FROM MUTOTA TO MUGAGE: Zimbabwe’s regional neighbourhood effect and some lessons

The neighbourhood effect

Much has been written on the neighbourhood effect when understanding the lives of residents in adjoining urban residential areas characterized by differences in group composition in terms of race, incomes, and other variables; and how these affect a wide range of issues from education and health outcomes, voting patterns, violence, social behaviours, economic opportunities, and many other aspects of human development.  On a global scale, human geography complements the neighbourhood effect by studying how society and human development have been affected by geography – be it river systems, mountain ranges, coastal outlines, land masses, deserts, etc. – as these create obstacles and opportunities for various population groups.  The 2005 publication (Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fate of human societies) by Jared Diamond put forward a compelling argument in support of the “geography matters” approach to understanding differences in societal development, especially when talking about issues of innovation and technology.

At the level of societies and nation states, the diffusion of behaviours, innovations, and other aspects of human development is important in explaining neighbourhood effects.  In this context, Zimbabwe has been a significant regional shaper of opinions and development strategies in the past and its current economic and political approaches could continue this trend in the wider Southern Africa Region.  The basic hypothesis here is that Zimbabwe’s political leadership has promoted a political, social, and economic approach that is consistent with its history and culture within the region; and this has the potential to significantly influence future developments in Southern Africa.

Southern Africa Iron age civilization[1]

The inhabitants of present-day Zimbabwe have been significant political and economic players in the development of Southern Africa for several centuries.  In the period 4th-15th Century, they developed the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, which built the Great Zimbabwe during the 11-14th Century.  This Kingdom of Zimbabwe went into decline after successive droughts and depletion of natural resources, and gave way to the Mwenemutapa Empire[2] (based further North in the Highveld) although the seat of power for the Kingdom of Zimbabwe (the Great Zimbabwe Ruins in present-day Southern Zimbabwe) continued to house part of the Mwenemutapa royal household.  The word Zimbabwe captures the idea of “House of Stone/Importance” and there are over 200 ‘zimbabwes’ in Southern Africa (including Bumbusi in Zimbabwe and Manyikeni in Mozambique) built of stones without mortar.  These structures were built by the Gokomere cultures, in cooperation with the Venda; with Great Zimbabwe being the oldest followed by the second oldest structure in the Kingdom of Mapungubwe (1075–1220) in present-day South Africa.

During the period 14th-17th Century, the Mwenemutapa Empire stretched North to South between the Limpopo and Zambezi Rivers, and from East to West between the Indian Ocean and present-day Eastern Angola. The first ruler to use the title Mwene Matapa was Nyatsimba after taking over the empire founded by his great-great grandfather, Mbire.   Before the 14th Century, parts of the Zambezi valley and the Northern plateau had been populated by cattle-raising communities also specializing in crafts and local trade as well as trade with those along the Indian Ocean coastline (Pwiti 1996, and Matenga 1998).

While the Mwenemutapa Empire was created from military conquest starting with Nyatsimba Mutota, its longevity was mainly due to economic conditions created by its rulers.  The empire had a broad economy based on livestock and the cultivation of sorghum, millet, ground nuts, cowpeas and bananas, brought by the Arabs from Indonesia (Dewey 2006, and Owen 2000).  Agriculture was supplemented with the mining of gold (exported together with ivory), iron, copper, tin, and the quarrying of soapstone (Owen, 2000).   Output from mines was used to make iron tools and weapons; jewelry made from copper, bronze and gold; carvings and pottery; and cloth made from locally-grown cotton.  The empire had clear rules governing fair trade and commerce, and facilitated extensive trade with Arabs and various European merchants – especially the Portuguese.  The rulers were also open to external influences, recording some of the earliest converts to Christianity and producing missionaries (some of whom ended up in Goa).

