Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: March 2011

Modernisation and Westernisation. The terms have become somewhat interchangeable over the years as the Western perception of what it means to be “modern” or “developed” has become very much the dominant paradigm in the study and application of politics, economics and development. Francis Fukuyama proclaimed that “the end of history” had come – according to Krauthammer (2004) we were now living in a “unipolar” world.

But the reality is that this world is far from unipolar – Europe and the US may be growing, but the BRICs are growing much faster. The world in reality is very much multipolar. In 2006, Newsweek called China’s progress “the most successful case of economic development in human history,” with growth rates of 9% over the past 30 years outclassing any progress made by the West throughout history. BRIC economies and their influence on the world stage are getting bigger and bigger, with them posing a formidable challenge to the concept of modernisation as westernisation.

A clear illustration of how flawed the conceptualisation of modernisation as westernisation is, and a stark example of the shortsightedness and arrogance of Fukuyama’s statement can be seen in China. According to Jacques (2009, When China Rules the World: The rise of the middle kingdom and the end of the western world), China has not had to abandon its confucian values, its language, its traditions or its distinctive “civilisation state” in order to develop, in order to “modernise”. Clearly an alternative form of modernisation is possible. According to Schmitz (2007, The Rise of the East: What Does it Mean for Development Studies?) the economic development strategy of China and East Asia can be marked out by their pragmatism and experimental nature – it did not follow external models but rather embraced a diversity of institutional arrangements and development policies (Haggard 2004) as part of the process of “transition.” Yingyi Quian (2003) points out that the institutions adopted by China depended on the conditions at each stage of the reform process – conditions which changed, provoking the reformers to change their tact.

Perhaps the phenomenal progress of the China and the BRICs with its accompanying economic pragmatism suggests the flaws within the tendency of the West, international financial institutions and donors to stipulate to poor countries what an appropriate economic development strategy is, with universe (and generally neo liberal, free market) models being part and of parcel of aid conditionality. As Schmitz says “each country needs to find its own way forward, based on understanding its own strengths and weaknesses and based on understanding the new external context which has been influenced in such a major way by the Asian Tigers and China.” The progress of the BRICs has largely been because of decisions they made about their own approach to economic management and development, not because of decisions forced on them by the West. It’s easy to become angry and frustrated with the way the West’s sense of superiority, reflected both through foreign policy and bilateral donors has not even entertained the possibility that countries should be allowed let alone be capable of working out their own path to development. The world has been changed by the growth of China and East Asian Tigers – the UK cannot continue blindly without acknowledging this fact and reflecting this understanding in its foreign  and aid policies.

The BRIC’s ascendancy also has implications for global governance, something which the US and Western Europe again, cannot continue to ignore. Unfortunately, this is exactly what the US,  the UK and France have done in the recent intervention into Libya. When such a selective approach to intervention is taken (commentators from Nigeria have pointed out the lack of action in places like Bahrain which also suffers from an oppressive government brutally crushing protest as well as the humanitarian crisis in the Ivory Coast where it is estimated 1 million people have fled the crisis created by Pres Gbagbo’s refusal to leave office), cries of hypocrisy and a lack of legitimacy start to emanate from sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and East Asia. One could argue that many of these countries are simply running scared because their leaders are guilty of similar crimes to that of Gaddafi (Pres Museveni from Uganda being a good example), however, the West’s decision to take such strident action in Libya when none of the BRICs were openly in favour of such a militarised form of intervention suggests that they still haven’t taken on board the fact that Western countries global dominance and any previous claim to legitimacy are now fast declining.

Many economic commentators have predicted that within the next 20 years, we will be experiencing a new world order, with China overtaking the US as the dominant world power. It’s important not to get carried away with the BRICs success – where there is massive progression in economic growth and development, there are also huge problems with increased economic inequality, massive levels of pollution and an insatiable demand for natural resources which could create increased conflict in the future (Schmitz 2007). Although there are many winners within the BRICs, there are also losers. However, it cannot be denied that the BRICs are experiencing a meteoric rise, and this is something that the West will ignore at its peril.

State failure – a concept that perhaps would not have figured so high on the development agenda, or rather the donor agenda 20 years ago. But in 2011, issues surrounding what are termed as “failed states” seem to have gained a great deal of prominence in development discourse and policy.

