By Brian Maregedze
The Zimbabwe crisis has been analysed from varying stand points among researchers. State fragility as analytical and conceptual framework is deployed by the duo of Mark Simpson and Tony Hawkins (2018) in this book, published under Palgrave Macmillan.
The two experienced scholars, from the University of London and the University of Zimbabwe, respectively, offer refreshing broader analysis on Zimbabwe’s crises from 1997-2017. More interesting in the book is how the authors, relying on primary and secondary sources engage with the political-economic history of Zimbabwe, focusing on how the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), has managed to survive in power against ‘odd circumstances’ from the country’s independence in 1980 to 2017. In as much as the narratives proffered in the book focus on ZANU-PF, some errors of commission and omission which have been an impediment to opposition parties to gain power have been addressed.
The fourteen chapter book begins by introducing the reader to pre-independence Zimbabwe and the dynamics of the politics of the day as the country transmuted from a white regime to a black-led government. The second chapter of the book orients the reader into the economics of state fragility, drawing examples from all over the world. More notable is that issues of ‘failing states,’ ‘weak states’ are conceptualised in a way to explore the various dimensions state fragility is understood, particularly using Ghani and Lockhart’s framework (p.39).
The third chapter confronts the first decade of Zimbabwe’s independence (1980-1990) paying attention to the One Party State debate and ZANU-PF’s control of the economy. The Marxist-Leninist policies pursued by the ruling party, ZANU-PF, did not last due to global changes of the then Soviet Union (now Russia) and the economic challenges which consequently developed. Elite mismanagement in ZANU-PF was well pronounced in the Willowgate scandal of 1988 and how Robert Mugabe, the then president, responded with compassion to comrades. The year 1990 is viewed as a ‘watershed’ in Zimbabwe’s post-independence history due to mounting unemployment, deepening of poverty, cutting of public health and education being notable (p.77).
Chapter four is a continuation of the previous chapters, examining and assessing the Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes (ESAP) adopted by the ZANU-PF led government to tackle the problems which were now developing in greater proportion. Some of the problems include high unemployment rate, disagreements within ZANU-PF, with Edgar Tekere falling out with the party and forming his own Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM) party. The central agenda of economic reform in Zimbabwe as spelt out in ESAP was to “improve living conditions, especially for the poorest groups, by increasing real incomes and lowering unemployment by generating higher economic growth”.
Transformation of the economy entailed “moving away from a highly regulated economy to one where market forces were allowed to play a more decisive role, while concurrently taking steps to alleviate any transitional social hardships which may arise from this transition” (p. 65). However, ESAP (1991-1995) was a dismal failure in Zimbabwe, just like the case across Africa in some countries which had undertaken the same step in the name of Structural Adjustment Programmes. The politics which played out in explaining the failure of ESAP is noted by the two scholars, who argue that the regime blamed the terms which were set out by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Compounded by failure of programmes which emanated after ESAP, a number of unfulfilled expectations became more noticeable. As such, the unbudgeted war veterans’ gratuities fund, the involvement of Zimbabwe’s military in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are imperative in exploring how Zimbabwe found itself moving away from a good grounding with western donor funds. The Fast Track Land Reform (FTLR) is understood as an apparatus for regime survival as the opposition Movement for Democratic Change was now a challenge to the establishment. Capitalising on the land question from Lancaster House in 1979, the ZANU-PF led government made steps to hold onto power by making judicial changes which made it possible to appear people-oriented in nature. The ‘rule of law,’ ‘death of commercial farming,’ and ‘creation of dead capital’ were the collateral damage in the service of the interests of the ruling party, ZANU-PF.
Chapter six addresses the continued crisis that Zimbabwe was going through. In an attempt to survive the sour relations between Zimbabwe and the Western countries which had culminated over a number of issues raised in previous chapters, an attack on the urban poor was made possible through Operation code named Murambatsvina (remove filth or dirt). The informal economy or Kukiya kiya economy, which refers to multiple forms of “making do” in local parlance, as Jeremy Jones would attest, became dominant in the urban areas in 2000-2008. Robert Mugabe, the former president of Zimbabwe, approved operation code named Murambatsvina in 2005 as a way to punish the urban electorate for voting the opposition party in the 2002 elections. Up to chapter seven, the same theme of rising informality and mass poverty in Zimbabwe is addressed by the authors within the regime survival framework. International isolation is traced from the late 1990s and rebuilding relations with the “all-weather-friends,” that is, the Chinese government and Russia, became an alternative for ZANU-PF.
