Public Meeting on “Devolution: A Governance Illusion or a Real Catalyst for Electoral Reform?”

On Tuesday the 6th of October 2020, ZESN hosted a virtual public meeting to discuss the topic “Devolution: A Governance Illusion or A Real Catalyst for Electoral Reform”. The panelists at this meeting included Dr. Alois Madhekeni, a Community Development Projects Coordinator with Silveira House, Talent Maphosa, and Director for the Institute for Development Trust, Thabani Mnyama a Lawyer and Director of the AfriConsult Firm and Effie Ncube who is a social commentator. The objective of the meeting was to discuss the framework of devolution in Zimbabwe and its utility to the promotion of democratic electoral participation in Zimbabwe.

The panelists noted that the concept of Devolution is very complex and as such, many citizens do not fully understand it. Talent Maphosa noted that there is very limited understanding of what Devolution is, and what shape it is supposed to take. She further explained the limitations in the implementation of Devolution, citing the example of provincial councils which have not yet been constituted. Maphosa went on to explain the cause of this “confusion” as being the lack of political will which has led to the lack of implementation of the concept. She highlighted the ‘complications” hindering the process as the unwillingness to share power and also the failure to share resources. Dr. Alois Madhekeni echoed the same sentiments noting that the Devolution on paper is quite different from that one being implemented on the ground, which adds some confusion on understanding it.

Effie Ncube noted that devolution, if implemented to the fullest with a view to ensuring equitable sharing of resources, can promote regional integration. If people have a sense that there is fairness in the conduct of state affairs and that their region is not being left out of development, there is reduced incentive for secessionist aspirations.

Asked if the legislative framework on devolution guarantees the representation of different groups in governance and electoral participation, panelists responded to the question mostly with reference to women participation in governance. They lamented the fact that the devolution framework does not directly push for gender representation. Dr. Madhekeni noted that in the Constitution of Zimbabwe, Devolution provides for democratic representation, therefore there is scope for representation. Maphosa, recommended that that local government elections must be the starting point for women participation, and that the women’s quota provisions should be implemented from that level. She suggested that party lists must have a balanced number of men and women on the selection of candidates for election, from the local level. Another panelist, Effie Ncube, however felt that political parties are an extension of society, so the impetus is to reform society first, in order to do away with the belief that women cannot be good leaders.

On the “ideal model” for Devolution that makes electoral participation easier, Thabani Mnyama noted that the Zimbabwean model as described in Chapter 14 of the Constitution is ideal, but that it is the implementation that is problematic. He explained that the provisions clearly capture the will of the people. Dr. Madhekeni reinforced the idea saying that devolution as it is on paper promotes electoral representation of the people at the local level and also allows for the electorate to participate and have a say in what should be done in their communities, including how funds and local resources should be used. He further noted that an ideal model would be one that creates sub-national entities with functions that matter. He further bemoaned the current situation where only money is being transferred to the lower levels, and not real power. Talent Maphosa also complained about the fact that the trajectory on Devolution in Zimbabwe is not taking the country in the right direction because the Zimbabwean system thrives on rhetoric, “talking and not acting. “As a result of this, it is difficult to have faith in the concept”.

The results for an effective devolution, according to the panelists, would be good governance, swift delivery of goods and services, creation of jobs, eradication of poverty, increasing women representation in decision making positions starting at local level and the ending of corruption in local government. However, panelists agreed that Devolution on its own is inadequate to deliver enhanced electoral participation, but that it should be implemented together with a host of other electoral reforms. It was noted that as long as there is voter apathy, lack of trust in the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and recurrent problems in political parties, issues of electoral participation will not be addressed.

After the Question and Answer session with the panelists, the meeting was opened to the floor and several recommendations were given to improve the Devolution framework. It was recommended that:

  • Civil society organizations play a complementary role in demanding the full implementation of devolution, and in tracking progress on that.
  • Civil society should input into processes of developing implementation frameworks on Devolution.
  • The government to come up with policy alternatives to Devolution that will enhance electoral participation.
  • Zimbabwe should come up with practical steps on devolution, basing on successful regional and international models. Tunisia was cited as one of the best examples from where Zimbabwe can draw its lessons on devolution.
  • The need for local authorities to run their own elections was also cited as an important reform.
  • There is a need to introduce proportional representation at local government level, and urge political parties to adopt mechanisms that guarantee 50/50 representation of women in politics.

In conclusion, the meeting was a great success as it brought together different stakeholders to shed light and proffer recommendations on the framework of devolution in Zimbabwe. Those who failed to log into the ZOOM meeting, followed the discussion on the ZESN Facebook page. The meeting reached 7 010 people on Facebook with 1 400 views.

Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN)

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