Embracing, enhancing devolution

Nick Mangwana View from the Diaspora
A new way of doing things is being inculcated in Zimbabwe. The narrative is very clear that we have to recall the political mode and deploy more economics and a policy discourse. So from now going forward this column is going to start unpacking and expanding on policy pronunciations made during the election campaign. There is also a real chance that the column might be run under a different theme, as this columnist will soon be done with living in the Diaspora.

During the 2018 harmonised elections campaign season, President-elect Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa turned both attitude and policy on devolution on its head. Devolution was a message being pushed by Professor Welshman Ncube and his outfit in the MDC-Alliance. It was a message largely ignored by the Alliance as their leader embarked on promoting himself. Suddenly the issue became one of Zanu-PF’s core messages at every provincial rally. What did Emmerson Mnangagwa see in devolution, which the previous regime did not only ignore, but was hostile to?

At every rally we now could hear that each of the nation’s provinces including the two metropolises would play to their strength. In a concept impinged on free markets, President-elect Mnangagwa preached that there should be productivity competition between all the provinces. Each province will be supported by central Government to put its best foot forward.

Zanu-PF had more than two-thirds majority just before the elections and still has that kind of majority post-election, still ED did not seek to amend Chapter 14 of the Constitution as had been indicated several times by the previous Government. He chose to implement it fully. It is very clear that the President-elect fully identified with the concept, embraced it and owned it.

Devolving a government is a sign that one is not power-obsessed, but focused on tangible improvements to the lives of the people. If anyone ever doubted the democratic credentials of this President then they should look at this one action. Devolution does not only decongest power, it is more participatory and citizen-centred. In fact, from a democracy point of view, it is the exact antithesis of the One Centre of Power notion. So when President-elect Mnangagwa talks of servant leadership a closer look at his promotion of devolution provides a synopsis of what that is all about.

When the enabling legislation is in place, provinces are going to have a governance model that is locally relevant and participatory. The local citizens become masters of their own destiny as they champion local development programmes. It is local people that know that a dam is a priority and ahead of a road or electricity and any such. It is them who decide whether for them a clinic should have resource priority ahead of a classroom block etc. Devolution avoids a one-size-fits-all approach to development.

President-elect Mnangagwa has anchored his economic reform on devolution. This has led to the effort to identify key provincial strengths to support and build the local economy on. There is definitely a need for a coherent policy, which will inform the legislation. For example, questions needing answers are questions such as, what will be the attitude to inter-provincial migration? Naturally, people are going to move from poorly performing provinces to high- performing ones. Will the local people resist? How will that policy look?

The President-elect has already addressed some of these issues by encouraging companies to make use of local human resources before seeking skills from elsewhere. This is a well-supported idea, but it needs to be well managed because anything that can breed balkanisation of the country needs to be approached meticulously and sensitively. We have already seen some cessionists ideas in some and these definitely need to be managed. There are some people who have already shown a tendency of failure to manage power. Power without character is satanic.

The idea of power leads us straight to the ethos of empowerment. Zanu-PF pushes the empowerment doctrine only now in a less radical way. The New Dispensation is still pursuing empowerment in a measured and calculated way. This is why the Youth and Women’s banks were opened. Devolution is also a fulfilment of the empowerment agenda. The voice of poor people in local affairs is given a chance to be heard.

We have all heard the President address that each province will have its own Gross Domestic Product (GDP). He has gone on to say that they will choose how to deploy the resources they harness in their province. This is what is known as the “economic dividend” of devolution, which accrues to the devolved province. This means that natural resources harvested from local environs are used for local socio-economic development. The moment people are given a responsibility they are likely to work hard to see them through.

The provinces that have been major agitators of devolution are the very ones that felt they produced a lot but were marginalised and were subjected to imbalances and inequitable distribution of the natural resources. This might have scared the previous leadership as it felt that devolving would make it lose its grip. But the advent of a more confident leadership not given to much paranoia is what’s leading to the implementation of the constitution. Now, those regions that felt marginalised are going to be empowered to address local challenges using local resources. Power will be devolved and decentralised.

Good governance is giving the local voice a chance to be heard.

The events of a local chief forcing a Grain Marketing Board (GMB) depot to close down because it employed too many people from other provinces are a case to reflect on. It is such sentiments when radically expressed which make anti-devolutionists within the party and country apprehensive. We cannot ignore that the notion of devolution has a lot of detractors. So the same provinces that have been agitating for it have to carefully manage their rhetoric to exclude anything that can be read as cessionism. Things like suggesting that certain provinces be given the name “Mthwakazi Province/Region) is quite unhelpful.

Anything that is perceived to go against our status as a unitary state should be rejected as we give power to the regions. It means the devolved regions and communities should never entertain machinations to splinter our country as that will most likely make central government nervous and bring back centralisation.

Not all the provinces exciting for devolution have rogue elements with other ideas to cessed. Provinces like Manicaland have experienced things they don’t like over the years. They have seen diamond mining companies based in Manicaland crossing provinces and go all the way to Mashonaland West all the way down to Zvimba to build the Sabina Mugabe School.

This is the kind of thing that annoys local activists. They ask why such a school was not built where the resources were exploited. Why should resources exploited in Manicaland be used to build a school in Zvimba and none for the displaced families in Manicaland? This is a question, which has no need for an answer as the answer is well known. Nefarious activists are looking for that kind of excuse to push their dark agendas.

Devolution is an opportunity for the skilled Zimbabwean in the Diaspora. Provinces should reach out to their international citizen to come and fill any competence gaps they may have. If they don’t make use of everyone they may not manage their affairs effectively giving arsenal to their detractors.

Devolution can easily be a massive employment creator. This is not referring to those employed in the tier of bureaucracy created by the devolution, but in the employment created by focussed and localised economic activity.

Even though this instalment wanted to avoid political issues it seems one cannot avoid noting that the opposition has been running the second tier of Government and ran local authorities to the ground. It is the New Dispensation government that has repaired roads after the failure of the opposition parties to deliver services.

The same Government is now working tirelessly to bring water to every household in Harare, Ruwa, Norton and Chitungwiza after again the failure of the opposition-run councils. The election results mean that they will be in charge of running Harare and Bulawayo Metropolitan provinces. Does this fragmented unstable ragtag outfit have capacity to run these very important economic hubs?

The role of a Government is to care for the lives of its voters, it is to protect their lives and enhance their happiness. The current Government of Zimbabwe might have made a few mistakes, but it has shown that it takes its duty as that of protecting the people and not running their lives seriously. Zimbabwe is desperate to reduce poverty. The only way this can be achieved is through being responsive to the needs of the population.

Zanu-PF’s political structure with each province being sovereign shows that devolution inheres in the party. From a cultural point of view it shouldn’t be difficult for the ruling party to use this tried and tested concept to model out a good policy for devolution.

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