Chapters, nine to thirteen are more insightful as they focus on the melting of the Zimbabwe economy, elections, Inclusive Government (IG) [2009-2013] and the resurgence of ZANU-PF as the centre of power in Zimbabwe’s politics. Drawing analysis from ZANU-PF manifestos, various reports from civil society make the book more engaging on regime survival. Although the chapters pay much attention on ZANU-PF strategies to maneuver the political landscape during the crisis period, the opposition parties are simultaneously exposed on how ‘Zanufication’ of MDC as the authors would allude, prevailed in tainting opposition politics. The contested 2008 elections which saw the formation of the Inclusive Government played an important role in the rejuvenation of ZANU-PF. Land is articulated as the main tool for patronage during the Government of National Unity which critics thought, because of the presence of the opposition within it, would play a part in relation to the rule of law.
Gideon Gono, the former governor of the central bank from 2003-2013, is interpreted as the “Economic Czar,” who managed to sideline cabinet ministers due to his close networks with Mugabe (p.112). The indigenisation and economic empowerment policy put into effect during the GNU served the interests of the ZANU-PF elites and strengthening its support base from the army and police. The discovery of diamonds in 2006 in Manicaland province did not benefit the ordinary people in Zimbabwe but was used by ZANU-PF to accumulate “obscene wealth.” This section of the book, I recommend reading it with, Facets of Power: Politics and People in the Making of Zimbabwe’s Blood Diamonds (2016) edited by Saunders and Nyamunda.
Beyond ZANU-PF power retention strategies, the two authors argue that opposition parties had inexperienced ministers and deputy ministers, and in particular, lack of economic expertise. The 2008 global financial crisis as an impediment to aid budgets from western donors among others is discussed in the book. The politics of the national purse is discussed, with technocrats noted as not delivering the much anticipated positive results; typical examples are drawn from Simba Makoni and Gideon Gono. Tendai Biti, Finance Minister during the GNU is understood as a victim of ZANU-PF’s obstructionism, and misreading of the events by observers as a balance of power (p. 239).
Far from the view that MDC was representative of good governance, transparency and accountability, typical examples of greed, corruption, tender scandals by MDC councilors as well as senior members are accounted for. This, however, damaged the credibility of MDC-T in the public domain. Thus, the material benefits of public office were enticing to MDC-T and MDC-M ministers and deputy ministers (p.240). Importing of luxurious vehicles attached to their positions as new cabinet members was widely criticized by rank and file MDC supporters (241). In short, the authors argue that MDC’s ineptitude facilitated ZANU-PF’s long game plan to retain the key levers of power (p. 242). Things fall apart, forms a key feature of MDC-T post 2013, having been defeated by ZANU-PF and calls for the stepping down of Morgan Tsvangirai at the helm of the party. Nonetheless, this did not materialize despite calls from various elements within the main opposition party to have Tsvangirai step down.
The final analysis of the book situates state fragility at the centre, deploying various post-2013 Zimbabwe elections’ surveys, reports and studies to assess the extent to which prospects for positive change by the ruling ZANU-PF party were possible. The ascendancy of Emmerson D. Mnangagwa to the presidium in November 2017 is understood as regime consolidation with the old guard reasserting its control.
On the other, the book falls short on the analytical aspect of state fragility, particularly, militarisation of state institutions (p.202). The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) was partially criticised along the militarisation facet which under objective analysis, is apparent even in western countries such as the United States of America. The complicity of western countries in the Looting Machine as Tom Burgis (2015) would put it, seems to be another missing dimension in Mark Simpson and Tony Hawkins’ approach. The book can be used as another typical example of literature which over glosses the evils of claimed targeted sanctions by western countries as they are actually weapons of mass destruction.
The book, no doubt, is useful to not only policy makers in Zimbabwe and beyond, but to undergraduate and graduate candidates in Economics, Economic History as well as those with musings in State Fragility in Africa, Southern Africa specifically. More interesting is that, the book contributes to literature on the Zimbabwe crises beyond Mugabe centric narratives with ZANU-PF being the main focus of analysis.
*Brian Maregedze is a Zimbabwean historian, author and columnist. He’s a member of the Zimbabwe Historical Association and also a researcher with Leaders for Africa Network. Brian can be contacted at email@example.com.