May 29, 2024

Democratic Local Governance, Devolution And Citizen Participation In Zimbabwe: A Political Economy Analysis

By Community Tolerance Reconciliation And Development (Cotrad)


In Zimbabwe, devolution was introduced by the 2013 Constitution (Chapter 14) which stated that  governmental powers and responsibilities had to be devolved between the national government, provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities which were expected to ensure good governance by being effective, transparent, accountable and responsive to the needs of local people (Moyo & Ncube, 2014). In particular, Section 301(3) stipulates that a budget of at least 5% of the national revenue raised in any financial year should be disbursed to the provinces and local authorities as their allocation in that fiscal year (Takawira, 2021).

This study interrogates the extent to which tenets of democracy are reflected in Zimbabwe’s local government system, paying particular attention to devolution and the participation of citizens. The presentation starts off by situating issues of local governance and devolution in the democratic discourse. The study then examines the challenges overwhelming Zimbabwe’s local government system with regards to devolution, local authority autonomy and citizen participation. The discussion winds up by exploring the way forward in terms of improving democratic practices and citizen engagement in Zimbabwe’s local government system with much focus being devoted to devolution and related programmes such as the Constituency Development Fund.

1.2   Objectives of the study

  • To determine the extent to which devolution is implemented fully and sincerely in Zimbabwe
  • To discuss the challenges associated with the implementation of devolution programmes in Zimbabwe
  • To suggest ways of democratising local governance with particular reference to devolution in Zimbabwe

1.3   Research methodology

The study employed a two-pronged methodological approach that combined desktop research and key informant interviews in collecting data. Desktop research involved scrutinising academic literature on local governance and devolution in general and the manner in which it is being implemented in Zimbabwe. This literature mainly comprised published journal articles and book chapters. Print and electronic media sources were also very informative by illuminating the dynamics of devolution in various parts of Zimbabwe as well as the views of various stakeholders towards the manner in which it is being administered. These sources, most of which are online, include newspaper articles that reported on the implementation of devolution programmes in various parts of the country. Reports from Civic Voluntary Organisations such as the Centre for Innovation and Technology, Heal Zimbabwe Trust, and the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development were also valuable sources of data.

Key informant interviews were also conducted with purposefully selected stakeholders to get their views and insights on the administration of devolution in Zimbabwe. Informant interviewees were drawn from local authorities involved in implementing devolution such as District Development Coordinators (DDCs), six of who were studying for a Master of Arts degree in Development Studies in 2022 at Great Zimbabwe University where they were interviewed; ward councillors, and traditional leaders such as headmen. The ward councillors interviewed were from the Chivi District of Masvingo Province and the Mutare City Council in Manicaland Province. The DDCs were all from Masvingo Province while the headmen were from the Mutasa District of Manicaland Province. Pseudonyms were used for all informant interviewees given that devolution is a very sensitive issue in contemporary Zimbabwe.

1.4   Conceptualising local governance and devolution in the democratic discourse

Broadly, local government involves and entails the decentralisation and delegation of power from the central government to local authorities (Separate Interviews with DDCs Thomas Dube and James Hove, Great Zimbabwe University Mashava Campus, Masvingo Province, 22 August 2022). Devolution is a local government administrative provision in which a central government of a country statutorily delegates certain powers to sub-national institutions at the regional or local level. In devolution, the roles of local authorities, for example, Provincial Administrators, District Administrators (now known in Zimbabwe as District Development Coordinators), and Municipalities involve not only political administration but also economic development. In doing so, local authorities are expected to fully integrate local people in implementing the devolution agenda (Muchadenyika & Williams, 2018). By implication, such a process has the potential to empower local authorities to exercise considerable autonomy in identifying the needs of the local citizens and implementing development projects accordingly (Ibid).

Such a form of decentralisation, it is hoped, affords better results given that decisions are made locally. Proponents of devolution argue that a devolved system of government has the potential to transform the socio-economic status of commoners and integrate previously marginalised communities into the economy (Mukwewa, 1 March 2019). In theory, devolution affords some form of local administrative autonomy, territorial justice and economic dividends (Kay, 2003; Morgan, 2006; Moyo, 2013).

While such an approach to development sounds democratic and sustainable, critical questions arise as far as the Zimbabwean situation is concerned. How autonomous are local government authorities in conducting their mandate in situations such as the administration of Devolution Funds? To what extent are citizens actively engaged in local government operations such as the handling of Devolution Funds and Constituency Development Funds? The answers to these questions will go a long way in determining the extent to which Zimbabwe’s local government system is democratic and sustainable in terms of socio-economic and political development.

1.5  Democracy and sustainable development at stake: The challenges of local government in Zimbabwe

This section outlines some of the impediments encountered by Zimbabwe’s local government authorities while executing their constitutional mandate. The hurdles severely curtail the ability of local governments to fulfil their mandate in a democratic and sustainable manner. Most of the challenges have a lot to do with political dynamics and interference from the central government. Cumulatively, the challenges exclude the ordinary citizens from the development agenda and adversely affect their livelihood trajectories. Below are some of the major obstacles experienced by local government authorities.

1.5.1  Polarised political environment and ministerial unilateralism

Zimbabwe’s highly polarised political environment in which the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the main opposition political party, the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), formerly the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), have battled for power for years has negatively impacted on the smooth operation of local

governments in various parts of the country. In Zimbabwe, the Minister of Local Government wields a great deal of power over the operations of local authorities such as Rural District Councils and Urban Councils. Local authority budgets cannot be operationalised before being approved by the Minister of Local Government. The Minister also has power to dismiss ‘errant’ or ‘insubordinate’ local councillors and appoint Commissioners in their place. In Zimbabwe, examples abound of local authority budgets being turned down or substantially modified by the Minister of Local Government (Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development, 31 August 2022). Such unilateralism seriously compromises democracy as evidenced by ministerial overrule. It is also important to note that local government budget proposals largely emanate from consultations with citizens and ministerial unilateralism literally disfranchises local communities (Separate Interviews with Mutare Ward Councillors Isaac Roberts, Johannes Nedziwa and Lameck Amali, Mutare Civic Centre, 26 January 2023).

Ministerial unilateralism has often been propelled by political considerations. There are numerous examples of the Local Government Minister from the ruling ZANU-PF party firing opposition councillors for ‘insubordination’, ‘corruption’ and other unsubstantiated allegations (Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development, 31 August 2022). Again, such unilateralism in dismissing publicly elected local authorities clearly reflects the disfranchisement of citizens and marks their disengagement from civic politics.

Given these sweeping ministerial powers in Zimbabwe’s highly bifurcated political landscape, it comes as no surprise that the administration of Devolution Funds has been fiercely contested. As will be noted later in this report, the disbursement and management of Devolution Funds has often been politicised in ways that severely disempower local government authorities and exclude citizens from being actively involved in development planning processes.

In addition, the Presidential prerogative to appoint 10 Ministers of State for Provincial Affairs responsible for each of the country’s 10 provinces has often frustrated the devolution process. As history has shown, President Mugabe and his successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, appointed ZANU-PF members to these ministerial positions. These ministers have always reported to their party leader and in many instances, they have played the role of clipping the wings of local authorities (Moyo & Ncube, 2014; Takawira, 2021).

Zimbabwe’s extremely bifurcated political environment has also hindered the smooth flow of consultation meetings between local inhabitants and their representatives such as councillors and members of parliament, a process hailed in development discourse as constituting an integral part of local governance in general and devolution in particular. Ideally, citizens are expected to take part by expressing to their elected councillors how they want their areas to be developed and administered (Ward Councillor Saul Zango, Interview: Mhandamahwe Growth Point, Chivi District, Masvingo Province, 11 February 2023). Councillors are required by local government laws to consult or have meetings with citizens to provide feedback on resolutions passed at council meetings (Ward Councillor Naison Jack, Interview: Chivi Growth Point, Chivi District, Masvingo Province, 14 February 2023). Lamentably, this ideal relationship between citizens and local authorities in devolution dynamics is frustrated by the politicization of civic issues. As Mupfudze (2 October 2020: 1) aptly observed:

Meetings called by councillors are organised along political party lines, which detracts those who are not inclined to the councillor’s political party. Political polarisation and partisanship are affecting participation and service delivery. Councillors are political party activists and are subject to the whipping system in their political parties and hence often distance themselves from issues that affect local communities.

Political interference from the top characterised, among other things, by ministerial unilateralism is a clear manifestation of centralisation of power and a stark contradiction of the tenets of devolution. What this illustrates is the lack of political will and sincerity by the ruling ZANU-PF government to fully implement devolution programmes. In this case, elite political expediency is being prioritised over issues of subaltern socio-economic development.

