There is good reason to believe that the command agriculture scheme is being fraudulently manipulated for political scores.
Government launched the targeted project last year on the back of what seems like brilliant mathematical logic. Get 2 000 farmers with access to irrigation infrastructure, give them inputs on loan and they will produce at least 2 million metric tonnes of cereals on 400 000 ha. In fact, the scheme will produce a surplus because Zimbabwe requires about 1.8 million tonnes every year.
Since the launch, the command agriculture narrative has enjoyed robust propaganda. It has to succeed, so it is succeeding. The official media have hailed it as the panacea to the country’s perennial cereal deficits. Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa is leading the project. He has taken every available opportunity to tell the world the miracle that government discovered in the form of the scheme.
He and others are already telling us that there will be a bumper harvest, courtesy of command agriculture. This analysis, of course, is happening ahead of a scientific study of the performance of the scheme in particular and agriculture in general in the 2016-17 main farming season. The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Zimvac) is the one that traditionally conducts the study. It is still out in the field. That means there is nothing authoritative and credible enough to tell us how the situation is on the farms.
This is critical in understanding the abuse that the project is highly possibly suffering. Already, Jonathan Moyo, the higher and tertiary education minister and a factional rival to Mnangagwa, has waved an amber flag through his tweets. He is worried that the command project has failed to achieve the targeted 400 000 ha. Less than half of the intended hectarage has been put to use. Yet the model is still being funded to the tune of $500 million. That presents an opportunity for some people to divert money and claim that it went towards command agriculture.
The questions that the minister raises go towards a good argument on the possible abuse of funds meant for the scheme. But the argument would remain largely speculative because, as government has already said, only a fraction of the $500 million has been used.
Yet there is brazenly substantive evidence to prove that the scheme is being abused. Christopher Chitindi, the member of parliament for Muzarabani who heads the legislative committee on lands and agriculture, recently made a startling revelation to that effect. He was caught on tape revealing that his committee’s recent assessment of the command agriculture model was funded in a clearly unusual way. He made the revelation as he urged the acting Grain Marketing Board general manager, Lawrence Jasi, to bribe journalists to kill an investigation into the public entity. If his committee could be bribed, so could the journalists. That was his line of reasoning.
Of course, Chitindi did not name the source of the funding and admitted he couldn’t do so because he was talking on the phone, which could be monitored. What is clear, though, is that either an individual or a team of individuals corruptly funded the trip by the lands and agriculture parliamentary portfolio committee. The money, or whatever form of funding that was availed, possibly went to Chitindi alone, carefully selected members of the committee or the whole team.
But then, why would someone want to bribe the committee? Clearly, whoever funded the parliamentary team or part of it wanted the legislator or legislators to manipulate the findings of their trip. This manipulation must sanitise the project. I don’t know what the committee’s report looks like or will look like, but I will bet my last pair of shoes that it glorifies the command scheme. This possibility is scary. It would mean that parliament, instead of playing a genuine oversight role, has become a platform for corruption.
Food security in Zimbabwe is now a political and national security issue. A couple of years ago, government banned United Nations agencies from participating in carrying out the Zimvac report. While unsaid, the reason was simple. Government just didn’t want an objective report because that would expose the fix which it was in.
When the situation is bleak, those that can, play around with figures to tell stories that benefit the sitting regime. When hunger converges with an economic crisis, the ruling elite has a big problem. This is particularly true of now. Just last week, the finance minister, Patrick Chinamasa, admitted that government was plain broke. He cited this as one of the major reasons why there was biting cash shortage. And government won’t be able to deal with the liquidity crunch any time soon.
Things will get really bad in coming months. But if there is a good story to tell about the food situation, then the politicians can steal a wink at night. If the yields don’t turn out to be as robust as we are currently being told, the elites will shift the blame elsewhere and hope to live another day. This is crucial as we are bound for elections next year.
If one considered things in a general way, this would imply that the parliamentary committee was bribed by a task team in government. This team, probably working in cahoots with the Joint Operations Committee, would want to ensure that people are captured by government propaganda so that they don’t panic and start doing weird things. That is one way of looking at it. Seen differently, the task team could simply be intending to convince us that our government is capable of doing good things. In a way, this would be diversionary. Generating hope of food security amidst a crisis is likely to divert our attention from the daily problems we are facing.
But it is also likely that the issue of food security has turned successionist. President Robert Mugabe is not getting any younger. Neither is he getting abler in solving the national crisis. The Lacoste and G40 factions are the hounds that have smelt the blood and they are out hunting. Mnangagwa is closer to power now than he has ever been. He would always want the command agriculture scheme to sanitise him and heighten his political profile.
The VP needs that. Already, the west has hailed him as a pragmatist who must take over from Mugabe. Mnangagwa would thus want to boost this perception by delivering a successful project. When matters come to a crunch and the choice to replace Mugabe must be made between him and another person, he would need to reference the command scheme as a project that brought food to a hungry nation, among other propaganda tales.
This, then, makes it possible that at least one person from Lacoste bribed the parliamentary committee to glorify command agriculture so as to raise the faction’s stakes in the succession battle. In this case, money might have been siphoned from the $500 million loan to amplify the project, or it could have come from individual pockets. The bottom line, though, is that MPs were bribed to sing praises about command agriculture.
Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT), a non-profit organisation promoting access to information on public and private sector transparency and accountability issues, and can be contacted on email@example.com.