But what merits the label “failed state”? How do you measure fragility, weakness or crisis within a state? In order for a state to be described as a failure, it needs to have failed to live up to a certain, stipulated standard. It needs to have “failed” to meet the criteria of an ideal. The ideal for statehood in international development discourse and thinking is very much Weberian in the characteristics a state is supposed to have. A successful state, according to this ideal, should have control over its territory; monopoly on the legitimate use of force; provide public services such as health, education, sanitation and justice; provide a framework for economic activity and respect international laws. If these things do not exist, the consequences are likely to be disorder and insecurity, no enforcement of the rule of law, an increase in human suffering and the government at the centre losing control – both in terms of its ability to administer the territory and in its ability to enforce a legitimate monopoly on violence.

However, how far a state is judged to have failed is not something which can be assessed in black and white terms. State failure is a grey area – some characteristics of statehood may be lacking more than others, and the implications for one state being weak in a particular area may be different to the implications for another state being weak in that same area – due to variation in context and historical legacy.

How far a state can be judged as a failure also depends on whether a state is conceptualised in empirical or juridical terms. Jackson and Rosenberg (1982, Why Africa’s weak states persist: empirical and the judicial in statehood) argue that states in “Black Africa” have persisted because they display the attributes of the judicial state, which are the attributes which count in the eyes of the international community. If the state is conceptualised empirically, they argue that there is no explanation as to why many sub-Saharan African states have managed to survive when they do not display many of the empirical characteristics of statehood. Jackson and Rosenberg’s argument may be strong in the respect that many sub-Saharan African countries do meet the juridical criteria set out by the international community, however, they do not address the question on whether the situation is desirable. It is true, as they say, “the survival of Africa’s existing states is largely an international achievement” – the fact that Zaire did not collapse into the kind of disorder now see in Somalia during the 30 years

The predatory President

of Mobutu’s presidency could be argued to be as a result of US support during the Cold War and the continuation of international aid flows into the country. This support was given despite Mobutu’s neo-patrimonial regime overseeing massive amounts of corruption and mismanagement of state resources. However, “achievement” seems to be a somewhat inappropriate word to use to describe this situation. Many of those who lived through the 1998 – 2003 wars would hardly describe the legacy left by Mobutu as an achievement and although the DRC is described as a state on paper, in legal terms, this is meaningless for those who actually live within that state when they are unable to access any public services and are denied justice or even basic security.

But what are the options at the international community’s disposal when there are high degree of violence, an absence of central control and high levels of human suffering occurring within a state? Langford (2005, Things fall apart: state failure and the politics of intervention) reviews the different opinions on the idea of “trusteeship”, whereby a state deemed to have “failed” by the international community is taken over for a period of time until it has been sufficiently rebuilt. Supporters have suggested such trusteeships could be carried out by regional coalitions (Mazrui, 1994, Decaying Parts of Africa Need Benign Colonization); formal colonisers (Pfaff, 1995, A New Colonialism? Europe Must Go Back into Africa) or perhaps the UN (Krauthammer, 1992, Trusteeship for Somalia: An Old—Colonial—Idea Whose Time Has Come Again). I have deep reservations about trusteeship proposals – reading such proposals makes me feel uncomfortable, particularly the proposal from Pfaff.

Do we really want to risk descending into a 21st century version of this?

Pfaff’s suggestion that the responsibility lies with former colonisers begs the basic question, have we not learned from past mistakes? It has been strongly argued by a multitude of academics that the historical legacy of colonisation has been a large contributor towards the “fragility”, the internal political instability and underdevelopment and the economic problems experienced by many developing countries. Colonialism is a bad odour in the nostrils of many from the South. Any trusteeship arrangement involving a former coloniser, is not something that would be accepted by a developing country. And if it is not accepted, that means there is no local ownership of the trusteeship solution – and without local ownership, the mechanism is doomed to failure.

Krauthammer, Johnson, Hellman and Ratner suggest a UN-based trusteeship. Gordon (1997, Saving Failed States: Sometimes a Neocolonialist Notion) has a strong argument that a UN trusteeship wouldn’t necessarily violate the principle of self-determination if self-determination were to be determined as the ability of the population to choose how they are governed – and that population chooses trusteeship. The situation in Liberia is worth taking into account as although the Liberian government were strenuously opposed to trusteeship like arrangements, there were many within the country who were not adverse to external intervention. Having endured years of war and violence, and having had to contend with exhausting and exploitative petty corruption on a daily basis, it is perhaps not surprising that many Liberians thought that such an intervention might be the only option which could improve their lives.

But in order for a state to be strengthened, local institutions need to be built. Leaving aside the fact that a UN led trusteeship would require a level of resources and finance that the international community would not have the political will to supply, even if such an intervention were to take place, it would be very limited in its ability to build strong state institutions. It may be able to put in place formal organisations and legal procedures, but the building of the less tangible institutions and norms which are vital for maintaining a strong state, are processes which take time and must happen organically, as a result of internal political dynamics – they cannot be forced by external actors.

Morton (2005, The “failed state” of international relations) takes a very dim view of such external interventionist attitudes, referring to “supporters of a “new humanitarian Empire” who are proposing the re-creation of semipermanent colonial relationships and the furtherance of Western universal values.” He argues that there needs to be more “nuanced” approach to understanding state identities, an approach which allows for “alternative forms of social organisation that arise within different historical processes of state formation and conditions of capital accumulation.” Morton’s description of the post-colonial state being divided due to the existence of parallel systems of governance (civil political governance based on the rule of law and customary governance based on the personalisation of power and economic exploitation) seems to be borne out by the evidence in many post-colonial countries, however, I would argue that we shouldn’t automatically embrace alternatives without weighing up the evidence in support of them and considering whether local populations desire the alternatives. Although the West’s attempts to import its idea of statehood into developing countries may have failed, quite spectacularly in some cases, Morton does not give an indication as to whether these alternative forms of social organisation are in fact wanted by local citizens.

It is true that Western donors have had somewhat “tunnel vision” when it comes to what a “functioning state” is supposed to look like. The experience of statehood and governance that is indigenous to the West is a Weberian experience, therefore, this is the concept that has been exported and the values which donors have tried so hard to universalise. Forms of statehood which are indigenous to developing countries have not been considered or investigated by the West. However, just because learning has been restricted in the past, does not mean that it must be so restricted in the future. The work done in the “Upside Down View of Governance” and the “Africa Power and Politics” programme suggest that at least within the UK academic community, there is a greater willingness to consider and evaluate the indigenous “alternative for social organisation” that Morton refers to. Although it may be a long way down the line, if alternative forms of governance are being considered now, it is is perhaps not infeasible that alternative forms of statehood could be considered in the future.

over the past three months we have been witnesses of a wave of democracy never before seen in North Africa. The scenes from Tahir Square are scenes that I will never forget – when I’m beginning to lose faith in the power of the people or in democracy itself, I just need to remind myself of those images of thousands of Egyptians standing up and demanding change so powerfully. But how can a judge make sure that he doesn’t go down the route of so many “third wave” democracies which have stagnated and remained “minimalist” democracies? ODI’s Alina Rocha Menocal writes an interesting article here about what needs to be done to build substantive and strong democracy in the new Egypt.

So much of the focus within contemporary development studies, at least within the UK, seems to be on sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Yet if we look at the West there is a massive amount to be learned from South America.

South America is a continent full of countries which have a much longer post – independence history than many of the states of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Governance has had significantly longer to go through different stages and phases, with democracy growing more organically as the political culture evolved and grew.

The relationship between democracy and development is one which has sparked a great deal of contestation and debate. Before diving into that debate it is worth reflecting on Sen’s assertion that democracy in itself is a “universal value.” Looking to South America, in Brazil when the country’s first democratically elected president in 21 years, Tancredo Neves, died, there was an outpouring of emotion and national grief. Neves stood for something which Brazilians had been denied for over two decades, something which they valued – democracy. Similarly, as Rocha Menocal (2007, Analysing the relationship between democracy and development: defining basic concepts and assessing key linkages) argues, the “third wave” of democratisation illustrated the large shift within poor countries towards democracy – democracy was the choice that the citizens of developing countries have made, and they made it very clearly.  Perhaps now we are experiencing a “fourth wave”of democracy, with the recent and ongoing events in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and the democracy movement in Libya.  The people of North Africa and the Middle East are taking a determined stand against autocracy and making their desire for democracy and a more participatory style of governance known and heard. The power of their choice cannot be denied and gives power to the argument that democracy as a system of governance has intrinsic worth.

