African Studies Quarterly

THE MORAL ECONOMY OF THE STATE: CONSERVATION, COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT AND STATE MAKING IN ZIMBABWE. William A Munro. Athens: Ohio University Center for International Studies Publications, 1998. pp. 461. Paper: $26.00.

The Moral Economy of the State examines the political economy of state-formation and nation-building in colonial and post-independence Zimbabwe. The book chronicles the historical process by which Zimbabweans developed an intense desire for social, political, economic, and cultural transformation. The book also examines the colonial state's attempts at state-formation and the transformation of Zimbabwe from post-independence visions to a modern industrial society.

Munro begins his treatise with a firm and thorough survey of the Zimbabwean socioeconomic and cultural literature. His study presents processes rather than structures to explain the genesis and entrenchment of constraints on contemporary state-formation. In so doing, he explores the processes shaping institutional and organizational change in rural Zimbabwe amidst growing demands made by the state. This exposes the contradictions often found in state-countryside relations in Zimbabwe. The state has encouraged rural communities to take on responsibilities which it cannot manage or will not undertake.

The author initially "sets out to resolve the tension between structure and process in state-society relations by focusing on state practice--i.e., the actions of state agents but also the political and ideological logics that drive their actions and make them intelligible" (p. 3). He then traces the political effects of contradictions in development processes, examining institutions as a powerful force in the reproduction of colonial discourse about land distribution and use in rural Zimbabwe. Debates between differing factions of white settlers about the postwar expansion of land reforms and appropriations reflected the colonial state's spiraling crisis of social control (p. 140). The government embarked on a new hegemonic project, one based on a thorough reassessment of state structures and their relationship to society (p. 141). The author also lays out the historical paradox of state authority. Here, Munro canvasses a number of specific state-formation and nation-building campaigns intended to legitimize the state by forging connections between pre-and post-independence Zimbabwe.

Munro examines the powerful legacy of state intervention in peasant patterns of land tenure and use, as all facets of land management became issues of potential state-peasant contention (p. 233). He outlines the government's interest in land control and its articulation in technocratic terms. The author describes the ambiguities of rural land control in terms of the resettlement program, the "squatter problem," and the fluidity of rural politics. He analyzes the state's social institutions of common resource management as a route to rural empowerment.

Finally, Munro shows how institutions designed to widen the realm of local political interaction often failed to create a close link between technical interests, management, and governance. This analysis also offers considerable insight as to why state intervention continued to be a fragile initiative (p. 257). Community development was a state-directed attempt to combine market participation with self-reliance and limited proletarianization. It remained a precarious co-optive strategy, partly because of technocratic state traditions and interministerial insecurities reminiscent of the colonial era, but also as a result of the enduring adversarial quality of state-peasant relations (p. 223).

The book concludes that any study of state-formation in Zimbabwe must not casually dispense with the heterogeneity of Zimbabwean culture. State-formation and nation-building are beyond the capacity of any one institution, as has been evidenced by the historical failure of state intervention. State-formation in Zimbabwe has more than a little to do with a failure to develop communities. Munro's book manages to relate the conditions of early state intervention with the prospects of contemporary Zimbabwe and also those of other African states struggling with the process of state-formation. Perhaps the conclusion to be drawn from this book is that state power does not work by culturally dominating passive subordinate groups (mainly rural women and youth). Rather, that it works by forcibly organizing and dividing the elements of participatory democracy during state-formation.

Yilma Gebremariam
Department of Economics
Southern Connecticut State University