Interrupted by political upheavals associated with wars against the Portuguese and internal strife, the first Mutapa State came to an end during the second half of 17th Century, but was re-established at the beginning of the 19th Century (following the rise of the Rwozi Empire), only to be brought to an abrupt end by European colonial wars at the dawn of the 20th Century.  In the four hundred-odd years the empire existed, there were over 20 kings for both the First and Second Mutapa States

Egoli the City of Gold

The production and export of gold from the Mwenemutapa Empire inspired some European explorers to believe that the empire was the site of the legendary mines of King Solomon referred to as Ophir in the Bible.[3]  Some early European colonists dreamt of finding a city of gold in Southern Africa – and went on expeditions similar to those of El Dorado in South America – but this did not materialize as the gold mines became exhausted and contributed the decline of Mwenemutapa Empire. 

It was the colonists from Cape Town who were to find the “African El Dorado,” first by discovering diamonds in Kimberly in 1867, and more significantly gold in 1885, leading to the Witwatersrand Gold Rush of 1886 that saw the founding of Johannesburg (which within ten years became the largest town in South Africa although Cape Town had been founded 200 years earlier).  The demand for labour and other services around the new gold mines led to a steady flow of populations to Johannesburg, and the building of railways into present-day Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi provided transportation for large volumes of migrant labour from these territories.  Johannesburg as the City of Gold (Egoli) became legendary in colonial Southern Africa as it spurred rapid economic development in the region.  It could be argued that Egoli became the capital of the successor of Mwenemutapa Empire as the economic foundations of Egoli have continued to dominate the region to this day as Johannesburg and its surrounds continue to be a magnet for capital and labour.

Anti-colonial wars

The modern history of Southern Africa is one of anti-colonial wars by native African populations resisting the take-over of their societies by people of European origin.  The Mwenemutapa Empire took up arms against the Portuguese, the Zulu Kingdom founded by Tshaka together with the Xhosa Kingdom took up arms against the British and Boers, while the Shona and Ndebele of present day Zimbabwe took up arms against colonial occupation led by the Cecil Rhodes-owned British South Africa Company at the end of 19th Century.   These were the struggles that inspired the African Liberation movements of the 20th Century.

The earliest African Liberation movement was the African National Congress (ANC) founded in 1912 to resist colonial practices by a Government led by the British and favouring the interests of Dutch Farmers (Boers) and non-African merchants from around the world while oppressing the African population. The ANC became the cradle of liberation movements in Mozambique, Malawi, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe; in the same way the Pan African Congresses held by Caribbean and African migrants in England was to inspire liberation movements in East and West Africa.

Over half a century after the ANC was founded, Mozambique and Angola became the first countries in Southern Africa to gain Independence after a prolonged armed struggle supported by Tanzania and other African countries through the Liberation Committee of the Organization of African Unity.  Zimbabwe was the second country to gain independence after using Mozambique as a springboard to launch armed attacks on the Rhodesian State; soon to be followed by Namibia and eventually South Africa.  It is this centuries-old thread of economic and political struggles against colonial occupation that ties present-day States in Southern Africa together under the rubric of “Governments led by former Liberation Movements.”

Apartheid, UDI and regional destabilization

The ANC characterized Apartheid as ‘colonialism of a special type’ to emphasize the localized nature of colonial rulers, but still dependent on a global system dominated by those of European descent.  Southern Africa struggles against local imperial representatives were particularly significant in South Africa and Zimbabwe – especially after 1910 when South Africa became a Union independent of Europe; and Zimbabwe in 1923 when Rhodesia was granted autonomy from Britain, and 1965 when it resisted British pressure to join the decolonization wave in Africa and made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from Britain. 

The attainment of autonomous local administrations dominated by Europeans led to the idea of colonialism of a special kind in South Africa, and to some extent in Rhodesia; and gave these Apartheid-based Governments of South Africa and Rhodesia the opportunity to see the whole Southern Africa region as their backyard.  Thus, developments in Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe became greatly constrained by the interests of local white populations in these countries.  Although Britain was able to push for political independence in Lesotho, Swaziland, and Zambia; they failed to do the same in Rhodesia – which became part of the a triumvirate with South Africa and Portugal to keep the four other countries in Southern Africa under colonial administration; and to spur large-scale armed struggles that started in the 1960s and were only brought to an end in the 1990s.  Thus, the development of Zimbabwe has both influenced and benefited from economic and political developments in Southern Africa; and remains an important actor in the growth and transformation of the region.

