Human rights and wrongs

Op-Ed: Is the future of electoral democracy assured in Africa?

By Claude Kabemba | July 24th, 2017
Africa is suffering from multiple interlinked governance challenges. These challenges arise from the failure of electoral democracy to translate into real democracy. It is now evident that elections in Africa do not necessarily change the way power and privileges are organised in society. In most African countries, elections are a solution to the problem of political legitimacy, but they do not provide answers to problems of state malfunction. The mere establishment of electoral democratic process has not been sufficient to ensure that an elected government is democratic or will remain democratic over time.
Increasingly, those who win political power tend to monopolise it to serve their own narrow interests. The monopolisation of power passes through the privatization of the electoral processes by capturing institutions that organise elections. Electoral democracy tends to lose steam with time. The quality of elections decreases instead of increasing.
Electoral democracies are not accompanied by economic and social benefits to citizens, or what is called substantive democracy. It is clear there will not be political stability in Africa if the current dominant political system does not respond to socio-economic challenges of poverty and unemployment. Put differently, ensuring human security cannot be substituted or postponed in favour of electoral democracy (as important as that may be).
A closer look at Africa’s elected governments suggests that they are not different from autocratic regimes. The elected ruling elites rely on an intricate web of personal, family, clientelism and ethnic ties, and on the military and intelligence services to control state resources and oppress society. This situation undermines state-society relations, increases conditions for corruption, and reduces accountability. Weak and unaccountable government (even if it is democratically elected) undermine good governance. Lack of accountability reduces government’s legitimacy. When legitimacy is weak, states have difficulty functioning.
What is also emerging in Africa’s democracies is the incapacity of citizens to organise and to hold leaders to account, even when they violate the constitution, take actions that undermine stability and human rights, and are involved in corruption. In this way, the crisis of governance raises the critical issue of participatory democracy. Normally, when citizens’ participation in governance increases, the state governance strictures are supposed to be strengthened internally, particularly through reduced corruption, zero tolerance for impunity, and increased respect for the rule of law. This in turn builds social cohesion and strengthens state capacity to face social challenges in a coordinated and collective fashion.
This brings us to the issue of what morality plays in governance. The governance character of the state is not only defined by the nature of its institutions, or by holding regular elections, but also by the moral standing of its leaders and citizens. This is why democratic values need to be given a moral significance that is compelling. Agreed upon values need to be the organising principles of societies which all may assert and defend, and which the institutions of the state must honour, apply and defend. It is clear from what is going on in many countries in all the five economic regions nothing assures us that electoral democracy will be easily consolidated on the continent. Unless citizens improve their capacity for interaction, bargaining and competition with the holders of state power, it is doubtful democracy will consolidate. This is only possible if the vote is enhanced as leverage to re-establish the accountability of elites to citizens.
This article was first published on January 23rd, 2017, on the Dailymaverick website.

A sip, a laugh, a legacy: Prof Sam Moyo

By Masego Madzwamuse | November 23rd, 2015
Prof Sam Moyo

<--break->We sat down for a drink and to catch-up on work.  We argued and discussed different projects Sam was busy with at the time. I ordered my usual gin and tonic and he asked for a savanna light; then as if to make it lighter, went on to dilute it with water. We looked at him perplexed and asked why on earth anyone would add water to savanna and his response was: ‘I am trying to watch my drink’. Without much debate this was understood by all who sat at the table that night. The subject was closed and we moved on to other pressing and exciting matters. The land question, agrarian reform in Zimbabwe, political transition and the land grabs dogging the continent.

What is but a small blot to a man’s image, especially one whose ideas had shaped your thinking for as far you could remember? Studying sociology I had become curious about the land question in Africa. In a conversation with my father, I had asked him about this. We are told the San are the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa and yet in Gantsi my mother’s home area most of the San settlements were to be found on the outskirts of the budding town, on the fringes of national parks, the biggest cattle ranches in the country and so forth. And my father had said the San villages encircle the Gantsi Town, they are observing the movements of the new occupants of their land and one day they will reclaim what is theirs. There a curiosity was born; I wanted to understand how dispossession of this magnitude takes place and what leads to a state where injustice is really a normalisation of the abnormal. Under the guidance of my mentor and supervisor Dr Onalenna Selowane, I went about reading what I could get my hands on to learn about land, rights, politics, identity and social justice - and right up there were the works of Prof Sam Moyo.

