Friday, 30 May 2014

Unresolved wounds, the trauma of youths in Zimbabwe

The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission in the new constitution does not guarantee addressing the trauma and will have to rely on its members to ensure that it is one of its core business than merely persuading and bringing victims and perpetrators together.
…If I look back at 2008 it is because I was afraid, people had their houses burnt down and that made me very afraid. When I went with my father to the rural areas and we were told to come out of the house they wanted to burn the kitchen we were in because they had allegedly seen my father and my uncle wearing opposition party T-shirts and I witnessed it getting burned down. As a child I vowed in my heart that I would never engage in politics because of what I saw. And my uncle was beaten right in my presence, it was painful.

Until the Zimbabwean government deals with the roots of fear associated with elections, the country can never truly have free and fair elections

The 2008 election remains one of the darkest election periods in Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwe Human rights NGO Forum estimates that between March 2008 and July 2009, about 3000 cases of political violence were reported. These cases represent individual Zimbabweans tortured, injured, murdered or rendered destitute by arson in the political violence perpetrated by the state during and after the March 2008 ‘harmonised’ and presidential elections.  As Lloyd Sachikonye points out, Zimbabwe has a long history of violent political problem-solving: 2008 was yet another example.

In 2008, young people in the regions of Mashonaland and Matebeleland witnessed, participated and were forced to see a lot of gruesome activities. Those who participated in the violence did it for a number of different reasons.

For some, participating in politically motived violence was a form of shielding themselves and their families from being targets of those who willingly took part.

Others had been indoctrinated and genuinely believed that supporters of other political parties other than ZANU PF were ‘cancer’ that should be extracted from within their society.

Some, who could not be identified as being with or against the opposition, had to prove their loyalty to ZANU PF by attacking individuals well known as members of the opposition.

A great number of the victims were mistakenly believed to be with the opposition. These unfortunates were beaten, tortured, raped, had their homes burnt down, and were forced to attend all night vigils. Some lost their lives. Those that survived lived to tell the stories of what they saw at the militiabases that were established around that time.

The legacy of Zimbabwe’s violent political history

The world has moved on since 2008, but the scars for many young people who witnessed and suffered have not healed. Physical violence in Zimbabwe during elections may be a thing of the past, judging from the 2013 harmonised election, but the scars of previous elections run deeper than most can imagine.

Intimidation has since become an effective tool to influence the outcome of an election: the violence is not forgotten, and, unless the structures of violence are removed, the fear of political violence will remain. This is the key message that emerges from our interviews with Zimbabwean youth for the programme Power, Violence, Citizenship and Agency (PVCA):  at the mention of elections, many young people are gripped with fear.

Such fear manifests in different ways. In Matebeleland, the target of brutal repression in the 1980s as well as in 2008, many young people choose to leave the region during elections. They are able to find refuge because the region’s history and their associated fear of violence is widely understood.

In Mashonaland however, only a few migrate to urban areas if they have family, and most prefer to comply with whatever is happening to be able to survive that period.

How can Zimbabwe heal its young people?

How does a nation move from associating elections with trauma, given the experiences of so many of its population? I believe there has to be some form of redress: wounds may heal but the scars will always serve as a reminder of what happened.

To date, the Zimbabwean government has not formally acknowledged the magnitude of the damage of the 2008 electoral violence. After 2008, the Organ of National Healing was established, but it was not successful in dealing with the trauma that a lot of people suffer from.

There is a Shona proverb which says, chinokanganwa idemo chitsiga hachikanganwe (What forgets is the axe, the tree stump does not forget). This is true of election violence; the perpetrators and those that are guilty of omission have since moved on and forgotten, but those scarred by the violence cannot forget. And, every 5 years when another election comes by, it is a reminder of what can happen.

Given that nearly 2 million young Zimbabweans (under 30 years old), did not bother to register as voters for the 2013 elections, we must not simply conclude that it is apathy or the difficulties put in the way of registering for young persons (because they may be supporters of opposition political parties). There are many reasons why the youth are voting with their feet, and knowing that politics is a violent business in Zimbabwe may be a huge discouragement as well.

