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A community-based approach to sustainable development: The role of civil society in rebuilding Zimbabwe
Kuziwakwashe Zigomo, Solidarity Peace Trust
April 02, 2012

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Introduction

Zimbabwe's years of economic mismanagement and political instability, especially in the last decade of the Zimbabwe Crisis, have had catastrophic effects on the national economy, much of which has left many of its once-vibrant sectors and industries significantly depleted (Kamidza 2009: 6). The formation of the GNU has since brought some stability to the economy, particularly through the implementation of the Short Term Emergency Recovery Programme that helped reduce rapid inflation levels as well as ensure the provision of basic commodities (though largely imported) that were scarce before. However, despite these improvements, many vital sectors such as health and education are still functioning well below their optimum capacity (Nkomo 2011). As a result, Zimbabwe continues to hang in the balance and the current government is struggling to develop sustainable policy alternatives to address the problems and challenges of the past.

For the country to move forward, Zimbabweans will need to harness their collective energy to rebuild Zimbabwe. Because of its close links to the people and the communities, Zimbabwe's civil society, in particular, has an important role in mobilising communities for the sustainable economic reconstruction and development of the country. Currently, Zimbabwe's civil society sector has not done much to mobilise Zimbabweans for the social and economic reconstruction of the country. There are two main reasons for this; firstly, due to their extensive focus on political advocacy at the expense of economic and social advocacy and secondly, due to the underdeveloped nature of Zimbabwean civil society resulting from years of state repression and the economic crisis that eroded the organisational capacity of civics. This paper discusses the various strategies that can be adopted by civics to mobilize communities for Zimbabwe's national reconstruction and sustainable development.

Civil Society and Development: The Global Picture

Civil society can be broadly defined as, "the realm between the household/ family and the state, populated by voluntary groups and associations, formed on the basis of shared interests, and are separate and/or largely but not necessarily completely autonomous from the state" (Boadi 2006: 2). At its very best, civil society should
function as 'a self-help entity, which facilitates economic development and wealth creation through the mobilization of group involvement based on common shared interests' (Boadi 2006: 3). In her study of immigrant planters on the cocoa and oil palm industry in Southern Ghana and South West Nigeria, Polly Hill shows how civil society can play an important role in the economic development of a country (Hill cited in Boadi 2006: 3). According to her, the immigrant workers' organizations played an important midwifery role in the initial stage of the development of the cocoa and oil palm industry by assisting the state to manage the production and marketing of the crops. Through initially performing these 'midwifery roles', immigrant workers organizations were able to complement and or supplement stateled efforts towards economic development, while the lack of these civil society groups' participation many years later led to the gross economic mismanagement of resources by the state (Boadi 2006: 3).

The case of Pune, a city in India where government worked with civil society to address the sanitation needs of the city's lower-income earners, also demonstrates the pivotal role that civil society can play in addressing the socio-economic needs of a country. "Two fifths of Pune's 2.8 million inhabitants live in over 500 slums. Although various local government bodies are meant to provide and maintain public toilets in these settlements, provision is insufficient. The quality of toilet construction was often poor and the design inappropriate, with limited water supplies and no access to drainage. The toilets frequently went uncleaned and fell into disuse, the
space around them used for open defecation and garbage dumping.

In 1999, Pune's Municipal Commissioner sought to improve the situation by inviting NGOs to make bids for toilet construction and maintenance. One NGO, the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC), had a long partnership with the National Slum Dwellers Federation and Mahila Milan and became a principal contractor. This alliance designed and costed the project, the city provided the capital costs and the communities developed the capacity for management and maintenance. A total of 114 toilet blocks were built, including 2,000 adult and 500 children's seats.

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