You see Sam was a great thinker and fearless scholar. A political economist of note. At the height of the political crisis in Zimbabwe and the Fast Track Land Reform Programme or invasions if you wish, Sam was amongst the few scholars who acknowledged that land reform in Zimbabwe had benefitted small scale farmers, the rural poor. In his various writings he argued that the popular assumption about failed land reform in Zimbabwe was wrong. Instead, land reform programmes despite benefiting the elite had been redistributive. The poor had gained more than others and the extent of such benefit had been wide enough to trigger significant progressive changes in the agrarian structure.

To quote Prof Moyo writing about the land reform discourse in the early 2000s this is what he had to say;

‘the debate has focused on the immediate political motives of the FTLRP, selectively highlighting its aspects of ‘violence’, ‘disorder’, and ‘chaos’, claiming that the ruling Zanu PF elite and the state instrumentalised the FTLRP for electoral support and that only Zanu PF cronies benefited.  By neglecting to examine the character and scale of redistribution of the FTLRP, and not looking at it from a longer historical perspective, the literature on Zimbabwe’s agrarian reform is deprived of a crucial viewpoint[1].

Prof Moyo drawing over three decades of research went about to set the record straight. This was a highly unpopular view but he stuck to it. Sadly enough it is the work of Ian Scoones that is often cited to tell the story of the success of the land reform in Zimbabwe and its impact on the lives of small-scale farmers. The New York Times even ran a story back in 2012 about the new black tobacco farmers, beneficiaries of the fast track land reform process – the title was ‘In Zimbabwe Land Takeover, a Golden Lining’[2] Sam Moyo did not glorify the fast track land programme though he also critiqued the land reform process and pointed out its flaws, acknowledging the uneven distribution of land among beneficiaries of the land reform programme. He acknowledged that some especially the political elite had received larger allocations than others. This in turn influenced skewed access to farming services and infrastructure. But that said, the bottom line was the peasants had benefitted. While the article in the NYT was celebrated, Scoones widely quoted, Prof Moyo received wide criticism for the same views. We don’t acknowledge and celebrate African scholarship enough. We second guess our own and often we are quick to label and discredit them.

The Agrarian Institute was born and Prof Sam Moyo’s legacy lives on

But that was Sam’s work on Zimbabwe. He dedicated his scholarship to other parts of the continent too. He was a Pan-Africanist of note.  He served as the President of the Council for the Development of Social Research in Africa (CODESRIA) from 2009–2011). He was a research professor at the Zimbabwe Institute of Development Studies, and taught at the Universities of Calabar in Nigeria as well as Zimbabwe and served on the boards of many organisations.

With most of his achievements what stood out for me was the African Institute of Agrarian Studies. Prof Moyo set up the Institute in late 2002. The main objective of taking on such a bold step was to influence land and agrarian reform policies through multidisciplinary social science research, policy dialogues, training and information. Sam never lost sight of one thing he was passionate about. This would not be an institute that would do research for the sake of it. He ultimately wanted to mobilise scholars to provide advice and mediate in the policy making processes so as to improve rural livelihoods. He often lamented the limited relevant knowledge and training programmes to tackle the contemporary agrarian crisis that is emerging in the continent. The low agricultural productivity, food insecurity, unemployment, poverty, and unsustainable natural resources utilisation, while redressing the growing loss of rights to land, food and a clean environment.  To respond to this challenge, Prof Moyo argued that a critical mass of analysts and civil society advocates needs to be built to influence shifts in the policy environment. This should also promote civil society organisations to better support the advocacy of those whose rights are infringed upon. His argument was the current knowledge production and policy analysis institutions have, due to their limited disciplinary curricula failed to fill this gap. They serve too few potential agrarian analysts and focus on limited market and business models. Their learning processes cater for a narrow range of views and exclude the perspectives of those who use political economy and rights-based approaches to policy making and advocacy.

Out of this critique, the Agrarian Institute was born and its flagship programme the Agrarian Summer School was launched. The Summer School contributes to filling this gap by providing training to postgraduate students and civil society activists in Africa, and promoting research relevant to understanding and addressing agrarian justice and inequitable resource rights on the continent. This programme was a reflection of Sam’s commitment to building skills for critical thinking and mentoring young scholars. He drew on his social capital to bring together some of the best brains in the field who spent days of their time teaching young scholars and providing them with feedback on their research. Guest lecturers have included the likes of Prof Paris Yeros University Federal do ABC Brazil, Prof Dzodzi Tsikaka University of Ghana and current President of Codesria, Praveen Jha and Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi among others. Partners in the Agrarian Consortium that emerged out of these efforts include the Rhodes University, Haki Ardhi, University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and Civil Society Organizations, HAKIARDHI The Land Rights Research & Resources Institute (Tanzania), and Trust for Community Outreach and Education (South Africa) and other in research and training of postgraduate students, with the support of key research institutions in Brasil (Federal Universities of ABC and Brasilia) and in India (Jahwaral Nehru University Centre for Economic Studies and Planning). The Agrarian Summer School is widely recognised in the region and internationally, there is growing demand within the Global South for participation in it. Many who have been through his hands have gone off to do great things.

