Federal Matabeleland requires decentralisation for good local governance

Creative politics is required so cultural differences in Mthwakazi/ Matabeleland do not become a source of division but a valuable base for social enrichment. Prejudice against other people is the one factor turning humans against each other; political opportunism appropriates differences, creates privileges for some population groups over others and implants perceptions of supremacy and entitlement in some humans. The Mthwakazi goal is of identity federalism in which our culturally diverse people will be treated different but equal.

We are unequivocal in our convictions that true socioeconomic and political progress will only be achieved in a federal Matabeleland and when the majority of national policies are implemented at a local level.

Classic federalism is a system of government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and constituent political units. Democratic rules and institutions safeguard the sharing of power between national and state governments, creating a federation. Dual federalism entails divisions of power between national and state governments in clearly defined parameters with state governments exercising those powers accorded to them without interference from the national government. Cooperative federalism involves collaboration between national and state governments on policy (Lumen, n.d).

Like any system, federalism is not a one size fit all, we will need to assess our needs and adjust the system accordingly. As pointed earlier, we believe concerns of local communities are better addressed at local level when local communities have adequate autonomy. Decentralising authority down to local communities is critical. The argument being that members of the community or representatives of civil service organisations (CSOs) are privy to local development needs and are more readily accessible to citizens. It is also easier to manage and maintain oversight of economic and social conditions and organise cooperative development projects. Furthermore, people are more likely to engage in developmental work in their specific locality.

Local governance in federal systems is shaped by two crucial forces. First, federalism sets territorial, institutional and political frameworks for the multilevel governments. For policy implementation and service provision imperatives, local governments are inextricably linked vertically to the upper-level governments and horizontally to the neighbouring local governments. Second, specific internal challenges to the institutional and political frameworks set by federalism. In our case the extractive political economy adopted at independence by the Zimbabwean government from the colonial systems has maintained socioeconomic and political cleavages due to biased investment in economic infrastructure in urban areas compared to rural areas. Cities face specific challenges such as poorly funded black townships on one hand and on the other hand well-resourced suburban areas home to the rich and wealthy.

To adequately meet local needs there is need to transfer decision-making powers, responsibility for public services and the requisite funding to decentralised bodies while ensuring the risk of mismanagement, resource appropriation by the elites and inequality permeating down to lower levels of government is mitigated. We need to work at strengthening decentralised forms of good governance, including the efficient management of funds, transparency, public participation and accountability, with the ultimate aim of supporting local development for the benefit of all population groups. 

Our priority must be to give adequate autonomy to local governance to perform its duties and utilise the mechanisms of intergovernmental cooperation for matters of public service provision that cannot be delivered by a single local government.

Local governments perform two main duties: (1) as local self-governing entities which require adequate degree of decentralisation in all its political, administrative and financial dimensions and (2) taking the responsibility for implementing policies of the states and federal governments. We appreciate that local governance in federal and/ or multilevel system is not limited to adequate local autonomy but also subject to the mechanisms of intergovernmental cooperation between different orders of government.

Having endured the centralised governance system in Zimbabwe, we know how inefficient it is and believe extending adequate local autonomy and intergovernmental cooperation is fundamental to improving accountability in local governance.

Decentralisation can be explored in terms of three facets: political, administrative and fiscal. Political decentralisation involves determining how and who appoints authorities and how decision-making is conducted. On the other hand, the aim of administrative decentralisation is to transfer decision-making authority, resources and responsibilities for the delivery of public services, e.g. water supply, from the central or regional government to local levels of governments. Last but not least, fiscal decentralisation entails transferring power to local authorities to make autonomous decisions about revenue-collection strategies and expenditure decisions.

Identity federalism remains the best fit for Matabeleland. Clear mechanisms of intergovernmental interaction and cooperation are necessary for performance overview and to improve accountability. Our unique needs also dictate that we devolve power and give adequate autonomy to local governments to perform responsibilities under their jurisdiction independently with no undue interference from state and/ or federal government. Power to the people means giving citizens adequate control to frame their socioeconomic and political space in response to self-identified, direct or indirect, immediate and long-term needs.

Published by THE RESEARCH HUB

a progressive politics and policy researcher and author with an interest in Mthwakazi (Matabeleland) human rights, liberties, safety and security.

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