1.5.2  Side-lining of local authorities in determining the use of Devolution Funds

Many local government authorities have had little or no say in determining how Devolution Funds are to be used. In such instances, the central government actually dictated how the funds were to be used (Councillor John Bond, Mutare City Council, Interview: 8 February 2023). A case in point was when local authorities were instructed to buy refuse trucks from Belarus. In June 2022, Local Government Minister, July Moyo, allegedly diverted more than US$55 million of devolution funds to buy fire trucks from Belarus for 89 councils reportedly at an inflated cost. According to a memo in the Local Government Ministry dated 14 June 2022, the cost of each fire tender was pegged at US$464 296, translating to US$55 million for 89 local authorities specified. The Ministry dictated that each rural local authority was to get one fire tender, urban local authorities would get two and a metropolitan local authority was entitled to three fire tenders. The Ministry also ruled that the funds to procure the equipment were to be deducted from the 2022 devolution allocations and were to be done over a period of 12 months starting from March 2022 (Ndoro, 21 June 2022).

Many local authorities took great exception to the unilateralism of the Minister of Local Government as far as the use of devolution funds was concerned. The Harare Mayor, Jacob Mafume, for example, was livid that councils had not been consulted:

Our councils were not consulted. The essence of devolution is for local people to make their own decisions. Some councils cannot even manage a fire brigade! The cost can build clinics and is astronomical. Councils across the country will meet and respond to the letter and will pass resolutions according to the needs of the local residents and after consultation with the citizens/residents. The Minister of Local Government is not a super Mayor with divine authority (Ibid).

In July 2022, the Harare Municipality was also forced by the Minister of Local Government to invest its Devolution Funds in the notoriously exorbitant Pomona Deal (Newsday, 21 July 2022). Such dictatorial tendencies are veritable manifestations of centralisation of power and contradict the very principles of decentralisation and devolution. The central government’s determination of how Devolution Funds should be used reflect a retrogressively unsustainable approach to development. This exclusive top-bottom approach disempowers local government authorities and effectively rules out citizen participation from development planning. It is without doubt that citizen participation is one of the key tenets of sustainable development.

Similarly, some Members of Parliament have also excluded local authorities and traditional leaders in the administration of the Constituency Development Fund (Headman Thomas Mberi, Mutasa District, Manicaland Province, Interview: 22 February 2023; Headman John Nhamo, Mutasa District, Manicaland Province, Interview: 24 February 2023). Development planning has to be inclusive of all stakeholders.

1.5.3 Marginalisation of local citizens from the devolution process

In many instances, ordinary citizens have had little or no say in determining how Devolution Funds are to be used. On 15 October 2020, for example, a meeting of rural communities from Zaka and Gutu districts in Masvingo Province expressed displeasure over the lack of transparency in the way devolution was being administered. Participants at the meeting stated that they had only read in the press that devolution funds were already being disbursed and that communities had already started the identification of development projects yet in the Zaka District there had not been any consultation or feedback meetings on how devolution funds

were being disbursed. The meeting resolved that representatives from Rural District Councils (RDCs) were supposed to appraise communities on how devolution was to be administered. Participants also urged the RDCs to ensure that citizens participated actively in devolution through structures such as Village Development Committees (VIDCOs) and Ward Development Committees (WADCOs) (Heal Zimbabwe Trust, 20 October 2020). Thus, as Kusauka & Chitsika (24 January 2022: 1) noted:

Devolution funds that are disbursed from central government to fund projects in local authorities require some kind of accountability as to how the money is spend while the timeline for the duration of the implementation is monitored. Certain issues like timeline or duration of a particular project, together with the involvement of ordinary people set to benefit from the project in identifying areas key to them among other issues have not been clear. In Zimbabwe currently, there is no clear demarcation of functions among various levels of government and appropriate administrative support. While there is need for the involvement of communities in deciding or determining key project areas that affect their lives, which creates a platform for their input to be a major consideration for local authorities, that has not been the case.

Similarly, in January 2022, Godfrey Mutimba, the Masvingo United Residents and Ratepayers Alliance (MURRA) spokesperson, complained that the city’s residents were not given an opportunity to make decisions on major projects funded through devolution, saying:

We are not happy with the way devolution funds are being handled. Residents and other key stakeholders are not given the chance to input in various key projects being funded through devolution. We are not sure why council and District Development Coordinators (DDCs) do not consult residents on which projects to partake since they are the ones who know what they need. When devolution money comes, we are only told of the amount and the projects they will be channelling such funds towards without our input. We believe that the concept of devolution is giving people power to decide what they want in terms of development or priorities. So the devolution we have is only on paper (Kusauka, & Chitsika, 24 January 2022: 1).

