Zimbabwe's multiple debates on devolution

  • posted 7 months ago | #Devolved #local #governance #for #socio-economic #development
  • Zimbabwe's 2013 constitution codified a long-held ambition for decentralised governance. Traditions of relating well horizontally are manifest in many local societies not only in terms of resolving disputes but also the planning and instituting of long-term developments. Distorting these relations through a centralising national government, itself often without capacity to enhance local cohesion weakened local governance institutions and the ability of local citizens/residents to trust let alone build local institutions. This has resulted in disengaged citizens/residents, failing local institutions, rising inequality, unresolved local problems and disrupted socio-economic development processes. Local communities have become vulnerable and increasingly unable to effectively organize locally. Short-term foci at every level make social mobilisation difficult. A question that arises is whether devolved governance can help mend the local developmental and political gaps.

    The voices answering this question are multiple. Politicians' voices particularly those belonging to the ruling elite imagine devolution as leading to loss of power. Against a history of political competion, devolution is seen as posing a risk to national unity, an expensive structuring of the state and unsuited to a command-type development ethos gaining ground in the country. Citing resource leakages (natural,  financial and other) and capture particularly in urban spaces like Harare where national government and hordes of politically-connected citizens have diverted revenue streams away from City Treasury civil society organizations argue devolution will help resolve inequitable development in the country.

    Unfortunately national and local level bureaucrats individually and collectively lost their voice. They were bluedgeoned for so long that they became politically acquiescent. Those frustrated by such acquiescence left the service for local alternative employers or emigrated altogether. The dynamic debates that yielded the 13 principles on decentralised governance in 1996 leading to local government constitutionalisation in 2013 have gradually become devoid of cutting edge practitioners. Street narratives express basic needs potentially neutral regarding the way the state is organised. Access to quality health, education, food and nutrition security, roads and energy services is expressed as though the delivery and maintenance of these services is insensitive to governance frameworks. The political hyper-activity often laced with violence prior to the November 2017 political transition had created a breed of national politicians who impoverished policy making and administrative practice by polarising society. Ministerial hallucinations and presidential rally-speeches became policy without engaged analysis. For instance, violations of housing and other human rights proceeded from political pronouncements. It is within this hollowed-out political and administrative system that the multiple devolution debates have proceeded. No wonder Zimbabwe's post-November 2017 central government was able to dismiss devolution as expensive in the 2018 Budget Statement without caring to explain.

    A grounded and restructured debate on devolution is needed in these multiple spaces (civil society, public administration, the streets, village forums, political spheres including Parliament etc) in a connected fashion. The practical meanings of devolution, the policy-practice messaging and actual capacity development actions need to be framed as being about reforming and rebuilding Zimbabwe's largely intransigent political and administration system. Devolved governance offers much more promise for a cohesive, productive, peaceful and dignified Zimbabwe.