Monday, 16 September 2013

Zimbabwe’s election aftermath: what next?

The SADC report has given a clean (or nearly so) bill of health to Zimbabwe's elections, and despite protests from the MDC, it looks as if it is a done deal. The flaws were clearly very real, but the political context means further serious dispute looks unlikely, although political uncertainty continues (see earlier blog).

So, what next? There have been various commentators speculating. This blog is a round-up of some of these. Richard Dowden in African Arguments suspects:

"Mugabe will now go into reconciliation mode as he did after his first (also unpredicted) election victory of 1980 and again after he brutally crushed the Ndebele uprising in the mid 1980s. Now he will deploy his considerable charm and hold out a hand to African and western governments that have criticised him in the past….. He may not fully implement the indigenisation programme… just as he failed to implement socialist policies in the 1980s after he took power. In all these moves, the only question in his mind will be: will this keep ultimate power in my hands?"

Apart from "state control and manipulation of the election process", Dowden argues that Mugabe retained power because of the "do not upset a Big Man" factor. "If he is a Big Man and is president and wants to go on being president, then let him have it. Otherwise he will create problems. ‘I will vote for him because he is president’, is a phrase I have heard in many elections in Africa", he observes. Also, his victory will be applauded more widely he thinks: "many people in Africa feel that the relationship [with the West]is still not one of equality: multi party democracy has been imposed, resource nationalism is blocked by a Western-controlled economic system and attitudes to Africa are still patronising and sometimes bullying".

A Zimbabwean election is of course won or lost in the rural areas. The reconfiguration of political forces following land reform in particular has often been forgotten by the Harare-centric commentariat. Brian Raftopoulos observes:

The deconstruction of former white-owned, large-scale commercial farms and their replacement by a preponderance of small farm holders has radically changed the social and political relations in these areas. The new forms in which Zanu PF and the state have penetrated these new social relations have affected the forms of Zanu PF dominance in these areas. The rapid expansion of small-scale, "informal" mining companies has also brought a larger number of workers into the fold of Zanu PF's accumulation and patronage network.

This is a crucial point; one that all political parties should take note of. The rural areas are by no means uniform, and even with Masvingo province there are different dynamics, reflecting different factions, interests and coalitions: for example between the core land reform areas and the lowveld.
From now on, the political elite is going to have to take note of rural politics much more. And this is going to be especially important for the opposition to ZANU-PF, in whatever form it takes. The MDC's 2013 campaign focus on a liberal human rights agenda, combined with a western investor-friendly macroeconomic policy, often forgot questions of distribution, restitution and socio-economic rights, and in particular around rural issues. Also, with its focus on western powers and interests, attention to regional, African political realities was sometimes forgotten. Simukai Tinhu recommends a major overhaul, "embracing nationalism and a pan-African outlook" as part of a ten-year renewal strategy.

As Stephen Chan points out, one thing is certain about these recent elections: they will be the last for the great protagonists of the past 15 years, Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai. Who will take over and how will their legacies be settled have become the big questions. There has been plenty of commentary on this too. Will it be Emerson Mnangagwa or Joice Mujuru in ZANU-PF and Tendai Biti or Nelson Chamisa in the MDC-T? All sorts of internal contests are going on right now. For Zimbabwe as a whole, the sooner these are settled the better for everyone.

It's taking longer than billed for the new cabinet to be announced (I was expecting to be commenting on the allocation of the agriculture, land and finance portfolios this week). This probably reflects too a complex balancing act between groupings within, maybe even outside, ZANU-PF. Its final composition will be a strong indication to the country and, crucially, the wider world of how ZANU-PF intends to govern. We must hope that an inclusive and pragmatic approach is taken.

With the elections duly won (even if involving some foul play), hopefully ZANU-PF can tone down the rhetoric, take a more conciliatory stance and begin to deal with some of the big policy issues. What no-one wants is a return to the strife and economic chaos of the mid-2000s, a prospect that is genuinely feared on the streets. An accommodation with the international community will be essential. China may be the new 'development partner' on the block, but its support is insufficient. A further economic implosion would be catastrophic, so placating the western donors and international finance institutions is a must, while not conceding too much to their conditionalities.

Meanwhile, in the coming months, the new government must deal with a major food security crisis, some say of its own making. The complex issues of the food economy, food production vs imports and how to assess food security and what should be done will be turned to in the blog next week.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland