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Changing leaders but retaining poor institutions isn’t enough

Africa’s Achilles’ heel is weak institutions and limited access to justice which remain a great threat to sustainable development. Strong institutions are the pre-requisite to sustainable development, there is no substitute. Matabeleland needs a clean break from the perennial inefficiency of mainstream politics in Zimbabwe and take responsibility in building effective, accountable and responsive local institutions.

While ZANU PF is responsible for the corruption, infrastructural decay and poverty, the opposition has questions to answer too. The opposition exists to challenge the incumbent to account and present innovative alternatives; if anything, the current opposition has at times been complicit to ZANU PF’s shenanigans, take the recent morally questionable US$40,000 loans issued to legislators as an example of an opposition sleeping on duty. We thus make it clear to the Matabele nation that the removal of ZANU PF – politically enticing as it sounds – is not of itself a long-term solution and must not be our priority. Rather, the priority should be building strong institutions that maintain consistence in the application of the law and other constitutional provisions.

Strong institutions founded on local traditions and culture and inspired by local needs are what Matabeleland needs today as we shape our future. Years of serial complaints against other societies are over, it is time to take full responsibility for the rights and wrongs occurring within our borders. Just as changing the driver will not fix a broken vehicle, replacing governing political leaders but leaving broken systems and institutions in situ will not improve economic and political outcomes.

Rather than signalling the aspiration for a system of checks and balances against absolute power and discrimination, Zimbabwean post-independence politics has become a euphemism for ethnic Shona rule. Zimbabwe operates and is protective of a majoritarian tyranny hence the system in place speaks to the guts of the ethnic Shona constituency and pays less attention to other population groups. The Mashonaland constituency predicates or dictates the ‘accepted’ paradigm, traditions and beliefs in the country; and several other minority ethnic groups with unusual interests find themselves mostly a voiceless group in society.  

Decentralisation of decision-making is central to a socio-politically diverse Matabeleland, we believe equitable power distribution across all layers of government will take us closer to a viable political solution, yet decentralisation remains elusive because it acts against the tribal control interests of the mainstream Zimbabwe politics.

The unintended extension of a hugely centralised decision-making process to the Matabeleland political scene threatens to pit local ethnic groups against each other as some feel the status quo is favourable to Nguni groups over other population groups. Peaceful coexistence is central to our existence, we must ensure there will be no more walls to divide us, no more walls to separate our people; brick by brick we must remove the barriers and build strong Matabele reflective institutions.

Going forward Matabeleland must demand and create transparent and responsive local institutions. We can only achieve that by building political capital, and that means participating in local elections; critically, let us deliberately elect local people who understand local values and have local interest, not just power, at heart; let us vote local, let us ensure mainstream Zimbabwe politics remains obsolete in Matabeleland for as long as it is not reflective of local socio-cultural diversity.

We have a psyching problem that must be addressed first. How we view our leaders has a bearing in how we interact with them. At best we still view leaders as bosses when we are the ones giving them the mandate to make decisions on our behalf not over us, they are accountable to us. We must stop judging leaders by how high they have climbed but how much they have changed the public lives for the better.

Creating, out of politicians, godly figures to be worshipped leaders feeds into an unholy socio-political culture that not only fails to use checks and balance in place to manage power ethically and responsibly, but also actively protects transgressing leaders against legal prosecution, excuses greed and normalises state abuse of power. There are many cases of the political elite brazenly using public resources to enrich themselves without public calls for accountability.

Recognising poor economic and political measures in Matabeleland is one thing, addressing them is another. Complaining does not work as a strategy; we will not achieve our goals by whining. Now that we appreciate strong, effective, transparent, and accountable institutions are essential for sustainable development and critical for effective government service delivery to the citizens, we will never be fooled back into mainstream Zimbabwe politics; it does not exist to empower Matabeleland but to control us. To be heard at national level we must be strong at local level. We need to build local political capital by actively participating in local politics. 

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