Military Pan-Africanism

As countries in Southern Africa were attaining political independence from localized white administrations after 1975, African countries that had become independent in the early 1960s were entering into a new phase of political instability as economic decline created conditions for internal dissent and sometimes armed insurrections.  In the process of decolonization through armed struggle in Southern Africa, many neighbouring countries had been drawn into these conflicts – first in the form of Front-Line States and later expanded into the Southern Africa Development Co-ordination Conference (SADCC) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).  This growth in regional political bodies with an economic dimension integrated Zimbabwe into the broader Southern Africa region and ensured that its rulers and populations would continue to influence developments in the region.

Having benefited from military bases in Mozambique and being dependent on Mozambique and a hostile South Africa for access to the sea, Zimbabwe in the 1980s found itself obliged to defend Mozambique from the RENAMO armed insurrection sponsored by South Africa.  For Zimbabwe, RENAMO was not only a threat to Mozambique but to Zimbabwe as South Africa pursued a strategy to stop independent African countries from supporting the armed struggle waged by South Africans using military bases in neigbouring countries.  With the granting of independence to Namibia in 1991 and after the large scale military incursion by South Africa into Angola in the late 1980s, Zimbabwe and other countries in Southern Africa saw the growth of internal insurrection in Mozambique, DRC, and elsewhere in the region as attempts by South Africa and its backers of global white capital to keep the region dependent on Apartheid South Africa.  Thus, Zimbabwe’s political leadership (initially with broad-based support in the country) saw itself as undertaking Pan-African actions by coming to the military aid of Mozambique, the DRC, and wider afield in Peace-Keeping Missions sponsored by the United Nations – military incursions and missions that to the minds of Zimbabwean rulers were a continuation of the anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, and anti-apartheid struggles.  In this respect, Zimbabwe in the early years of independence continued the Nkurumah and Nyerere legacy of Pan-Africanism by committing its resources to resolving regional conflicts.

Economic decline and Resource Nationalism

Zimbabwe more than any other country in the Southern Africa region had a liberation struggle very much structured around grievances on access to land after the colonial government had passed a series of Land Acts that restricted Africans to infertile Tribal Trust Lands without creating the kind of non-agricultural employment opportunities that South Africa had done.  Other countries like Angola and Mozambique, while ran by brutal colonial settlers, had small populations with bountiful land so that the liberation struggle was less about access to land and more to do with lack of economic freedoms and socio-economic opportunities for the Africans.

The struggle over land rights in Zimbabwe lay at the heart of the struggle for independence and was the most difficult issue to resolve at the London Lancaster House Conference in 1979 when Britain assumed the role of decolonizing power from the Government of Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front.  The Lancaster House compromises reached over land re-distribution in an independent Zimbabwe were only partially fulfilled and they came to be inter-woven with economic grievances in the 1990s when Zimbabwe found itself confronted by a population experiencing socio-economic difficulties.  The resulting resolution of land-related grievances since 2000 has come to characterize and dominate post-independence Zimbabwe political economy.  Attempts to “export” this land grievance to other parts of Southern Africa have been unsuccessful, except to a limited extent in South Africa where the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Party has tried to make it an issue in post-Democratic South Africa – the outcome of which will most likely be dependent on the ability of South Africa’s economy to continue creating employment opportunities outside the agricultural sector.

The post-1980 Zimbabwean economy created few economic opportunities for Africans outside the public sector – where the Africanization of public administration became the main source of employment for the most educated and skilled Africans.   The failure to open up the private sector, with both employment and investment opportunities, provided a cocktail of grievances that brought workers and ambitious African entrepreneurs to the side of those pushing for a new socio-economic formation in Zimbabwe.   As available public sector jobs were taken up and economic decline set in, it was ambitious young African entrepreneurs who formed an Affirmative Action Group (AAG) to push the local white population to accommodate these new entrepreneurs in trade and commercial activities.  The program of AAG had little traction with Government and existing investors, and only became mainstream government policy when Ex-Combatants of the liberation war mobilized for higher pension payouts and greater access to land held by white farmers – leading to further economic decline and the farm invasions of 2000 that became the nucleus of a Fast Track Land Reform Program (FTLRP). 