But what of the relationship between democracy and development? Is democracy the only route to development? Or is development the route to democracy? Modernisation theory’s idea that economic development was a precondition for democracy was pretty much debunked by the third wave of democratisation, yet the disappointing performance of many of those third wave countries, in their failure to significantly consolidate the democratic transition raises questions about how democratic that wave really was (Rocha Menocal 2007). Many of these new democracies have also failed to translate democratic gains into social gains for the populace – but perhaps expecting development from a democratic regime, purely because it is democratic, is somewhat unrealistic. Grindle (2004, 2007, Good Enough Governance: Poverty Reduction and Reform in Developing Countries, Good Enough Governance: revisited) certainly believes that the good governance agenda (which is underpinned by a clear commitment to democratic politics and high levels of participation) places unrealistic expectations on developing countries, and in particular weak states in terms of their ability to pursue brand of governance which in turn is supposed to result in poverty reduction. I think it’s important to remember that it is economic policies which bring about development (if we are going to define development in more narrow terms, rather than embracing Sen’s more wider definition of development as Freedom which then has a lot of crossover with the definition of democracy), economic policies which can be pursued by a variety of regimes.

Other questions to ask are whether the liberal democratic hegemony that the good governance agenda slavishly promotes is really realistic and does it bring about development? Leftwich (1995, Democracy and Development: Theory and Practice) and Zakaria (2003, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad) lend their weight behind the argument that there are alternatives to be seriously considered – authoritarian democracies and liberal autocracies, both of which they claim have a superior development record. The cases of countries like Botswana and the East Asian Tigers tend to bear this argument out – yet, I would argue that autocrats and development are not necessarily natural bedfellows. As Carothers (2007) argues, there is deep tension between autocracy and the processes of rule of law development and state building. If the rule of law is to be developed, this involves things like building an independent judiciary, ensuring fair and equal treatment for all people before the law and respecting civil and political rights – all elements which threaten autocratic rule. The goals of state building are to make the state more efficient and impartial and to make it more difficult for politicians and elites to misuse state resources and influence the state bureaucracy. Such goals would undermine the power of an autocrat. For every Botswana there are many more authoritarian democracies which have failed to oversee the same kinds of rapid economic progress, with Russia under Vladimir Putin being a case in point. For every Singapore, there are many more autocracies which have not brought about development for the majority of their populations, something which can lead to their downfall. One only has to look to recent events in Tunisia and Egypt to see that autocrats who consistently suppress opposition and the freedoms associated with democracy, and who fail to distribute the benefits of economic progress equitably, risk being unceremoniously overthrown.

However, and perhaps unsurprisingly, democracy as a brand of governance has been somewhat discredited in the past decade. The combination of double standards in US foreign policy, propping up some autocrats when it suits US interests, whilst promoting democracy through military means in Iraq and Afghanistan and the growing containing of civil and political liberties in the West (France and Italy are ranked as having less civil liberties than Colombia! Whilst in recent years the US and the UK have slipped down the democracy index to number 17 and number 19 respectively) (EIU, Democracy Index 2010) means that the democracy agenda seems somewhat tainted. But I would hazard a guess thought that in South America, those who lived under the Pinochets and Videlas of the 1970s, would most probably, if given the choice, not choose to return to military or authoritarian rule.

Just because the Western liberal democratic project has not seen anything like the results it was supposed to achieve, does not mean that democracy in a more substantive, participatory form is an unworkable concept. The key to democracy’s success and its potential to support development is its consolidation, and as Rocha Menocal (2007) observes, there is a consensus emerging which argues that there are structural factors which can impact the prospects of this kind of consolidation. The economic, social and institutional context of a country and its historical legacy are crucial factors in influencing democratic consolidation.

And the factors – this process of consolidation takes time. It does not happen overnight and there will be setbacks. I look with mild frustration at the donors and multilateral organisations, pouring millions after millions after millions of dollars into democracy and development programmes – with their five-year targets, their Millennium Development Goals… It’s not to say that having targets are bad – but development is a long process, the consolidation of democracy is a long process, building institutions to facilitate development and democracy IS A LONG PROCESS! These things are not going to happen over night and the building has to come from within – other countries cannot build a state as if they were contractors building a house! Looking again to South America, democratic norms, debates and contestations have been evolving and growing over the course of two centuries. Some sub-Saharan African countries only experienced democratic transitions in the early 1990s! Institutions which have been in place for centuries are unlikely to be displaced very quickly – new institutions and political cultures evolve over time … Extended periods of time. And even in South America, there is great deal to be done in terms of democratic consolidation in many countries.

But there is plenty to be positive about. Although many countries lived under military dictatorships from the 60s until the 80s, democratic leaders were returned by the people, and in countries like Brazil, democracy has been consolidated in recent years.

