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Critiquing the making of poverty in Zim from colonial era to now




THIS study adopted a semi-systematic literature review. This includes searching for relevant literature and analysing poverty surveys that have been carried out in Zimbabwe.

The approach provided a clear overview of various poverty assessment studies which included both quantitative analysis and qualitative studies.

While the study focused on secondary data, it also utilised descriptive statistics to analyse quantitative studies through the assessment of the poverty line and head counts, and multidimensional approaches such as the analysis of the Unsatisfied Basic Needs Index, and the Human Development Index.

The use of quantitative studies allowed the analyst to explore data based on large-scale data collection efforts designed to produce consistent data that allow for comparison across Zimbabwe.

That way, the analyst was provided with a clear snapshot of the extent of poverty. Consequently, the approach may be critical in mapping out targets to eradicate poverty in terms of allocation of resources.

Qualitative studies were examined to seek an understanding of economic participation and general perceptions on poverty. Most studies examined are those that were based on selected representative samples, and site specific.

The choice of methodology was influenced by the intended use of the information, thus to understand the extent of absolute poverty in Zimbabwe.

This paper contextualises Nancy Fraser’s theory of cultural misrecognition and maldistribution in exploring the Zimbabwe poverty problem.

According to Fraser (1995, 1998), there are two primary kinds injustices, first, there is socioeconomic injustice which is rooted in the political and economic structure of society. This kind of injustices includes economic marginalisation, exploitation and deprivation of basic goods. The second form of injustice propounded by Fraser (1995, 1998) is cultural or symbolic rooted in social patterns of representations, interpretation and communication.

While both of these forms of injustice may apply in the analysis of post-colonial injustices, this paper reflects mainly on socio-economic injustice which is propelled by processes of maldistribution of resources.

In the Zimbabwean context, maldistribution maybe linked to office abuse and political corruption that has characterised the former British colony since the advent of self-rule.

Fraser argues that processes of maldistribution violate principles of social justice. Furthermore, Fraser (1997) argues that institutions should be judged by the degree to which people have participatory parity. She defines participatory parity as citizens’ ability to participate on a par with others in social life (Fraser, 1997). In Fraser’s viewpoint, justice requires social arrangements that permit of (adult) members of society to interact with one another as peers.

Fraser’s theoretical approach will be considered in relation to current levels of poverty and inequalities in Zimbabwe. This will include an analysis of cultural misrecognition which Fraser (1997) claims is a source of maldistribution, consequently the main cause of injustice.

Critiquing poverty in Zimbabwe

There is growing debate attempting to locate a nexus between democracy and economic growth (Przeworski, Adam, 2002). This debate serves to challenge the status quo of Zimbabwe’s democracy, against overwhelming evidence of socio-economic deprivation.

However, the economic success of China against persistent reports of gross inequalities defies this claim.

There have been questions whether it is beneficial to insert politics in the poverty debate (Harriss, 1999, Herring, 1999).

However, this paper takes a position that politics is deeply implicated in the making of poverty in Zimbabwe.

As the previous sections have demonstrated that the United Nations World Food Programme and the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Report (2013) both agree that at least two million Zimbabweans face starvation, it is inevitable that policy researchers would challenge politicians and policymakers on causes of deprivation in a country with such a historic economic success story like Zimbabwe.

There are a number of factors that may have contributed in the creation of poverty in Zimbabwe, hence to explore these factors it may require a multidimensional approach focussing on the preservation of political and economic freedom.

For instance, one of the causes of economic decline and socioeconomic disadvantage may have been the haphazard expropriation of white farmland under the late former president Robert Mugabe’s rubric of “Redistribution and Indigenisation”.

Under this programme, productive white farmland was expropriated, clearly without considering ramifications.

The outcome was the gawky destruction of one of Africa’s finest agro-based economies, marking a turning point in the country’s ability to feed its own people, let alone to remain a continental breadbasket.

Economists, business leaders and trade unionists later warned that Mugabe’s “indigenisation” law would wreck any chance of attracting foreign investment and strangle the economy’s weak recovery (Financial Times, 2010, p11). Consequently, it can be argued that if the goal of freedom is to liberate society from hunger and socioeconomic deprivation, clearly freedom is yet to be fully achieved.

To add salt to injury, indigenisation policies introduced by Mugabe’s administration have had a profound negative effect on the economy. For instance, white-owned and foreign-owned businesses have been forced to cede a 51% stake to black Zimbabweans.

