This is because it is something that has been debated against the backdrop of accusations that the central government is guilty of crimes against humanity in the early 1980s and therefore not nearly legitimate enough to be allowed to directly influence policy in specific regions. This is specifically true for Matabeleland and Midlands provinces that suffered the brunt of the brutality of the notorious North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade of the Zimbabwe National Army.
It is also in the latter mentioned provinces that before it united with Zanu PF, PF Zapu was almost unbeatable in local or parliamentary elections and came to view these provinces as its fiefdom. Indeed things have changed for the fortunes of Zanu PF in present day Zimbabwe but this does not mean there are no other politicians who claim these provinces on the basis of ethnicity or history as their fiefdoms, an issue which presents us with a departure point in analysing the call for a devolved state.
The initial call for devolution emanates primarily from an historical grievance based on the atrocities committed by the then central government in Matabeleland and Midlands. It sought and continues to seek both the recognition of the historical injustice as well as the establishment of an alternative political framework to attempt to prevent the recurrence of such violence. Recently the debate in the media has been linked to the issue of state allocation of resources, especially in the aftermath of the accidental discovery of diamonds in Manicaland.
True enough, every other person of influence who comes from one region or the other is now sure that one day in their province there can be discovered some mineral that they would want to exploit both for themselves or, to put it in a politically correct manner, for their region.
It therefore becomes an issue of the allocation of power for reasons that range from trying to take matters of historical atrocities into the hands of people in the affected regions, determining resource distribution on the basis of region of origin and direct control of mineral wealth by leaders that hail from the source of origin of the same mineral. The essential point therefore becomes that these issues are not necessarily unsolvable by a central government.
Because devolution is generally political euphemism for “semi autonomy”, it is important to explain its full import in Zimbabwe’s context. It would mean, at least given what has been proposed on paper, the mimicking of central government structures at a regional or local level.
For example, for Harare there would a provincial assembly/parliament and provincial executive/cabinet. The nature of the interface between the central and provincial government would be something akin to what obtains in South Africa, minus the population and geographical size of the latter country. So before it is anything else, devolution is primarily political. It creates new platforms of political legitimacy that seek to reduce the power and legitimacy of the central state in favour of local affiliations or even resources. And in our instance, this is all being proposed without a critical examination of the causes of the failure of the central state. This is a development that would see devolution become a knee- jerk response to the failures of the Zanu PF-led central government.
In a country as small as ours, we must begin by critically examining the failures of the central government and issues of national delivery before clouding our judgment with solutions that seek to reflect the same sort of failures at regional level.
The primary failure of our central government has been a lack of transparency and accountability as well as the failure to decentralise the functions of the state. For example, when Finance minister Biti told parliament that he did not have any record of the diamonds sold in the national revenue records it was not because there was provincial cabinet or parliament in Manicaland. Instead the reason would be that there was no legislative framework that promoted accountability on the resources acquired, a situation which sadly remains true today.
Establishing a somewhat executive authority in Manicaland does not necessarily translate to transparency. Instead it may mean the extension of a culture of kleptocracy at a local level in mimicry of that which is done at national level. In other words the problem is not with the fact that there is no devolution, instead it resides more in the non-transparent culture that informs how central government is run.
Because we cannot easily ignore the causes of the call for devolution, it is necessary to proffer some arguments on why all the problems are still solvable by a central but democratic government. The first cause is that the legitimate historical grievance of accounting for the perpetrators of Gukaruhandi cannot be redressed by devolution but by justice. Indeed some may argue that because of this period, devolution is valid. This would be to miss the point. The urgency instead should be to address these historical grievances comprehensively and as a nation. The mechanisms to do this can be argued elsewhere but include an independent commission of inquiry with a brief to establish a vehicle for reparations to victims as well as the power to sentence perpetrators.
The second issue that must be considered is that the failure of Zanu PF in charge of central government is not the failure of the state. It is the democratisation of the central and local government structures that is more important, and this is why in the first place the debate should be about decentralisation in order to enhance accountability and transparency and not merely replicate the current power structures of central government.
A decentralisation that ensures the availability of services to all across the country be it in health, education, transport services, water, passports and birth certificate provision is what would be preferable. And this should be done with an understanding of the importance of democratic rural and urban councils without undue interference as is the case with the current Ministry of Local Government.
By Takura Zhangazha