Land, populism and rural politics in Zimbabwe

15 March 2018

This paper explores the underlying political-economic characteristics of authoritarian populism at this crucial moment in Zimbabwe’s history.

The case of Zimbabwe’s radical Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP) from 2000 provides a focus for understanding the interplay of rural politics and state-making in a post-liberation setting in Africa, where the failures of neoliberalism – and attempts at ‘structural adjustment’ – provoked a major political and economic crisis. The combination of authoritarianism and redistributive populism, whilst serving the regime’s agenda, has also transformed rural accumulation opportunities for some, albeit with limited democratic freedoms. It is these tensions at the heart of the authoritarian-populist project that this paper will explore for the Zimbabwean context, alongside the emergent rural politics that offer hints of more emancipatory alternatives from below.

This paper was presented at the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI) 2018 Conference: "Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World"