This has had a retrogressive effect to the economy, as it hurts the very processes that seek to create wealth and employment. The market perceives such policies as an act of chasing away foreign capital which the country badly needs to resuscitate its ailing economy and dwindling revenue.

These are some of the few examples that may have contributed to the problem of poverty and human suffering in postcolonial Zimbabwe. Hence, the violation of economic and social rights may not be a result of Mugabe’s Pan-African philosophical position, but a flagrant miscalculation.

Rhodesia: Zim’s economic heritage

This section will attempt to explore the status of the Rhodesian economy which was inherited by the country’s black political dispensation at independence in 1980.

The aim is to provide evidence that the current rising poverty levels are a result of bad socioeconomic and political policies adopted in postcolonial Zimbabwe.

While some basic economic data is missing about the economic status of Rhodesia, there is a consensus that despite being subject to global sanctions, the economy passed on to the newly independent Zimbabwe was a vibrant one.

For instance, Muchayi (2013) states that at independence in 1980 Mugabe inherited a healthy and vibrant economy from Rhodesia.

As a result of the Rhodesian economic legacy, Muchayi (2013) notes that Zimbabwe enjoyed gross domestic product growth rates of 11% in 1980 and 10, 7% in 1981. This was before the economy slumped to 1,4% in 1982 and then declined by 4, 2% in 1983 and 1984.

However, Muchayi (2013) observes a sharp growth of 9,3% in 1985 before another heavy retreat to 0, 2% growth in 1986.

Muchayi’s assertions are further developed by Cross (2012) who points out that when Zimbabwe became a democratic state in 1980, it had gone through 86 years of various white settler dominated governments.

During this period, Cross (2012) observes that the Rhodesian government had created a thriving economy without significant overseas aid in which its currency was worth twice the value of a US dollar, while the entire population had the second highest per capita income in Africa.

By any standards, this was a significant achievement in terms of economic management at a time when there were UN sanctions against Rhodesia following the 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI).

It is imperative to consider that at the time when Zimbabwe became independent in 1980, the country had been a heavily regulated economy due to sanctions imposed in response to the UDI (Young, 1969).

With all this in mind, there is little doubt that the current black political dispensation inherited a dynamic, healthy, and most importantly, the world’s best organised agro-based economy.

The question is: What then went wrong in the last 30 years of postcolonial Zimbabwe? Is Zimbabwe a classic example of an incapable black economic manager?

Evidence show that poverty levels rose significantly under the black political dispensation (Meier & Rudolf, 2010), a view that serves to reinvigorate claims that poverty in Zimbabwe is manmade.

The rise of poverty levels suggests that there is something unconventional that is being done by black administrators of the post-colonial economy. This view is echoed by the World Bank which argues that poverty is a consequence of several political, social and economic processes that interact in ways to make people’s living conditions sub-standard (World Bank, 2000).

It has already been suggested that politics in post-colonial Zimbabwe have interacted with the economy in an indecorous way that have triggered a dramatic collapse resulting in mass poverty.

Furthermore, the role of Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap) is rarely implicated as a contributory factor in the making of poverty in Zimbabwe. This paper argues that the analysis of the rise of poverty in Zimbabwe should not ignore the impact of Esap on Zimbabwe’s social economy.

The Esap programme was initiated following recommendations of the World Bank, among other institutions involved (Saunders, 1996). While, the newly independent Zimbabwe began by witnessing an expanding economy, interferences from world governing bodies such as the World Bank and International Monitoring Fund (IMF) may have led the Zimbabwean government to embrace the Esap programme. By 1991, Esap was comprehensively introduced with the help of the World Bank (African Development Bank, 1997).

Needless to say, the harm caused by Esap in Zimbabwe’s social economy is unprecedented and will be examined in detail in this paper. Initially, Esap was meant to herald a new era of modernised, competitive, export-led industrialisation (Saunders, 1996), yet turned out to uproot existing economic and social infrastructure, leaving many Zimbabweans in dire need, nose-diving into poverty.

Apart from Esap, clearly the problem in Zimbabwe is how to cure the harms caused by poverty which is often understood from the context of democracy and freedom.

The severity of poverty and resulting social harm extinguishes the self-confidence and feelings of freedom and independence.

About the writer: Dr Admore Tshuma is a former Zimbabwean journalist, now an academic at the University of Bristol. He did his PhD in Social Policy at the University of Bristol’s School for Policy Studies. He previously worked at the University Centre of Southend as a programme director for the BSc (Honours) Psychology and Sociology course, in partnership with the University of Essex.