Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Archive for November, 2007

On the passing of Ian Smith and Africa’s post-independence challenges

Posted by CM on November 25, 2007

Not at all surprisingly, a central theme of the many features on Ian Smith’s death has been comparisons between his time in power and the situation today under Robert Mugabe.

A New York Times report said, “Zimbabwe’s troubles only fed Mr. Smith’s unwavering white supremacist views, his unshakable belief that Africa without white rule would not work.”

Black Africans, Mr. Smith said, were not ready for self-government. He and his followers justified their repression by saying they were “resisting the chaos” of newly formed black nations.No African rule in my lifetime,” he said. “The white man is master of Rhodesia. He has built it, and he intends to keep it.”

Mr. Smith never apologized for leading the country into war and never came to terms with what he depicted as inevitable decline under black majority rule. “We gave Rhodesia 15 wonderful years extra.” he said in 1983. If he had not declared unilateral independence in 1965, he said, “then this sort of scene would have come earlier.”

Indeed, as Zimbabwe slid into corruption and decline under Mr. Mugabe, Mr. Smith sensed events had vindicated his refusal to dilute white dominance. “There are millions of black people who say things were better when I was in control,” he said in 2004. “I have challenged Mugabe to walk down the street with me and see who has most support. I have much better relations with black people than he does.”

And on Altermedia, which features “World wide news for people of European descent,” there is Zimbabwe: Racist whites wanted back in charge.


…many ordinary black Zimbabweans wish that they could get back the white racist government that oppressed them in the 1970’s. “Life was easier then, and at least you could get food and a job,” said Solomon Dube.

Makupila Muzamba said that hunger today is worse than ever before in his seven decades or so, and said: “I want the white man’s government to come back. … Even if whites were oppressing us, we could get jobs and things were cheap compared to today.”

Firstly, it is an indication of how what is considered politically correct has so radically changed in recent years that the New York Times can lead a story with a reference to Smith’s “unshakable belief that Africa without white rule would not work.

There was a time when this would have been placed in a different, more subtle context than to appear to almost give open credence to such revisionism. That it is no longer considered controversial to start a story with a quote that will get lots of people upset is a sign of the attitudes emanating from the public and not so public discussions taking place about the general state of Africa.

On one hand this shows a welcome new open-ness about honestly tackling the issue of why Africa continues to fail to work for the general benefit of its people. On the other hand, an unspoken/unwritten but very much lurking addition to the line used by the Times’ summation of Smith’s philosophy about African majority rule is the implication that Africa “has not worked” principally because whites are no longer in charge.

Most people have their minds already made up about this thorny question. To those who think like Smith, it is obvious: Africa “does not work” because Africans now run the show! Nor is this thinking limited to African-despising racists, as quotes attributed to some Zimbabweans in despair about the country’s present condition show.

On the other side are the many who would give a litany of all the reasons they attribute to Africa “not working”: colonialism and its lingering effects, previous and present exploitation and so on. They rail in outrage at Smith’s bold assertion, now increasingly implied in many other circles, that the central problem is a basic deficiency in African ability and character.

Whatever one’s opinion, this has become a hot discussion topic because Africa has not lived up to the high hopes of majority rule. Those hopes, the time span given to them and what was required to bring them to fruition may have been unrealistic, but they are still the parameters by which African and non-African alike judge the continent’s performance in the post-independence era.

The doubts about basic African ability expressed by the likes of Smith, and by some Africans disillusioned with the post-independence era, will not go away until Africa steps up to the plate by providing its own models of successful countries. No amount of justification about the reasons for Africa’s state will do as much, or as effectively, to counter the thinking expressed by Smith than having many such models of African success.

This success need not be defined by Smith’s idea of workability. If there was broad agreement that Zimbabwe was clearly working today for the benefit of the majority of its people, rather than a small elite, it would not matter if it resembled or met the “standards” of Rhodesia. But what is more important and tragic is that by most indices of well-being, Zimbabwe is not functioning to the benefit of the ordinary people by what should be its own standards, let alone those of bygone Rhodesia.

The likes of Smith, as well as those who bitterly oppose his views, tend to focus on the visceral racial elements that excite a lot of emotion on all sides, but contribute nothing to solving Africa’s very real problems.

In examining “what has gone wrong,” particularly in a country with the promise of Zimbabwe, the fault is usually put on factors such as corruption and mismanagement, with those of Smith’s ilk going on to claim that these qualities are endemic to African character, and that therefore post-majority rule decline is inevitable. More recently the reasons for the country’s failure to thrive have been placed on everything from occasional drought to the current official mantra, “illegal Western sanctions.”

What is not discussed often enough is whether the many examples of post – majority rule decline were not also largely because the models that most African governments have tried to follow were simply inappropriate, and needed more and better kinds of modification than any country has so far successfully done. Trying to answer this question must surely be part of Africa’s learning from mistakes to try to find new ways forward.

Rhodesian society and economy were not just a result of the technocratic application of laws, technologies, rules and procedures to be merely copied by a new set of post-independence administrators. These were in turn merely the manifestations of a Western-based, Rhodesian-modified cultural framework built up over decades. That cultural framework is a whole mix of group influences that go much deeper than can be reduced to its elements, such as “how to run Rhodesian farming or industry.” So even if the desire had been to essentially continue “Rhodesia” under the name of Zimbabwe, with just white to black personnel changes, it could not have simply been a matter of things working as before by applying those same laws, technologies, rules and procedures. Just the fact that the personnel applying them came from a different social and cultural orientation would have made the result different, even if many other things ostensibly remained the same.

In the current realm of how the world is dominantly structured, there are many basic rules of how to successfully run a country that no nation can avoid mastering. But we have also seen that successful emerging countries are those that are able to find the right mix between learning and adhering to what have become the “rules” of the dominant world economic paradigm, and modifying them to their particular situations.

In Zimbabwe, and arguably in much of Africa, our early post-majority pride was not in finding our own successful middle ground between these “universal” rules and our unique situations, but in being seen to be copying the dominant reigning system “as is.” According to this model, the success of Zimbabwe was to be judged by how well we simply copied and continued Rhodesian systems of administration, technology, farming or whatever, but particularly of consumption. To people like Smith, as well as to many Africans in the early excitement of independence, this was a large part of what “maintaining standards” was all about.

But there was no reason to expect that “standards” that served a tiny, wealthy minority steeped in a Rhodesian-modified Western cultural framework would work un-adulterated in an African, non-Western social, cultural and political framework that was also required to serve a much larger group of not so wealthy people.

So there was the basic problem of running a new country with a once successful but no longer workable model. To that was added the problems of political cynicism, repression, corruption and all the others that have brought Zimbabwe to its present pass. But even if we were somehow able to miraculously get rid of these maladies today, we would still be faced with the fundamental issue of coming up with a model of successfully running Zimbabwe’s affairs that could not simply be a copy of the one that served Rhodesia’s peculiarities so well.

While a person like Ian Smith could not be expected to spend any time thinking about this, having already dismissed Africans as incapable of self-rule anyway, it is strange that the new African nations themselves paid scant attention to such a critical issue. The tragic result was that for many of the rulers, living in the presidential palace, being ferried to and fro in expensive cars and even the power to rigorously enforce colonial-era symbolisms were sufficient signs of “independence” than whether the country’s systems were benefiting the people or not. It was to put more emphasis on the forms of nationhood, and often embarrassingly inappropriate ones, than on the substance of whether the nation was structured to serve the people’s needs.

