Wednesday, 1 October 2008

On the question of devolution in Zimbabwe

I think greater devolution of powers and responsibilities to the regions would be a good tonic for national development, both economically and democratically. The principle of participatory democracy in governance and economic development would be more effectively harnessed and expressed. Our highly centralised state lumbers under the weight of patronage, corruption, authoritarianism and policy failure.

Central government can retain full control of national security and overall national economic and development policy, especially with respect to strategic directions and international trade. But certainly, the regions should enjoy more direct say-so over local priorities, receiving budgetary support from central government to meet local needs.

I think we could see less violence in elections for national leadership under a devolved system of government , and those competing for local positions would be less persuaded to deploy violence in a localised context where the distance between those who govern and the governed is much shorter.

The tragedy of the argument on devolution, in my view, has been that it has been interpreted as inspired by Ndebele nationalism and secessionist tendencies. In that vein, the position of radical but marginal groups such as Mthwakazi has been blown out of proportion and perceived as representative of the real driving force behind Matebeleland's leadership in calls for devolution of power.

Perhaps for the concept to get national take-up it would be necessary for highly organised local parties to come up, with the immediate aim of winning local elections, establishing a strong local presence especially in terms of articulating the everyday concerns of the grassroots, and through that approach, push for a bottom-up type of revolution in the country's system of government.

That would entail harnessing what Prof. Masipula Sithole called 'the beautiful head of tribalism'. It is a fact that those who live in Manicaland are broadly Manyika, as it is true that Masvingo has Karanga, Mashonaland Zezuru, and Matebeleland, Ndebele. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, as indeed there is nothing wrong in the idea of Scottish people in Scotland seeking to have greater say-so over Scottish affairs and enjoying a decent level of benefit from Scottish economic resources.

The watchword, in my view, would be to give back power to the grassroots whilst maintaining an effective unitary state that is responsive to its constituent parts.