Securocrat state and Zim in transition

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THIS is the second part an article by Dr Ibbo Mandaza titled The Political Economy of the State in Zimbabwe: The Rise and Fall of the Securocrat State.

Zimbabwe’s transition has been characterised by the factors of (state) continuity, class, the primacy of “national security” over political and economic reform and the conflation of (ruling) party and state as a necessary feature of the securocrat state. The latter term is also derived from the military-security factor in the Zimbabwean case, a feature that might also distinguish it from other post-colonial situations in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Ibbo Mandaza,Academic

The Zimbabwe military top brass has benefitted from the land reform programme.

The Zimbabwe military top brass has benefitted from the land reform programme.

This is the enduring role, so far, of leading elements of Zimbabwe’s former guerilla army within the security establishment of the state; and how these, through a combination of the liberation ideology rhetoric that has contrivedly sought to pervade the post-Independence period, the related system of patronage (borne out of a seemingly open-minded entitlement) that has made them part of the comprador bourgeois class and their capacity for violence (or the threat of it), have been an indispensable factor in President Robert Mugabe’s incumbency since 1980, particularly since 2000. In short, this is the Zimbabwe in crisis: a state as apparently invincible and impervious to change since the turn of this century and yet so brittle as the current political and economic implosion illustrates.

Therefore, here is to offer a brief political economy of the crisis, the origins and development of the securocrat state; and in doing so, try to identify the dialectic of change, the contradictions that are simultaneously the agency for change in such a crisis.

Continuity of inherited state

Thirty years since the publication of Zimbabwe: The Political Economy of Transition, 1980-86 (edited by this author), it is now more obvious why the term “transition”, and not “transformation”, was used by the authors to characterise the Zimbabwean political and economic process: some of us had had exposure as exiles to the realities of the post-colonial situation in the neigbouring countries of Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania; African scholarship had by that time sufficiently analysed and exposed the nature and content of the post-colonial state; and six years after independence, the myth of “Southern African exceptionalism” — the view, underpinning the revolutionary rhetoric of the liberalism struggle of Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, that the protracted struggle would naturally inhere a transformative post-liberation process — had been sufficiently exposed, as the book itself sought to illustrate. Therefore, continuity rather than change is what characterizes Zimbabwe in transition.

The main problem arose from the fact that Zimbabwe inherited the key elements of the white settler colonial apparatus. This was precisely the intention of the Lancaster House Agreement: to provide for the continuity of the state as a guarantee for “stability”, the “maintenance of high standards”; and the survival and maintenance of the economic (capitalist) status quo.

The reality of the white settler colonial state was brought home to the African nationalists during the ceasefire and election processes, in which the Rhodesian state was dominant. The fact was re-affirmed with the birth of a new government that had to depend on the goodwill of elements of the old order in its attempt to build new structures. The problem of reconciling the old and new into the new state would persist. Only time, and the vantage of a deeper — if only because retrospective analysis — will reveal the extent to which the inherited state structures would in turn influence the nature and character of the new state in Zimbabwe.

Today, it is no longer possible to under-estimate the nearly universal and hegemonic parameters of the bourgeois state model and its accompanying neo-liberal ideology, constraining and, perhaps, thereby delaying, the (historically) inevitable explosion of the contradictions that constitute modern-day capitalism. So, is there, for the time being, an alternative for such nation-states-in-the-making as Zimbabwe, to the pursuit of the bourgeois democracy model as is implicit in the struggle for political and economic reform of the post-colonial state?
As has already been pointed out in the foregoing, the distinguishing feature between other post-colonial situations and the Zimbabwe case is that the latter’s state was able to combine within itself both the inherited structures of the colonial order and a former guerilla army whose leadership worked hand-in-glove with its civilian counterparts, not only in developing the securocracy that is now so self-evident today, but also as part of the comprador bourgeoisie.

The backdrop of a bloody armed struggle in which a number of its survivors still constitute a significant, if not a central, factor in the securocrat state, and the (ideological) rhetoric that has accompanied and sought to pervade the entire post-Independence period to this day, contribute towards the attempt to sustain and justify the twin pillars of contemporary securocracy in Zimbabwe: violence (or the threat of it) and entitlement and/or patronage which has become integral to endemic corruption and blatant looting of state resources.

As will be elaborated shortly in the context of an outline of the main features of the securocrat state, it is the extent to which the conflation of (ruling Zanu PF) party and state has sought to envelop the entire society, from central government itself, to the provinces and districts, and down to the villages and wards. Structurally, this has been achieved through the system of traditional leaders who are virtually employees and therefore an extension of the state apparatus; district and village heads who are simultaneously party and state functionaries; and a military-security superstructure that is generally pervasive throughout the society. Thus, regimentation, as opposed to mobilisation, which is no longer sustainable in such conditions, has become the order of the day, through a combination of state-driven violence (or the threat of it) and state-sponsored patronage. This has been most pronounced since the violence that accompanied the “run-off” presidential election of 2008 and no doubt pervaded and influenced the outcome of the 2013 poll. This has been the pattern of politics in Zimbabwe since 2000, as the Mugabe regime has tenuously and perilously hung on in the face of mass opposition, a flagging economy and emigration of at least a third of the country’s population to the region and overseas.

The nature bourgeois state

Inheriting a bourgeois state model, but without a national bourgeoisie: As has been explained elsewhere, the nature and impact of white settler colonialism in Zimbabwe (as elsewhere in Southern Africa) directly impeded and pre-empted the development of an indigenous national bourgeoisie.

African nationalists in Zimbabwe almost universally condemned the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 as mainly an expression of the racial nature of white settler colonialism. But, as Giovanni Arrighi illustrated in his seminal work on The Political Economy of Rhodesia, this piece of legislation constituted the cornerstone of the economic under-development of Zimbabwe and determined that its indigenous people were reduced to classes of land hungry peasants, wage earners in the capitalist economy and an amorphous petit bourgeois class composed of school teachers, nurses, labour supervisors, educated elites, petty traders, etc. The combination of this historical backdrop and a relentless globalisation has virtually killed the prospects of (post-colonial and neo-colonial) economies (such as Zimbabwe’s) ever producing a national bourgeoisie; whatever potential there might have been for the emergence of such a class was, with the passage of time, reduced to a predatory and parasitic class of a comprador bourgeoisie that straddles both public and private sectors.

As the term implies, the comprador bourgeoisie in Zimbabwe is a class not rooted in production; on the contrary, it thrives on back handers, fat rewards for crooked contracts and shady deals, official corruption and looting of state coffers; not to forget the “casino economy” era during which the comprador bourgeois class thrived through the agency of the central bank, but at the expense of the economy in general and collapse of the national currency in early 2009.

By nature, the comprador bourgeoisie is a class in itself and for itself, bereft of a national vision because it is incapable of conceiving one and, more significantly, lives for today, uncertain about tomorrow.

The origins of the comprador bourgeoisie in Zimbabwe are to be found in African nationalism itself, in its class ambitions and, as has already been explained, in its (class) frustrations at the failure to become a national bourgeoisie. So, in such historical circumstances, the African nationalist leaders and their class associates were always easy prey for international capital in its quest for new representatives and agents for its enterprise in the post-colonial dispensation.

For example, the role of such multinationals as Tiny Rowland’s Lonrho in the “compradorisation” of almost all of Zimbabwe’s nationalists even before Independence. But, perhaps not surprisingly, it has been largely through the extractive industries that the comprador bourgeoisie has grown during the post-Independence period, expressing itself as it has, not only through the members of the political and military-security and bureaucratic hierarchy, and in collaboration with their counterparts in the private sector and in multinationals at home and abroad; but also in the apparent conflation between power, corruption and wealth.

The US$15 billion diamond scandal is the most symbolic in this sad saga and yet could be only the proverbial tip of the iceberg for what is clearly an integral component of the securocrat state in Zimbabwe. As Ken Yamamoto states: “A president discloses that mines essentially owned by his government looted US$15 billion and the newspapers don’t even make it front page news with screaming headlines is a sign of a country that has lost its soul. With the stolen US$15 billion, Zimbabwe could have provided its economy a huge bailout, funding refurbishment of railways infrastructure, construction of power plants, construction and expansion of national highways, a bailout to the sinking industrial sector, provided clean water in cities, funded alternative agriculture and processing industries and invested in clean energy …“It could also build at least 10 power stations providing over 1 000 MW of power for local consumption and export.

It could also build hospitals and import the latest technology and (President Robert) Mugabe himself would not need to fly to Singapore and Dubai for medical treatment. It’s selfish to stash national wealth in foreign countries and then fly there for medical treatment. The stolen US$15 billion could transform Zimbabwe overnight, taking millions out of street vending back into the productive sector. Sadly, while he was touting ZimAsset, Mugabe did not tell Zimbabweans a secret he knew, that billions have been and were at that material time being siphoned out of the country. He only revealed this when he turned 92.

“The question that keeps nudging my mind is how do human beings become so bland and lose their souls to such a point? How does Mugabe sleep well at night? How do his coterie of praise-singers and bootlickers live with themselves? How do you preside over such theft and keep a straight face? How do you disadvantage 99% of the population and not bat an eyelid? What kind of people live between the two rivers — Zambezi and Limpopo? How do people continue to eat, drink, sleep, go to work, vend, or even make merry in the midst such a scandal?”

The (belated) land reform exercise that began two decades after Independence was also an agency for primitive accumulation and patronage on the part of the political elites, the military-security top brass, the upper echelons of the civil service and parastatal sectors, the judiciary, traditional leaders and ruling party chiefs and operatives across the country. So, beginning with the First Family itself, vice-presidents and cabinet ministers and their deputies, provincial governors/ministers, the top brass in the army, air force, police, security services, the judiciary, legislature, all the traditional leaders (or chiefs) — all these were, almost in order of the hierarchy, the key beneficiaries of about the 4 500 best commercial farms and estates that were “acquired” by the state on the back of fast-tracked legislation that followed one of the most violent episodes in Zimbabwe’s post-Independence period .

No doubt, less voracious than the colonial violence that preceded the Land Apportionment Act, the fast-track land reform which began under the politically charged circumstances of the referendum over the constitution in February 2000, could have been the agency through which to replace the former white settler agrarian bourgeoisie with an indigenous one; but the process lacked the enormous financial, technical and market resources with which colonialism was able to create such a class in a different historical context.

So, after almost two decades, the commercial agriculture sector has virtually collapsed and together with it, also an industrial sector which was so dependent upon it; the country has become one large informal sector, with only 4% of the economically active in employment; about 50% or more Zimbabwe’s professional/ skilled population now in the diaspora; and the public sector accounting for 83% of the national budget of US$4 billion in terms of the salary bill. These are the circumstances under which the comprador bourgeoisie finds itself under pressure and in search for new avenues for primitive accumulation; and, to some degree, therefore, even “resource nationalism” generally and the “indigenisation” policy in particular reflect the aspirations of this class, especially since the focus of such attention is the attractive mining sector around which the comprador bourgeoisie has waxed rich in recent decades.

In short, the alliance between the comprador bourgeois class and sections of the security forces around the state over the last two decades represents the failure of the former national liberation movement as an agency of political and economic development in Zimbabwe.

Dr Mandaza is an academic, publisher and businessman who is also the director of a local think-tank Sapes Trust.

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4 thoughts on “Securocrat state and Zim in transition”

  1. self centred africans says:

    include yourself mandaza on the list of beneficiaries of this “primitive” land acquisition programme

  2. Talibs says:

    Baba Mandaza your article has language lay men might have issues. Ndagumira pakati. Make it simple hey.

    1. Tindo says:

      Do you want to write churungu cheke H metro?

  3. Too eridute. The irony of concealing hard facts behind the thickest part of the glossary while denying the potential recipient a right to grasp and retort, is as temptous as the evil extents revealed in the article.

    Great constructive composure, reader-friendliness and communicative acumen seem evasive to Ibbo.

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