HomeEditorial CommentCommunity leadership — our challenge

Community leadership — our challenge

An inherent tragedy of our leadership and governance clearly has to do with our general frame of thinking as citizens, a mindset that typically divorces us common people from the function, the responsibility and benefit of being government and assuming direct decision-making responsibility around issues pertaining to our own daily lives. When every citizen thinks of governance, it can be expected thatA their mind sees Harare and perceives of leadership with something of a remote sense of power and authority, a distant ivory tower with some kind of protected right and ring-fenced jurisdiction to determine the quality of lives we live in our remotest of peripheries. We cast blind votes and place faceless political animals at the centre of our lives because something of our governance dna perceives of leadership as God ordained and removed from our immediate sphere.

By Mathabelazitha/ The Anivil

Our consuming sense of centralised power and patronage holds us politically petrified and explains our often compelling desire to comply, to conform and to belong to a vaguely defined governance and political deity that controls our lives. The pervasive culture of a singular centre of power freezes the loins of society. It makes an absolute mockery of the possibility of governance accountability, of leadership transparency and of local creativity and the innovation of local solutions to local challenges.

The structure of leadership and system of governance in our society is seen as a confined purview of central government that cascades, rather reluctantly through a thin spine and governance veil of provincial, city and district leadership authorities. The fact that the official governance structure virtually stops and fizzles away at the level of town council must be a clear pointer of our leadership orientation as a nation, and the governance faith we have in the communities at ward and village level. At the very point where governance dysfunction manifests, at the epicentre of service delivery challenges, in the wards townships and suburbs, where sewer builds up freely, where the surface area covered by potholes is larger than that covered by tar, where clean water is gold, where clinics run with neither nurses nor medicines, where litter and cholera abound and, generally where governance problems are most acute and directly felt… there, there is a curious leadership void, a conspicuous lack of recognisable and/or official structures of leadership and governance. Should it not worry us that at the very seat and doorstep of our poverty and most felt governance headaches in our neighbourhood squares and wards , there is actually no government?

Forty years of poor choices in a citizenship wilderness and some nine elections later, surely must have taught us differently. The decision to cast a vote is no casual matter “brotherman”. It translates directly to the quality of life we and our families experience for another five years. The decision not to cast a vote is as stupid as it is criminal. It can only be as dumb and criminal as the decision to cast a blind vote, to elect a faceless body in the neighbourhood, on the vague strength of a faceless political formation and a cheaply crafted manifesto of wishful promises that the caster of the vote has neither method nor means to hold the leader to account.

The new generation of citizens needs to make its collective mission to rescue leadership and governance from its glorified faceless centre of power to its true abode in the people and in the communities. Leaders of communities form the most important ingredient of the governance and government. They cannot just spring recklessly from kombis and brothels and sprout spontaneously from an illicit underworld of crime and squalor, and filter, as if accidentally into mainstream politics, squirming their way into decision-making governance bodies and policy chambers that affect our lives. Developing sound community leadership at the most local level has to be a structured process and a deliberate function of councils, wards and local neighbourhoods.

Community-based governance places prime value on building social capital, on continuous mapping, assessment and analysis of local capacity, of ward and community challenges, plans and priorities and investing in generating community champions and animators that form the core leadership drivers and enablers of change at village, cell, ward and district levels. It is a leadership and governance approach that recognises the prior importance and agency of people in their natural habitat of households, social formation, cell groups, villages and wards as they share common resources and services, express commonly felt needs and are affected by similar governance and service delivery needs. The basis of good governance has a lot to do with our willingness and ability to generate policies and develop programmes from within the communities or residents of a setting, a ward, a city, understanding that people identify most with, and support those decisions whose design and development they are and feel part of.

In order to sustainably improve service delivery and the quality of inclusive decision-making, in order to enhance community stake in development and scale up downward accountability and governance transparency, the idea of community-based governance sees the development of council strategy as little more than a summing up of ward plans and ward priorities, while the residents are seen as a key part of the implementation, continuous monitoring and evaluation of council community programmes. As such, the progressive building of community capacities and supporting institutional development of community-based governance structures that enable residents to get to plan, decide and actively do things becomes an important pillar of local governance. Without necessarily abdicating its mandatory duty of service delivery, the local authority must actively engage and partner communities and wards in all programming.

The constitutionalisation of local governance and the enshrined devolution of power and formation of provincial councils clearly aims at entrenching and consolidating the empowerment of citizens, increasing access to and control of local resources by local people and thus deepening our democracy. The conscious identification and capacitation of quality community leadership in the above regard is absolutely important. What therefore, do we consider to be the attributes of a good leader and effective councillor as we approach ballot box 2018?

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