The last time I saw Sam was in August and over a glass of wine, lots of laughter and this time nothing was diluted, we plunged straight into another heated debate over a highly political and controversial issue. That of Cecil the lion. That evening many questions were asked, whose narrative is it? What was the impact of the international campaign on the livelihoods of rural communities who rely on tourism and sustainable use of wildlife resources for their local economies? Where was the voice of the African scholars and practitioners in the conservation field? What do communities have to say, where is the platform? The questions went on and on. That was Sam; there was laughter, sipping and critical thinking.

Sam you are one of whom it can be said that “ akekho ofana nawe”  (there is none like you). Rest in eternal peace dear brother, colleague, mentor and comrade!!! You planted many ideas and these will live on!



[1] See  Moyo, S. Three decades of agrarian reform in Zimbabwe. 2011. In Journal of Peasant Studies. Vol. 38, No. 3, July 2011, 493–531

[2] See Lydia Polgreen, 2012. In Zimbabwe Land Take Over, a Golden Lining.



Zimbabwe: From Hemorrhage to Stability, a Personal Journey

By Tendai Biti | March 05th, 2015
Tendai Biti

On a chilly Monday morning on February 16th, 2009, I walked into the New Government Complex in Harare’s Central Avenue. As I strode for the very first time down a poorly lit corridor, eyes strained and necks stretched behind wide open doors to catch a glimpse of the newcomer with a reputation for short temper. I was ushered into a comfortable office that was to become my home for the next four and a half years. 

I had just become Zimbabwe’s eighth Minister of Finance. 

In 2008, the country had held a general election. Our opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), had narrowly won control of the lower house of Parliament. 

The Presidential election, on the other hand, had to go to a second round, which turned into a violent and chaotic farce. This prompted our party to pull out of the runoff. Robert Mugabe, the 84-year-old president of Zimbabwe, was controversially re-elected amid bloodshed and intimidation. 

Faced with a Zimbabwe on the brink of a political and economic precipice that threatened to plunge the region into turmoil, regional leaders pushed for a political settlement. 

The country’s economic meltdown had already been weighing on its neighbors, and in March 2007, regional leaders had mandated South Africa to facilitate dialogue amongst Zimbabwe’s three main political parties. 

Following the controversial 2008 election, South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki, used that mandate to push for a settlement amongst the Zimbabwe National African Union-Patriotic Front, or ZANU (PF), led by Robert Mugabe, the MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai and a smaller formation of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara, a former student leader, Rhodes Scholar and Oxford-trained scientist. 

On September 15th, 2008, the political parties agreed in principle to form a government of national unity (GNU). As a result of protracted and often vicious disagreements, it took five months for that awkward union to produce an actual government. 

It was on the basis of this power-sharing agreement that I found myself at the Ministry of Finance on February 16th, 2009—an environment far removed from the law practice that I had run for the previous 18 years. 

This hadn’t been an easy decision. As the MDC’s Secretary General, I was opposed to the idea of being in government with ZANU (PF), but on January 30th, my party had decided otherwise. Some friends argued that I should be part of the government and make the best of it. 

Following years of struggle and hardship, my family, on the other hand, was urging me to take a break from politics. In any case, the Justice portfolio felt like the only reasonable fit for a lawyer like myself, and it had been allocated to ZANU (PF). 

On February 8th, Morgan Tsvangirai and I met for dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Harare. Over rice and dumplings, he convinced me to take on the Finance portfolio. With the Zimbabwean economy in freefall since 1997, it promised to be the toughest job in the world. 

Any illusions I may have had were shattered on my very first day at the Ministry of Finance (MOF). Following introductions to the senior management team, the Principal Director (Budgets), Pfungwa Kunaka, pointed out that the following day was payday for civil servants. 

“How much do we have to pay?” I asked. 

“$30 million, sir” he responded. 

“How much do we have?” 

He shook his head in surrender. “$4 million, sir.” 

“So where are we going to get the remaining $26 million?” I asked with a half-smile, beginning to understand what I had just gotten myself into. 

“We were waiting for you, sir.”




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