One pertinent and final lesson that I want to draw out from South America is the strong link between the downfall of the military regimes and the debt crisis – an external factor. A great deal has been said about how countries have failed to build their own democracies, how democracy has failed to bring about development. Yet in a world in which the fortunes of individual countries are more embedded in the global economy than they ever were before, countries with weak states, underdeveloped economies and low levels of political development are very vulnerable to contractions in the global economy – consolidation of democracy is something which is perhaps less within the control of the regimes in government in those countries than is sometimes assumed.

It’s been more than 60 years since Gandhi was assassinated, yet his story, his ideals and the changes he brought about in India still don’t fail to inspire. I do wonder though what Ghandi would have thought about modern India – in all its glory, its poverty, its progress and its conflict.

In some ways India seems to have come a long way – in the film “In search of Ghandi”, a lower caste man was able to secure election to the local governing body in his village, in spite of opposition from members of the upper caste. Echoes of Gandhi’s values could be heard as this man professed his desire to do good things for everybody in his village, regardless of caste. Suggestions of class-based rather than caste based politics in this instance imply a great deal of political development, yet, this village may be the exception, rather than the rule. In many parts of India, caste or religious identity is still the defining mobilising factor in politics – the violence against Muslims in Gudjarat in 2002 illustrate the deep divisions and prejudices that still exist in India, and many villages are still segregated along caste lines.

There is no doubt – India is growing – and at an enormous pace. GNI per capita is now $1180 (BBC website, India Country profile), way above that of many other developing countries. The middle classes are feeling the benefits of the boom, frequenting shiny new shopping malls, consuming more and enjoying increased leisure time.

GNI per capita as an economic indicator, however, is misleading in regards to the distribution of wealth in India as although the country is making massive economic progress, the results of this “progress” are not being equally distributed. Rather, many poor people find themselves suffering at the hands of progress – displaced from their land and houses to make way for the infrastructure of multinational corporations, being exploited by multinational corporations operating in special trade zones, farmers driven to suicide when they cannot compete with cheap, subsidised imports and generally, being the losers in this new economic development.

Progress is being made – but there’s a big question mark over the nature of this progress. Is  “competitive consumption” really the type of progress that is to be desired? Progress that is built on the backs of the poor – economic development which doesn’t seem to have any great link to poverty reduction? “Competitive consumption” is a hallmark of Western culture, with material acquisition being used as the standard of success in many countries. Such high levels of consumption in the West have been critiqued as being unsustainable – the voracious appetite for material wealth has seen whole generations living on credit and unfair world trade rules sustained in order to be able to support the Western lifestyle enjoyed by most  at a relatively low cost, largely at the expense of the developing world.

This kind of “Western import” is not somethingat all Indians are glad to see – not everything that comes from the West is a good thing, as P Sainath (Film, P. Sainath on Western Democracy) points out when speaking about Western democracy. Sainath argues that many democracies in the West have been based on slavery – enslavement of people in Africa and Asia. All of the founding fathers of the US harked back to the early republics of Rome and Greece from which they drew their inspiration for the democracy they were building. Yet, those are democracies were based on slave ownership with Plato and Aristotle viewing slaves as property. These are the foundations of Western democracy – democracy which has been promoted, sometimes violently, across the world. Gandhi’s assertion that Western democracy was merely a diluted form of fascism doesn’t seem to be that unreasonable in this light.

Sainath’s suggestion that Europeans should have looked within themselves for more “noble” ideas of democracy is perhaps slightly flawed though, as he uses the example of the French and the revolutionary ideals of “liberty, equality and fraternity.” These may be noble ideas in themselves, however, they were born out of a revolution which saw the slaughter and execution of many throughout France – it was liberty, equality and fraternity for those who agreed with the revolutionaries… But perhaps not so much for royalists or for those who were loyal to the catholic faith!

Sainath does have a point though, in that the exportation of Western democracy worldwide by the US and its Western allies is a project unlikely to succeed, as the type of democracy being promoted is not necessarily a desirable form of governance – or a form of democracy that people want.

