Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Archive for January, 2008

May I be the first to congratulate Mugabe

Posted by CM on January 26, 2008

The presidential and general election are set for March 29 but one result is already obvious: Robert Mugabe is going to be returned as president.

Two months before the election, I might as well be the first to congratulate Mugabe on his assured win.

In a way it really is a waste of time to hold the election at all because there are so many signals that there is no way any other result than a “win” for Mugabe will be contemplated. Whether or not Mugabe is still “popular” is an interesting but largely irrelevant issue to the outcome of this election.

This creates quite a dilemma for MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. There are virtually no circumstances under which he can win the election, even if many more people vote for him than for Mugabe, so his participation would largely be a charade. Yet if he pulls out he will be accused of being afraid of losing. He is in a no-win situation in a quite literal way.

But so is Mugabe, the impending “winner.” The possibly ghastly consequences for him of his being turned out of office at the ballot box are obvious, and are just one reason that it will not happen. Yet his “win” on March 29 will be hollow and meaningless in many ways, particularly for the country, but for him as an individual as well.

The country he rules over may be in a shameful mess as he wrings his hands and looks for ever more imaginative excuses for that state of affairs, but Mugabe still has his pockets of sympathy and support. But it is also true that a significant body of world opinion regards him as such an oppressive ogre that they will automatically assume he stole the election.

It may be only Zimbabweans who vote in the election, but how Mugabe is negatively regarded in influential sections of the world has been a significant factor in his being helpless and ineffective in practical terms. He is now a long-serving lame duck president. Whichever of Zimbabwe’s many long-running problems you choose to examine, there is no one who any longer believes Mugabe is going to come up with some sensible, workable solution.

Those who support him do not any longer do it for the reason that they believe the country’s fortunes will improve if he is given five more years to the 27 that he has already served. To many of those supporters, Mugabe represents an anti-Western symbolism for which his uselessness to Zimbabweans’ material fortunes can be excused. For them, the fact that Zimbabwe is in such a poor state and has little prospect of reversing that decline under a Mugabe with seemingly no workable ideas is neither here nor there. After all, he speaks such good English when he insults the British and the Americans and oh, look at how elegantly he wears his British suits!

Likewise, those for whom Mugabe mainly represents the celebration of state violence and oppression against the citizens will see no redeeming qualities in the man no matter what he does.

Mugabe, therefore, will have no net gain in credibility from his win. He is also unlikely to have any net loss in credibility, but the chances of a net loss are higher than that of a net gain. This depends on factors like whether he can control himself from permitting the brutalization of opposition leaders by the police and then delightedly crowing about it. It is this kind of short-sighted previous buffoonery that has contributed to the current reality in which he will in many respects still be a “loser” even if he “wins” the election.

An interesting aspect of the corner Mugabe has worked himself into with the notoriety that he seems to enjoy, but which has been so costly to the country, is that many people would not believe his victory was clean and legitimate even if it was. More than at any time before, the only electoral outcome which many onlookers would believe to be “free and fair” would be the one that is not going to happen: his losing!

So whatever the election “win” will represent for Mugabe, a significant strengthening of his international legitimacy will not be one of them. His opponents will assume electoral crookedness in his win, and his supporters will not care whether his continuing in power was because he genuinely won the most votes or not.

Mugabe’s “win” will mean business as usual for him and his ruling clique. It will also mean there is no reason to expect any change in the country’s fortunes. The “illegal sanctions” that Mugabe blames for his utter helplessness to make any positive change will continue, the increasingly desperate economic experiments will continue, inflation will continue shooting up and so on. A Mugabe “win” means nothing would have changed to give even his supporters any reason to hope that these things will be brought under control or reversed.

For Mugabe, his new mandate will mean he will continue to have power in the physical, military sense, which perhaps is all that matters to him now. He can hire and fire ministers and other functionaries, he can make life uncomfortable for opponents, he can preside over ceremonial things and so forth. But there is no reason to believe that he will be any better able to deal with the day to day issues of survival that occupy most Zimbabweans than he has been in the last several years of steep decline. His presidential role will ever more be that of tin-pot dictator, not leader and motivator/facilitator of positive change.

It is very difficult to know if the opposition MDC is coming or going, so confusing is the state of affairs between its two factions and within them. Even if they had their act together, there is no way to tell what kind of government they would make. But clearly, if it were possible to have a “free and fair” election, their presidential candidate would have a very good chance of convincingly beating Mugabe just on the basis of the disastrous state of the country after his 27 years at the helm, and his utter lack of any credible plan to change that situation. He is not even pretending to have anything to offer.

