Zimbabwe: diamonds are not people’s best friend

16 Gen

by Deniz Kellecioglu * [Documenti]

http://www.ondanomala.org/2011/05/15/lafrica-violata/Zimbabwe is now a one-party state again. This is clear since Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF scooped the presidency and 76 percent of the parliament. Their success is based on a mix of reasons: legitimate votes; unfair election process; grotesque fraudulent practices at election day; but also a major failure of the opposition parties to involve and respond to the needs of ordinary Zimbabweans. Of course, the party MDC-T led by Morgan Tsvangirai is the main culprit among the opposition parties. More than anything, we are witnessing how far elite groups are willing to go in order to retain their hegemony. Another reason for the failure of a democratic transformation in Zimbabwe is the lack of attention to the financial channels and incentives that drives the political processes.

Too often, political conflicts are conceptualised in terms of two sides battling for power. In such a framework, it is common to portray one side as oppressive and the other side as a “democratic underdog”. Such a point of departure is then used by sympathisers of the opposition to strengthen democratic forces and opposition parties. Such empowerment efforts are important, but miss the other side of the coin: to disempower the already powerful.

One might think that such efforts are already being made. For instance, government issue statements which may weaken the legitimacy of political power. But it is possible to take an additional step and weaken the economic power of the same regime. In order to do so economic incentives and financing channels have to be identified, analysed and acted upon.

There is a broad consensus within the field of international economics that a country’s government can best be understood through the dual lenses: political and economical. Although social and cultural perspectives are also important, the economical lens have proven to be the key determinant for power-holders. This is often forgotten in the media, but also in the context of development aid and foreign policy. Such over-simplifications may lead to misjudgments, and in general help to reinforce the undemocratic status quo.

In the case of Zimbabwe, the power elite led by Robert Gabriel Mugabe have employed a great number of adaptive and customised mechanisms in order to extract the wealth of the country. Already at the onset of independence in 1980, several mechanisms were exercised, including tax collection, donor money, beneficial land access, and loans from international organisations such as the World Bank and the IMF. At the end of the 1990s, the public coffers were increasingly emptied, while the economy took a downward turn. The probability of disintegration of the elite stratification pyramid were probably high over the years following the 2002 elections. From a view, the higher level of greed reached did not match the lower revenue levels. But then, in 2006, diamonds were discovered, which represented a new major source of wealth extraction for the elite. It took some years to understand, but it is now clear that the value of Zimbabwean diamonds is at global levels. The power elite now found it easier to satisfy their greed and thereby get along. In so, wonderful election results are easily financed.

Despite the increasing knowledge about the diamonds, neither domestic nor foreign organisations based their analysis and plans for democratic transformation on this. This was probably due to a lack of transparency, but also because of the heavier analytical task at hand. Such negligence comes at a heavy price, however. Millions of Zimbabweans are suffering seriously from poor governance and cut/off from their own natural resources. Any actor or organisation who is serious about democratic transformation and economic justice for Zimbabweans ought to examine the financial channels and incentives driving the power elite. In doing so, it is likely that the problems are met with better and more optimal solutions.

Mapping and documenting the diamond resources would mean one great step closer to accountability, which in turn raises the likelihood of benefitting the people at large. International pressure may also help, such as mechanisms for fair diamond trade, even if the Kimberly Process have been very disappointing. As a matter of fact, such an examination will probably reveal that international influences are highly relevant for the national turn of events.

Furthermore, the daily channels of exploitation faced by ordinary Zimbabweans are also crucial to check. People are forced to pay taxes, bribes, and fees for electricity, education, health care and other things without gaining much in return. In addition, the state extends itself the sole mandate to purchase central agricultural products such as corn, tobacco, and cotton. By doing so, they mimic the role played by large corporations who usually extract enormous profits from human and natural resources in developing countries.

There has been other unfair ways of the state elite, such as price controls of goods and services, as well as monopoly in the access to farm land, corporate ownership, and mining. These mechanisms are usually wrapped around the rhetoric of favouring people’s empowerment, but in reality they are simply channels of nepotism. In the first instance they benefit the inner elite circle, and in the second instance the lower ranks of the stratification pyramid, individuals that for one reason or another cave in to power or even function as their informants.

The knowledge and analysis regarding these issues has been rather sporadic. Development partners ought to create a common ground with their Zimbabwean counterparts in the pursuit of examining, analysing and act on the financial channels of the regime. By doing so, the chances to disempower the already powerful are higher, both on the political and the economical front.

 (da Nordic Africa Institute Forum, Svezia, 2013.11.12)

Deniz Kellecioglu ha lavorato in Zimbabwe (2007-2009) per la Ong Africa Groups of Sweden. È nella United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. È dottorando presso la Istanbul Bilgi University.

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