Alongside the FTLRP came a policy of Indigenization and Economic Empowerment (IEE) as foundations of African Economic Nationalism in post-colonial Zimbabwe.  Outside Zimbabwe, this form of Economic Nationalism has only taken significant roots in South Africa with the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) program, and complemented by recent Government proposals to reform land ownership laws to reduce foreign ownership and increase African participation in land ownership.  Elsewhere in the region, leaders in government and the private sector have pursued a strategy of inclusive growth where emphasis is on increased Foreign Direct Investments as creators of greater economic opportunities that will benefit the general population.

The policies of FTLRP and IEE have been used by Zimbabwe to propagate an African consciousness on Economic Nationalism, but given the economic decline and socio-economic difficulties that beleaguered the Zimbabwe political scene and economy these last fifteen years, few Governments in the region (and Africa as a whole) have shown eagerness to implement similar policies.  Nevertheless, the populist culture of taking away resources and assets from ex-colonial white populations and transferring them to Africans has been spreading among African populations disillusioned by the lack of economic opportunities promised by the attainment of independence.  It is therefore possible that once the Zimbabwe economy registers a turnaround and attains economic growth rates with greater inclusivity, other African political parties and governments may well come under increasing pressure from populations to adopt the kind of policies captured in the Zimbabwe FTLRP and IEE programs. 

This form of African Economic Nationalism built around FTLRP and IEE is feared by many African leaders: concerned by the attendant negative impact on the domestic economy, foreign investment, and international isolation it has brought on Zimbabwe.  At the same time, African leaders are concerned by the populist views of many population groups in Africa on the desirability of these policies; often supported by an emergent opposition political leadership keen to replace the old African Nationalist Political leadership with a new form of Economic Nationalism in place of what is characterized as Neo-Colonialist Policies.  While the evolution of this African Economic Nationalism is in its early stages, the Zimbabwe example (if followed by rapid socio-economic transformation) could propel this thinking into a Pan-Africanist movement that the EFF of South Africa is also pushing (but so far with limited success).

Nationalist responses to Political Trade Unionism

Although Zimbabwe was in 1980 the second most industrialized country in Southern Africa, it is in Zambia that the first transition of Welfare Trade Unionism into Political Trade Unionism took place in the 1990s when the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions created a Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) and successfully replaced the United National Independence Party (UNIP) as the party of government. This transition of African Nationalism from Liberation to Political Trade Unionism triggered off some excitement in the region as workers and students imagined a new political economy driven by urbanized worker demands away from the rural economy driven by peasant demands.

The political leadership in Zimbabwe was therefore alert to the emergence of Political Trade Unionism in the late 1990s as the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) copied the Zambian example and formed the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) political party in 1999.  A combination of poor economic management leading to a rapid fall in incomes and a deterioration of living standards in Zimbabwe propelled the MDC into a leading political party, buoyed by international opposition to the methods adopted under the FTLRP and IEE programs that constituted “legalized dispossession” of white populations of their land and commercial enterprises.  In the face of rising discontent due to economic hardships and curtailment of MDC’s political activities by Government after 2000, the population rallied behind the MDC.  Faced by eminent loss of political power to MDC the way UNIP had lost to MMD, Zimbabwe African Nationalist Politicians turned to their allies in the region to stop such a transition by forming the Inclusive Government of 2009.  Thus, the lessons of MMD and UNIP in Zambia were not lost on the leaders of the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) when dealing with MDC, and the Inclusive Government provided Nationalist Politicians with a tool to halt the ascendancy of Political Trade Unionists into power.

Ruling Liberation Movements in Southern Africa regularly hold consultative meetings to exchange ideas and lessons learnt while in government, and the Inclusive Government in Zimbabwe is a rich source of lessons for Southern Africa Nationalist Politicians.  Equally, there are many lessons of how to deal with splinter groups within National Liberation Movements in the region.  In Zimbabwe, ZANU has generated many lessons from the way it dealt with the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and the Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM); and these are lessons the ANC of South Africa could have used in dealing with the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the Pan-African Congress (PAC).  Similarly, the ANC in dealing with the Congress of the People (COPE) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has had access to the experience of ZANU-PF in dealing with Mavambo-Kusile-Dawn (MKD) and other forms of internal dissent.  These are lessons that have also informed strategies pursued by Nationalist Politicians in Mozambique and Angola in dealing with political opposition parties. 

It can be expected that the way ZANU-PF has dealt with Political Trade Unionism under the ZCTU-MDC umbrella will not be lost on Nationalist politicians in South Africa (dealing with COSATU-related Political Trade Unionism); and other countries in the Southern Africa region will be aware of these strategies.  Lessons from economic performance by the Inclusive Government that brought together leadership from African Liberation Nationalism and Political Trade Unionism in Zimbabwe are a useful addition to the political lessons ZANU-PF and MDC have brought to their regional counterparts.  Thus, the entry of Political Trade Unionist leadership into a sharing of political power with African Liberation Nationalist leaders in Zimbabwe opens the way for more coalition-driven development strategies covering both political and economic organization in Southern Africa. 

National policy choices with regional consequences

The period when Zimbabwe’s economy was growing in the 1980s coincided with a period of poor economic performance in the region – induced by poor domestic policies and the impact of South Africa-led political destabilization efforts in Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, Zambia, and even as far afield as Tanzania.  By the time the region started to record economic recovery in the late 1990s, Zimbabwe was entering a period of politically-induced social and economic decline that has continued into the 21st Century as Zimbabwe’s international isolation continues on account of poor economic governance associated with default on debt, FTLRP, and IEE policies as well as political repression in response to growing internal dissent.

The de-synchronization of economic policy making and growth periods in the region makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions on the impact Zimbabwe’s economic decline has had on the region, although there have been suggestions that regional economic growth has been reduced significantly by the failure of Zimbabwe to grow with the rest of regional economies.  Three major arguments have been advanced to support this view:-

The first has been “a drag effect” where the Zimbabwe crisis has been seen as dragging down regional economies (resulting in reduced economic growth rates of 2-3% per annum on account of the country’s infrastructure of road, rail and air being unavailable to play their full role as intra-regional connectors). 

The second has been “displacement effect” which has negatively effected regional economic development because political leaders in Southern Africa have had their time and efforts taken up with resolving political crises in Zimbabwe and elsewhere within SADC instead of developing and managing a regional economic integration plan.  

The third has been “reduced economic democracy” because Zimbabwe’s success in suppressing internal opposition and stopping the ascendancy to power of popular Political Trade Unionism has encouraged other regional leaders to pursue political survival strategies that do not support economic growth and development.

Against these three arguments on how Zimbabwe could have negatively impacted regional economic development have been two major positions put forward to show how the politically-induced poor economic environment in Zimbabwe has benefited the region:-

The first has dealt with “transferred opportunities” where the migration of white commercial farmers and their skilled personnel out of Zimbabwe into Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Nigeria, and other countries has had a positive impact on agricultural production in these countries.  Similarly, the migration of Zimbabwean skilled and unskilled labour into South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and other countries has allowed these countries to close skilled labour gaps that would have held back their economic recovery and growth after the decline in the period 1980-90.

The second argument complements the first and deals with a “catch-up effect” for countries like Zambia, South Africa, Botswana, and Mozambique who had fallen behind in attracting foreign tourists and direct investors during the period of regional destabilization and apartheid in South Africa.  The argument has been that Zimbabwe’s economic decline and political instability have spurred regional growth while leaving Zimbabwe behind – a case often cited being that of Victoria Falls which is widely marketed under the banner of South Africa and Zambia, and hardly under Zimbabwe on account of its negative international image.

