Leaders need to study what has worked in Africa

By Tamuka Charles Chirimambowa, a research associate for the Southern African Liaison Office (SALO).

First published on 4 March 2018: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2018-03-04-op-ed-leaders-need-to-study-what-has-worked-in-africa/

Photo: A villager greets farmer Robert Smart (L) and his son Darryn Smart (2-L) during the  traditional cleansing ceremony of their Lesbury Farm in Rusape, 170 km east of Harare, Zimbabwe, 06 January 2018, to celebrate their return to the farm.  EPA-EFE/AARON UFUMELI

The recent leadership transitions in the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) and the African National Congress (ANC), after acrimonious succession battles in the ruling parties, brings to the fore unresolved debates on nation state formation, democratisation and economic transformation. By TAMUKA CHARLES CHIRIMAMBOWA.

In this article I will borrow from Professor David Moore’s characterisation of the Zimbabwe Crisis to be one of “primitive accumulation, nation-state formation, and democratisation”, simply put, how to create wealth and distribute it, building a community of citizens and the capacity of citizens to exercise agency to resolve issues in a civil manner. This point is generally applicable to the African Crisis in the post-colony.

There are three key areas of contestation when considering the future, namely questions of citizenship and rights, how people are governed and how they relate with their leadership and lastly, how wealth is acquired and distributed. The way these three issues are interconnected has made it difficult for leadership to successfully address Africa’s challenges.

There are those who argue that for Africa to industrialise and develop they have to negate the democracy question. This argument feeds into the long-held myth that Africa needs “strong men” or radical policies for transformation to take place. Strong and persuasive arguments have been put forward stating that democracy is a luxury and that democratic institutions have failed to deliver economic transformation. A gaze into history refutes such rhetoric, as the Malaysians successfully managed to build an ethnic Malay business class without disenfranchising the Chinese. Over and above this, the pursuit of economic transformation cannot escape reality, a reality in which the world has become sensitive to the question of property rights. Interestingly, the debate on property rights has been dominated by disingenuous and deceitful arguments from

In Zimbabwe, the new administration has already hit the ground running, projecting itself as reformist in the mould of China’s Deng Xiaoping or Tanzania’s John Pombe Magufuli. In South Africa, the new leadership has also projected itself as the new brooms that will cleanse the ruling party and country from State Capture. However, in order to maintain their reformed status and regain significant government control, the ANC will have to contend with President Jacob Zuma’s last two years in office.

Interestingly, both successors in Zimbabwe and South Africa are former vice-presidents who have fallen out of favour with their president. In both cases, the common fault line is allegations of State Capture in one way or another. In the case of Robert Mugabe, it was Grace Mugabe’s alleged grooming for the presidency as well as the G40. While in South Africa, it was allegations of State Capture regarding the Gupta family. Although Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma is a political actor in her own right with a reputation for efficient administration, shown by her position as minister of home affairs and arguably at the AU, and clean hands, she was seen by some as a protégé of her ex-husband and likely to protect the Guptas. Both Zanu-PF and the ANC held elective congresses in 2017 and will be heading into national elections in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Already, the two countries are in election mode and at the centre of policy debate has been the question of economic transformation, in particular the inclusion of blacks within mainstream economics as well as controlling the levers or means of production. The major outcome of the Zanu-PF extra-ordinary congress was the watering down of the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act, whereas for the ANC it was the adoption of Radical Economic Transformation (RET) and appropriation of land without compensation. It is my contention that supporters or leaders of the ruling parties have tended to advocate for populist and redistributionist policy positions without paying heed to economic fundamentals and, in the end, breed authoritarian governance. At the centre of this authoritarian governance is a creation of messiahs and subjects, rather than leaders and citizens, a necessary dynamic that has been lacking in the African democracy matrix.

In Africa, in general, there has been a flip flopping between radical economics and neo-liberalism with adherents of each school adopting populist solutions that seek to empower black people on the basis of socialist dogma or market fundamentalism without paying heed to the nexus of the local and international political economy. The end result of this politics has always come to naught, thus leaving people in abject poverty and ultimately the diminishing of the people’s belief in democratic institutions to bring a good life. Thus, the argument becomes that Africa needs strong men or benevolent dictators, who can commandeer the economy and politics. The danger of this logic is to reduce every challenge in our society to a nail and thus the need for a hammer, even where unnecessarily so.

In South Africa, there is the argument that Mandela and democracy failed to give people their economic freedom and in particular land. It is also argued that in Zimbabwe, Mugabe gave the people their land and economic freedom despite the many problems he brought to the country. It is for this reason that Mugabe became popular in Africa and the developing world, as he is seen as a messiah of black people against white supremacism and imperialism.

Interestingly, those who succeeded Mugabe, whilst claiming to extol his legacy have revised the economic indigenisation programme and the position on compensation of land. A key point to note has been that the toppling of president Mugabe from power exposed shady deals in which the ruling elite have been secretly compensating farmers using the state in the form of Treasury Bills and, at the same time, venturing into ‘partnerships’ (fronting) with deposed white farmers.