Given the foregoing, the lone permissible outcome of Mugabe’s assured win on March 29, by hook or by crook, is an assured loss for Zimbabwe.

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Simba Makoni as presidential candidate: Much ado about nothing

Posted by CM on January 25, 2008

by Chido Makunike

Media reports now seem to indicate that all the recent speculation and excitement about ZANU-PF insider Simba Makoni challenging President Mugabe in the upcoming election was much ado about nothing.

Either there was never any substance to the speculation or Makoni simply chickened out. I wonder if we will ever know which it was for sure.

According to the reports over the last few weeks, Makoni was either going to resign from ZANU-PF and head a new party, or he was going to lead a spirited anti-Mugabe reform effort from within the ruling party. One report went so far as to say he had actually tendered his resignation a few days ago but that Mugabe had declined it, as if one has to get permission to quit an organization. But then other reports said the plot was in disarray, with the reformist-minded co-conspirators rushing to pledge loyalty to Mugabe.

The whole thing sounded bizarre. The timing of it just weeks before the election is just one obvious aspect, although one news report weakly suggested that this may have been a deliberate ploy to ambush Mugabe. But I also find it hard to believe that Makoni would have the guts and the courage of convictions to be involved in anything like this. And if he was involved, I think it is entirely in keeping with the man he has shown himself to be over the years to chicken out at the last minute. The pulling out would have been more in character than the initial standing up to be counted.

He is a ZANU-PF team player and follower far more than he is a dissenter and leader. Whatever disagreements with the direction of economic policy he has tentatively and ambiguously expressed on a few occasions, they have been mildly stated echoes of what the general public had long been saying. He has always given the impression of someone who could see as clearly as the ordinary person that the country was going to hell, but was simply too beholden to the ruling dispensation to make a break with it.

It has long been obvious that whatever anguish it may have caused him, he was a kept man, not his own man. He never appeared free and bold enough to state things as he saw them and then stand by his statements. When he has been probed to elaborate on his occasional mild criticisms of the system, he has tended to soften them and pull back.

When he differed with Mugabe over currency devaluation and left his then position of Minister of Finance, it was after Mugabe had called him a saboteur for his suggestion. Makoni did not resign at that insult on principle, but appeared to have been cast aside by Mugabe. He gave the impression that he would have continued to suffer the indignity of serving a president who had effectively accused him of being against the national interest for his ideas.

When he headed Zimpapers, the governments stable of propaganda publications, he clashed with the then editor of the Sunday Mail, the most rabidly “Mugabe-can-do-no-wrong” of the group’s papers. The since deceased Charles Chikerema was also a close relative of Mugabe’s. Makoni humiliatingly lost the battle against his junior and had to leave his job in a way that was not exactly dignified.

It is things like these that cemented his reputation as a like-able bureaucrat and chair-warmer with no strong convictions and little backbone. These are not the qualities of a leader. A leader rather than a bureaucrat at its helm is what Zimbabwe is most in need of now.

Bureaucrats like Makoni are a dime a dozen in Zimbabwe. There will come a time of reconstruction when good bureaucrats will play an important role again. But what is required to move the country out of its prolonged crisis period is the quality of leadership in the classic sense.

Zimbabwe needs a Mugabe challenger and successor who is a “leader” in the sense of inspiring the people to think beyond their present depression. We need a leader who can give us hope that we can return to a time where it is possible to imagine a tomorrow that is better than today. Under Mugabe, everyone is resigned to more misery being in store. The country is depressed and dispirited about its prospects in a way I do not believe it to be possible to undo as long as Mugabe remains ruler.
We need a leader who can bring out the spirit of being prepared to make sacrifices for one’s country in building a better future. Under Mugabe there has become a deep cynicism and a sense of everyone-for-himself. This has been fostered by how the rulers show in their behaviour that they believe the country to be on a course of self-destruction, with them being in the forefront of plundering whatever they can from the crumbling shell.

We need “leadership” in the sense of courage borne of conviction, akin to the “principles” that Mugabe has so awfully corrupted. We need a leader in the sense of someone who can inspire us to do more than we would normally do.