Africa’s inability to even seriously pose this question to itself may be a greater failing of the post-independence era than the usually focused-on issues of why pre-independence “standards” have not been maintained. All the effort at initially trying to run Zimbabwe exactly on a once-successful, but no longer applicable Rhodesian model meant little effort beyond the cosmetic was put into conceiving of a fundamentally new model.

As a result, the “standards” that were focused on were the relatively easy ones of consumption patterns. “Doing well” was according to the model of how many more elite Africans had access to the “European lifestyle” in terms of the houses they lived in, the cars they drove, the work perks they enjoyed and so forth.

No attention was paid to whether this could work for Zimbabwe, and at what eventual cost, and whether this shift in the composition of the elite represented enough of a difference to justify what the whole struggle for a new society had been really about. Little attention was paid to the less glamorous, more important concomitant elements of increasing overall national production in order to, for a time, continue to fund an economic model that was simply inherently unsustainable in many ways.

Everybody now blames Zimbabwe’s present state on Mugabe’s populist, self-preserving method of land reform. But even without it, there had to be an eventual crash, perhaps many years later than Mugabe brought on, because of how Zimbabwe largely continued to try to operate on the old Rhodesian model. It might have worked “well” in its time and for its stated narrow Rhodesian purpose (Smith’s clear cut, “The white man is master of Rhodesia and he intends to keep it.”), but it could not work for long without radical modification in Zimbabwe. The new nation was an environment of vastly increased expectations from a much larger number of participants expectant of the “good life” of increased consumerism, but on a stagnant or declining production base.

But “production base” goes far beyond the dry, technical issues that the term may imply. It is not enough for a national unit to merely adhere to basic global rules of production like efficiency, yield, competitiveness, good infrastructure, effective bureaucratic organization and so on. It must do all these things while taking into account its own peculiarities, and their positive or negative influences. Without doing so, then an adopted system of organization that might work very well somewhere else, or in the same place under different conditions, can flop miserably.

By “new model” I do not mean to imply re-inventing the wheel, rejecting Rhodesia’s functionalisms or romanticising pre-colonialism African customs. I simply mean looking for a fresh template of how to run the country that took into account old and new, different and more comprehensive concerns than was necessary in a Rhodesian dispensation that was mainly intended to serve a tiny group. This would have meant a mix of elements that would have very much included the many lessons and successes of Rhodesia, but thoughtfully incorporated in a new social, cultural and political reality. Only then could they have had a chance to work in the in many ways vastly different-from-Rhodesia landscape of Zimbabwe.

This unavoidable, still necessary task is a difficult process partly because it involves moulding the new out of old elements that do not necessarily easily or comfortably fit together. It involves some trial and error. When it doesn’t work very well, it means being ridiculed for trying something new in rejection of an older tried and tested model, even if that model simply could no longer work unchanged in the new situation.

Looked at from this view, the on-going problem with economic transformation in Zimbabwe is not so much the discarding of an old system whose continued existence threatened future stability. The flaw has been to throw out the old without any real holistic vision of a new system. The picture that has emerged is one of haphazard, day to day national management by crisis.

Africa simply has no choice but overcome these difficult, uncomfortable challenges and to create systems that work for it. This is necessary primarily for the benefit and future stability of Africa, but it will also be the only really effective argument against Smith’s “unshakable belief that Africa without white rule would not work.

All the scholarly articles about why Smith is wrong, racist and should have been hung long ago are largely a waste of effort in countering his assertions as long as Africa has so few examples of national organizational models that serve its people well, even if they are quite different from any other models. But the picture now is of a continent that does not effect imported or colonially inherited models well, and has all sorts of reasons for why not, but then also fails to come up with its own successful models, again with a whole litany of excuses for why not.

Actually Mugabe, even if for cynical self-serving reasons, has shown unusual boldness for an African leader in daring to question and upset the old colonial system, and much of the thinking that underpins it. But he has then confused the issue by seeking to simply and ineffectively re-apply most of the elements of the old system to new beneficiaries, rather than to present something well thought out and essentially new! The result has been a throwing out of many of the lingering positives of the Rhodesian system of doing things, but without a better, or even merely minimally functioning, Zimbabwean system in its place.

The current mess could be seen as a golden opportunity to conceive and effect a new system, but too many things have gone too horribly wrong at the same time for that to happen in the short term. And it would need a completely different type of thinking by the group at the helm of the country than is likely among the stuck, unimaginative, panicked and tired old ruling team in place now. Whatever gifts they may have, it is not apparent that they would even be interested in the kind of contemplative work required to conceive a fresh model of a successful Zimbabwe. Threatening, beating, jailing and impoverishing people they may be proven masters at, but deliberately planned nation-building does not appear to be their strong point.

Large parts of Asia continue to seemingly be very effective at finding blends of indigenous /imported, old/new, pre/post-colonial systems to deal with challenges of today in a way few, if any, African countries have put effort into doing.

The effects of the failure to deliberately think about these issues may be most starkly in display in Zimbabwe because of how Mugabe has seen it fit to turn everything upside down with no cohesive alternative plan in place. But it is an Africa-wide phenomenon, particularly evident in countries under-going the most recent and rapid transformation.

For example, in both Namibia and South Africa land reform is also a hot issue, with increasingly Zimbabwe-like complaints that its pace is too slow, although both countries are eager to avoid comparisons with their mutual neighbour’s reform process. But where it has been implemented, in both Namibia and South Africa are disturbing reports of a high incidence of failure: low productivity, abandoned farms, greater poverty after receiving land than before, denuded landscapes from poor land management, etc.

Smith would have had an easy answer to why this is: to him, that is just one would expect when an African takes over, end of story. But those of us who are required to contribute to Africa’s progress must dig deeper to find what is so commonly wrong and try to fix it.

The reasons for so many new farmers’ failure are complex, of course, and many of them are common to emergent farmers under similar circumstances anywhere. But let me just pick one example from Namibia to illustrate my point. Largely desert, the country is more suited to rearing livestock than to cultivation. But the parcels of land that many new farmers are getting are too small for them to sustainably graze enough sheep or cattle to be economically viable. This means even before you factor in issues of management skills, capital, markets, efficiency and prices, many of these new farmers are almost destined to fail.

So why parcel the land into pieces that are too small for commercially viable livestock rearing? Why not encourage and assist these small farmers in other more realistic areas of agriculture, or find a different livestock model more suitable for the new reality?

The answers are as complex as the questions, but basically, it comes down to failure to appreciate that the farming model that worked for the white farmer with thousands of hectares of grazing land cannot be applied to a new farmer with a miniscule proportion of it, and with no capital, experience, infrastructure and all kinds of other supports. Also, his whole cultural orientation to keeping cattle may well be vastly different from the white farmer’s.

Simply put, he is being presented with a cultural-economic model of farming that is not suitable for him, and that in all but a few limited situations, no longer fits the new Namibian reality. Part of that new reality is that it is no longer politically tenable for a few farmers to own vast tracts of land, even if some would argue that it makes more macro-economic sense for a few such experienced, “super-productive” people to be allowed to do so.

All these issues have to be taken into account in creating a new model of agriculture for Namibia. My point is that thinking about all the angles of issues like this is key to Africa finding new models that work for it. The off-the-shelf models from the pre-independence era, or from the World Bank, have not worked very well for Africa for many reasons, including the fact that their application has not been properly modified for the new situations in which they are to be applied. The blame for this lies more with the Africans who fail to see the need for these modifications, than it does with those who present such models as they have seen them work elsewhere in very different economic, technological, political and cultural contexts.

It may be understandable, but the practice of eagerly applying various models of organization based more on anxiously wanting to be considered “just as modern as anybody else,” rather than on the basis of modification for suitability, has been disastrous for Africa.

We know all the things about Rhodesia we detested. But even in looking back in nostalgia at the ways in which it was also a highly functional society, it was naive to think Zimbabwe could be a merely modified version of it. When Smith said, “The white man is master of Rhodesia. He has built it, and he intends to keep it” he was talking at a much deeper level than the obvious one of harnessing Rhodesian-modified Western technology and cultural organization, along with African labour and resources, to create an exclusive island of prosperity primarily for a small, identified group of people.

Rhodesia under Smith was unapologetic about the society it sought to be. It was also ruthless in mobilising the available mix of resources required to bring about that vision for its primarily target audience. Zimbabwe never quite went through a similar process of deciding exactly what kind of society it sought to be, how to bring it about, what human and material resources were required to do so, and what factors promoting or impeding that vision had to be dealt with.

Instead, there was the amorphous, general wish for things like “universal health and education” and other desires which it is impossible to fault, but which without a specific model of national organization in mind cannot be achieved or sustained. They can also be mis-directed. For instance, by “more education” do we have in mind more degree holders (“see, we are just as ‘sophisticated’ as you Westerners”) or do we have another vision of universal education more relevant to our needs and current reality?

By “health for all” do we mean the greater availability of pills (“see, we are just as ‘sophisticated’ as you Westerners”) or do we have a definition of health that is more in keeping with not just bodily state, but that encompasses social, cultural and other indicators of well-being; of what it means to be “healthy.”

Because the idea of Rhodesia was largely steeped in Western principles of orientation, “health” would have largely entailed the use of pills and technology, although today even many Westerners are questioning the appropriateness of this orientation. And because the society was geared to primarily serving a small target audience, even if there was spillover to non-target groups, the society could have been organised to ensure any target group member had access to any pill they desired.

But if Zimbabwe had then simply taken on this philosophy of health, how would it meet “the pills/health technology for all requirement” of a vastly expanded target audience? In this example, the real failure may not be so much in not being able to supply pills to everyone who wants them, but in an approach to health that unrealistically, unsustainably emphasises pills over prevention, for example. It is another example of a prescription that might have worked in one particular situation, but can no longer do so in a vastly changed one.

If one extrapolates this practice of trying to force square pegs into round holes without the necessary modifications to all across Africa, then we can see one important reason why Africa never seems to measure up. A part of political maturity must be the ability to say “this particular thing worked very well in the unique environment of/for the requirements of Rhodesia, but in order to get similar benefits in the very different scenario of Zimbabwe, these are the changes we will need to make.” Part of this process could be even to selectively forgo some of those Rhodesia-era “benefits,” on the basis that their costs in the new dispensation out-weigh their advantages.

Perhaps Zimbabwe’s current mess is its own way of dispensing with the old that served another time and purpose well, but is no longer suitable for a new situation with new needs. But apart from all the many indications of early failure, the current mess is at the very least surely an inefficient, expensive way of trying to mould a new model of national organization. What is required of us is the hard job of applying thinking to problems, than the easy one of sloganeering and political intrigue that so much more effort has been expended on in Africa in the last 50 years.

Smith’s criticism that Zimbabwe failed to live up to the “standards” of Rhodesia is not the worst criticism that can be made of the post-independence era. If anything, there are many ways in which in hindsight we should now be embarrassed that we tried to continue the old Rhodesia, just as we should be ashamed that we have failed to maintain so many of its functionalities.

The more serious shortcoming of Zimbabwe, and of Africa, that still needs to be addressed is the failure to articulate a new vision of nationhood that does not ignore any part of our history or world realities, but that is tailored to maximising the opportunities of creating an Africa that serves our interests and works for us.

As regards the lessons of Rhodesia for Zimbabweans, therefore, it is not for us to pine for a bygone reality and national model that could not have worked for us. We can instead take a leaf from Smith’s Rhodesia, on the importance and benefits of carving out our own vision of what would be a successful Zimbabwe, just as he was quite clear and focused on what a successful Rhodesia meant for his target group.

Doing so would not mean all the current problems would disappear or that the conditions for realising that vision would suddenly materialise. But without that clear vision of what kind of society we want to work towards, taking all the many influences on us and present realities into account, we are a rudderless ship. We condemn ourselves to being forever compared unfavourably to a Rhodesia that will never return, but will always haunt us as an oppressive but “successful” past, in contradiction to an “independent” but “failed” present.

The pining of some Zimbabweans for an unsustainable, oppressive but functional Rhodesia is an expression of frustration at not just present hardships, but at the lack of any articulation of a new vision of nationhood that those hardships can be said to be leading us to, and how we hope to get there.

Zimbabweans have previously stoically endured hardship during the war of independence because it was not only clear what was being fought against, but because of a generally shared hope of what life would be like when that fight was won. Today’s Zimbabwean reality is a very far cry from that hoped for vision. And rather than suggestions that this is because we are in a difficult but transitory phase, there are instead too many signs suggesting that we are now completely lost and directionless; the rulers cynically raping the land rather than leading us to anywhere but further decline and hardship.

There is not only the absence of a new hoped for vision by which the present hardship can be explained and endured, but the current rulership simply no longer even has the credibility and moral authority to mobilise the population into working for one.

The pining for Rhodesia by some is simply because it is the country’s “last known working configuration.” It is Africa’s main challenge to find new working configurations for itself, mixes of many of the elements of success others have used to overcome oppression and exploitation, but put together in ways that fit the times and the environment. It is a shocking indictment of us all that no modern African society has yet been up to this challenge.

The reminders on Ian Smith’s death of his view of Africans, and other kinds of racist revisionism increasingly being heard, tell us that this unfinished task will not go away. It will remain until we and the world see Africa overcoming all the many obstacles and excuses to build examples of societies that need not be duplicates of anything else, but that clearly work for the benefit of the mass of people in a way we have not yet seen in modern Africa.

The naked, provocative racism that Smith so proudly and unapologetically wore all his life unfortunately enjoys currency from the poor state of the Zimbabwe that has emerged from his Rhodesia. If Africa is forced by the sting of the attitude of people of the ilk of Smith to think hard about what we have had to endure under both the Smiths and Mugabes, we will eventually develop our own models of success that need no explanation, and that speak for themselves. We would then have salvaged something positive from all the many decades of bitter and on-going lessons that Zimbabwe has to offer about the challenges and pain of transformation.

Chido Makunike

Posted in Mind set, People | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Is the recently launched biodiesel plant just the latest Zim fuel scam?

