Devolution is Constitutional, not Tribal
Cameroon today is engulfed in a crisis owing to the unresolved issues of devolution between Francophone and Anglophone states. The root of this problem may be traced back when political elites of two territories with different colonial legacies-one French and the other British-agreed on the transformation of a federal state.
Unfortunately, such arrangement failed to provide for equal partnership of both parties and failed to appreciate the cultural heritage and identity of each but turned out to be a transitory phase to the total integration of the Anglophone region into a strongly centralized, unitary state. Eventually, this created an Anglophone consciousness: the feeling of being marginalized, exploited and assimilated by the francophone dominated state, and even by the whole francophone population as a whole. The ongoing protests in Cameroon over this have been met with violence and arbitrary arrests by the government but unfortunately this has failed to address the issues raised by protestors (need to devolve). Save a thought for Cameroon.
Section 264 of the new Constitution of Zimbabwe provides for the devolution of governmental powers and responsibilities. It is the same clause from the Constitution which has courted controversy over the need to speed up the implementation of devolution in the country. One of the objectives of devolution as enunciated in Section 264 is to give powers of local governance to the people and enhance their participation in the exercise of the powers of the State and in making decisions affecting them. There is a general feeling among the people domiciled in Harare that they are marginalized and neglected even when it comes to framing of their own provincial or institutional budgets. The example of Cameroon saves as an example of the degree of damage and fissures created by the lack of devolution. The serious one being marginalization.
One unavoidable debate within Matabeleland is the issue of marginalization and unfortunately the government of the day has chosen to ignore or address fissures created by marginalization. Most of the issues raised by people there at least in my view are valid. For example, having grown up in Bulawayo myself for the better part of my childhood, I remember how the issue of the Zambezi-Bulawayo project was very topical during primary education day. Today, water remains a problem because the project is still to be completed. So I think at times when engaging in such debates, there is need for a soberer approach.
Unfortunately, the debate on this key and yet pertinent issue has been met with widespread criticism by people who have argued that devolution will divide the country. In my view, the fact that it’s provided for in the constitution means that there is some form of consensus among the populace that devolution must be implemented. Arguing that the government must devolve is actually a positive step that can helps address issues of marginalization, underdevelopment and poverty. It is also positive to note that government has always seen the need to devolve right from independence. After independence the government was somewhat committed to the need to decentralize.
The Prime Minister’s Directive of 1984 underscored the need for decentralization by ensuring that the country has dual structures socially, economically and politically, relicts of the colonial past. It then became necessary to restructure local government through: Creation of new Ministries and deconcentrating of other e.g. The Ministry of Local Government and Rural and Urban Development (MLGRUD), Legislative changes and directives to democratize and strengthen local government and Participatory organizational structures to permit local participation in development planning. The Prime Minister stated how villages through the Village Development Committees (VIDCOs) and headed by the village head are supposed to define local needs, wards through the Ward Development Committees (WADCOs) headed by a district councilor and covering six villages. Given developments that unfolded over the years, particularly related to the Traditional leadership institution by ZANU PF, decentralization was shelved in pursuit of narrow political goals. The Traditional leaders who are supposed to play key developmental roles are now active members of political parties or in some way furthering the interest of certain political parties in direct violation of section 281 of the constitution.
Besides this, government introduced the growth point strategy soon after independence in 1980 with the aim of transforming rural services and business centers into vibrant economic hubs for rural development. The growth pole strategy aimed to decongest urban centers by elevating some business centers to growth point status in order to curb rural and urban migration with work opportunities and the provision of basic essential services available at growth points. While government can be lauded for such an initiative, over the past years we have not seen growth points becoming economic hubs or facilitating adequate services. This owes to the neglect by government to provide adequate budget allocations.
Of course it must be noted that while growth points have enjoyed relative success by creating employment, infrastructure development, better health facilities, they have not done enough to complement government’s efforts to decentralize. To date, people who live close to growth point still have to bear high costs to access social services such as better health facilities etc. Most of these growth points resemble ghost towns where basic offices such as the Registrar General’s office operate under capacity owing to budget constraints. Such challenges have hampered any prospects for devolution.
Controversies around Devolution
The most peddled debate on devolution has been the serious issue of marginalization. The question is how can government then ensure the active participation and contribution by all citizens at every level in society? This can be addressed by decentralizing its activities and ensuring that people are not relegated to just being mere observers only but participants. Zimbabwe is littered with examples were citizens or locals in a specific community have been sidelined either in developmental projects or initiatives. Projects like road and dam construction have been tendered to private players since the successful completion of projects, for example, the construction of Tokwe-Mukosi Dam in Masvingo Province. Some of the decentralization efforts by government are half -hearted and piecemeal, for example in Zimbabwe forest management remains a preserve of the RDCs and the Forest Company whilst local communities are restricted to the use of non-timber products for revenue generation.
In some seemingly devolved institutions such as VIDCOs and WADCOs meaningful participation has remained theoretical since the institutions only serve to shape policy of the top-down approach emphasized by the government in power. To even exacerbate the situation, most VIDCOs and WADCOs are only existing in theory and the few that remain operational are now captured by political elites.
Government must comply with the constitution and devolve. However, this must be done in a sector-specific pattern and this will involve detailed investigations into how each sector should be organized and identify appropriate fiscal and institutional frameworks necessary. Decentralization without thoroughly understanding the local, social, economic, physical and institutional conditions often generate opposition among local groups – distant administrators (in Harare) cannot know the complex variety of factors that affect the success of project in local communities throughout the country.
Added to this, government must swiftly move in to resolve conflicts between institutions, such as WADCOs and VIDCOs and traditional institutions which have dealt rural development a severe blow. The two have conflicting mandates and jurisdictions resulting in power wrangles at the expense of developmental targets. Central government must also be downwardly accountable to local level authorities and it has the responsibility of clarifying laws, mediating major disputes and providing guidelines and means to assure the inclusion of marginal groups.
In the final analysis, devolution in inescapable from whichever lenses you view it from. The voices of those who voted for it during the constitution making process must be respected. Choosing to do otherwise will be a gross violation and a disregard of the people’s voice.