I’m sure Makoni is as “nice” as people say he is, but “nice” is not enough in this situation! “Nice” Makoni has shown none of the leadership qualities that are called for in a prospective president at this juncture in Zimbabwe’s nationhood.

Apart from Makoni clearly not being the man of the moment because of his characteristic wishy-washiness, he has further ruined his reputation by the way he has mis-handled the speculation about his possibly challenging Mugabe.

By not denying them, he gave the impression that the rumours were true. One would think that perhaps he was still working out the logistics of his bid against Mugabe. For things to simply fizzle out without any public statement from him after weeks of public speculation not only makes him look like a coward, it makes him also look like a cynical, shallow opportunist.

The impression one gets is that he was indeed considering a bid. If he wasn’t, one would reasonably surmise that he would have come out strongly denying the substance of the speculation early on. By not doing so, and then not saying anything at all later, he gives the impression that he had done his calculations and decided not to go ahead with the plan.

But if that is what happened, the way he has handled it sends all the wrong signals. Leaving such a crucial decision until so late does not suggest any element of a sneak attack on Mugabe just before the election. It instead makes him look like a careless last-minute planner.
If he had made all these public-relations “mistakes” but then still dramatically announced that he was indeed standing against Mugabe, his tactical errors would have been forgotten and forgiven in the uproar and shock of his announcement. But “thinking about it” silently for weeks while the fevered public speculation was going on makes him look particularly weak and indecisive, now that it seems pretty clear he is not challenging Mugabe.

The overall impression left by Makoni not making any effort to manage the speculation, if not the actual process of considering a challenge to Mugabe, is that of somebody who was indeed thinking of it but developed cold feet. What is worse, all the reports of his making clear overtures to “prove” his loyalty to Mugabe will only further taint his reputation.

The meeting he is confirmed to have had with Mugabe at State House on January 21 makes him appear like a little boy who was summoned to be spanked for being wayward, or a coward who went groveling for forgiveness. Neither does Makoni’s reputation any good.

This political sideshow has not been a complete waste of time. Hopefully it permanently removes Makoni from the long-speculated list of contenders for the presidency. He does not have what it takes – he is a follower, not a leader.

The best position for him is a safe, well-paying routine job with a prestigious title and a fashionable car, a nice big corner office and a pretty secretary There will surely come some bureaucratic opportunity for which he is well suited, but for now we need the kind of leadership which people like Makoni cannot provide.

We have made considerable progress in our politics just by getting the ridiculous “Simba Makoni-for-president” sideshow out of the way, hopefully for good. Now that the brief circus is out of the way, perhaps we can go back to more serious explorations of how we are going to fix the awful mess Zimbabwe is in.

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Power failures come to South Africa

Posted by CM on January 22, 2008

Unexpected power cuts have come to South African consumers of electricity, causing shock and great alarm in that country. The infrastructure has not been expanded fast enough to cope with the much greater demands on it of the last several years, so there is nothing really “sudden” about the current obvious manifestation of that mismatch.

People in most parts of Africa are familiar with these power cuts, with the severity of the problem ranging from country to country. Zimbabwe is fast-earning the dubious distinction of being one of Africa’s worst-affected countries despite infrastructure that has long been among the best on the continent.

A South African newspaper, The Sunday Independent, got a lot of attention for a tongue-in-cheek article by one Peta Thornycroft giving her advice, based on her Zimbabwean experience, on how South Africans could learn to cope with electricity failures. Here are excerpts from Ask a Zimbabwean for tips on power cuts:

Peta Thornycroft, our Zimbabwe correspondent, reports from Johannesburg on how to deal with power cuts…

What an incredible fuss you South Africans make about a few power cuts.

I couldn’t believe my ears. As far as I can remember, in this past week there were only about six cuts, and none longer than five hours.I do know about electricity cuts and what to do about them. I know about boilers, paraffin fridges, wicks and lighting the lamps by pumping them hard at 5.30pm.

Please, South African householders, unless you live on more than an acre, don’t get a generator. There will be murder … if home owners on tiny bits of land all have generators farting rhythmically through long days and dark nights.

Even small generators use 1 litre of diesel per hour. And they get stolen easily unless cemented in and you need monster ones to do fridges and stoves.

You must conserve power. You have a chance to do this because you still do have commerce and industry. We lost our industry over the past few years, so that sector can’t really help much.We have more or less given up mining. Except, except, and think about this: your mining houses can buy power with foreign currency directly from Cahora Bassa and pay in US dollars, as they are doing in Zimbabwe now. It is a bit more expensive than Eskom, but it keeps the platinum pouring out.

