It’s (more or less) the tenth anniversary of Zimbabweland. I had no intention of carrying this on for a decade, but by now there are rather amazingly 433 posts, representing nearly half a million words and cumulatively 450,000 views from all over the world.
Not surprisingly, most of the readership is from Zimbabwe and South Africa, but the US and the UK are also spots where there are many regular readers. But, in addition to these four, there are a remarkable number other countries too with Zimbabweland readers, as well as all those who read and share via Twitter and other social media platforms. The blog is also republished on quite a few other media platforms, including The Zimbabwean, The Standard, The Chronicle, The Herald and others.
Across the political spectrum therefore there’s much interest and, as long as the original source is credited, I am more than happy for the blog to be republished (although sometimes it’s odd to be designated a ‘correspondent’ on a government newspaper when I haven’t been in touch with anyone!). I am also pleased that others make use of the material and share it. I noticed recently that the Commercial Farmers’ Union is reposting, and my own institution, the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex always shares to a wider ‘development’ audience.
Usually this time of year, I do a festive top-20 hits of the year, but I thought I would do the top-20 of all time on this occasion. The results are at the end of the blog. Of course biased towards older posts, it’s the ones on livestock and agricultural entrepreneurship that continue to be top hits, reflecting the strong readership from those involved in farming in Zimbabwe.
Looking back, looking forward
Looking back, the blogs have changed quite a bit over time. They are longer these days, with more hyperlinks and now have lots of photos. Over the past few years, I have done a few popular series on themes that we’ve been working on – such as small towns, young people, pfumvudza, irrigation, soils, and agricultural entrepreneurs (among others) – as well as summarising our longitudinal studies across our sites. Most recently, the sequence of blogs on COVID-19 responses (now over 20 since March 2020) has been an important experiment in real-time reflection on an unfolding story. With the Omicron variant sweeping the world and dramatically affecting Zimbabwe already, we will have a further update before Christmas.
Although I mostly pen the blogs, they are more often than not a collective endeavour, emerging out of discussions with the brilliant team, ably led now by Felix Murimbarimba who took over after Blasio Mavedzenge’s untimely death. This sort of research-based writing is very useful as a precursor to more in-depth, elaborated academic pieces. A lighter style and more immediate publishing means that the results of our work get shared and, although there are not many direct comments on the blog, the feedback we get is incredibly useful as we craft other academic publications or define new research directions.
The blog was originally established to provide context and response for our book, Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities, which came out with James Currey and Weaver Press in 2010. By 2011, I was so depressed (and annoyed) about how people seemed to dismiss the findings out of hand, without any engagement with the data. The BBC did what was generally a very good piece in the ‘Crossing Continents’ series reflecting on our work, but had to ‘balance’ it with completely unsupported and misleading commentary, not grounded in research data. Such biases were not confined to the British press, who have been notoriously bad at reporting on Zimbabwe. Sadly, it also included fellow researchers, who seemed not to have read the book and wanted to make political rather than properly researched academic points.
Building on empirical engagements, encouraging debate
The febrile atmosphere of that time has thankfully subsided and there is a more engaged commentary on the good and bad of land reform (as there are of course both). Much more research has emerged since, importantly from Zimbabwean researchers. They had to confront, as had we, how land reform had transformed the agrarian landscape. This body of research is now substantial, and I am pleased to learn that many up-and-coming researchers find the blog and its now extensive archive useful (many blog views are to my surprise of old pieces that come up in searches apparently; the search facility on the blog works pretty well too). I equally try and offer occasional summaries of new published material on the blog, giving profile to this important new empirically grounded work. Researching Zimbabwe’s land and agrarian setting should always be a collective, collaborative effort, and it is one feature of working in Zimbabwe that is immensely rewarding.
I hope that the blog continues to provide insights that are relevant to civil servants, policy makers, NGOs, donors, diplomats, academics, students, as well as farmers in our sites and beyond, offering a different, but more grounded, perspective to the mainstream. I know donors subscribe and discuss it, but often don’t follow through, so ingrained are the biases and prior assumptions about Zimbabwe. The same applies to Zimbabwean government officials, but for different reasons. But at least there’s a more informed debate, and I hope readers will continue to share and discuss the blogs published here, even if they disagree.
I am not sure how long it will carry on as it’s quite a lot of work and not officially part of my day job, but there’s always something new to stay on Zimbabwe’s agrarian challenges – and occasionally other themes impinging on Zimbabwe’s fast-changing context. And, post pandemic (hopefully), we are hoping to re-energise our field research once again during 2022. So expect more results and commentary from the field.
Zimbabweland’s top 20 hits (by number of downloads since 2011)