Mthwakazi suffocates in Zimbabwe’s politics of resource allocation

In an ideal world public sector intervention in economic activity is primarily motivated by the desire for efficient allocation of resources, equal wealth distribution and stabilisation of economic activity in a country. However, in the independent Zimbabwe evidence suggests that ulterior political interests have been the main determinant in deciding the allocation of resources in the regions with a bias towards ZANU PF supporting communities and/ or ethnic Shona dominated provinces.

The absence of a province focused socioeconomic impact assessment hinders our understanding of the impact on Mthwakazi of the distribution of resources by the Zimbabwe state. From experience, we know that during the Gukurahundi atrocities Matabeleland was deprived of essential public investment and there is no evidence that post-troubles resource allocation was boosted to compensate for the years of lost investment.

In the absence of scientific studies, this blog will rely on experience based accounts of the region’s residents or authorities. We acknowledge that an over reliance on evidence collated through non-scientific methods presents serious questions of objectivity and reliability as it is least protected from bias.

Going forward, we need an Mthwakazi specific research that will bring to light things which now lie hidden. We implore local donors to help fund an objective study of resource allocation in Zimbabwe with the aim of finding out how that impacts Mthwakazi.

We argue here that Zimbabwean government does not use any particular model in its resource allocation which leaves the politicisation of resource allocation a real possibility and problem and an incapacitating factor in least favoured provinces like Mthwakazi.

Zimbabwe is a highly tribal and highly centralised government system hence the highly centralised distribution of public investment. As mentioned in the paragraph above, the country’s public investment is characterised by an absence of a clear and consistent formula for the geographical allocation of public funding which leaves the distribution open to political bargaining, manipulation and abuse.

Political patronage, tribalism, emasculation and deliberate marginalisation of Mthwakazi characterise Zimbabwe’s political operations. There is strong indication of a systemic lack of transparency and poor accountability that allows politicians to use the political system and institutions to advance self-interest at the expense of heterogeneous public interests.

An analysis of resource allocation in Zimbabwe points to the elite, ZANU PF interests and central control over the provinces. Even without objective figures at hand, it can be argued with a high degree of confidence that a disproportionately large amount of resources goes to those provinces or communities with greater representation in the centre thereby undermining the capacity of public resources to generate greater as well as equitable social welfare.

In Zimbabwean politics where members of parliament are elected via a first-past-the-post (FPTP) system, Mthwakazi with 38 seats out of a total of 270 seats has minimal political representation and even lesser representation in the centre of the country’s politics which in part explains the lack of public investment in the region’s infrastructure.

Political influence in resource allocation is no less apparent than in the greater role played by ethnic composition in how the centre treats provinces. Mthwakazi’s public education and health infrastructure is testimony to that. We have underfunded and under resourced facilities.

A key aspect of political economy is how to design democratic institutions that align politician self-interest with the selection of policies that fairly represent voter preferences. What we have grown to understand in the independent Zimbabwe is the fact that politics is the major force in decision-making process with policy outcomes reflecting the interests of the elite, ethnic Shona groups and ZANU PF.

The ethnic Shona dominated political executive has for many years resisted genuine decentralisation of power to ensure it retained total control over public resource distribution so it did not lose political control and maintain its management of a weak Mthwakazi which has often been loyal to opposition politics although for unknown reasons, recent years have shown a shift in loyalties.

ZANU PF has made it standard practice to manipulate political loyalties through the partisan allocation of essential resources such as housing, market stalls and urban land. It is also argued that MDC councillors in urban areas where ZANU PF has struggled to retain political control are routinely deprived of resources, mobility and political efficacy. Bulawayo, the major city in Matabeleland, has decommissioned half of its water supply dams due to low water levels.

The Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project is an excellent example of the lopsided resource allocation. The project has been left in the archives of Matabeleland failed dreams. Can we say with confidence the reasons have always been more economic than political? Since independence, Harare has not shown any enthusiasm on the project; it was political leaders from the region who tried to raise the profile of the project but could not motivate the state enough for it to take the project as seriously as it should.  

To conclude, we argue that the territorial allocation of funds in Zimbabwe follows a ‘loyal’ voter model that oversees disproportionately higher per capita investment of public funding in regions aligned to ZANU PF and/ or ethnic Shona communities and not territories that vote for the opposition and/ or are not ethnic Shona dominated. Decisions by central government (effectively an extension of ZANU PF influence) regarding the distribution of funds are, to a greater extent, driven by political rather than economic factors.

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