Posted by CM on November 17, 2007

In August I expressed scepticism that a biodiesel plant whose construction had been crawling along for years was likely to be finished any time in the foreseeable future. I was reacting to a Herald story, which mentioned that construction was going well and that hundreds of thousands of jatropha-based biodiesel were expected from the plant when it was fully functional. The gist of my post was that despite the story’s optimistic tone, there were a lot of little things in it that didn’t add up to justify that optimism.

Well, three months later The Herald has come back to report that the biodiesel plant has now been commissioned by Mr. Mugabe.


Government will today launch Zimbabwe’s first commercial biodiesel plant set to ease the current fuel shortages significantly.

The plant, the first of its kind in Africa and only one of the five in the world, is the brainchild of joint efforts between the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and Korean investors who developed the technology.

It uses oil seeds for feedstock, and can process sunflower, jatropha, cotton seed and soya to produce biodiesel. Jatropha is likely to be the major feedstock at the moment.

The biodiesel, which burns just like petroleum diesel in unmodified diesel engines, can be mixed with petroleum diesel or burned on its own. Initial production is likely to be at least enough to cope with demand in the agricultural sector.

Finishing touches were yesterday being put on the project, funded by RBZ. Sources close to the development were yesterday upbeat that it would transform Zimbabwe’s economy in a big way.

The project is a culmination of years of research. In 2004, RBZ commissioned a biodiesel project at the Harare Polytechnic under which it procured a test vehicle, bio-reactor chemicals and other logistical support facilities, culminating in the “convincing” certification that biodiesel was a feasible option for Zimbabwe.

The project will not just benefit the fuel sector, but is expected to have a positive impact on the rest of the economy as well through the creation of synergies.

Farmers are set to benefit from this development through an expanded ready market for oil seeds. Industry in general and the motoring public are also expected to operate better after the launch. The plant is being commissioned just in time for the festive season and the beginning of the summer cropping season, periods during which demand for fuel is very high.

This is indeed a great development all Zimbabweans should be cautiously excited about. Biodiesel, especially from jatropha, is all the rage now in the energy sector, although there are still more questions than answers about yields, viability and so on. The Herald being The Herald, would obviously not tell us the still very experimental nature of jatropha projects, despite the billions being invested into it world-wide. There is a lot of excitement everywhere, but there is not yet anywhere that jatropha oil is fuelling any significant proportion of vehicles.

That it is a clean-burning oil that works to power vehicles was known long before the “RBZ commissioned a biodiesel project at the Harare Polytechnic” as The Herald dutifully writes in an article that reads suspiciously like a public relations piece for the RBZ! Whether jatropha is the next best thing since sliced bread is no longer a question of whether the oil can power a vehicle, but will depend on issues of agronomy and economics.

Will the yield of seed per hectare be such that it will be commercially viable to grow it for oil extraction? What are the optimal growing conditions for commercially viable yields? This basic fact is still to be discovered because until the recent biofuels craze, jatropha has almost always been grown in marginal conditions. Its ability to grow in poor soils and its drought-tolerance have made it prized as a “live fence” against animals encroaching on crops or homesteads, and as an effective windbreak. But the new trend of growing it mainly for its seed oil will require the same kind of meticulous crop husbandry as any other commercial crop, if it is to produce the desired yields. This means adequate water, soil fertility (unfortunately in Zimbabwe this is taken to necessarily and only mean synthetic fertilizer, an issue I will sound off on some other time), to mention just two requirements. All these questions are just being answered now in places like India, where pioneering work on growing jatropha for oil is being done, with the results not as conclusively positive as many would like to be the case.

A jatropha variety that grows very well might not necessarily yield economic oil percentages in its seeds. And even when oil content is high, the economic viability of jatropha projects will depend on a whole chain of other factors. Just as being food self-sufficient is not simply about having “the land,” hoping to power a nation’s fleet of diesel vehicles is about far more than launching a factory.

So to “launch” the plant does not necessarily mean anything. It could just be a publicity stunt by the RBZ, with the non-technical Mr. Mugabe being willing pulled along as a valuable prop in the whole drama.

The last line of the story raises my usual suspicion even higher by suggesting that the jatropha biodiesel benefits could be felt by motorists as early as the end of year holiday traveling season just a few weeks away! For me, at that point the story crosses the bounds of being a rather over-done, planted corporate “spin” story for the RBZ to being outrightly irresponsible, in a manner unfortunately no longer unusual for The Herald. Without quite coming out to say so, they want to suggest to the reader that he might be driving on jatropha biodiesel by Christmas!

Even if the factory has been “commissioned,” where are the thousands of tonnes of high oil-yielding seeds going to come from when there are few large plantation of jatropha plantings in the country, if any? Even if everything worked perfectly, it is going to be many years before the plant has enough raw material to make even the slightest dent in Zimbabwe’s fuel requirements.

But maybe I’m just being defensive because a plant I predicted would never be completed is apparently ready. And maybe The Herald was withholding all the juicy details an inquiring mind would want to know about the factory for the actual launch. Maybe The Herald knew Mr. Mugabe would fill in the many missing details in his official launch speech and didn’t want to pre-empt him.

Unfortunately, none of the foregoing appears to be the case. According to The Herald’s (Nov16) report of Mugabe’s speech, it was more the usual “the whole world is out to get us because we took the white folks’ farms” than it was any revelation about the current capacity of the plant and many related issues.


Zimbabwe will not collapse… Mugabe said challenges brought about by the sanctions had instead motivated Zimbabweans to think outside the box.

… we have demonstrated that the dark clouds of our hard times … sown by Western destructive forces, have their silver lining by … strengthening our resilience … deepening our scientific research and stimulating our innovativeness.

Stirring stuff, I can’t wait for the details of what he’s talking about, let me quickly read on for them…

“I am informed that … this plant will, at full capacity, yield 100 million litres of diesel per year, meeting virtually all the agricultural sector’s diesel requirements ….”

Wow, now I’m getting really excited! But when is it expected to reach “full capacity?” Next year? Two, five, 20 years from now? And given the embarrassing yawning gap between cultivation forecasts for various crops over the last several years of crisis, should we put any more trust in the ability of any branch of Mr. Mugabe’s government to make even half-way accurate guesses about how much jatropha seed would be required to reach “full capacity?” Let’s read on…

At least 500 tonnes of seed oil would be required annually to produce the targeted 100 million litres of bio-diesel.

This works out to one tonne of jatropha oil producing 200, 000 litres of biodiesel. Now, current global jatropha yields are about seven (7) tonnes of seed per hectare. That seed is on average 30% oil. So the one tonne of oil that produces 200,000 litres biodiesel would be derived from the raw material of three (3) tonnes of jatropha seed. (I don’t know if the 30% is by volume or by weight, but for simplicity I am going to assume that it is by weight, and also that the specific gravity (SG) of jatropha is about the same as that of water, so that a litre of jatropha would weigh about a kilo. Jatropha SG is in fact about 0.9, about 10% less than water, so I’m not far off.)

The Herald also tells us, Zimbabwe also becomes the first country in the world to produce bio-diesel with a bio-purity level of virtually 100 percent. Germany has a bio-purity level of 75 percent while other European countries range from 2 percent to 20 percent.

