Amidst deep political frictions, Zimbabwe has found itself confronted by various economic challenges and contradictions.
On 31 July last year, the ruling ZANU-PF party were victorious in the elections as the opposition MDC was annihilated. The elections were disputed by many, and several questions were raised about the process, but most commentators agreed that the poll revealed a shift of support back towards ZANU-PF, with the opposition having run out of steam.
A number of good commentaries were published in the Journal of Southern African Studies that offered views from different perspectives, including from Miles Tendi, Phillan Zamchiya and Brian Raftopoulos.
Perhaps the most powerful though came from McDonald Lewanika and Delta Milayo Ndou in We The People, a beautifully-illustrated book of personal testimonies and reflections from Zimbabweans after the elections. Most are urban, educated and opposition supporters, but the sense of melancholy and loss, reflecting on a moment that had so much hope, is tangible and powerful.
Nearly a year ago on 10 September 2013, a confident ZANU-PF announced a new cabinet and ambitious plans for the future under the ZimAsset programme. Attempts to rebuild relationships with the West started, while overtures to the Chinese continued. A new minister of lands, Douglas Mombeshora, stated boldly that no new land invasions would be allowed, and that land administration would be regularised, with those illegally occupying land or underutilising it evicted.
It sounded as if a corner had been turned. But sadly such a transition has not occurred. In the last year, the economy has floundered as the new investment has failed to arrive, relationships with Europe and the US remain tetchy, the Chinese play hardball, and land invasions continue despite attempts at audits and new permit systems.
Meanwhile, the opposition has imploded. The expected departure of Morgan Tsvangirai has not happened, and he clings on to one faction, with surprisingly wide public support. The MDC-T though has fractured, with Tendai Biti and colleagues declaring a 'renewal team', and presumably in time a new party, for a revived opposition.
They are actively courting investors and foreign governments while belatedly accepting that a focus on economic and social rights and redistribution issues - ZANU-PF's political territory for the 2013 elections - must be central to any revamped approach. The situation is very messy indeed.
The warring factions continue to slug it out within ZANU-PF too, with different groupings being speculated on in the press almost daily. What is clear is that there is no easy resolution of the 'succession' issue, and Mugabe is playing the longer game (to the 2018 elections) to see how this will resolve itself.
The consequence of all this is that there is massive uncertainty on the political scene, and this translates itself into challenges for economic regeneration. In May at a SAPES Trust event, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa declared:
"Zimbabwe is open to Foreign Direct Investment from all Nations of the World, whether these be in the North, South, East or West... Zimbabwe is ready to re-integrate into the global economy. Zimbabwe is looking for new friendships, new opportunities while consolidating old ones. We are looking for mutually beneficial economic relationships not confrontation. We are too small a country to pursue a policy of confrontation."
This signaled a softening of stance and a willingness to engage. Equally, the purge of corrupt parastatals and their officials led by Jonathan Moyo was clearly aimed at an international audience, with a very visible attempt to deal with corruption - albeit only in one area.
Statements on the flagship 'indigenisation' policy have also been much more tempered since the elections, with senior party officials stating that expropriation and nationalisation are not on the agenda, and that there has to be flexibility in the application of the policy.
In a typically perceptive piece for the Solidarity Peace Trust, Brian Raftopoulos argues:
"The mixed policy messaging of the Mugabe regime can be attributed both to the challenges of seeking fuller international re-engagement while holding on to its empowerment programme, and the tensions within ZANU-PF about how to proceed with such a re-engagement.
The tropes of sovereignty, liberation history, regional solidarity and empowerment have been integral to ZANU-PF's political imaginary and 'language of stateness', in both the party's 'practical languages of governance' and the 'symbolic languages of authority'.
However the exposure of the limits of the state's capacity to effect its indigenisation programme has led to the dual strategy of seeking a rapprochement with the West, while promising to export the Zimbabwean model to the SADC [Southern African Development Community] region."
Such contradictions are the legacy of the past 14 or so years. The radical redistributive policies, most notably the land reform, have presented major challenges in economic terms.
The withdrawal of external support and international investment has hampered the rebounding of the economy, and the business-political patronage networks that were established to prop up the regime in this period are certainly not the basis for a prosperous, competitive economy.
There are bright spots though. The informal sector is booming, and is providing jobs and livelihoods. While many argue this is not the real economy, it is certainly the main economy. In the restructured agricultural sector meanwhile, the tobacco boom continues, with a massive 210 million tonnes of tobacco being traded this year.
While livelihoods are unquestionably improving especially for those on the land, galvanising new, coherent and sustained economic growth is a big challenge, and the long (often rather sensible) wish lists in the ZimAsset blueprint will not be realised without sustained investment.
Much of course relies on a rapprochement with the West, and with international capital and finance. Given the bad feeling, abuse and threats that have occurred over time, this will not be easy, especially with the UK.
Miles Tendi offers a fascinating analysis of this challenge, based on interviews with some of the key players, on both the UK and the Zimbabwe sides, and how a sustained 'demonisation' invective from both has not helped matters.
A fundamental question remains, however: how to balance a commitment to redistribution and economic empowerment with engagement in a globalised economy, and in a context where national debt amounts to a staggering $6 billion? Is there any way to resist the inevitable reincorporation into a neoliberal world order, and sustain the progressive gains of reform?
Despite the socialist solidarity rhetoric, the Chinese are interested in commercial business just as any other Western nation or multinational company. And countries in the region are wary of heading down an alternative route, despite the electioneering rhetoric of South Africa's Julius Malema further south. So ZANU-PF is in a bind. And as Raftopoulos argues, there are clear 'limits to victory'.
This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland.
Ian Scoones is a Professorial Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, and Co-Director of the ESRC STEPS Centre, Sussex. He is an agricultural ecologist by training, and has led a number of large, multi-country, interdisciplinary projects.