Caroline Kache is a Researcher at the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), a research partner for the Power, Violence, Citizenship and Agency (PVCA) project at IDS. The Zimbabwe case study is being carried out by Marjoke Oosterom and RAU and is funded by Hivos.

Previous blogs on this topic

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The politics of the gut and a recipe for riot

The Bangladeshi elite took to the streets this weekend to protest food adulteration. It’s an admirable campaign, and unusual in that for once the people with power are aligned with those without (probably why a law has already been passed about it). Beyond the novelty of the well-heeled protestors, there is something incredibly vital about the politics of food that drives even they to the streets: if you can’t eat well - worse still if you can’t feed your children well, other things don’t matter.

The politics of the gut

A visceral force of anger rooted in a deep sense of right that can move all kinds of people to collective action. This is why images of food riots around the world in 2008 and 2011 had such power: we all instinctively get why the hot fury of hunger might trigger protest.

But as the historian of food riots, John Bohstedt, writes in an IDS working paper, anger and a sense of right do not automatically trigger protest. Sweeping across the food protests of early modern England and France, colonial India and Ireland, ancient and revolutionary China, and contemporary Egypt, West Africa and Haiti, he writes a recipe for a politics of provisions – a state that responds to food crises and a people willing and able to claim that response:

‘Combine (for instance) three cups of massive mobilisation, one cup of elite wisdom (if unavailable, military sympathy may be substituted), one cup of ruler-vulnerability, two cups of shared moral economy, a pinch of sweetener such as family or ethnic affinity, a cup of food availability, three tablespoons of established patterns of bargaining between rulers and rioters, the yeast of leadership (established or emergent), and a mystery ingredient added by a sprite (perhaps a small boy or other external intervention). Bake in the intense heat of international media attention and riots in neighbouring countries, but only for three months’ – and you get [food protests].

Bohstedt concludes that ‘food riots have worked in this century as an engine of provision politics to restore food security in some circumstances’ – they don’t happen everywhere, but where they do, they keep rulers on track, forcing them to pay attention to what really matters. The difference between 18th century England and 21st century Burkina Faso on what he calls the Politics of Provisions are not, after all, so great (despite what some sceptics may think). This is true even if food rioters in 21st century Burkina Faso may elicit a response from the World Food Programme rather than from their own government. The politics of provisions require people to feel a sense of right, the means to mobilise, and a reasonable expectation that their protest will make a difference. 

But what if this sense of right, mobilising means and expectations of rulers are absent?

Our soon-to-be-published study on what food rights mean to people, part of the Life in a time of food price volatility project, finds that the sense of a right to food is uneven. Across the 10 developing countries we work in people seem to know, deep down, that they have a right to food – it’s the very basis of being human. But how that can be claimed and whether and how in a globalising food system the ruling classes can be made to give a damn are far less clear.

Emeritus Professor John Bohstedt’s paper The Politics of Provisions in World History is published as part of the DFID-ESRC Food Riots and Food Rights: the moral and political economy of accountability for hunger project based at the IDS. For more information or to attend events, email Devangana Kalita (

Help Yourself! Food rights and responsibilities

Year 2 findings from Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility will be launched on 5th June, 2.30-4.00pm, Royal Irish Academy, 19 Dawson Street, Dublin 2. To reserve a place please email

Naomi Hossain is a Research Fellow in the Governance team at IDS and a researcher on the Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility project.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Modi and India: the other elephant in the room

Following a landslide victory at India’s elections for Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party, guest blogger, James Manor, fears that the new Prime Minister, who will be sworn-in today, will pursue an authoritarian agenda.  

Some observers of India’s recent election have asked whether the next Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is a dangerous bigot. But they have largely overlooked the other elephant in the room: his pursuit of personal dominance, at the expense of democratic institutions.    

Until the mask slipped late in the campaign, Modi avoided his customary anti-Muslim rhetoric. He spoke instead about development, the need for a strong leader, and above all, about himself.

He left the task of whipping up Hindu chauvinism to others, not least, Amit Shah, his master strategist. The independent Election Commission has urged police to press criminal charges against Shah for justifying recent anti-Muslim riots in India’s largest state, although after a grudging apology from him it allowed him to continue campaigning. 

But Modi has never wavered in his drive to centralise power and bend institutions to his will.

Did Modi learn his pursuit of personal dominance from Indira Gandhi?

Perceptive analysts liken him to the only other national leader to seek control from on high: Indira Gandhi.

She systematically undermined state institutions and leaned hard on forces outside government like the media and civil society.  She even weakened her own Congress Party by abandoning democracy within the party and filling all posts from above – choosing third- and fourth-rate people for their slavish loyalty to her.
Modi has followed suit.

As Chief Minister of Gujarat state, he has subjugated state institutions and other forces.  Thus for example, India’s Supreme Court felt impelled to move criminal cases linked to the 2002 massacres of Muslims which took place on his watch to unbiased courts outside his state. And one leading analyst speaks Gujarat journalists “waiting for orders” about what to write*.

Modi is even undermining his own Bharatiya Janata Party - one of the few in India with real organisational substance.  In region after region, he has engineered the selection of candidates who are personally committed to him. They are in many ways a motley collection: Hindu incendiaries, tweedy ex-civil servants, sundry swamis, and so on.  But they share one common characteristic: staunch devotion to the leader.

This has triggered signs of anxiety even from his party’s hard-line sister organisation, through which Modi emerged, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).  It welcomes one of its own as leader and has used its formidable organisation to bolster his campaign.  But some of its leaders fear that after the election, his pursuit of personal control may marginalise and enfeeble it.  

Modi’s desire to centralise power may face resistance from much stronger institutions

We shall soon see if institutions today are able to withstand his efforts to dominate.  When Indira Gandhi pressured them, they largely gave way. 
Since no single party has won a majority in parliament since 1989, massive powers have flowed away from the once dominant Prime Minister’s Office to diverse institutions: Parliament, its committees, the courts, the Election Commission, and many more.  Over the last quarter-century, they have gained substance and grown assertive.  That is why the Supreme Court could order trials to be removed from Modi’s state, and the Election Commission could call for criminal charges against his right hand man.  Civil society and the media are also stronger. Subjugating them will be far tougher than in Mrs Gandhi’s time.    

However, by radically centralising power, Modi may unintentionally weaken himself, as Mrs Gandhi did.  Terrified subordinates told her what they thought she wanted to hear, which cut her off from accurate information Ghastly errors ensued which gravely damaged her and the country. 

We saw then that national leaders in India make their influence penetrate downward more effectively by way of bargaining that by diktat.  Mrs Gandhi never learned that lesson.  Modi appears unlikely to do so.  

Before the result emerged, it was possible to ask whether Modi’s party would fall well short of a parliamentary majority, forcing him to rely on support from leaders of regional parties, several of whom are as narcissistic and unyielding as he is. His thumping victory has answered that question:   he is well entrenched in power for five years. His centralising habit will bear watching.

James Manor is Professor of Commonwealth Studies at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London. 

*Some sources in this blog have remained anonymous for reasons of personal safety. 

Other posts in this blog on India's 2014 elections: 

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Four sets of interconnected numbers the 2014 Indian election should have been about, but wasn't

Image credit provided at end of this blog post
The largest of all democracies has been put through its paces.

The beast that was the 2014 General Election in India was aimed at an electorate of 814.5 million people, voting in more than 540 electoral constituencies.

With the votes now in, counting has begun and results will be announced on the 16th of May. The Electoral Commission of India has estimated that this exercise will cost the exchequer nearly £350 million.

By comparison, the UK general election in 2005 cost approximately £80 million.

Campaigning and public debate this time around have been particularly heated. Along with the incumbent party, who have controlled a coalition aided majority for the past ten years, and the leading opposition party, who some claim is enjoying a resurgence on the back of a divisive religious agenda despite serious malfeasance, we also have a new contender in the mix. The Aam Adami Party, literally translated as ‘the common man’s party’, is an anti-corruption movement that took much of middle-class India by storm in 2011.

