Monday, 23 January 2017

Ecowas vs SADC? Comparison is Good, Context Still Matters

By Takura Zhangazha*

Recently, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) successfully and with some threat of force persuaded former Gambian president Yahyah Jameh to vacate office and also leave the country for exile.  This action on the part of Ecowas had continental  backing from the African Union as well as the support of a United Nations’ Security Council (UNSC) resolution. 

By all accounts the removal of Jammeh was a great diplomatic success for regional and international insistence that the will of the people must be respected.  And that incumbent leaders that refuse to accept the results of democratic elections must accept them and leave office peacefully. Or else face diplomatic disapproval or as in the case of Gambia, an actual  military intervention that fell short of arriving at the gates of its capital, Banjul.   

The successful intervention in the Gambia by ECOWAS has however also taken a comparative turn on social media platforms.  Young Africans active on social media, and in awe of the global media coverage of the intervention, were correctly quick to point out the difference between Ecowas and the Southern African Development Community(SADC).  The basis of the comparison was how SADC had apparently ‘dithered’ over Zimbabwe and not sent armies to Harare to force out the still incumbent government of Robert Mugabe in 2008. 

In that year SADC, against the global outcry by liberal interventionists, chose the path of diplomacy which the main mediator on the Zimbabwean crisis (and yes it was a crisis) Thabo Mbeki had referred to as ‘quiet diplomacy’.   

What is however missed is that Ecowas and SADC are two very different African inter-state organizations.  Not just by way of their historical development but also in relation to the fact that they have always tended to act differently on the continental stage especially after they were both reformed in the early 1990s, Ecowas 1993 and SADC 1992 to make them much more formal and more concerned in members states affairs.  Especially where it concerns their respective regional economies and trade. 

In an age of 'fake news' or 'alternative facts.' Africans would do well to be grounded in reality with a contextual dash of idealism.  And to also avoid that colonial trap that was the Monrovia and Casablanca 'divide' in the run up to the formation of the OAU.  A period  when two continental blocs going by those two respective names appeared to be either battling for recognition by former colonial powers or the pursuit of a new radical Pan Africanism .

But thankfully ECOWAS and SADC are from the same Pan African womb.  They however tend to act differently and have a different history of interaction with global powers.  Sadc, having its foundation in the liberation struggle era of the Frontline States has a  history of solidarity between liberation movements and was never going to abandon that in the face of the regional behemoth that was Apartheid South Africa. 

Ecowas, with member states that have experienced greater periods of national independence and inundated with Cold War battles for control of natural resources such as petroleum was always more nuanced and divided in its global relations.  Things are therefore not so Manichean. Nor are they easily excusable or a matter of pitting one African region against another. 

What is however important is for us as Africans to continue to draw lessons from not only our history but also from the different reactions to regioanl problems by members states and institutions of the African Union.  I mention the AU because Ecowas acted within the latter's remit.  Which also included SADC's support. 

So I celebrate the respecting of the people’s will in Gambia.  I am however mindful of the fact that different regional blocs will find dissimilar ways of resolving their crisis.  In the case of the Gambia, I am glad that it has been peacefully resolved despite the potential use of force by Ecowas.  In comparing the Gambia with Zimbabwe, I am mindful of the yearning for democracy in both countries but I am also aware that their regional contexts differ.  No matter how much one may wish for them to be similar. 

SADC acted within its remit on Zimbabwe and while not enabling the ousting of the Zimbabwean government cannot be faulted for choosing diplomacy over force.  Especially at a time when liberal interventionism was proving to be disastrous in Iraq, Afghanistan and was to prove the same in Libya.  And that fear of unending war was not unfounded given what former mediator Thabo Mbeki has disclosed as requests for military support by the then British prime minister, Tony Blair. 

As far as I see it therefore, SADC and Ecowas are two chips off the same African Union bloc.  Pursuing a Pan Africanism that may have somewhat different historical templates and after effects of colonial and other global interests. But at least they are forging forward, in still different circumstances and sometimes more slower than the other, in ensuring that Africa and its people still pursue the path of peace, not war.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity ( 

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Land as State Currency in Zimbabwe (Literally)

By Takura Zhangazha*

The revolutionary impact of the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP) was already appearing ambiguous when it was declared to have come to an end in February 2016 by the Minister of Lands, Douglas Mombeshora.  Not in principle. But by way of any further redistribution of land until the long awaited national land audit is done. 

The quest for post-colonial social and economic justice initially having been politicized via radical Black Nationalism and continually analysed through research studies of varying ideological inclinations has now come full circle.  Even if it does not appear so. 

What was not declared to be over were envisioned changes in land use from agricultural to urban development.  And the reasons for this are now increasingly apparent.

Late last year (2016), the central government announced that it will pay civil servants bonuses (both outstanding and backdated ones) by offering urban residential stands to them. The offer of land in lieu of bonuses was initially rejected by the civil service associations but appears still set to be implemented.

Recently, the Harare City Council also sort of announced that it will be paying its workers backdated salaries by offering again, residential stands to them. 

And who doesn’t want urban land, also to be read as urban capital?

A greater number of younger urban residents, living on the edge due to high rents and astronomical city council charges in the major cities of Zimbabwe are only keen to have security of tenure. Or put in another way, they simply want to get rid of that monthly problematic cost that is also referred to as ‘rent’.  Even if at great cost that includes not having immediate access to electricity, poor road systems and distant schools for their very young children.

There will however be few questions asked about where this land is coming from.  Even if its being administered by suspicious cooperatives or individuals that are rumoured to be closely linked to cabinet ministers or even higher up the power ladder.
Or a mayor who is also looking to have a blind eye turned toward his or her pursuit of publicly owned land as capital in the more lucrative suburbs of a city. 

This is mainly because of the desperation for housing (even if its not decent) in all our major urban areas.   

For the state and now also some city councils, the central and all important commodity to dispense of what it owes employees is land.  Wherever it can be found.  Whether its on a wetland or a site designated for industrial or fast track agricultural use does not really matter.  As long as it can somewhat credibly be turned to residential use and offered as political carrot to civil servants and local government workers that are already desperate to own a piece of land to build their own home. It would therefore be fair to argue that state or public land has become a currency in and of itself. 

In the first place and with the current ruling party, land was presented to the Zimbabwean public as a social and economic justice issue.  It has since morphed into a sharing of the spoils process in which hapless villagers tend to be herded from one acquired farm to the next in the more fertile regions of the country or in favour of either mining or bio-fuel projects.  

More recently it has also become about a rapid and haphazard urbanization process that serves more ‘land barons/oligarchs’ who are motivated by the ridiculously huge sums of personal profit that they will acquire.  These haphazard urbanisation processes are accompanied by odd claims at relocating capitals or central government functions to the periphery of already murkily run urban capitals. 

Hence we have an odd intention to rebuild a new parliament on the outskirts of Harare and establish a new center of geo-political power in Mazowe and Mt Hampden as reported by the mainstream media.

The emerging habit of making land replace financial capital is the new land grab in Zimbabwe.  Not least because its conveniently dovetailed into the FTLRP but also because it has come to represent opportunities at a new private wealth acquisition process for the politically connected.  For the politically vulnerable it is more a take it or stay without property that you would never have been able to afford without the patronage that is now the hallmark of the ruling party.

The end effect of these moves to make land replace salaries is to reinforce a system of patronage and a continued indebtedness of civil servants and council workers to the state and local government.  In the beginning it may appear rosy and progressive for those that work for the state and local government but invariably they shall face numerous challenges in relation to repayment and will fall victim to land barons in their various forms (loan sharks, banks, political leaders).  But then again, who is thinking beyond their immediate concerns these days? A regrettable development and evidence of pitfalls in our national consciousness.

 *Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Potraz and Telcos: Protecting Spoils, Declaring 'Let them Speak Cake'.

By Takura Zhangazha*

The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) recent announcement that it has set minimum but high costs for mobile phone voice calls and data charges sparked a bit of a social media outcry.  It hasn’t quite started a hashtag movement.  But the fairness of it all is being questioned by those that would really use data for entrepreneurial activities.
The private and state owned telecommunications companies (Telcos) have predictably kept a satisfactory silence over the issue.

Potraz on the other hand has stuck to its guns on the matter, insisting that its drastic move motivated by the need for it to ensure that the telecommunications industry is sustainable.

The reality of the matter is that this move is an awkward form of protectionism for Econet, Telecel and NetOne.  And it proves beyond any reasonable doubt that the state/government and the Telcos  are working in tandem to squeeze the last dollar from mobile phone and data users. 

This is something that is not new. Telcos and government have had a long standing collaboration.  While not officially declared, revenue collected from these companies either in lieu of licensing or other taxes helped to fund not only the 2013 constitutional referendum but also the harmonised elections. 

The recent introduction of a tax on mobile phone usage to support a health insurance scheme (that remains obscure) is further testimony to this collusion.

The Telcos are therefore a key strategic sector for the government to accrue revenue.  Hence they tend to get their way with the state. Even if they give the impression that they do not have a say in what the state does. 

A more pertinent issue that however has emerged is how to measure the extent to which Zimbabweans view and value issues related to the costs of communicating.  Whether through voice calls or through social media/ internet data.

Regrettably the mobile phone in Zimbabwe is still by and large a status symbol.  And by dint of the same, so is access to social media or mobile data.  This means, the more advanced your mobile phone, the more you are seen to have climbed the social ladder.  Not that it really matters.  It’s the feeling of being up to date, being able to whatsapp, that makes one belong to a community of the exclusively ‘up to date’ and informed section of our society.  As well as the most entertained.

Access to mobile telephony and the internet, within this context, is wrongly viewed by both government and elitist citizens as a privilege and not a right.  For the private companies it is simply a means to make a profit without any pretence of serving a broader public interest. Even where they claim corporate social responsibility, it is essentially limited little to do with the fact that the internt is after all is said and done an essential public good. 

In this respect, the announcement of ‘floor charges’ are only a tip of the iceberg.  As many stakeholders have already indicated, data charges as well as over the top functions in Zimbabwe were already of high cost.  The fact that they will now be significantly higher may trigger an effective backlash from consumers but it will not begin to address the overall challenge that is the evidently opaque relationship and profiteering collusion between the state and mobile phone companies. 

The interlinkages between the pursuit of profit and political control of social media through cost has been an enduring characteristic of this telecommunications industrial complex.  It has had its ups and downs (Econet Zimbabwe vs the government) but these two entities have always found each other where it matters most, i.e profit.

So as it is, the mobile telephone companies are not going to insist on keeping costs lower.  They will make the most of what obtains until such a time government through POTRAZ changes its mind.  Even if its only for a month. 

Neither will they listen to the complaints of consumers of their products because they know almost everyone now intuitively uses a phone and will probably still find a way of being connected even if at greater cost. 

The question that we as Zimbabweans however must answer is how we view access to the internet and its related applications/new technologies.  We would be better off viewing it as a basic human right in this day and age.  Because if we don’t, we will be priced out of our right to express ourselves or access information.  
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (