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Which devolution Mthuli Ncube?

On the back of another, rather surprising, albeit welcome political somersault that has seen President Emmerson Mnangagwa embrace devolution, a hitherto Zanu PF taboo, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube announced a budget allocation of some $300 million to the ministry, or is it the mission of devolution of power?

MATHABELAZITHA/THE ANVIL BY ZIFISO MASIYE

Whether or not devolution of power is some panacea for dismantling “Bambazonke”, that demonic, capital fixation of Zanu PF and the hararenisation of Zimbabwe, whether it is a panacea for long yearned equitable redistribution of national resources, for more meaningful citizen participation and the release from governance exclusion of peripheral society and those ordinarily outside the ring-fenced myopia of the ruling party, whether it ushers in enhanced democratisation of our society or indeed whether it turns out to be a glorified Thank-You-After-Party for the “maramba-kufunga” peasant vote, only dressed up in legit constitutional smokescreen, is yet to be seen.

The jury is still out on the extent to which devolution, as a governance approach, may be deemed a reliable guarantee of accountability and transparency, of effective service delivery, better lives and improved livelihoods for the remote ghost towns and forsaken hinterlands in the dark depths of Dande, Nkayi, Dotito, Siyabuwa or Ntshelanyemba. The jury is still out, whether or not and to what extent the government or the ruling party (for both are often unaware which is which) shares the same understanding of the concept of devolution of power as was expressed by Zimbabwean citizens in the extensive, protracted referendum that built up to the constitution of 2013. The jury is still out whether or not and to what extent the government machinery of Zanu PF and the framework and institutions entrusted the onerous task to deliver devolution of power are even remotely capable, let alone willing to reconfigure the entire infrastructure of dispensing governance and to unleash devolution as a radical programmatic process and ideological re-engineering of governance and spheres of governance.

What is known and virtually impossible to de-link from the very DNA of Zanu PF is their compelling loyalty to centralised power (one centre of power) and their long cherished, unwavering faith in a unitary state and command centre culture — conversely accompanied by a corresponding, terrifying fear of diversity and a discomfort with an alternative worldview and a decidedly violent distrust of dissent. Although modern times and political correctness may have muted their voices somewhat, the people in Zanu PF fiercely subscribed to a one-party-state and fear multiple centres of power.

Consequently, what is also commonly acknowledged and not in any dispute is that Zanu PF were unanimously and violently opposed to any suggestion or mention at all of the possibility of devolved governance as an alternative approach to constitutional development. Robert Mugabe was literally dragged kicking and screaming to append his reluctant signature to the Chapter 14 provisions of devolution, so courageously championed by Welshman Ncube.

Invited as a neutral constitutional data analyst at Copac, I watched in bewilderment as Mugabe and Mnangagwa’s emissaries fought bitterly and literally wept at the fact that 64,4% of Zimbabwean citizens had expressly demanded devolution in the Copac referendum. The idea of regional autonomy and self-determination, so well articulated by their African hero and icon Mugabe at every global forum, was suddenly reduced to an epic mischief, utterly distasteful and unfathomable in the context of internal governance in Zimbabwe. Every possible loophole was explored in those Rainbow Towers Hotel wars leading to the constitution, to doctor and “chigumba” the will of the people, but so huge were the margins and so obvious, the V11’s that the Chinotimbas and Biggie Matizas simply threw in the towel and the presidium was livid.

That important, albeit cursory, background which points a window to the authentic view of the ruling party about Section 14 of the constitution and devolution of power is useful for anyone who has wondered why, since 2013, government simply cast a blind eye to a constitutionally enshrined provision of local governance; it explains why government has not found the energy, need, let alone the urgency to redefine, provincial, metropol and district governance in an Act reconfigured in sync with the supreme law of land; it begins to explain why, under his self-imposed pressure of new beginnings, deepening democracy and open government, Mnangagwa will appear to steal the thunder of devolution from democratic forces, but also how, in his hands devolution may well assume a completely different, tokenist meaning in practice than was intended by the people and the constitution.

The pressure of political correctness, reform and the need to demonstrate some willingness to expand and deepen our democracy, coupled clumsily with faint political commitment for substantive and comprehensive change, makes a great ingredient for a spectacular devolution stillbirth.

I have learnt that such things as devolution of power are never government gifts handed down as Christmas manna to citizens by their loving governments.
But that always, these are democratic dividends of bitter wars that pit the state against civil society through relentless advocacy, toyi-toying, tear-smoke, jockeying for space and protracted advocacy. As government sets out to craft devolution legislation, it seems fairly accurate to assume the devolution that Mthuli Ncube allocated an arbitrary budget vote and the devolution Zimbabweans yearn for are worlds apart.

I scribble this instalment in the privileged midst of an exciting and deeply engaging national tete-a-tete of eminent leaders of citizens and rate-payers from all corners of the country. I will be glad when I secure their permission to share their views, suffice to say:

Citizens must never trust a sitting government to implement far-reaching reforms that threaten their control and power;

Devolution is not decentralisation, it must entail ceding of real political, economic, legislative power and authority. Government must commit to devolving its entire budget and operations and work through provincial transfers;

Without prior needs assessments, effective resource-financing and comprehensive capacity building and fundamental changes in institutions of governance, devolution risks being glorified baby dumping by government.

Zii Masiye (ziimasiye@gmail.com) writes elsewhere on social media as Balancing Rocks.

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