Even though exit polling was banned,  permutations and combinations of how the seats in the lower house will be divided have abounded. And yet, there are several critical issues that have not featured the public debate.

Here are four sets of interconnected numbers the 2014 Indian Election should have been about, but wasn’t:

1. Gender equality - women in parliament

In the 15 times that the lower house of India’s Parliament has been formed since independence, women have only held more than 10% of the elected seats once – 11.4% in the most recent administration.

Compare this to Saudi Arabia (19.9%), Pakistan (20.7%), Sudan (24.3%), or Angola (36.8%). Such a low percentage is reflected in the forestalling of a constitutional amendment, which seeks to reserve 33% of seats for women, for the past 18 years.

2. The poor - over a third of the world's poor live in India

India’s “middle income” classification notwithstanding, it still accounts for the largest single share of the income-poor, 35% of the world’s $2 per day poor people are Indian.

More poignantly, an astounding 61 million children, that is nearly half of all children under five in India are stunted due to chronic under-nutrition.  This implies a child-stunting rate higher than much of sub-Saharan Africa (48% in India compared to approximately 44% in Chad, for example). One of the simplest answers to why this might be points to an unhealthy combination of the impact of open defecation (on average, a child in Chad is exposed to about seven neighbours who defecate in the same open per square kilometre, while in India over 200 people per square kilometre may defecate in the open), combined with a low status of women who lack the ability to influence child care and ultimately infant and child health outcomes.

A national election in India that does not place the poor and malnourished at the front and centre cannot be called ‘representative’, and is only reflective of middle and upper class priorities.

3. Law and Order - police is short on numbers and short on skills

The policing system in India is stretched thin - there is just one civil police officer for every 1,037 Indian residents, and roughly 85% of those police personnel receive next to no significant training in criminal investigation or crime fighting skills [See The Locust Effect: why the end of poverty requires the end of violence by Haugen and Boutros].

This is far below Asia’s regional average of one police officer for 558 people and the global average of 333 people.

Outrage over police malpractice and incompetence spilled out onto the streets as thousands demonstrated following the brutal gang rape of a young woman in Delhi in late 2012. That outrage seems to have now largely dissipated, and election manifestos are only geared towards the naming and shaming of police malpractice – a strategy tuned more towards gaining media attention, rather than looking towards systematic and sustainable solutions of police reform.

4. (Un)inclusive cities- the real story of urbanisation

For the first time, India has reported a higher population growth rate in its urban centres than in its vast rural landscape.

Over the last decade, India’s urban population grew by over 90 million, representing a 31.8% increase. This was 2.6 times the corresponding decadal rise for the rural population. In this, the focus invariably falls on India’s mega-cities, like Mumbai, where billions are being invested in large-scale infrastructure projects like new airport terminals and double-decker flyovers.

And yet, the real story of urbanisation in India may lie in the 54% increase in the number of small towns (from 5,161 in 2001 to 7,935 in 2011). These small and medium sized towns have tiny revenue bases, face low rates of investment, and are beleaguered by crippled basic service provisioning.

Furthermore, in the poorest quartile of India’s urban population, only 40% of 12- to 23-month-old children were completely immunised in 2004-2005, 54% of under-five year-olds were stunted, 82% did not have access to piped water at home and 53% were not using a sanitary flush or pit toilet. The urban challenge is therefore vast and multi-dimensional, but the election promises on offer (which revolve mainly around promising legal tenure to those residing in informal settlements) currently do not appear to come anywhere close to offering a sustainable solution.

Of all the electoral permutations, those based on righting the wrongs highlighted by these four staggeringly large sets of interconnected numbers should lead to easy majorities in a multi-party plurality (‘first-past-the-post’) electoral system. Alas, party politics and power have proven to be dangerous bedfellows.

Jaideep Gupte is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies. His research looks at urban violence, poverty and development and he has recently published Policing Urban Violence in South Asia and the impact of endemic urban riots on poor households in India.   

Image credit: By Furfur ( [CC-BY-SA-1.0 ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons