Thursday, 22 June 2017

Zim 'Big Business' + 2018 Elections: Peddling Capital for Political Protection and Power?

 By Takura Zhangazha*

It may sound odd to many but Zimbabwe has ‘big business’.  That is big companies that make significant profits on a yearly basis.  Even in such an assumedly ‘hostile’ environment.  And there are some major companies out there. Zimplats, Delta Beverages, Econet Wireless, Meikles Limited, Greenfuels, Innscor and a number of significant others that are listed on Zimbabwe’s Stock Exchange. 

Some of their end of year profit figures are pretty high too though we do not always get the actual figures or know the true goings on in some companies.  Hence the now infamous and very politicised catchphrase of the ‘missing US$15 billion’ from diamond mining by private and state controlled companies in eastern Zimbabwe. 

This is not to say these companies deliberately seek to hide information.  On the contrary a majority of them do ensure they follow legal requirements outlined in the Companies Act of publishing in the press their annual audited financial statements for public scrutiny. And also to indicate to their shareholders that they are viable and going concerns. 

But beyond the regular or routine aspects to the operations of big business, there is also that relatively unknown interface between government and big business.  Or between a ruling party and big private capital. 

Especially where it concerns elections and the retention of power.  And there have been a number of examples of big business or at least their leaders supporting political parties.  Where it concerns the ruling party it was reported by the media how the Meikles Limited chairman John Moxon donated a fleet of vehicles to Zanu Pf ahead of the 2013 harmonised elections. 

The same was rumoured but never quite confirmed with regards how Econet Wireless chairman Strive Masiyiwa was providing some support to the then united main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) n the early to late 2000s.

This is however not peculiar to Zimbabwe.  In the global north and more startling gin the Untied State of America, there is evident collusion between private capital/big business and political parties where it concerns elections.  And in part why it usually those with the most donors or the biggest donors that tend to win the elections. 

The fact that it happens in the global north should not make it acceptable in the global south. 
In Zimbabwe we know that big business portrays itself as obeying the law.  But we also know that there is a culture of collusion and exchanges of patronage between state actors and those that are large in the private sector. 

And not just for elections. 

An interesting development in the last year has been the direct relationship between government and Sakunda Holdings for ‘Command Agriculture’.  The latter company is reported to have funded this government programme to the tune of at least U$199 million according to media reports.  What it gets in return is not very clear but the fact that it has various other interests in fuel supply means government may be giving it some forms of tax or other concessions.  This is despite the fact that the President’s spokesman George Charamba has argued that the proprietors of this company ‘are committed Zimbabweans bound by the love of their country’.

Whatever the facts of the matter, it would be the right thing for any also ‘committed’ Zimbabwean to raise eyebrows and seek greater accountability from government on the quid pro qou of this relationship. Especially in a year prior to the holding of harmonised elections.

What is however more paramount is the need for Zimbabweans to understand that their national wealth cannot be the preserve of political parties and big business.  Whether this be by way of tenders, non-transparent mining or other concessions, or electoral manipulation through material donations that are clearly a form of either vote buying or peddling for political influence in a ruling party or one that has potential to become one.

The challenge therefore goes beyond trying to make ‘big business’ transparent about its role in elections and the electoral cycle.  Instead it becomes how we reign it in before it contribute to a cartel of key decision makers about who can become a presidential candidate.  For now it appears to be molly-coddling to the ruling establishment. 

But that’s a shoo-in. The closer the relationship between it and the ruling establishment the more likely it will determine who leads the country and which party rules or at least whom it will provide with herculean resources to win an election.  There is little reason to doubt where its current sympathies lie. Especially when the government and ruling party’s mantra has become the neo-liberal one of ‘ease of doing business’. 

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


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

No Corbyns In Zimbabwe's Political Ranks (And Regrettably So)

 *By Takura Zhangazha

The surge of the British Labour party in that country’s recent snap general election has passed for abstract conversation on this African side of the globe.  Even in a former colony of the British Empire such as Zimbabwe apart from curiosity as to what the fuss was all about after glancing at global news networks, there has been no extended discussion as to what a hung British parliament would mean for its placement in global politics let alone its approach to foreign affairs.  The latter which would have a bearing on Zimbabwe’s long standing acrimonious relationship with previous Labour governments and a preference by our own ruling Zanu Pf party for the Conservatives.

But beyond issues to do with potential (and relatively speculative) changes to foreign policy between Zimbabwe (or Africa) if Labour had pipped its Conservative party rival, its equally important to reflect on the Labour party’s campaign as led by its popular leader, Jeremy Corbyn. 

And no, this is not stretching it.  Not least because what the British elections represented for some of u has been the evident shift from celebrity style politics and campaigning as shown by the phenomenal rise in support  for the British Labour party.  More importantly, there is an ideological dimension to the result wherein the more social democratic aspects of the Labour Party’s manifesto appeared to resonate with a greater number of voters, especially younger voters. 

My own immediate reaction was to compare our local politicians and political actors with the Labour party campaign and its leadership style during the same.

I began with the manifestos and saw that in Zimbabwe’s case none of our major political parties have a people-centered and welfarist manifesto.  From the ruling Zanu Pf through to the largest opposition MDC-T and any others that have bothered to write a full manifesto, they have all remained enamoured to neo-liberal propositions. 

Their manifestos read more like they seek to impress not the voter but some obscure investment brokering bureaucrat  on any of the opposite ends of global financial power (New York or Beijing).
Where they appear, as in the case of the ruling party with its current spate of provincial youth rallies, to be popular, its not on the basis of broad democratic values and appeal.  Instead it is on the basis of patronage, patriarchy and an intention to quite literally utilise state resources in order to get votes. 
Or where it’s the opposition and its recent rallies, it is to make public shows of support and then excoriate young people for not voting and not seeking to fully understand the reasons why they have limited confidence in political processes.  And some of these same reasons lie squarely at the feet of the opposition’s perpetual ineptitude and inability to embrace internal party democracy.  AS well as its single message mantra of ‘Mugabe must go’.  

Any ruling party or opposition party activists will obviously rush to defend their own campaign methods as we trudge along to next year’s harmonised election.  They will argue about different contexts/realities between the UK and Zimbabwe.  But that will be to miss the point.
While no one can import wholesale the strategies and tactics of the Labour party in their last campaign, we can certainly draw key lessons from it. And I will outline just three key ones.

The first being that in electoral contests, people centred ideas really do matter.  Not just by way of populism and purchased media but by way of democratic values and re-establishing a state that is ‘for the many, not the few’.  While the global north is beginning to counter neo-liberalism and austerity through for example supporting Labour in the UK or Podemos in Spain.

In the global south and in Africa in particular we are regrettably still falling victim to the fallacies of free market economic policies.  Especially where it comes disguised in radical nationalism such as that currently utilised by Zanu PF to, in reality,  implement state-capitalism through privatising the national capital.

The second key lesson is that ‘generational praxis’ matters when articulating progressive social democratic policies.  The young, the middle aged and the mature can share the same progressive, people centered political values and work together to ensure change for the better occurs.   Ditto Corbyn being backed by a mixed demographic buoyed by young people’s new energy for politics.

The third lesson to be drawn from the energetic turnout for the UK’s Labour party is that context and direct interaction with the public still matters in political action.  This includes relating to the very real concerns of people such as those of public services, unemployment and pensions as they apply to lived realties and seek solutions that are most readily understood. 

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

Thursday, 8 June 2017

BVR Post-Tender Wars: Closing Stable Door After Horse Has Bolted

 By Takura Zhangazha*

Until Zimbabwe actually votes in 2018, the biometric voter registration (BVR) exercise is going to perpetually rear its controversial head.  Not least because its about elections and who gets power next year but also because it still regrettably remains little understood.  

This is until either the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) or an  elections management related body and political contestants begin to explain it to Zimbabweans through what can only be a massive public awareness campaign.

The latest assumed controversy is around the awarding of the tender for supplying, maintaining and operationalising the BVR kits to Chinese owned firm, Laxton Group. 

The initial disagreement with the awarding of the tender came for MDC-T secretary general Douglas Mwonzora who argued that the awarding of the tender to a Chinese owned company was likely to scare away voters but that his party would still soldier on with the process.  Other opposition parties were to also condemn the awarding of the tender on yet to be proved allegations that the winning company Laxton Group may be politically partisan or compromised.

Election support organisation the Zimbabwe Elections Support Network (ZESN) in its statement on the same argued that contrary to a media report saying it supported Laxton Group, it held no brief for it or any other involved in the bidding process.  It argued that what is imperative is that there be openness and transparency around the finer details of voter registration personnel, data storage and the nature of the equipment utilised in the BVR process.

Its counterpart the Elections Resource Centre (ERC) in its statement on the same issue asked that ZEC proves it was not arm twisted into awarding the tender to Laxton Group by central government.  And in this ERC urged government to fully align the Electoral Act with the new constitution. 
The fact that there has been no official statement from the ruling Zanu Pf party on this issue is indicative of the probability that it has no problems either with Laxton Group or with the process’ outcome.

There is also no popular public outcry against the BVR kit tender process.  At least for now.  That may also indicate either how distant the issue of BVR is from the public’s priority concerns or that it is invariably not understood until someone somewhere starts explaining what exactly it entails. 
The different positions or lack of them on the issue of which company provides not only the BVR equipment but how to use it effectively is also indicative of a number of issues.

The first and most important one is that the voting public does not know or understand what BVR is.  Because if they did there would have been great public outcry merely on the basis of the allegations against ZEC by the mainstream opposition parties. 

This lack of public outcry even after the opposition identified the winning company as Chinese also means that the identity of the company is not as big a public issue or again, the public does not know the full import of this BVR process. 

This latter point would require that we also understand the general suspicion the opposition has of the Chinese government and its relationship with the ruling Zanu PF party. 

The reality of the matter however is that the opposition to varying degrees actively participated in some of the processes that led to the awarding of the tender.  And has been part of ZEC’s consultative processes.  So it’s a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. 

For election supported organisations  such as ZESN and ERC the key element might be that they avoid being drawn into either hasty or too politically correct statements without first analysing what they would consider to be the merits or de-merits of a specific electoral process.  Almost as they are wont to do when covering an actual election as it occurs.  

And this is why it remains important that their oversight role is maintained at the highest possible levels and not compromised in aide of maintaining a good working relationship with ZEC.   It should essentially be about democratic values and principles as they relate to the electoral cycle and fact based assessments of all players in the same.  

The essential point that must be made is that barring a miracle or a volte-face from central government, BVR is now an electoral cycle reality in Zimbabwe.  Even if we dispute a tender after it has been awarded.  Or if the media or whistle-blowers make it publicly known that there was something opaque about the awarding of the tender.  All stakeholders must concertedly work to let the people know what it is all about as the top priority as opposed to borderline elitist sparring and short lived moments of political angst in the media or on social media.

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