We also don’t have any robots left in our streets, and little traffic, so we don’t have the kind of traffic jams I saw in Jo’burg during a power cut.

We don’t kill each other in fuel queues, and we don’t have road rage as our roads are mostly gone. Nor do we kill each other in banks, even when there is no money there, or in supermarkets. Well, only very, very occasionally, and only once, over sugar and that was in Bulawayo, which is very far from town.

So bear up, improvise and go get the solar, inverter, battery alternatives, and gas. And you will all survive until you have enough new power sources within eight years, so I hear, and you are not going to be nearly as short of foreign currency as Zim, so can import some power.

But Zimbabwe will recover sooner than South Africa, because our population is in Hillbrow.

An interesting mix of the humorous, the factually humorous and the sad lamenting of decline. On that level it is an engaging read that worried South Africans will have found interesting and weary Zimbabweans will identify with.

There is also a mocking level to the article which leaves a vaguely bad taste in the mouth.

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The challenge of street protests

Posted by CM on January 20, 2008

Movement for Democratic Change’s secretary for information, Nelson Chamisa, had to quickly retract his statement that Kenya’s post-election violence would be “nothing compared to what we will have here if Mugabe rigs the elections again.”

There are no doubt many Zimbabweans who would support Chamisa’s initial statement before the negative heat to it forced him to back down. But at the very least, it was ill-advised for an opposition party official to have come out with a statement like that.

Apart from bad public relations, it gave the appearance of threatening mayhem as long as the election does not go the MDC’s way. As unpopular as Mugabe and ZANU-PF may be, it is far from clear now that the MDC, mired as it is in all kinds of problems, is guaranteed of victory in March’s general election.

Apart from issues of the two parties’ relative “popularity,” ZANU-PF has over several elections honed the cynical practice of dangling  a mixture of relief food and threats to get people to vote for it. At a time of great hardship and hunger, this tactic cannot be underestimated  in swaying the outcome of elections.

But apart from all this, Chamisa’s statement was also reckless in giving the state’s military machine an easy excuse for the kind of violence it has already shown a great propensity for, even against peaceful protestors.

Past events have shown Mugabe would like nothing more than to be able to accuse the opposition of inciting violence and having an excuse for the kind of heavy-handed responses we have seen before over the years.

Both Kenya and Zimbabwe present the dangerous situations of opposition movements with deep grievances who find many of the means of flexing the muscle of their popular support severely curtailed. They have significant representation in parliament but it means very little. The forms of Western-style democracy exist, but the substance is missing.

And street protests are put down with astonishing brutality. In both Kenya we have seen graphic evidence of the amazing enthusiasm with which state police and para-military forces put down protests. It is difficult to know if protests that are usually started as “peaceful” often turn violent because of official over-reaction to them, or if the police heavy-handedness is really to prevent the violence from spiralling out of control.

Whichever it is, what should be an important safety valve for fairly harmlessly releasing public pressure is effectively sealed off, merely postponing the release while building up the pressure even further.

In both Kenya and Zimbabwe, it is becoming increasingly apparent why calm does not equate to peace.

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Zimbabwe’s discouraging election scenario

Posted by CM on January 20, 2008

For a country with such great and mounting problems as Zimbabwe, a general election should be an occasion for great excitement. This should be particularly so when the main opposing parties offer such starkly differently views of looking at the origins of the problems, and the solutions, as do ZANU-PF and the MDC.

Yet there seems very little of that sense of excitement about the March general election. There seems less of a general sense of optimism than in recent votes that this election could be a turning point in the country’s continuing plunge in every arena. The blasé attitude seems independent of whether one is supportive of the ruling ZANU-PF or either faction of the MDC. If it is going to be an election that represents a watershed in Zimbabwe’s declining fortunes, I know few people on either side of the political divide who seem to think that this one is it.

A win for President Mugabe and ZANU-PF represents “business as usual,” which more of the hardships and decline of the past several years. Just weeks before the election, neither Mugabe as a presidential candidate nor his party even bother to pretend that there is a credible plan in place to reverse the mess the country is in.

The MDC factions seem at their most indecisive and weakest. Within and between them, ego-politics seems to win over strategy against their common foe, the ruling party. The statements and actions of some of the leading lights of both factions make one wonder whether in power they would really represent a type of politics essentially different from that of ZANU-PF, or whether they would just be a new group of people doing the same things as before.