The Zimbabwe Independent of 08/12/2017 reveals that the ruling elite sought title deeds to their newly acquired land, yet it has consistently argued against property rights for ordinary Zimbabweans. Similarly, after her dethronement from power, Joyce Mujuru, met the farmer whom her family dispossessed of land to arrange compensation.

The sustained attack on property rights and their characterisation as only white and Eurocentric by African Elites, speaks of duplicity within our policy circles. In addition, Mugabe’s revealed relationship with Interfresh Holdings’ Hamish Rudland exposes the duplicity of African elites who Nicodemously seek property rights, yet discouraging the citizenry against their pursuit. Mugabe is on record speaking out against leasing of land to whites by Zimbabweans. This challenge of duplicity has also been observed in South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment, where elites have become fronts of Capital (white or Gupta) at the expense of real economic transformation.

Programmes of economic transformation do not need to be radical to take people out of poverty, but should be well thought out within a broader economic strategy. For instance, when one looks at land, the idea is not to seek vengeance but to address questions of social justice and economic transformation at the same time. Beyond the socio-cultural significance of land, we also have to think of the neglected question of production (i.e. in terms of food security, employment and role of land in economic value chain).

The failure to appreciate the role of land and any other economic asset beyond the culture of rent seekers will only breed acquirers in the sense of Mobutu’s Zaire or what Moeleletsi Mbeki describes in Architects of Poverty as “an anti-developmental parasitic elite, only interested in their personal accumulation projects and not development of the ordinary person”. At the same time, there is the danger of policy makers swinging from one dogma to another at the heed of false prophets.

Already, in Zimbabwe, the new administration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa is now on a local, regional and international charm offensive to former white commercial farmers to return to land and farm. Mnangagwa’s administration has gone further to promise compensation of white farmers and remove the 51% indigenisation threshold, except for diamond and platinum mining. This marks a radical departure from Znu-PF’s radical politics. However, this, without policy and institutional reforms, will not solve the African challenges of unemployment, poverty and underdevelopment, as it reduces policy reform to swinging from left dogma to neo-liberal dogma without paying attention to detail.

These policy somersaults in Zimbabwe provide a poser to the ANC, especially after the adoption of Radical Economic Transformation and appropriation of land without compensation as policy positions.

South Africa’ leadership has to be cognisant of the fact that the realities of the modern economy and its sensitivities to radical and uncertain policies have the potential to lead the country down the Zimbabwe Crisis path. This is an argument that many have often wanted to dismiss or not contemplate discussing.

South Africa will not transform its economy on the basis of dispossessing whites and replacing them with blacks. Building a modern economy is not that simple, unless South Africa simply wants replacement of black faces with white faces in the economy.

The challenge is that of RET without structural transformation. But some would argue, structural transformation by nature takes a long time. Frantz Fanon warned us many years ago of the structural limitations of this approach to economic change in his book The Wretched of the Earth. While the ideals and arguments of radical economic transformation and appropriation of land without compensation may appeal well for the ordinary South African, the realities of cases from elsewhere in Africa is that these have failed to work.

In Mozambique they had to re-open the country to the Portuguese after dispelling them. In Zambia, they had to re-privatise the mines after nationalising them and in Zimbabwe they are now begging the white farmers to return. South Africa does not need to follow the Zimbabwe or Mozambique route of destruction and then to somersault years later and clamour for the return of white capital to the economy.

Going forward, it is critical for the new Zanu-PF and ANC leadership not to pander to revolutionary gusto and emotions while being oblivious to the mutual interconnectedness of the nation-state formation, democracy and wealth creation and distribution questions. One of these questions cannot be successfully resolved whilst neglecting the other two. These questions are symbiotically linked.

It is often argued that democratic institutions cannot deliver economic transformation, a position that is not supported by evidence. Perhaps it is time for Zimbabwe and South Africa to consider debates around the democratic developmental state. In this case, the East Asian Miracle is instructive for our learning. It was hinged on building a craft competent and policy literate bureaucracy and working institutions. Whilst race played a critical role in creating the current inequalities, the realities of the modern world is that attempting to build policies on racialism and exclusivist policies is bound to fail. There is a need to re-imagine a new Africa that recognises its citizens not on the basis of race, creed, discrimination or any form of difference and yet, at the same time, address the colonial imbalances. This is the challenge that modern day African leaders face. The world has moved from Cecil Rhodes’ 1890 and Jan van Riebeeck’s 1652, yet the impacts still haunt our quest for nation building, democratisation and building socio-economic just societies. The answers are not easy but then such are the demands for more well thought-out solutions for Africa’s challenges. DM

Photo: A villager greets farmer Robert Smart (L) and his son Darryn Smart (2-L) during the  traditional cleansing ceremony of their Lesbury Farm in Rusape, 170 km east of Harare, Zimbabwe, 06 January 2018, to celebrate their return to the farm.  EPA-EFE/AARON UFUMELI

Tamuka Charles Chirimambowa is a research associate for the Southern African Liaison Office (SALO). He is currently pursuing a D Litt et Phil Development Studies with the University of Johannesburg. Tamuka’s research interests focus on investment and business-state relations in Africa, economic reform and transformation in Africa, citizenship and governance, elections, migration and remittances