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‘Critics argue that the deindustrialization of Bulawayo, for example, is Gukurahundi by economic means rather than by the gun and the bayonet.’
THIS week I revisit one of my favourite subjects – devolution. When we as MDC fought the last election under the banner of ‘Devolution is our Revolution’, very few cared to pay attention let alone understand the essence of our message given the state of our politics which still refuses to be issue and reason driven, but is almost exclusively concerned with removing President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF, or if you are a Zanu PF member or supporter, keeping him and Zanu PF in power, supposedly to keep our country from being recolonised by the British.
Our unheard message was this: Zimbabwe needs a paradigm shift of its governance matrix. Governance, through a single centre which determines all things to do with our welfare, has not only brought us into the mess we are in as a country through centralized inefficiencies, imposing unnecessarily high costs on society and disempowering a great number of citizens as individuals and communities, but also marginalises just about every community, save for citizens who are the ‘horse riders’.
My contention is that the prosperity and well-being of Zimbabweans lies not only in our ability to maintain high productivity in all key sectors of the economy, including agriculture, mining and manufacturing, but also in being able to govern ourselves at the local and community levels. Control of our economic, social, political, legal and technological life at the lowest level is the essence of devolution.
Section 264 of the national constitution provides for the promotion of the equitable allocation of national resources and the participation of local communities in the determination of development priorities within their areas. It goes further to say, “…whenever appropriate, governmental powers and responsibilities must be devolved to provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities which are competent to carry out those responsibilities efficiently and effectively.”
Alienation, marginalisation and disempowerment of the people are caused by dysfunctional central local government systems deficient in devolution. Currently, local authorities and municipalities are not only run under an Act of Parliament which gives excessive overriding powers to a central government minister, who is often whimsical, vindictive and corrupt.
No council can operate effectively or take good decisions on behalf of ratepayers and residents with such adverse central government interference. Our party has always held that through effective devolution, local communities can be part of local and provincial governance legally and politically empowered and capacitated to respond to local needs and priorities.
I follow with keen interest the debates in Parliament, social networks and newspapers on how regions, particularly the southern ones have been, for many years, excluded from a fair share of the ‘national cake’. Instead of reinforcing the victim mentality, I acknowledge that it is not only the southern provinces, (by which I include Masvingo, the Midlands and Matabeleland) suffering from fiscal exclusion, but several other areas of the northern provinces, particularly Manicaland.
Marginalisation is a national scourge with its origins in colonialism but sadly perpetuated by the vindictiveness and incompetence of Zanu PF governance consumed by the paranoia of centralisation. However, it is in southern provinces that the impact of neglect has been more conspicuously devastating, resulting in diminished school and university enrolment, large-scale migration to neighbouring countries, de-indutrialisation and, ultimately, unemployment.
In the past decades, there has been a unison chorus for central government to be affirmative on the issue, with critics arguing that Gukurahundi was a symptom of marginalization and the more radical arguing that the deindustrialization of Bulawayo, for example, is Gukurahundi by economic means rather than by the gun and the bayonet.
Observers cite how the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces are characterized in public institutions such as the police, hospitals and clinics, government and public offices of all descriptions, border posts and institutions of higher learning (such as colleges, universities, teacher training and technical colleges) by an almost complete absence of persons from the province in the register of those employed in these institutions. Not that the situation in the private sector is any better. Inevitably, scores of ‘nationalist’ pressure groups have emerged in these areas, each purporting to push one cause or another in favour of ‘power and wealth-sharing’.
Before his passing, Eric Bloch went out of his way to explain the benefits of devolution, arguing “that administration should be decentralised from Harare, and that within the parameters of an overall national economic policy, appropriate underlying policies should be regionally determined as, all too often, one area may be in need of policies and actions very specific to their areas.” Of greater interest is where he quoted the Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association referring to “one major myth against devolution as the perceived fear that it would lead to the disintegration of the country and the State.”
It is obviously not true that when a country is effectively devolved, there is equality in wealth consumption. Except perhaps for Switzerland, many devolved countries, like Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria are still afflicted with income disparities. This is what lends ‘legitimacy’ to the separatist movement in Scotland, Spain and Zimbabwe. Yet given the bloody ‘post-secession’ South Sudan, it is a warning that simply re-drawing borders on paper does not guarantee national happiness, neither does it, by itself, engender peace.
The problem I see is that there is major misinterpretation of what self-determination is, some of this spiraling into the misnomer of separatism and secessionism. Again, it is not for me to judge, but all I can say is that self-determination is both a human and national right recognised even at United Nations level. Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights clarifies that “(A)ll peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
Our borders were re-drawn in the 19th century during the infamous ‘partition of Africa’ in Berlin, so it is correct that some nations were dislocated. However, recognising the supremacy of linguistic, cultural and ethnic characteristics of a nation does not mean that they should be ‘separated’.
The MDC thought it prudent that a Provincial Council elected by proportional representation to constitute a Provincial Government as a separate sphere of Government independent but interrelated with others should be in place and hence our insistence that it be part of our national constitution. But alas, people elected and declared winners are yet to take office almost half way through their elected terms of office. It is difficult to imagine greater contempt for the Supreme law of the land. There are numerous benefits from exploiting national comparative advantage since each region has its unique strengths.
Through effective implementation of devolution, there will be diverse stakeholder participation on major decisions while breaking the previously resented ‘walls’ between public leaders and citizens. Local communities will be encouraged to be part of local and provincial governance -there would be the power of self-determination as located and identified by locals.
Implementation of devolution would see the reduction in bureaucracy and red tape through efficient and effective decision making processes at the local and community levels guided by appropriate information technology. Local citizens would be empowered and capacitated to determine their local needs and priorities so that they coordinate with designated leaders through local and provincial governments.
As MDC, we share the grief of marginalisation, yet we remain sober in proposing a system that minimises conflict and promotes unity, fairness and justice through effective democratic representation at all levels of governance. Democracy demands that we also accommodate those with diverse or even dissenting views without imposing on each other a burden that destroys our common vision.
However, unless all democrats cooperate for implementation of reforms that allow free expression and choice, we will remain stuck with a 35-year old government embalmed and entombed in a rigid mentality of national dominance. By Welshman Ncube