Larry Diamond, in his 2003 lecture, “Can the Whole world become democratic? Democracy, development and international policies” seems to be oblivious of this fact. Diamond points to the predominance of democracy as a form of government in the 21st-century and its endurance amongst a number of state as a sign of its superiority, desirability and likelihood as a universally embraced system of governance in the future. He doesn’t believe that poverty or religion (mainly Islam) are barriers to pursuing a successful democratic government and cites survey evidence to put forward the argument that even in a “bad” democracy, people would prefer that system of government to authoritarianism. I don’t have the time or space, or perhaps even willpower to deal with the breadth of the arrogant assumptions that Diamond makes in his article, so I will focus on just a few.

It is unsurprising that many of those surveyed in developing countries do not see an alternative to democracy as a form of rule. Although the democracy they may have experienced is disappointing, it is better to be disappointed than to be scared, as many may be under authoritarian regimes which do not respect basic human rights. However, the survey evidence is not a resounding vote of confidence in democracy as Diamond paints it to be. In Latin America, 57% of those surveyed believe that democracy is always preferable. This means that 43%, well over a third of respondents did not have confidence in democracy. This is not a number to be ignored and does not suggest overwhelming support for democracy. I would argue that the only experience that many have had of democracy in the developing world, has been of imported Western democracy, where power has been placed in the hands of the few, where economic development has not brought about benefits for all, and where meaningful public participation has been token, usually just at elections, rather than characteristic of the governance system. Many would argue that the 43% are right to reject such a form of democracy.

The implicit assumption in Diamond’s article seems to be that democracy was born in the West – and that everybody else is now catching up. However, he does not give enough justice to the question of whether benign authoritarianism is preferable in certain circumstances to a deeply corrupt, dysfunctional “democracy” which seems to be a democracy only in name, rather than in nature. Was authoritarianism necessary in order to bring about the radical reforms and development that was seen in the Asian Tigers? This is not something which can be dismissed flippantly as Diamond does when he says in reference to China that it is “not at all clear that it (China) will be able to sustain its phenomenal growth rates of the past two decades… some economic observers believe its economic growth has pretty much stalled already.” In 2011, with the Chinese economic boom seeming to show no signs of bursting, this statement seems to underline the shortsightedness of a number of Diamond’s arguments.

However, I don’t want to give the impression that I am a closet supporter of authoritarianism! The ideals of democracy can be something beautiful – openness, participation, equality… these are desirable things… Yet whether they are possible in contexts marked by historical oppression, political dysfunctionality and cultural, religious and other identity conflicts, is quite another thing. Once beautiful ideals can be manipulated and even instrumentalised for the subjection of others in many circumstances. Inequalities and poverty may persist whilst elites further entrench their position of dominance.

Varshney (2000, Why Have Poor Democracies Not Eliminated Poverty? A Suggestion) dares to ask the question of why poor democracies not eliminated poverty. Why have the poor in developing countries helped to elect governments which have not acted in their interests? In many developing countries, the poor make-up the majority of the population, so in theory, they should be able to pressure governments into practising more pro-poor politics. However, things are not as simple as that, because it is economic policies which reduce poverty – and the economic policies which are generally agreed to reduce poverty in the long run, growth mediated poverty reduction methods, are not the easiest ideas for politicians to communicate effectively to potential supporters. The mechanisms which make up economic growth are not something which hold a great deal of weight with the wider electorate, as they do not have the same short-term benefits as more direct poverty alleviation methods such as the introduction of universal primary education. So the voter may vote for a politician who promises the short-term benefits (and then likely fails to deliver due to a lack of resources and political will) rather than the politician who has a more long-term strategy based on economic reform. Another thing to bear in mind is that the poor don’t always vote on the basis of their poverty – they have other identities – religious, caste and tribal identities which can mobilise their vote, even if the politician being supported is unsupportive of democratic ideals and not pro-poor in their politics.

Varshney’s suggestions seem reasonable – the example of Kenya comes to mind as although a large proportion of the population are living at or under the poverty line, normally, people vote along ethnic lines rather than according to a politicians declared strategy of dealing with poverty. A politician outside of the ethnically diverse districts of Nairobi can only expect to have a chance of election if they are of the same ethnic group as the majority of those in their constituency. Politicians have consistently made promises in regards to social benefits, which they have either failed to deliver on or have only partially delivered on (for example, the promise to make secondary school education free has only been partially delivered on as although fees have been abolished, the many additional costs such as uniforms, boarding fees, textbook costs price many of the poor out of the secondary education market).

