The decentralization of powers from central government to lower tiers of authority is in itself plausible. It has the potential to promote the enrichment of communities beginning at the grassroots as everyone will be actively participating in local development initiatives. Decentralization can unify fragmented nations as active citizenry take a part in shaping their communities and ultimately feed into the broader National Development Agenda.
In Zimbabwe, devolution was introduced in 2013 as one of the founding values and principles penned down in Chapter fourteen of the constitution. On paper, devolution is premised on: a) the preservation of national unity in Zimbabwe and the prevention of all forms of disunity and secessionism; b) the democratic participation in government by all citizens and communities of Zimbabwe; and c) the equitable allocation of national resources and the participation of local communities in the determination of development priorities within their areas; there must be devolution of power and responsibilities to lower tiers of government in Zimbabwe. While it is acknowledged that the constitution is cognizant of the existence of devolution, reality on the ground vividly testifies otherwise as it chronicles the lack of political will to operationalize the agenda.
Devolution was introduced in 2013 and seven years have already elapsed without any meaningful or tangible fruits reaped from the malfunctioning process. In retrospect, devolution is premised on the democratic participation of all citizens and communities in the country but dauntingly to date, most marginalized groups especially young women are unaware of it yet they are equally crucial to the effectiveness of this ecosystem. Young women are the primary consumers of social services and hence they must be at the helm of decision making in structures that exist in their communities. This can only happen when they are equipped with information and platforms that facilitate their participation.
Zimbabwe must draw lessons from our East African sister country, Kenya whose constitutional principles of a devolved government clearly stipulate under Section 175 (c) no more than two-thirds of the members of representative bodies in each county government shall be of the same gender. Kenya’s recognition of the need for inclusivity and equal representation is a true reflection of the political will to promote democratic participation of all genders in the decentralization process. For Zimbabwe, there must be specific legal and constitutional provisions that speak to gender balance on devolution without us having to base on Section 56 which generally speaks of equality and non-discrimination. We need an amalgamated approach between law makers and citizens in the promotion of young women’s meaningful participation in devolution.
Moreover, the Zimbabwean constitution validates the equitable allocation of national resources and the participation of local communities in the determination of development priorities within their areas. It is of great concern that local governments that have so far received five percent disbursements from the state’s purse towards devolution have had great difficulty prioritizing which community projects to fully embark on because the money is inadequate. The Central government needs to be conscious that communities are not homogenous and they all have unique needs and aspirations which require specific interventions that may exceed the five percent allocations. Some local authorities have had to shelve certain community development initiatives or embark on projects halfway and this has impeded local development and dearly cost communities especially young women who have had to succumb to a myriad of risks.
The advent of Covid 19 pandemic left the globe hamstrung and Zimbabwe was not immune to the negative impact of the catastrophe. Since March 2020, Zimbabwe was on different phases of lockdown topped up with a slap of chilling restrictions. The pandemic aggravated young women’s vulnerabilities including the burden of unpaid care work, loss of productive lives, increased gender based violence, lack of health care, maternal morbidity and loss of lives as a result of the lack of localized emergency gender responsive social services. Most if not all budget allocations meant for devolution were diverted towards the fight against Covid 19, a sign that there were no localized disaster mitigation strategies.Young women were tragically and disproportionately affected whereas this could have been mitigated if they were the principals in determining local development priorities and long term investments that suit their distinctive needs. Beyond the five percent allocation by central government, there must be a mandatory disaggregated percentage that specifically goes towards addressing young women’s specific needs so that they are not casualties in the face of disaster.
The advent of a Devolution and Decentralization Policy, could have been a welcome development however, it leaves more questions than answers. The policy ought to have clearly articulated the actual decentralization and separation of powers among different tiers of government. Where is the decentralization of power when the Office of the President and Cabinet still has oversight on the affairs of lower tiers? How then can we ensure the efficacy of such? Is the OPC not going to meddle in the affairs of provincial and local governments and then ultimately over control and inhibit the growth of communities? How then do we also ensure transparency and accountability considering that the roles of different tiers of government are being duplicated? Is the Devolution and Decentralization Policy effective or its here to do more harm than good?
If Zimbabwe is going to be successful with devolution, the OPC should relinquish all devolution affairs to lower tiers of government and allow them the independence to exercise their roles and ultimately develop communities. If local authorities are competent as is claimed, then there is no need for the OPC to continue meddling with the affairs of local government. There is need to operationalize a completely independent body/ commission that has oversight on how local authorities are implementing devolution and whether there is transparency and accountability.
There is also need to distinguish roles and responsibilities of each tier of government so that there is no duplication. The Devolution and Decentralization Policy endorses the existence of Provincial Councils as stipulated in Section 264 (1) of the constitution. It is disheartening to note that even though provincial councils are a significant part of the devolution process, the Provincial Councilors who are supposed to be discharging their duties have not been inaugurated since their election. How then should the provincial councilors discharge their duties in their jurisdictions? Are they even aware of their roles and responsibilities considering that some devolution disbursements have already been made without them knowing? When will they start to work considering that the clock is ticking?
Zimbabwe needs to embark on an introspection of whether we are truly geared up for the development agenda or this is another platform for politicization and sabotage at the expense of citizens. The devolution discourse also demands for the involvement of young women in all processes and that is the only way to democratize development.
Source: Sharon Sigauke