In the past months, a number of mainstream media outlets have been reporting that Provinces in Zimbabwe have started receiving their devolution funds to finance development projects. As espoused in Chapter 14 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, devolution seeks to ensure the decentralization of Central Government powers and responsibilities. Hence devolution is underpinned by the values and principles of ensuring equitable sharing of local and national resources including enhancing participation of local communities in decision making in governance.
At the core of devolution is the citizen whose participation in decision making is of paramount importance. Ensuring citizen participation must be the driving force which should prompt an inclusive approach in the implementation of devolution. It therefore rests upon authorities to ensure that citizen participation and inclusion in decision making is ensured and guaranteed.
From my travels across the country, I have made efforts to engage some of the local community members in conversations seeking to gauge their appreciation of current developments around devolution. It is worrying to note that a majority of community members, who ideally should be some of the front runners of devolution, are not aware of not only the devolution process itself but also the allocations that have been disbursed to their Provinces thus far including how the funds will or have been utilized till date. A worst case scenario is one whereby even some of the Councilors do not understand what their role is in as far as the devolution process is concerned.
As far as possible, efforts should be made to ensure that communities have information at their disposal so as to ensure the success of the devolution program. One manner in which this can be ensured is if Zimbabwe licenses community radios to enable free flow of information at a local level, including educating communities about what devolution entails and their role in the process.
In light of budgetary constraints, it is important to use localized communication platforms in engaging under-represented groups so that development projects are responsive to the needs of women, youth and persons with disabilities. As Zimbabwe is currently pursuing a developmental trajectory in pursuit of Vision 2030, citizen participation and access to information remain important pillars towards the achievement of the vision.
2019 is quickly drawing to a close and one can only hope that the recently constituted Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) Board will spring a surprise on citizens and call for applications for those wishing to establish community radios so that citizens proactively participate in the devolution process. There are a number of comparative similarities that one draws between devolution and community radio. The licensing of community radios, which is devolution through decentralization of information platforms to communities, will be a critical catalyst for ensuring a holistic, participatory and inclusive information flow process which ensures transparency and accountability in the devolution process. This is especially necessary noting the latest Auditor General’s report which exposed the rampant cases of maladministration in local authorities; hence leaving the devolution process unchecked can be subject to abuse.
Through community radio, local communities will be updated in real time about the progress of devolution, budgets and expenditure. In turn, communities will be in a position to input on what local priorities should be including monitoring implementation of projects. As a people, we have a lot to say to how we feel the development trajectory should pan out. We need platforms which enable us to initiate dialogue and converse, not only amongst ourselves, but also with those in leadership.
The governing leadership always state that Zimbabwean problems require Zimbabwean solutions. Community radio is by far the best enabler of dialogue and participation at a very local level so that communities collectively identify local solutions to local problems. With the way that society has progressed, it is no longer just a preserve of those in leadership to seek solutions to development challenges, but the role of every citizen to ensure that they are actively involved in national and local conversations.
Similar to devolution, community radios are an important communication for development tool which enables community driven and owned development interventions which are a critical ingredient in the pursuit of holistic and inclusive development. Devolution and community radio are both about empowerment of the marginalized and under-represented so that they proactively determine their development agenda.
Community radio remains a strategic partner in development and Government should continuously be encouraged to license this sector. If not for us, then for posterity.
Source: Vivienne Marara
*Vivienne Marara is a Communication for Development Practitioner and writes in her personal capacity. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org