All I can say is, if only the RBZ scientists could display the same innovation in reducing inflation from 14,000% as they obviously have displayed in making biodiesel! I had no idea we had such genius at the RBZ, as The Herald story carefully tells us several times in the story.

Anyway, with these basic facts, what can we glean from the 100 million litres of biodiesel per year Mr. Mugabe promises us will come pouring out of the newly “launched” plant? When it is fully operational of course, whenever that might be.

Without boring the reader with the rather straightforward calculations, here are the equivalences I end up with, based on the RB…oops, I mean The Herald’s figures:I hectare jatropha=7 tonnes seed=2.1 tonnes oil=2100 litres biodiesel.

So, in short, one hectare of jatropha would yield about 2000 litres biodiesel. This is definitely on the high side, especially considering I calculated using 30% oil content for the seed. It would be even higher if I calculated using the 40% oil that some varieties of jatropha are said to contain in their seed. We don’t know which percentage Mr. Mugabe, RBZ & Co. are using in their astonishingly optimistic yield projections. (In fairness to Mr. Mugabe, he was just reading the speech that was placed before him, so perhaps his main fault here is just being rather gullible.)

What do I mean by “on the high side?” By comparison to the fantastic figures of Mugabe, RBZ & Co., read the words of someone who is an actual scientist:

Last month, the president of the Zimbabwe Academy of Sciences, Christopher Chetsanga, said that “It is important for Zimbabwe to engage in the development of biotechnology energy crops such as jatropha, soyabeans and sugarcane so that the country can quickly work towards reducing the amount of fuel that it is importing by systematically replacing it with biofuels. Cuba is already working with a Jatropha variety that can yield 1,500 litres of biodiesel per hectare. This is a good model for Zimbabwe to emulate.”

I got this from Biofuels Digest.

So Mugabe, RBZ & Co., non-scientists who have launched a biodiesel plant but do not have the raw material for it yet, already know that our small scale farmers all over Zimbabwe, struggling with fertilizer for maize as it is, will grow high-quality jatropha producing 2000 litres of biodiesel end-product per hectare. We don’t know anything about the variety of jatropha, the growing conditions (Irrigation or rain-fed? If the latter, what happens to yields in drought years? Fertilizer or no fertilizer? How could it be the former when we can’t supply enough fertilizer for maize for food? If it is the latter, how are they expecting to get higher than global average yields without fertilizer? Do we have enough manure for the hectarages required?)

Professor Chetsanga (PhD. Biochemistry), thinks that a yield of 1500 litre biodiesel per hectare of cultivated jatropha would be “a good model for Zimbabwe to emulate.” But the learned professor is way behind the crack “scientists” at the presidential palace, the RBZ and The Herald, who, years before there is any significant mature jatropha in the country to speak of, have already convinced themselves of far higher yields than the long-experienced Cubans!

Trying for a measure of energy self-sufficiency is a good thing. Despite the secrecy around this project, it is a laudable effort, but one that will realistically remain experimental in important ways for many years to come. It would have been more prudent to base calculations of what would be achieved more modestly, to take into account the many things that will go wrong as the whole jatropha value chain goes through its learning curve. We have seen all this over-excited guessing game in regards to crop yields that the country came nowhere near achieving.

I’m being even more long-winded than usual, but you can see where I’m going with this. While I would very much like to see Zimbabwe making serious headway with biofuels, I am “reserving” judgment on what is being painted as a brilliant triumph by the Reserve Bank long before we have any serious jatropha harvests! Actually, the prematurely high projected yields for a process that would take years of experimentation to get right even if these were normal times in Zimbabwe, and the secrecy about so many other basic details to do with this factory make me doubt what exactly the “launch” signified, if anything at all.

Does “launch” here biodiesel is now being regularly produced, or does it mean something much less?

I have many other questions, but already I am inclined to believe the “launch” was more publicity stunt than anything concrete.

After the recent embarrassment of being conned by some crooked smooth operator who convinced them diesel could be squeezed out of a rock, I wonder if Mugabe & Co. have not fallen for yet another fuel scam.

Posted in Economy | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

UK Sunday Times ties itself into a knot over Mugabe

Posted by CM on November 11, 2007

In the hysterical style we have now become accustomed to from sections of the British press, the UK Sunday Times of November 11 screamed “Barclays bankrolls Mugabe’s brutal regime.”


Barclays is bankrolling President Robert Mugabe’s corrupt regime in Zimbabwe by providing substantial loans to cronies given land seized from white farmers.

The British bank lent £750m to the country’s new landowning elite in the first half of this year, mostly through a government scheme to boost farm productivity.

Many of the farms now funded by Barclays were forcibly taken by mobs organised by Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party. They were distributed to leading figures in the regime, even though the policy was intended to give farms to landless black Zimbabweans. The beneficiaries included Mugabe himself, who is said to have three estates.

Despite worldwide condemnation, Barclays, which faced criticism for operating in South Africa during the apartheid years, has remained one of only a handful of banks with extensive operations in Zimbabwe. It has recently been opening new branches in the country.

Barclays is required to finance the loans under Aspef (Agricultural Sector Productivity Enhancement Facility) as part of a set of conditions laid down by the Zimbabwean government which permit it to operate in the country, where it made £34m in profit last year. Its £750m Aspef loans are an increase of 17% on the previous year.

A spokeswoman for Barclays said the bank had operated in Zimbabwe since 1912 and had 1,000 employees and a network of 20 branches serving 150,000 retail, business and corporate customers in the country.

Now, we all know Mugabe is not your most cuddly world leader, for all sorts of reasons. We also know that the mere mention of his name makes the British press apoplectic with rage, for all sorts of reasons. But this story is a classic example of how papers like The Times simply can no longer be taken seriously when reporting about anything to do with Mugabe.

Oddly enough, it was someone writing a brief response in The Times’ own readers’ forum who provided the factual details and context which the paper should have done to make its story more credible:

Barclays does not deserve this criticism.

I believe the article grossly overstates the amount advanced to farmers. Most likely the figure of £750m was derived based on the unrealistic Zimbabwean official exchange rate. Barclays Zimbabwe does not have the capacity to fund a loan book of that size. (And most likely, nor does the country’s agricultural sector currently have the capacity to utilise that kind of money! CM)

Besides, agricultural loans are not funded by Barclays, but by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ). Barclays, like any other commercial bank operating within Zimbabwe, is disbursing ASPEF loans to farmers on behalf of the RBZ. Banks in Zimbabwe are reluctant to fund agricultural operations as the risk of default is perceived as high.
(Generally all over Africa and in many places beyond, agricultural lending, especially to inexperienced part-time farmers with little collateral, is not something banks rush out to do! CM)

We should also note that Barclays Zimbabwe operations are largely funded by deposits mobilised from the local market, not offshore credit facilities as implied by this article. (Barclays has found Zimbabwe a tough but obviously lucrative banking environment, which is no doubt why it continues to open new branches, with profits earned in the country, not those of British investors, banking customers or taxpayers. CM)

Mike, Harare, Zimbabwe

Times reader “Mike” was too polite to say so, but it was kind of mischievous of the paper not to tell us if its fantastic pound sterling figures were converted from Zim dollars. If so, as is likely to be the case, what exchange rate did they use? If they used the Zimbabwean government’s low, widely ridiculed and ignored rates (approx.Z$62,000 = £1), then one could see how they could come up with the incredible figure of 34 million pounds sterling as Barclays’ Zimbabwe profit for just one year. Based on what would be truly fantastic returns, the British ought to be encouraging the bank, and others, to be increasing their investments in Zimbabwe, not scaling them back!

But if the conversion from Zim dollar to pound sterling were done at the rapidly changing “parallel market” rate that almost everybody uses (today it is at Z$3,200,000 = 1£) then The Times figures would look much less formidable and impressive, by at least 50 fold!

Just on the basis of leaving out this huge and important exchange rate discrepancy, the Times story’s figures are largely nonsensical as a reflection of doing business in Zimbabwe.

So, Times, we know you can’t stand Mugabe. A lot of people in Zimbabwe share your feelings. But it is nauseating when a paper of your stature has to appear so desperate to attack Mugabe on the thinnest grounds that it must write non-stories such as this. Apart from the exchange elements I have limited my comments to, there is nothing in the story that has not been known or written about thousands of times over the years now. I am puzzled at the attempt to hype this recycled information to appear as if it is new.

And it took The Times three reporters to write this non-story!

When there are so many solid grounds on which to criticise Mugabe, it is a measure of The Times’ standards of Mugabe-bashing desperation that it should feel the need to sink this low.

Posted in Agriculture, Economy, People | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

A fascinating but strictly academic Zimbabwe recovery plan

Posted by CM on November 11, 2007

A gentleman by the name of Norman Reynolds has been thinking hard about how Zimbabwe could be pulled back to relative normality. I read his “How to put Zimbabwe back on its financial feet” in the Business Day (SA) of August 21st 2007 with fascination.

But the article also brought a grin to my face, because it completely discounted the many political factors which would make his plan unpalatable to any Zimbabwean government, and the many social and cultural factors that would make it un-implementable if tried. The components of his plan that would also require the South African government’s cooperation are also straight out of political fantasy land.


Over the next 10 years, the international community will have to pour vast sums of money into Zimbabwe. Immediately, Zimbabwe requires at least R900m just for food. To also cover fuel, electricity, medicines, other essential imports, and to fund rand civil service payments, the figure would be about R8bn — until December. The Zimbabwe “bill” for humanitarian and recovery costs will come to at least R300bn from next year to 2012.

If Zimbabwean refugees were welcomed and used in SA for the next three years to build our faltering economy and services, and if there was a proper currency, transfer and payment system to Zimbabwe, they would provide about a quarter of that R300bn bill direct to their families inside Zimbabwe.

If SA plays a leading role, it can restore the New Partnership for Africa’s Development vision and the promise of the African Union. It can demonstrate a “failed state” programme able to be used elsewhere in Africa, including in SA’s marginalised townships and rural areas, and provinces such as Eastern Cape, which still hold the majority of citizens as economic prisoners.

Below, I outline a humanitarian and recovery plan prepared by a colleague and me for the Zimbabwe United Nations (UN) Country Team in 2003. It uses all foreign aid and transfers strategically to rebuild the modern economy, with the local rand equivalent supporting a community-based economic and social rights programme of the kind recently approved for SA by the government under a new Local Economic Development programme. The programme is called the Sustainable Community Development Programme.

Citizens are invited to mobilise and to register in community trusts formed at village, neighbourhood and street level. They are then given resources enabling them to act as partners of the government and business in development and service delivery…

Strategic use of the considerable foreign exchange (forex) provided by the international community and the Zimbabwe diaspora would be managed through a series of forex “windows”. The first window would aim to back exporters, so that the forex provided is first multiplied. For instance, tobacco used to earn $12 for every $1 it took to grow the crop. Mining, tourism, some industrial production and all of agriculture earn forex. The funds in this “window” would not be auctioned — they would be “sold” at a price agreed on by the donors and the reserve bank.

Any forex surplus to the first window would be passed to a second “window” through which national essentials such as fuel and medicines would be bought. This would act to keep the cost structure of the economy, and inflation, down. Any further forex surplus would go to a third window, which would auction it for use by domestic producers. A fourth window would auction small surpluses for private use .

The use of economic and social rights programming, within a strong “localisation” model to balance “globalisation”, would allow Zimbabwe to come under a form of United Nations/African Union economic and social trusteeship. It would guarantee that all citizens were economically active and secure .

Dr Reynolds is a development economist.

Well, it’s hard to know where to start enumerating all the reasons why his plan would not fly in the real world. But I am not even going to do so in a detail, because I wonder if the whole exercise was not at least partly tongue in cheek!

The idea of Zimbabweans “working off” their refugee status in South Africa and the remittances to be formally repatriated to Zimbabwe: There are elements of this idea that make sense, but it would be such political anathema in the pan-African political environment that it would never get off the ground to even consideration stage. Plans of any sort that do not take into account the political milieu they are proposed for are of little use except perhaps as academic exercises, which Reynold’s very much is.

So is the idea of Big Brother South Africa running a “failed state” programme for the benefit of Africa! Much of Africa may very well need some variation of such a programme and all else being equal (which all else definitely is not!) South Africa may well be equipped to try administering it. But again, the idea that it could be called such and be acceptably run by South Africa is absolutely cuckoo! I’m sure Reynolds must know this, which is why I am a little reluctant to react to his article as a strictly serious piece.

We now know from the countless “development plans” that have been hatched by “experts” over the decades that workability is not necessarily a strong point in the conception of these schemes. I’m guessing Reynolds was bored one weekend and decided to take out that boredom on Zimbabwe by hatching an entertaining recovery scenario like this one.

It’s a pity the setting of his plan is in dream land rather than in reality. Parts of it are quite innovative and just plain make sense, such as partnering groups of citizens in development initiatives together with government and business, and the idea of forex allocation based on productivity and multiplier potential. But even so, many versions of these fine-on-paper ideas have been tried and failed across Africa because they paid insufficient attention to their operating environment.

An interesting read, but strictly from an academic, theoretical point of view…

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Digging beneath the surface of Zimbabwe’s “diaspora syndrome”

Posted by CM on November 11, 2007

The levels of unprofessionalism to which The Herald has sunk makes me tend to dismiss many of its opinion pieces as government propaganda. But an article by Stephen T. Maimbodei on October 2 about the whole recent phenomenon of a large Zimbabwean diaspora had many good points to cause all of us, at home and abroad, to think about our situation:

Zimbabwe is losing a valuable and highly skilled human resource base. It is difficult to ascertain how many Zimbabweans are in the Diaspora as economic migrants. What are their attitudes about home, especially those who left the country and applied for political asylum, wherever they are scattered the world over? Was it worth it? How does Zimbabwe, the real home, compare with their new homes? Maybe my musings about motherland and the search for a Zimbabwean identity will say something.

Those of us who … remember the “been-to” syndrome that was prevalent among people who had studied in Western countries, especially the UK and the US. In West Africa, it is called the “when-we’s” syndrome. In former Portuguese colonies, they are called assimilados.

The term “been-to” was coined because people would always hear persons who had been overseas saying, “When we were in London (or whichever Western place), we used to…In French-speaking Africa, it was Paris, and in Lusophone Africa, Lisbon. “Been-to” also referred to someone who had gone to a far-off land, a land with better opportunities in all spheres of life…It also meant that the person’s preferred language of communication was English, and not the vernaculars.

The pull … the search for “greener pastures” has meant that many of Africa’s sons and daughters are willing to be economic migrants in Western countries by any means possible. Almost every month, you hear and read tragic stories of young men from West Africa who risk their lives, trying to illegally enter Europe through Spain. The millions of dollars in foreign exchange they spend trying to be illegal immigrants is mind boggling.

This writer … realises that missionaries … to Africa colonised it, pillaged and plundered, and enabled the construction of the fantastic infrastructures that we all go for.

The irony is that the “when-we’s” syndrome never referred to people who had been in developing countries such as China or India. My father, who worked as a migrant worker in Malawi and South Africa, was never called a “been-to.”

“Been-to” was seen as a mark of achievement, success and prosperity. It commanded a lot of respect for the educational qualifications attained in those far-flung places were supposed to be superior to those obtained from local institutions.

The syndrome affected many of us.

It was also sometimes easy to see the “been-to’s” because of the inter-racial and/cultural marriages, especially in a Rhodesia where inter-racial marriages were legally prohibited.The “when-we’s” syndrome was also accompanied by the “diploma disease” where pieces of academic papers from overseas institutions were considered more important than productivity. Even amongst themselves, the college or university one attended in those Western countries also mattered. It was common to hear people claiming that those who had studied in the US had phony degrees.

The “when-we’s” syndrome has now taken a new look. It is now the Diaspora syndrome. It is a syndrome that looks good on the outside, but when one digs deeper; there is so much dirt and rot underneath.

At the peak of the MDC heat wave, many Zimbabweans went to Western countries, claiming to be asylum seekers, when in actual fact they are just economic migrants.

They claimed torture and harassment from Zanu-PF and the government. That these so-called refugees had to go through the rigorous processes of getting passports and visas, and then claim political asylum, are some of the twists and turns of the matter for Zimbabwe in the new millennium.

However, the price some of them are paying is immense for family values, as most of their families have been thrown to the dogs. Is it a wonder that we have so many dysfunctional families among people whose dollar power is so strong? A majority of them are unable to return to Zimbabwe. Some of them died in their “new” homes, and their remains are now interred in those far-off places, being buried with very few friends and relatives present to bid them farewell.

Is it worth it?

The glorification of the Diaspora and condescension of homes that give us succour are ironies that mean that we have mindsets that need deprogramming. And some minds need to be installed with totally new programmes, programmes that should realise that when we go into the Diaspora, we are following the pillaged and plundered national assets.

We go over to make them refined products that will only be sent back to us with labels “Made in the UK”, etc, and not made “Made in Zimbabwe.” But they will be beyond the reach of ordinary people. Look at the gold necklace, earrings and the diamond ring you are wearing, and you will know that it brought very little value, let alone wealth to Zimbabwe.

It is a syndrome that has outlived its usefulness. More than ever, a lot of people, especially among the young generation, would rather be living in the glitzy cities and towns of the Western world than in Africa, even if it means doing menial jobs.

Diaspora, which has replaced the “been-to” syndrome, is now so rife, and the worst part about this is that whereas the “been-to’s” of the past did not have immediate economic benefits for their families and themselves, it is now a different kettle of fish. Today’s “been-to” or Diasporan is bringing immense economic benefits to their families.

In Zimbabwe’s harsh economic environment, you hear many claiming that if it were not of the family members and relatives in the Diaspora, they would be suffering more than they are doing right now. Diasporans are now the new buyers and owners of property, and they are doing it at unprecedented levels. For a nation which is going through such an economic crunch to have roads littered with the latest vehicles from all over the world, most of them fuel-guzzling 4 x 4s, is a wonder.

Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation is good news to their ears. The parallel economy they have created is an institution that they would do not want to see disappearing. Modern information technologies make it easy for them to peg the hard currency at any level they want.

As if the colonial propaganda and brainwashing were not enough, the “been-to” or Diaspora mentality has created a class of people who do not have confidence in themselves, let alone confidence in their capacity to transform their conditions at a national level. It is a mentality that has created the derogatory terms of such as zvaanaMuseyamwa, meaning products and services offered by indigenous people. It is a mindset where 27 after independence you hear people always saying: Dai kwakanga kuchine varungu zvinhu hazvaimbodai. (If whites were still running the show, goods and services would not degenerate like this.)

You also hear people bragging that they are now British, Australian, US and/or South African citizens. It is their right, but if the Rhodesians were comfortable with dual citizenship, there was a place they always knew was home, no matter what.

Almost 10 years since the economic migration started, Zimbabwe still has to benefit from these migrants, for economic migrants in countries such as India and the Philippines contribute substantial amounts to the national GDP since they make their foreign exchange remittances using formal channels.

As a caveat, it is Zimbabwe, and Zimbabwe only, where issues of national security seem to have little significance since we do not care where eventually the hard-earned US dollar, pound sterling or rand will end up.

Socially and culturally, there are attempts to decolonise the minds, but to what effect? But for how long will we continue to search for a Zimbabwean or African identity, especially at a time when capitalism seems to be rearing its ugly head through the much-touted globalisation mantra? Africa has been independent for more than five decades now. Transforming ourselves to suit international norms is not a problem, but we cannot be a people that always look up to others to define our identity and destiny.

Our social and cultural norms are littered with Western templates. Our clothing industry has been reduced to nought. The beauty care and fashion business for black women the world over, for example, is pouring in billions of dollars of foreign currency into foreign industries, while basics such as food, health care, housing, water and sanitation are neglected beyond any measure of understanding. So is the entertainment industry.

The domino effect of the “been-to” syndrome is so overwhelming that it has not escaped the elderly generation. So often, you hear cross-border shoppers always wanting to compare Zimbabwe with neighbouring South Africa, economically in particular. True, South Africa has an advanced infrastructure compared to most African countries, and it is the leading economy on the continent, but who owns and controls that economy?

The Diaspora effect also opened windows of opportunity of travel for most elderly parents of people living in the Diaspora. It is a very commendable thing that the elderly are getting to travel and be exposed to other cultures and viewpoints.

However, the colonial mentality seems to be a curse that will live with us for a very long time to come. As a people based on an oral culture, we like to talk. The street corner Press has always been our major source of information. Writing and reading are alien to us. If this is the case, what do these children in the Diaspora tell their elderly parents about their “new homes” vis-à-vis Zimbabwe, for one would expect them to return from these visits wiser and better teachers of our young generation?

This reminds me of Walter Rodney’s book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. The African psyche needs emancipation and redemption. For, although globalisation is being force-fed on most developing nations, there are marks of our identity that should never be traded for anything.

Some of it was over the top, such as the insinuation that Zimbabweans ignore formal channels of sending money home out of a lack of patriotism. He rather conveniently ignores the little matter of Zimbabwean formal channel exchange rates that are a fraction of the street rate! No one who battles for their dollar in the diaspora is going to be willing to lose a cent by exchanging it at a far less than its real value, a universal selfishness imperative that is far stronger than more abstract ones like “patriotism,” regardless of how one defines this word in today’s bitterly politically fractured Zimbabwe.