They send out confusing signals about whether or not they will participate in the election. Saying so does not hide the fact that they are in a no win situation: On the one hand there is no way they will be allowed to come anywhere near winning if they participate, but if they boycott they arguably consign themselves further to the political margins. And the threat of a boycott does not carry the prospect of a lost “moral authority” for a Mugabe and ZANU-PF who no longer care much about such things.

In the case of a Mugabe win in the presidential vote, we would have the situation of a winner who has become such anathema to the global economic and political forces whose relations he needs to reverse the country’s problems that his “win” would constitute a continuing loss for the country. It would represent a Pyrrhic victory in the classic sense: Mugabe would be able to continue his favourite pastime of spitting in the faces of the West, but at the cost of Zimbabwe continuing to be largely an economic no-go area.

The MDC shows all the signs of having accepted that there is not the slightest chance that Tsvangirai could win the presidential election, with the other MDC factional leader Arthur Mutambara’s role in Zimbabwean politics becoming even less clear by the day. ZANU-PF would predictably say this is because of the opposition parties’ many internal problems. The MDC would likely just as predictably say their poor prospects are not because of any lack of popular support, but because of all the many ways the political deck has been stacked against them from day one.

None of the constitutional changes that are being made to ostensibly “level the playing field” can undo an entrenched political culture going back decades. If the incumbent party is inclined to thwart the opposition by hook or crook, the little matter of what the constitution does or does not allow has not proven to be an insurmountable obstacle before.

Working our way to some version of a political system that serves the people’s interests, rather than just those of politicians or political parties, is going to be a long battle. A more just constitution is important, but it cannot be a solution in itself, as some activists would seem to suggest. If anything, Zimbabwe has given an interesting example of how a government can claim to be adhering to much of the letter of democratic or constitutional form while easily corrupting its spirit. So, for instance, the regularity and timeliness of elections are given as proof of democratic credentials over and above whether those elections are conducted cleanly and fairly or not. We have also learnt that inconvenient constitutional clauses can be easily changed on a ruler’s whim.

But beyond all these issues, as a voter I look at the range of politicians parading themselves before us and I am mortified about what the poor choice suggests about our short to medium term future.

Bags of maize doled out to hungry people at election time are a powerful weapon. We have seen evidence of this over several elections now. It has become one way it is possible to “win” the vote of a certain area even when the electorate may have reason to loathe the candidate. This is just the reality when people have been reduced to worrying about day to day survival.

But what does it say about the basic humanity of a candidate who is quite satisfied to “win” an election on these terms? First of all, those voters should not need such small but important material inducements to vote for you if you had done your job well over the 27 years they have known you. Secondly, you say their hardships are because of enemies opposing your efforts to empower those voters. But that after a claimed land revolution those voters should be dependent on food handouts is a damning indictment of the failure of that claimed revolution. If it had been successful, almost 10 years after it began, we should be seeing more people independent of food handouts, not many more dependent on them.

It seems not just cynical in the way most people everywhere generally associate with politicians, but evil to control and sway them by impoverishing them, rather than by being able to convincingly say, “look at how much you are better off today than yesterday as a result of our efforts.”

Looking to the opposition, one hears how incumbent MPs of either MDC faction make escaping having to stand for primary elections a condition for agreeing to support unity talks. Even before they taste any real influence, incumbency has become its own justification for political existence. The verbal recklessness of MDC factional leader Nelson Chamisa threatening violence if the election did not go his faction’s way came off as being little different from the indecorous way we have become accustomed to ruling party officials carelessly spouting off from time to time. This in so small measure has contributed to the country’s international isolation, and one would think it would be in the MDC’s own interests to want to be seen as being different in this regard.

Then there is the quite bizarre speculation about Simba Makoni heading a group said to be splintering off from ZANU-PF, and his contesting as a presidential candidate against Mugabe. “Bizarre” because of the late timing of the said splintering, and because of the lack of confirmation or denial by Makoni of the rumours floating about. The many un-answered questions and Makoni’s seeming tentativeness do not inspire confidence that this is a serious effort.

With the poor choice of politicians of all stripes the country has to contend with, it is not surprising there is little excitement about the impending general election.

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Situating the concept of ‘tribe’ in modern-day Africa

Posted by CM on January 18, 2008

by Chido Makunike

In the first few days of Kenya’s post-election civil strife, the upheavals were overwhelmingly explained by the Western media as a “tribal” conflict for political dominance, mainly between the Gikuyu and Luo ethnic groups.

Many Kenyans protested that the situation was far more complicated and nuanced. They insisted that in explaining inter-ethnic conflict, it was important to explain how cultural and language differences were exploited by colonial authorities for divide and rule purposes, and how aspects of this have continued in the post-independence era. In short, the conflicts are counter-explained as part of the difficult, on-going process of forging cohesive new nation-states out of groups that for millennia have been more bound by language and local traditions.

Is the African prickliness to how the word “tribe” is used in regards to them by Westerners merely defensiveness? After all, most Africans do indeed use some variation of the concept of “tribe” for self-identification. Is it not therefore a contradiction for Africans to freely refer to “my tribe” and yet take offence when Western news outlets refer to civil conflict like Kenya’s as “tribal violence?”

Part of the answer is that the word ‘tribe’ is at best an approximation of African group identity. It is not an accurate reflection of groups that in a neat way are linguistically, culturally and even physically distinct from each other, especially in a metropolis like Nairobi. But even in rural Africa, where relative groupings of “tribes” into particular geographic areas may still be the reality, “tribal” identity does not necessarily invoke the idea of animosity and conflict with other “tribes” that the word’s use in the Western lexicon often suggests.

Many of what are considered distinct “tribes” in the Western definition are really clans of the same cultural-linguistic grouping. The differences are often more matters of degree than of substance, and that an outsider would find difficult to identify. Widespread and increasing inter-marriage has served to further make nonsense of the idea of distinct “tribes” of people, emphasising how arbitrary can be the delineations the word is supposed to convey.

None of this is to suggest that “tribes” do not exist or that even the arbitrary differences between them are all insignificant. It is merely to try to give an inkling of just how complicated a reality modern-day Africans live; a complexity the word “tribe” as used by many Westerners does not come anywhere close to conveying. Using the example of present-day Kenya, that complexity means people of different “tribes” living happily together in Nairobi, with the concept of “tribe” meaning little more than reference to perhaps a little-known rural ancestral home, for example.

For people living this reality, self-identification is a mix of the important but increasingly-in-the-background “tribe” and the new and increasingly more important identity as a citizen of the nation-state; Kenya in this example. This is not to deny that political and other tensions can be stoked to bring the tribal identity to the fore of the national one, as many argue has been instigated in Kenya by politicians for their own ends.

The Western use of the word “tribe” glosses over all this complexity to suggest Africans who eagerly, militantly and permanently occupy very narrow ghettoes of identity. Africans understand the contextual broadness of the word when they use it to identify themselves to each other. On the other hand, in Western use the word “tribe” to refer to Africans is pretty much always a narrow straitjacket.

Another reason for African discomfort with Western use of a word they use themselves is that “tribe” has long been a loaded term. To Africans it may be mainly a descriptive or identifying term, but in Western use it has often been also a pejorative word meant to portray the “primitiveness” of the African. So even when a Western reporter uses “tribe” as an “innocent” means of trying to distinguish people of one cultural-linguistic tradition from another, many times the African reader or hearer processes the usage through the prism of the negative way the word has long been used in regards to Africans.

This attempt to explain the mixed African reaction to the use of the word “tribe” by Westerners is not to suggest that all the attempted explanations of the origins of Kenya’s troubles since the disputed election are false. It is instead to say that they are often hopelessly inadequate, explaining events with a shallowness that can range from merely amusingly ignorant to insensitive and even dangerous.

There are many Westerners who are quite convinced they have come to understand Africa very well. The example of how the word “tribe” has been used in much of the Western media to try to explain what is going on in Kenya suggests many “Africa experts” do not fathom the continent and its people nearly as well as they have convinced themselves they do.

Black Star News

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The speech Mugabe is unlikely to ever make

Posted by CM on January 9, 2008

Excerpts from an article in the January 3 edition of the Malawi Daily Times:

President Bingu wa Mutharika, in his New Year special message to the nation, said Malawi was on the road to prosperity, promising the country would see more development this year.

He added that based on the experience of his government’s impressive performance in 2007, prospects for 2008 looked brighter. “Malawi is on the road from poverty to prosperity,” he said. “We shall see new growth in our country. We are poised to implement more projects than we promised you in 2004.”

Mutharika said 2007 was a good year for Malawi and its people…

Mutharika said.. he inherited a “sick economy” in 2004 and decided to institute reforms in the public sector and the civil service. They required enforcement of strict fiscal discipline within the social framework of a home-grown development strategy. “We now own the development process and are responsible for its achievement.”

He said in 2007, his government reduced interest rates to 15 percent, making it affordable for businesses, especially small scale and medium scale enterprise, to borrow and service loans.

“We have also reduced inflation rate down from 17.1 percent in 2006 to 8.5 percent during the year. This has been in response to vibrant business activities in the private sector,” he said.

He said his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had delivered on what it promised, adding “we didn’t promise what we couldn’t deliver, but delivered what we promised.”

Mutharika in the message said the country was no longer experiencing food shortage during certain months of the year as was previously the case. He said due to sound agricultural policies, Malawi last year produced 1.3 million metric tones of food, which was more than what the country needed annually.

And to give people more money in their pockets, government negotiated higher prices of some agricultural commodities like tobacco, cotton, groundnuts, soya beans and maize. “As a result, many people have had increased purchasing power that enabled them to have effective demand for products. This made many business traders really rich in 2007,” he said.

To reduce dependence on rain-fed agriculture, government built large dams during 2007 and rehabilitated many irrigation schemes that were constructed during the Kamuzu era, to give clean water to rural communities and develop aquaculture industry.

For anyone familiar with the sad reality of present day Zimbabwe, the contrast between how 2007 was for it and its small neighbour Malawi are stark indeed, even keeping in mind that some of Mutharika’s speech was merely the self-serving triumphalism of a politician.

But there are lots of independent indices of how 2007 was indeed a very good year for Malawi. Without a lot of fanfare, Malawi achieved its second maize bumper harvest in a row. Some of the surplus maize was sold or donated to bigger, more “developed” but impoverished and hungry Zimbabwe. And it was done not with any dramatic, wholesale changes to anything, but by the application of simple incentives like a fertiliser subsidy.

After vowing not to repeat the indignity of the country having to beg for food aid as it did during the famine of 2005, Malawi accomplished in two years what Zimbabwe has failed to do in the close to 10 years since “the land revolution.”

Malawi’s achievements are merely another indicator of just how wrong things have gone in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has innumerable natural and man-made advantages over Malawi, but we can be pretty certain that Mugabe is unlikely to ever have the opportunity to deliver the kind of good news wrap-up of a year’s performance that Mutharika has been able to do for Malawi.

The two neighbouring countries provide a stunning example of the importance of effective leadership in determining the fortunes of a country. In Malawi we have a poor country with relatively few competitive advantages maximising them to forge ahead. In Zimbabwe is a country blessed with abundant potential wealth not only floundering, but falling behind with each passing year. The main difference between the two? The quality of leadership.

While Mutharika justifiably crows about his government’s achievements in Malawi, all Zimbabweans can expect from Mugabe is more scape-goating, more hurling of insults at real and imagined enemies, more repression and more justifications for failure. The state of present day Zimbabwe, and its short-term prospects under Mugabe, is a tragedy of historical proportions.

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What the African experience should teach us about economic ‘transformation’

Posted by CM on January 8, 2008

This article was featured on South Africa’s Moneyweb almost a year ago now, but it is timeless:

James Myburgh
07 March 2007

In Business Day Professor Sipho Seepe began an article on Black Economic Empowerment with the claim that: Postcolonial experience indicates that political transformation is meaningless unless it is underpinned by economic transformation.” One does rather wonder which particular African country’s experience Seepe was thinking of when he made this peculiar observation:

Was it, for instance, Tanzania where Julius Nyerere transformed the economy by nationalising the whole thing in 1967?

Or was it Kenya where the economy was gradually transformed, from 1967 onwards, by slowly squeezing the Asian (Indian) population out of the economy (and the country) through the application of restrictive trade-licensing and citizenship laws?

Was it Uganda where Idi Amin suddenly transformed the economy through the simple expedient of expelling the entire Asian population? In August 1972 Amin simply announced that they all had to leave the country within ninety days. This action had been precipitated by a dream, he said, “that the Asian problem was becoming extremely explosive and that God was directing me to act immediately to save the situation.”

Was it Zambia where Kenneth Kaunda’s “Zambian Economic Revolution” saw the takeover of smaller outsider-owned firms and businesses in 1968, the nationalization of fifty-one percent of the big mining companies in 1969, and the expropriation of the other forty-nine percent in 1973?

Was it Zaire where Mobutu transformed the economy in 1973 by ‘Zaireanising’ it? According to Michela Wrong he simply declared that all “foreign-owned farms, plantations, commercial enterprises – mostly in the hands of Portuguese, Greek, Italian and Pakistani traders – should be turned over ‘to sons of the country’.” This was followed by the confiscation of largely Belgian-controlled industrial sector.

Or was it Zimbabwe where the economy was finally transformed through the dispossession of the (largely white) commercial farming class?

(One of the few countries in post-colonial Africa which did not try and ‘transform’ its economy, but grew and nurtured it instead, was Botswana.)

“Experience” is defined by the Shorter /Oxford English Dictionary/ as “the observation of facts or events, considered as the source of knowledge.” And, if the facts and events of the last fifty years indicate anything, it is that the pursuit of complete economic ‘transformation’ has brought severe decline to the African continent.

It is worth remembering that many post-colonial African countries were doing pretty well, kind of like South Africa is doing today, up until the point at which expropriation took effect. As Wrong writes of Zaire: “Until Zaireanisation, the economy had grown by an average of 7 per cent a year. Look at a graph of just about any indicator and there, in 1974, is the sharp peak, followed by a long, slow, unstoppable swoop that continues to this day… Before Zaireanisation, corruption, while a problem, had seemed to observers on a par with that witnessed in many other emerging African states. But in the generalised climate of impunity created by this botched economic experiment, sleaze…was about to become the most striking characteristic of Zairean society.”

The reasons why these acts have been so uniformly destructive to Africa were set out by the economist P.T. Bauer a couple of decades ago. Bauer’s argument, as summarised by Amartya Sen, was that the extensive politicization brought about by this kind of large-scale redistribution “diverts people’s energies and ambitions from productive economic activity to politics and public administration. It also encourages attempts to benefit from politically-organised redistribution, or to escape its consequences. An even more evident result is that these policies systematically transfer resources from people who are economically productive to others who are less so.”

This kind of crude redistribution also requires the rulers to abrogate for themselves extensive coercive powers, and to dilute constraints on their actions such as property rights and the rule of law. Thus, although the original intention is to create a more equal society, the actual effect is to exacerbate the “inequality of power between rulers and subjects.”

The article speaks so eloquently to the current Zimbabwe situation that it really needs no commentary.

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Unchristian goings-on in Zimbabwe’s Church of England

Posted by CM on January 7, 2008

Summarised from the Zimonline website:

There was chaos as the Anglican’s St Mary’s and All Saints Cathedral in Harare yesterday after ousted controversial bishop Nolbert Kunonga held a rival service under heavy police presence.

Kunonga, who is a vocal supporter of President Robert Mugabe, is refusing to leave office as archbishop of Harare after he arbitrarily pulled out the diocese from the Province of Central Africa.

The Province of Central has since appointed the retired Bishop Sebastian Bakare to take over from Kunonga.

The warden said they had to hire the police force for protection during the service after violent skirmishes that have rocked the diocese since Bakare’s appointment.

Kunonga’s supporters have allegedly been attacking parishioners who back Bakare.

Kunonga has in the past vociferously defended Mugabe over his controversial policies particularly the violent seizure of white farms for redistribution to landless blacks eight years ago.

These events strike me as bizarre on several levels.

One is the obvious one that here are people who wear their religiosity on their sleeves for the whole world to see acting in a way that one would say is in shocking contradition to the message they preach!

But there is also this: Kunonga unconditionally supports Mugabe on the basis of the latter undoing the legacy of colonialism’s race-based land ownership legacy. While many would agree with the basic philosophy of social economic justice, there are those who do not forgive Kunonga for overlooking Mugabe’s many “sins” over the years.

Kunonga says that his support of Mugabe is the real reason he has got into trouble as head of the Zimbabwean branch of the Church of England.

But I find it odd that a cleric who expresses strong feelings about undoing the colonial legacy would see no contradiction between that and being a bishop in the religious outfit that is arguably the quintessential representation of British empire and colonialism, the Anglican Church.

I have often wondered why Kunonga did not just say good riddance to the Church of England and start his own religious outfit, as so many modern day “prophets” say they are “anointed” to do.

I don’t quite get how he reconciles the glaring contradictions.


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