Designing our rural futures in post land reform Zimbabwe

Taruvinga L. Magwiroto

Communal grazing cattle, Zaka Zimbabwe. Pic by M. Kungwara.

One thing that we can be sure of is that all humans aspire to the “good life”, or at least a decent, dignified one. Everybody wants a good life, and deserves one. But what can be in contention is the definition of a good life. Whatever the good life is, we know that in reality, some have it better than others- because of accidents of births, and the capriciousness of talent and luck. Obviously, human and social capital is not uniformly endowed, and that is a legitimate entry point for development workers of every colour and creed wishing to promote equitable and sustainable “development” that “leaves no-one behind”. It is widely accepted that in the absence of intervention, the “weak go the wall”.

The notion of the “good life” is a contentious subject. Who defines what the good life is? What standard do we use? Whose standard? What parameters do we use to measure the good life? How universal are the parameters? This is not a new debate: many people have challenged the economic-centric view of development, obsessed as it is with economic measures such as GDP, etc. This is not to argue that economic performance is not important, but rather that it does not tell the full story of development within a country. Amatyar Sen has led the development of alternative indices like the Human Development Index; other countries like New Zealand have adopted a Human Happiness and Wellness Index, etc.

The argument behind these alternative “measures” of development is obviously that the “good life” is defined differently by different people. Money is certainly not everything, and a rich but unhappy person would define themselves as not living a “good life”.

This brings us to the notion of development. What is it? The central thrust behind the concept of “development” is a focussed, transformative intervention (Graham, 2019). This also tallies with Boyle (1981)’s concept of “programme”, or Roling (1988)’s notion of “intervention”.

It is clear that the basis or logic of “development”, “intervention”, and “programming” are very similar. “Development”, “programming” or “intervention” pre-suppose a gap, a need or a deficit between the current situation and a perceived, better situation: an improvement. This is captured well by Spielman et al (2009:400):

The basis for any type of development is the ability of individuals, organisations and societies to improve on what they are currently doing, that is, to improve their individual and collective capabilities.

It is clear from the foregoing discussion that if “development” is to have a direction, that direction needs to be defined.  Who gets to define that direction is an extremely important question. As the Thomas theorem goes: “if people define a situation as real, it is real in its consequences”, our definition of problems and priorities influence deployment of resources. Since resources are limited, it follows that “defining” a situation is an extremely important process.

In fact, defining a problem situation is so important that it forms the basis of what has been called “another development”, a concept that has grown out of the dissatisfaction with the modernisation project. This has given rise to current notions of “communication for development” (FAO, 2014).

The starting point for communication for development (ComDev) is participation. If development is to be “of man by man” (Nyerere 1978), it is critical that the beneficiaries of development be involved, from the beginning to the end of the programming process. This means that the starting point for this “other” development is an affirmation and validation of the views and perceptions of all stakeholders, and that the outcome of that process is by definition a compromise of many viewpoints, and a good basis for sustainable development.


If we take as true Spielman et al (2009)’s assertion that the basis of development is an improvement in individual, organisational and collective capabilities, we enter the realm of competencies. If we take sustainability to mean self-sufficiency in the absence of external assistance, then there is no doubt that programming for sustainable development should aim, among other things, at developing people’s competencies to thrive within their environment.

Next instalment I will talk about programming for our rural future in post land reform Zimbabwe.


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