From a political economy perspective, the “catch-up” effect has been identified as having a negative effect on regional politics, and therefore cancelling out any positive impact it would have had on the economy.  The xenophobia attacks directed at Zimbabweans (especially in South Africa) are seen as counter-productive to the successful growth of regional integration.  The international image of instability associated with Zimbabwean migration into the South African economy has re-enforced existing concerns over individual personal security and negatively affected the economic stimulus that a peaceful region would otherwise have experienced.

Nine Lessons the region can learn from Zimbabwe

1. Past performance is no predictor of future prospects; The history and success of Mwenemutapa Empire, its predecessor and successor should point to a national consciousness on the need for Zimbabwe to contribute to a culture of high economic performance in the region, but this has not been the case.  It is also not enough for Liberation Nationalist Politicians in Southern Africa to rely on the success of the armed struggle to carry these societies into a successful future.  Similarly, it is not sufficient for the leaders of South Africa to assume that the inherited largely successful economy will remain so irrespective of the policies they pursue; Zimbabwe shows how easy it is to dismantle a highly successful economy without planting the seeds for its recovery on a different trajectory.

2. History is an important National motivator, but insufficient for progress: The Zimbabwean Liberation Struggle was infused with important symbols from its past – the Zimbabwe bird, ruins of Great Zimbabwe, and spiritual mediums that motivated anti-colonial wars among others.  In post-independent Zimbabwe, the leadership has invoked the spirit of national liberation struggle to push and implement radical reforms in land re-distribution and attempted to develop a brand of African Economic Nationalism at home, in the region, and in Africa.  On the face of it, the recalling of heroic struggles should generate a national momentum to overcome adversities; but not when the population sees that its leaders are not making the sacrifices ordinary people are called upon to make. 

3. A crisis must be matched with a strategy: When faced by a declining economy and demands from Veterans of the War of Liberation for payouts the economy could not sustain, Zimbabwe’s political leadership embarked on a chaotic land invasion program (renamed FTLRP).  Faced by a crisis in economic production after the FTLRP, the leadership resorted to unprecedented printing of money and wiped out individual and national savings from the resulting hyperinflation.  Although both actions were identified and understood to be harmful to the development of Zimbabwe if prolonged, strategies were not developed to turn their threats into opportunities for recovery and growth; and for the country to build on its internal strengths while managing its weaknesses.  When called upon to provide economic leadership to drive recovery, Zimbabwe leadership failed the test of developing a strategy based on an alignment of its national vision, resources, and organizational systems with the new global environment.

4. Revolutions should be short: The history of successful revolutions from around the world is that effectiveness is matched with the duration of the “struggle phase”.  Rapid changes during the French Revolution, the two World Wars, and other major shifts in power have all lasted a few years.  Even in Zimbabwe’s own history, the intense phase of armed combat lasted less than five years; and yet the FTLRP presented as an agrarian revolution in Zimbabwe has lasted for over 15 years, too long to allow the society to focus on reconstruction.  The prolonged radical changes in land redistribution and proposals to forcefully change the ownership of other economic assets have created continuous political, economic, and social instability in the country that is not conducive to economic recovery.

5. Being a good neighbor has consequences: Tanzania and Zambia were among the first countries in the region to learn and experience the consequences of good neighbourliness when Apartheid South Africa bombed and destabilized these two countries for the position they had taken in supporting those struggling to liberate Southern Africa from minority white rule.  Similarly, Mozambique and Angola paid a high economic, social, and political price for providing bases to the liberation fighters of ZANU, SWAPO, and ANC.  Post-democratic South Africa is also learning the consequences of being a good neighbor by welcoming those fleeing economic difficulties in Zimbabwe and watching a social revolution unfold as these migrants join others from Mozambique, Malawi, and as far afield as the West Africa and the Horn of Africa. 

6. Scapegoats only have a short-term good feel factor: After 2000, Zimbabwe was faced with economic, political, and social consequences of its poor economic management, military interventions, policy choices on land acquisition, and handling of internal political dissent.  While actions taken by the international community have had the short-term effect of slowing down economic recovery, their elevation to international sanctions without acknowledging that (a) the country was a bad debtor; and (b) the impact would remain small as long as the sanctions were limited to the few Western governments that had imposed them has not helped Zimbabwe. While developing a political strategy to deal with these limited sanctions, the leadership failed to systematically develop a matching strategy to contain their economic impacts; and instead used Western Governments as scapegoats for many of the internally-driven policies that had negative national impacts (useful politically, but very damaging to both social and economic welfare of its citizens). 

