Bovine politics: Ramaphosa, Museveni and Mnangagwa’s shared love of big-horned Ankole

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Ankole must be the most politically connected cattle breed; it was made popular by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni and became topical in South Africa through President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala farm near Bela-Bela in Limpopo. Now it’s gaining traction in Zimbabwe, also at the highest level of politics.

In South Africa, the Ankole sells at stunning prices during auctions. Breeders say they are good providers of both milk and beef, survive in tough terrain, and their distinctive long horns are a plus.

In South Africa, Ramaphosa’s herd has become associated with his Phala Phala farm, which is recently better known for his dealings in buffalo, sometimes for cash, in dollars.

President Cyril Ramaphosa breeds Ankole at his Phala Phala farm, and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni uses the breed as a diplomatic tool. (National Ankole Auction)

In Uganda, where the cattle partly originate, Museveni treats them as a source of national pride, practicing what journalists in East Africa have come to term “Ankole diplomacy”. When, in February, Uganda and Kenya had yet another standoff over milk exports, efforts to settle things down included a field trip to inspect Museveni’s Ankole herd.

In similar fashion, Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa this weekend hosted controversial businessman Wicknell Chivayo at his 405-hectare Precabe Farm in Kwekwe.

The social media-loving Chivayo didn’t waste time before bragging about the jaunt, posting pictures online and giving some insight into Mnangagwa’s time away from his desk.

“I was particularly impressed by our president’s substantial herd of the beautiful Ankole breed, originally from East Africa, but predominantly in Rwanda,” Chivayo wrote on his Facebook page.

The Presidency did not respond to enquiries about how many Ankoles the head of state owns.

Among Mnangagwa’s previous guests at Precabe Farm is Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi, who was taken on tour during a state visit in 2023.