Perhaps the issue of identity and its instrumentalisation is something I need to consider more in regards to countries which are plagued by so-called “ethnic” and “religious” conflicts. If a heightened sense of ethnic identity influences of persons voting behaviour to the extent that a pro-poor politician with a sound economic strategy (and I do not necessarily mean one based on neoliberal tenants!!) for poverty alleviation is rejected in favour of a vastly inferior candidate in terms of their poverty reduction strategy and public economic management skills – purely on the basis of ethnicity – then this is surely one of the root issues that needs to be addressed in regards to finding a way of pursuing democracy which actually results in poverty reduction.

Before the session, I have to admit that I was relatively ignorant on the issues of land and politics in Zimbabwe. My knowledge had been gathered from friends who are refugees (white Zimbabweans), Zimbabwean migrants, information from Christian Aid partners in Zimbabwe who work with student activists in Harare (those who have been tortured by the regime and therefore, not pro government) and from Western press reports and documentaries. The picture presented is always quite simplistic – Mugabe and Zanu PF are bad, the land reform was a criminal act and the government have ruined the economy. However, I’ve always had some questions which I’ve not really felt able to ask out loud. Some of the white Zimbabweans who moved had been living on farms with thousands of hectares of land. In a country where, in the 1990s, 1.25 million were identified as landless (Moyo 2007), surely there was something very wrong with that?

Bearing this in mind, I was interested to see whether Dr Ncube’s question of whether land reform “Mugabe style” was a manifestation of pro poor politics. Having read through various articles, the things which immediately comes across is that pro poor politics and land reform in Zimbabwe are incredibly complex issues, rooted in historical injustices and processes of wealth accumulation. The way politics and land reform is presented in the Western press, particularly the British media, is a gross oversimplification of what has happened in Zimbabwe over the past 20 years.

In Sam Moyo’s 2005 policy paper, “Land policy, poverty reduction and public action in Zimbabwe” there are a number of crucial thing is to highlight. Firstly, it is clear that the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme Reforms of the 1990s had translated into very little or no benefit for the poor. In fact, for many, daily life had become much more difficult, with massive retrenchments within the civil services and reduced social expenditure. The market led approach to land reform between 1980 and 1999 had not produced the levels of redistribution which was both promised and expected. Without substantial land redistribution, this meant that there was a very limited chance of poverty reduction occurring amongst Zimbabwean households. As neoliberalism dominated the development and economic policy agenda, the chances of land playing a part in bringing poverty rates down were reduced.

By the end of the 1990s, the government was having to deal with an economy which was reeling from the effect of sudden devaluation of its currency, increased activist militarism (including land occupations which brought both international condemnation and domestic uproar) by the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association and a large military bill generated from the cost of the military intervention in the DRC at the request of Laurent Kabila. Throughout the decade, unemployment rates had risen, wages had declined and the cost of living had decreased, creating a basis for the political mobilisation of civil society organisations and alliances within the ZCTU, and encouraging the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) to align with the official opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). All of this put incredible pressure on Zanu PF, particularly as at the same time, white capital and large farmers were still prospering, a few indigenous elites were quite obviously accumulating wealth and instances of corruption were on the rise.

It is not surprising (particularly given the UK government’s refusal to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe), therefore, that Zanu PF chose the political strategy of co-opting the war veterans and using anti-imperialist and nationalist ideology to mobilise nationalist capitalists and peasants around a “liberationist ideal” in from 2000 onwards, with the market approach to redistribution being replaced by a state led redistribution policy. Raftopoulos (The Zimbabwean Crisis and the Challenges for the Left, 2006) argues that there has been a good deal of support for the anti-imperialist stance taken by “leftist nationalists” in Zimbabwe who have a great deal of loyalty towards the “legacy” of the struggle against white domination and a high degree of commitment to a state led approach to development. Yeros (2002) argues that “1 million rural poor are being resettled” whilst Mandaza (2002) argues that it will have “resolved and democratised the land in Zimbabwe.”

Yet there are divisions within “the Left” in Zimbabwe, with students, workers and intellectuals rallying against state authoritarianism, particularly from the late 1990s onwards. There’s been a greater willingness to “rethink” the liberation “legacy” and increasing activism based around issues of civic and human rights (Raftopoulos 2006).