Within most African countries, political leadership has equally learnt that the use of colonialism to explain poor economic performance is no longer convincing to a population used to seeing widespread plunder of national wealth by the new African elite.  For Southern Africa, time is also fast-approaching when the policies of apartheid rule in and outside South Africa will wear thin with a population experiencing deepening poverty while the local elite uses national wealth to access global goods and services without rebuilding national economic production systems for the benefit of all.

7. Militarism, factionalism, and decline go together: A study of past empires around the world should have helped Zimbabwean leaders develop a clear understanding of the relationship between wars, political factionalism, and societal decline.  Whether it is the Mwenemutapa Empire, Czarist Russia, pre-Communist China, or European colonial empires; the mixture of expensive wars with political dissent and fragmentation at home have often been followed by economic decline and sometimes political violence driven by economic hardships experienced by the populations.  That the Zimbabwe political leadership failed to connect its economic difficulties with (a) the wars in Mozambique and DRC (however necessary these might have been considered), or (b) with the rising factionalism in national politics; and therefore produce appropriate corrective national policies has been a major catalyst for the continued national economic, political, and social crises. 

8. Economic development is the foundation of civilizations: Whether it is from a study of the Mwenemutapa Empire, the Industrial Revolution in Europe, or economic reforms in China, the leadership in Zimbabwe has failed to recognize that its regional political influence is short-lived if it is not matched with a corresponding growth in the economy.  The national Look East Policy, while initially informed by past acts of solidarity from China and other Asian countries, could not have been sustained without the rise of these countries as global economic leaders.  While finding a political compromise to underpin economic and social development is an important strategy, it has eluded the Zimbabwe political leadership.  Equally, while SADC continues to be an important political player in Africa, its continued success will very much depend on the success of its economic integration and increased productivity.

9. It is disastrous to look ahead with your eyes firmly fixed on the past: Although the leadership in Zimbabwe recognizes and articulates a desire to move forward on politics and the economy, this forward-looking articulation is matched by a firm fix on past injustices – be they over land, economy, and political affiliation to opposition parties by the small wealthy white population and the growing mass of urban poor, who are seen as in need of “punishment”.  On the economy, there is an equally strong fix on an economy from a by-gone era before the rise of Asian global manufacturing centres, and this generates unrealistic economic policies on manufacturing, mining, distribution, pricing, and other globally-dependent tools for sound economic management.  Equally, the region will need to look ahead without its primary focus just being on the role of Liberation Movements as leaders of heroic anti-colonial struggles to retain support from populations – who now demand a forward-looking economic development strategy!

From Mutota to Mugabe, Zimbabwe has been an important player in regional developments, but the drivers of this influence need to be explored and lessons learnt.  This is a subject that deserves more than complaints about the nature of African politics or its leaders, and calls for the development of analytical tools to help Africans learn from themselves in a global system where local issues can quickly have global significance with influence and consequences. 


[1] Iron Age defines a civilization and culture of a people using iron as the material for their cutting tools and weapons; and started over 3,000 years ago and lasted until late into the first millennium; having succeeded the Bronze Age (3,000-1,000 BC) and the Stone Age (9,000-3,000 BC).

[2] Alternate titles of Mwene Mutapa are Mwene Matapa - “Ravager/Conqueror of the Lands” – a title carried by a line of kings ruling South-East African in present-day Zimbabwe and Mozambique, from the 14th to the 17th century.  The domain was often called the empire of the Mwene Matapa, or simply Matapa or Mutapa; or Monomotapa in Portuguese.

[3] Elkiss, T.H. 1981. The Quest for an African Eldorado: Sofala, Southern Zambezia, and the Portuguese, 1500-1865. Waltham, MA: Crossroads Press.