HomeEditorial CommentLeadership and community-based governance

Leadership and community-based governance

Our fledging African democracy still wobbles and dithers most uncomfortably both for the governed and the governing. Our mixed grill of cultures and the concoction of leadership and governance philosophies of a traditional African orientation and modern Western democracy rolled up together with equally dimly understood dosages of muted democracy and command economies of the Chinese persuasion of governance make for a potential dance of the blind.

By Mathabelazitha/The Anvil

Always, for want of effective founding principles and grounded indigenous philosophies of governance, our leadership appear uncertain as to what character, what scope and what direction to give the enduring, binding vision of the country. Whatever scope and direction it takes, in order to effectively rally the depleted energies of everyday Zimbabwean citizens, a deliberate leadership approach guided by agreed cardinal governance sign posts needs to be developed and needs to pervade the leadership conversation and culture of the country from the lowest governance levels. Leadership failure that routinely manifests at national level is really a post-fact disaster. Community- based governance and effective leadership at village, ward and district level must be the fundamental anchor of good governance in our society.

The constitutional democracy of Zimbabwe has been built on a foundation of the recognition of human rights, the values of extensive consultation, participation, shared responsibility and decision-making based on consensus building and spreading the benefits of national and local resources to as wide a population of Zimbabweans as possible. Such framework of governance aimed at rescuing Zimbabweans from a decisively, centralised autocracy that manipulated the levels of governance with the design to lock down power and ring-fence resources to the access and benefit of the select minority at the virtual exclusion of all. Previous regimes have been synonymous with apartheid and pre-independence segregatory governance suited for the efficient siphoning of national resources from the periphery to the centre.

The administration of the dictatorial of dictatorial regimes, heavily reliant on patronage, a unitary command structure and the use of force, coercive persuasion and various divide-and-rule patterns of people-management required little skill or creativity at the lower levels of governance, in the provinces, the districts and wards. It is no wonder that minimum investment has ever gone into developing meaningful governance and leadership skills development at and below the levels of district. The rule book is laid out at the centre and local leaders only serve to bark predetermined orders.

Outside of the independence itself, the historical milestone and watershed national constitutional development process, the Constitution Parliamentary Committee marked the single most strategic leap towards the vision for an effective, rights-based, modern democratic society in the history of Zimbabwe. Inevitably Robert Mugabe was dragged kicking and screaming to append his reluctant signature to the people’s word and indeed Zanu PF has ensured that, that Constitution hardly ever becomes the living law of the land. However, all its known flaws granted, the “new” Constitution mostly resonates with the express aspiration of ordinary Zimbabweans and sets an important framework and roadmap to genuinely opening the democratic space and towards positively influencing the space between the governing and the governed.

In the sphere of local governance, the Constitution sets the tone for enhanced empowerment of communities in their local habitats; for increased and meaningful participation of communities in their local affairs; for increased access and demonstrable benefits of local resources accruing to local citizens. It is a Constitution that sets out to entrench and promote the rights of minorities and underlines the need for improved service delivery and increased downward accountability. Through a newly constituted local government dispensation, the supreme law of the land provides for localising governance and expanding and deepening the foothold of ordinary citizens, determining how and by who they should be governed in a legislated system of devolution.

In letter and spirit, the Constitution seeks to generate ideas and policies from the bottom-up, among communities in their wards and villages, hence its provision for newly-constituted Provincial and Metropolitan councils.

This background has a significant bearing on the appropriate leadership style and relevant support structure and systems that would suit effective delivery of localised governance. It has a bearing on the leadership qualities and skills and guiding principles and techniques of the councillors and ward and village leaders that can be counted on to achieve change, deliver results, resonate with their communities, fulfil the mandate of council and expectations government. It carries an inherent potential to progressively transfer leadership, decision-making and governance to sub-government and sub-council, intra-community levels.

Community leadership is not spontaneous. It is a deliberate, trainable skill with known sets of principles and guidelines. While a few leaders and councillors already have basic understanding and grasp of the legal and ideological foundations that inform their approach to council business and community leadership, many community leaders have little exposure and varying orientations of leadership and governance depending often on the political persuasion and affiliation.

In the ensuing couple of instalments, The Anvil provokes a deliberate discussion and shines a spotlight on the nature and quality of leadership best suited to our communities as Zimbabwe’s democracy clearly gets older in years, but seems less and less mature in its depth. The forthcoming elections do not seem to attract the necessary robust debates about the quality of leaders and leadership Zimbabweans are investing their future in at the ballot box. Debates in formal and informal forums remain fixated in the uncultured, unfruitful and really futile realm of personalities, party and factional affiliations and every mundane issue that has little or nothing at all with service delivery and leadership acumen.

The following series shall set out to discuss principles and guidelines to effective leadership in relation to community-based governance (CBG), an approach to administering affairs of a local community through their active participation and consciously resisting the temptation to import and impose governance decisions on local citizens as passive recipients. In fledging democracies, localising governance and increasingly involving stakeholders in decision-making and placing citizens them at the epicentre of governance and development has been seen as a useful response to the growing mismatch between the ballooning service delivery demand and the declining capacity of councils, among other governance deficits of our time. Facilitating downward accountability and rights-based governance, reinforcing community agency and security stakeholder buy-in and a greater sense of ownership of development programmes are some of the immediate benefits of community-based-governance. Do make a date with The Anvil for an instalment on leadership principles for effective CBG!

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