dollars.  While few Africans may understand issues such as bearer shares, it is imperative that these be systematically reviewed and investigated with greater urgency by governments, regional bodies and the AU. In short we have to address rampant global capitalism and its ability to appear rational even where it is serving the already rich and powerful at the expense of the poor. 

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

Monday, 4 April 2016

Writing What We Must: Public Intellectualism and the Book in Zimbabwe.

 By Takura Zhangazha*

The appreciated South Africa based weekly, The Mail and Guardian,  recently carried a feature story that related to an interview it had with renowned Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga.  My primary interest in the story was what Dangarembga had to say about the many things that affect not only her work but also the placement of the ‘writer’ in Zimbabwe’s cultural political economy.  In the interview, written more as a letter/story, Dangarembga makes reference to the fact that in Zimbabwe, for all the talk and radical nationalist narratives about decolonization, there is limited little to show for it. 

She raises a lot of other important issues that in the final analysis point to an evident cultural recognition weakness by Zimbabwean  society of its public intellectuals.  That particular weakness being the tragic fact that we, as Zimbabweans, do not recognize our writers nearly enough.  Not just by way of acclamation, but also by way of ignoring their welfare needs. 

In writing this, I am in no way attempting an analysis based on Dangarembga’s cited interview with the respected Southern African mail and Guardian  weekly. On the contrary it is based on a general perception I have personally had about the tragic lack of recognition of our local writers. 

Regrettably,  it is a painful truth that we have so many of our writers surviving in difficult circumstances (cross check the current status of Charles Mungoshi for confirmation). 

All of this, while trying to claim them for our own and as part of our national heritage and culture. 

Somehow we expect that our writers will be able to write without any material support from the state or private corporations and still be able to make us culturally/intellectually proud.  The anticipation that we will receive international acclaim from the writers that we produce is still prevalent yet we don do much in terms of fostering the necessary culture of intellectualism and reading.

Our book publishing industry is on its deathbed while our libraries are only functioning in aide of examinations run by ZIMSEC and university institutions that are offering what they refer to as ‘parallel’ university qualifications.

Our country has lost its creative writing center.  We are struggling to retain the few remaining organic writers in our midst.   Where they exist they have had to confront the challenge of having to write  for a primary audience that is not Zimbabwean.  They tend to have to follow the path of where they are most recognized. 

This sadly would include sometimes having to present the country in a Conradian ‘ heart of darkness’ framework that may appear artistic but also understands how the shrinking publishers market now works.  The lucky part for us, Zimbabweans, is that they still choose to continue writing altogether. At least we will still get to know how they think, how they view their own society of genesis and its placement in the world.

Theirs is, with trepidation,  a fundamentally international audience.  And they are correct in pursuing such a path.  It not only pays the bills but it also affords them an international recognition that transcends any notions of vacuous nationalism that is currently being exhibited by our government. 
But it is not enough for us to claim that they write for a global audience when in essence the primary audience of their work, the people of Zimbabwe,  are increasingly undertaking collective amnesia about their importance to their uncensored  national importance and sense of belonging . 

I has not helped that our media has also been muted in its response to the cultural question as to what it means to be a Zimbabwean.  That is to say, the media is failing to understand the full import of what an organic intellectual and even celebrity culture would entail for us to not only understand who we are but to imaginatively utilise the  limitless boundaries of our imagination as to who we think we are and who we can be.  As a people. As a country.

This has been the same, though for different reasons, with our musical,  theatre and television artists.  They too have been grappling with the dilemma of not being recognized at home and valued more in our Diaspora.  Both by way of popular appreciation but more importantly by way of material remuneration. 

The major respite has emerged from the academic life where post event/book/album/sculpture analysis has tended to be based on measuring its anthropological and cultural impact scientifically. Our writers are appreciated more in the academic world than they are in our real lives.  We need to change that. Or else we will lose our souls (national, personal or otherwise)

To counter such a calamitous possibility there is need to harness the new technology that informs what must become a new and energetic national book publishing industry, a much more appreciative and democratic principle driven media and a keener general public in their appreciation of public intellectualism. Not in order that it limits our intellectual possibilities. But instead that it expands it.  And in the process, helps us come to terms with not only who we think we are, but who we can possibly become. As creative and free Zimbabweans.

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