So to return to the original question, was land reform in Zimbabwe, “Mugabe style”, a form of pro poor politics? According to Johnson and Start (Rights, claims and capture: Understanding the politics of pro-poor policy 2001), pro poor politics is about remedying power imbalances in regards to the distribution of rights and resources within a society. This can be done by “mobilising resources from one part of society to another for the purposes of planned and strategic development which may in turn, entail establishment of rights that guarantee the ability to obtain such resources.” In Moore and Putzel’s 1999 paper, Thinking Strategically about Politics and Poverty, they discuss a number of propositions about poverty and politics, including the recognition that “states create and shake political opportunities for the poor” and that empowerment of the poor (through increasing their political capabilities) is an important poverty reduction instrument. Poor people’s movements which emerge as rival centres of authority (with social groups organising to try and influence the state) can act as empowerment instruments, as can the government through providing perverse mobilisation incentives through particular programs or unfulfilled promises .

Bearing these propositions and statements in mind, I think the question regarding Mugabe’s land reform and pro-poor politics can be answered in a number of ways. Although Yeros’ declaration that 1 million rural poor are being resettled in Zimbabwe maybe slightly overoptimistic, there is no doubt that poor, landless Zimbabweans have experienced the “mobilisation of resources from one part of society to another” which Johnson and Start refer to. In their 2010 book,  Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities by Scoones et al , the authors maintain that ” Formal land reallocation since 2000 has resulted in the transfer of nearly 8m hectares to over 160,000 households…mostly ordinary people from nearby areas. If the “informal” settlements outside the official programme are added, the totals are even larger.” The book focuses on a 10 year study in Masvingo province where “reform saw more than a quarter of the land taken over by around 32,500 households on smallholder sites, 1,200 households on slightly larger sites, and 8,500 households in informal resettlement sites. It has resulted in a new composition of people in the rural areas, with highly diverse livelihoods, based on mixed crop and livestock farming.” Mugabe’s land reform policy, therefore, could be perceived as pro-poor as the Masvingo study suggested that the majority of the households surveyed had experienced an increased ability to accumulate wealth and expand their livelihood activities, which in turn was positively stimulating the wider economy and demand for goods and services.

However, it would be tremendously naive to assume from these kinds of studies that Zimbabwe has turned into a land of milk and honey for the poor! Poor macroeconomic management which has played a large part in the hyperinflation suffered by the country in the past decade; a lack of investment in health care infrastructure which has contributed towards cholera epidemics and poor treatment of HIV AIDS and tremendous levels of corruption have all contributed towards the quite miserable existence experienced by many. If one looks beyond the issue of land reform, the state is very much restricting rather than enhancing the possibility of ordinary Zimbabweans increasing their political capabilities. No “rival centre of authority” has been allowed to emerge by the ruling regime – reports of harassment, torture and arbitrary arrest of opposition and civil society activists frequently emerge from Zimbabwe  and the last two Presidential elections have been marked by voter intimidation and manipulation of electoral results. Although the perverse mobilisation incentives exist, the suppression of civil society activists and opposition supporters means that the possibility of political mobilisation of the poor against Zanu PF is extremely limited. With such a political climate, it is hard to see how the political capabilities of the poor can be enhanced. Land reform has enhanced a significant proportion of the rural poor’s ability to accumulate wealth, but beyond that, little has changed for the many who would like to see a greater disaggregation of power and plurality of voices within politics in Zimbabwe.

Overall, the situation in Zimbabwe and its history provokes a good deal of sadness. Over the years, particularly when elections were being held, my Zimbabwean friends said they had deliberately stopped reading the press reports or trying to keep track of what was going on – they had simply given up on what they felt was the wholescale disintegration of what they knew as home. Somehow,

I also feel a sense of guilt. Clare Short made a statement where she said that, “we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe. We are a new government from diverse backgrounds without links to former colonial interests. My own origins are Irish and as you know we were colonised not colonisers.” I’ve never been part of any colonial conquest, but my country has – and Clare Short was refusing to recognise that the British had a role in helping to resolve the problems that we created when we colonised Zimbabwe in the first place. I do tend to wonder what would have happened if the British had provided more funds for redistribution of land and used its political clout to encourage white farmers to sell? Would Zanu PF have taken the path that they chose to take? I guess we will never know.

It’s sad to see how Mugabe who began his reign as president of Zimbabwe as a national hero, has resorted to the manipulation of race and anti-imperialist ideology and rhetoric to conceal the widespread elite accumulation and corruption that permeates his government. Although the land reform has improved the welfare of many, it’s unlikely that pro-poor motivation drove Zanu PF to support the war’s veterans appropriation campaign and occupations. Land reform wasn’t about pro poor politics – it was about political survival for ZANU PF. Once again – self-interest rules.