I got a little uptight about “As a people based on an oral culture, we like to talk. The street corner Press has always been our major source of information. Writing and reading are alien to us.” Not because it isn’t true, but because Maimbodei seemed to almost celebrate how “writing and reading are alien to us.” As long as they remain so, we will be stuck even further behind the rest of the world than we are now as a people! Changing this should be an important part of the “reprogramming” he talks about, but I accept that this is not the theme of his article. I just get alarmed at any suggestion of comfortably wallowing in accepting factors, cultural or otherwise, that put Africans at such a competitive disadvantage in the world as it is structured today.

But this is nitpicking on my part, these are all points more appropriate for another time. The fact of the matter is that Maimbodei has done a good job of digging deep to analyse our collective psychological state of mind in regards to an important phenomenon of our reality today.

Posted in Mind set | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Zimbabwe needs far more than political change

Posted by CM on November 11, 2007

The more bitter the disagreements there are between the ruling ZANU-PF and the two factions of the MDC, the more they all begin to look the same.

Within the parties and between them, there increasingly seems little difference in the way they operate. The main dividing line between them seems less to do with the best ways of running our country for success in the 21st century, than with who wields power and how its spoils are shared.

The acrimonious infighting within the Tsvangirai faction of the MDC over the last few weeks is a timely reminder that the change we seek goes far beyond the kind of change that can be brought about by elections.

Listening to the counter-charges flying between the two MDC factions, and more recently, between personalities within the Tsvangirai MDC group, it is hard to tell the good guys from the bad, or even if there are any good guys at all. The strongest impression one remains with is not of the details of whatever it is exactly they are fighting about, but the  shameless messiness of it all.

As Kenya has found it in recent years, it is possible to finally electorally oust a long-entrenched, corrupt and much despise government, but have politics continue in a “business as usual” way under the supposed reformers. The Kenyans are much further along on that learning curve than we are, but the MDC factionalism is useful to alert us to how genuine change to a working version of democracy will be a long process.

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The cost of Zimbabwe’s company grab

Posted by CM on November 11, 2007

Like the continuing effects of how land redistribution has been done that continue to affect us almost 10 years after it began in earnest, the recently passed indigenization law will have far-reaching consequences, for better and for worse.

That Zimbabweans would want to have “control” over their resources cannot be in doubt. But the so far disastrous effects of land reform have shown us that benefiting from natural resources or fixed assets is a lot more than about physical possession of them. It as much about strategy and management.

In this regard, the track record of the Mugabe government is far from encouraging. With control over land and resources that everybody agrees should give Zimbabwe a great comparative agricultural advantage over many other countries, the country has been reduced to accepting World Food Program maize handouts sourced from Malawi this year!

So no matter how noble and politically expedient it is to talk about wanting control over other sectors of the economy, there is nothing to give one confidence that the Mugabe government will manage the process any more competently than they have “managed” change in the agricultural sector.

Then there is also the point about the inherent contradiction between wanting local control, and giving foreign investors enough control over their interests to attract them in the first place. Clearly the war veteran who is recently reported to have ingratiated himself with the authorities by saying something to the effect that 51% local control of businesses was not good enough, “we want 100%” did not seem to understand or care about these details.

Here’s an article in MiningMx about how some foreign investors see the issue:

A confidential document circulated in Zimbabwe last year estimated its mining industry was worth around US$20bn. Localisation of 51% of total assets would mean the Zimbabwean government would have to dish out a collective $10bn. There’s scepticism in the Zimbabwe Chamber of Mines that that can be achieved. It said: “It’s the perception that neither government nor historically disadvantaged persons can raise the amount.”

Douglas Verden, CEO of SA’s Chamber of Mines, says: “We’re extremely concerned with this issue.” That’s a sentiment echoed by Zimplats, which is 87% owned by Impala Platinum. In May 2006, Impala struck a pact with Mugabe’s government to swap mineral resources in return for 19,5% localisation “credits” and $51m in cash. Alternatively, credits of 29,25% would be attributed to Zimplats if no cash were received.

Impala CEO David Brown says no cash was ever paid. Obviously, that underlines the problems it would have enforcing the new legislation. Brown added that Impala is also due credits for investment in Zimbabwe. “We built a 77km road and invested in housing and schools in Zimbabwe.” He says those efforts would provide Impala with extra credits.

Meanwhile, Impala is sticking by its former agreement with Zimbabwe’s government, which states it has security of tenure to support production of at least one million oz/year of platinum production from that country. Impala is potentially one of the largest investors in the country. A phase 1 expansion at Zimplats is under way, with combined full production of 160 000 oz/year of platinum expected by 2010 at a cost of around R3bn.

Zimplats chairman Mike Houston expressed his personal concern last month that the draft Bill didn’t appear to take cognisance of an agreement the Zimbabwean government had struck with the company. Stuart Murray, who is invested in Zimbabwe’s platinum industry through Mimosa, a highly profitable mine, says the matter has become too complex and too delicate to warrant comment. Though the Bill is final in demanding 51% localisation, recent comments by Zimbabwe Central Bank governor Gideon Gono asked for a phasing in of the legislation.

Says Murray: “Anything I say at the moment could be wrong. This issue is in the hands of one man. It’s a real moving target.”

Andrew Mackenzie, CEO of Rio Tinto’s diamonds & minerals group, says R1,75bn ($250m) in future investment in Zimbabwe turned on how “indigenous empowerment” was phased in. Rio Tinto, which has been in Zimbabwe’s mining sector for 50 years, has spent $100m expanding its Murowa Diamonds since the discovery of diamonds 14 years ago. The operation, which is 77,8% owned by Rio Tinto, is capable of producing 300,000 carats/year of diamonds. The balance of the mine is already owned by Rio Zim, an independent local company listed on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange.

In a speech to the American Business Association of Zimbabwe, Mackenzie said: “I believe the best way forward would be for the government to consider indigenous empowerment at a similar pace and scale to the South African process.”

Not all are so pessimistic. Greg Hunter, CEO of Central African Gold (CAG), says the company would effectively roll with the punches. “We haven’t signed anything yet, so there’s less risk for us in terms of indigenisation. In our discussions we’ve heard a figure of 30%.” CAG is listed on the ZSE, with 15% of the company owned by Zimbabwean retail and institutional investors. Says Hunter: “Zim is looking all right. Concessions have been announced for the mining industry. We can pay staff in foreign currency, there’s compensation offered for boreholes and the fiscal side of the country is looking pretty smart.”

Interestingly, none of these mining concerns are hysterical about the concept of significant indigenous ownership, perhaps because many of those quoted are South African and have got used to the idea of BEE. Hunter at the end (“Zim is looking all right”) sounds more upbeat than anyone else I have heard talking about any aspect of the Zimbabwean economy in a long time!

I found the part about “credits” to be awarded to investors for equity they give up to be painfully naive. In the current judicial environment of Zimbabwe, how are they going to enforce whatever agreements they entered into with the Mugabe government? Those guarantees will simply be ignored when they are found to be inconvenient, and there will be absolutely nothing the companies will be able to do about it.

Going back to what we continue to see with land reform, the overall idea may have merit, but if its execution is poor, then you end with the disaster that Zimbabwe has already become.

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