These sentiments were echoed by the Masvingo Service Delivery Residents and Ratepayers Association (MASDRA) Secretary General, Moses Mavhusa, who said:

As MASDRA we have noted with great concern the exclusion of key stakeholders such as business people and the community at large on key developmental issues like the construction of a school in Rujeko C. Masvingo City Council, councillors and our Member of Parliament, Honourable Jacob Nyokanhete, all turned a blind eye to the community by failure to inform residents that devolution funds had been directed towards that essential project; rather, both parties claim individual ownership to the project. We only got knowledge through the fights of both parties in local newspapers with everyone claiming to be real owners. As an association, we suggest that councillors undertake periodic press statements updating people on key developmental issues. We believe residents are an important, integral element to our city’s development agenda (Ibid).

1.5.4 Delays in the disbursement of Devolution Funds for some local authorities

It is unfortunate that the central government has not disbursed Devolution Funds at once for all local government authorities (Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development, 31 August 2022). Some local authorities, mostly those where the ruling party is dominant, receive the funds ahead of others, such as Harare, which are opposition strongholds. It is a fact that the ruling ZANU-PF government has not found it politically expedient to genuinely devolve to municipal and other local structures that had been won by the opposition during elections (Takawira, 2021). Such prejudicial treatment frustrates the development plans of many opposition local government authorities to the extent of making them unpopular with the electorate. There have been allegations that the delays in disbursing Devolution Funds to opposition strongholds is deliberately meant to dent the image of opposition local government authorities and deprive them of political support. It is therefore quite apparent that there is lack of political will on the part of the ZANU-PF government as far as the full implementation of the devolution agenda is concerned (Takawira, 2021).

In some cases, some local authorities did not receive devolution funds from the central government. In the Zimbabwean House of Assembly on 24 February 2021, for example, some parliamentarians expressed concern that some local authorities had not received devolution funds during the year 2020. During this parliamentary session, Levi Mayihlome, the Umzingwane lawmaker, asked the Local Government and Public Works Deputy Minister, Marian Chombo, what measures the government had instituted to ensure that devolution funds were always disbursed to local authorities. Mayihlome also asked what the government was going to do about those devolution funds for 2020 that were not released to local authorities:

The communities that we represent want their pound of flesh like in the community that I represent, Umzingwane. They want to know why devolution funds for 2020 were not released and I want the person responsible for ensuring that those funds are released taken to account. Who is going to face that community and explain why those funds were not released because the pound of flesh is desired in my constituency (Centre for Innovation and Technology, 26 February 2021: 1).

In her response, Chombo said it was the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance to ensure that the funds were released timeously (Ibid). Given these developments, it is therefore quite apparent that the autonomous administration of local government authorities in the disbursement of Devolution Funds is severely compromised. Many local authorities end up begging the central government for what is rightfully and constitutionally theirs while the ordinary citizens, particularly the vulnerable and unemployed youths, languish in poverty at the mercy of political entrepreneurs.

1.6  Way forward

There is great room for improvement in Zimbabwe as far as the democratisation of local governance, devolution and citizen participation are concerned. Below are some recommendations on the way forward.

1.6.1 De-politicisation of local government operations

There is urgent need to draw a conspicuous line between political shenanigans and local government operations in Zimbabwe. Political considerations have often frustrated many development plans of local government authorities, including the administration of Devolution Funds. Whatever reforms that can be suggested in democratising local government operations in Zimbabwe may never be realised without genuine political will to remedy the situation through various measures such as legislation.

1.6.2 Need for an elaborate and democratic local government legal framework

It is of utmost importance to have a statute that affords local government authorities greater autonomy in the fulfilment of their mandate in general and in the management of funds disbursed by the central government and other sources in particular. Such a statute can also limit ministerial unilateralism on local government affairs. Under such circumstances, local authorities will operate with greater autonomy under ministerial oversight. In addition, it is very necessary for the law to formally pronounce the importance of citizen engagement and participation in local governance and development.

1.6.3 Active engagement of communities in local government consultative processes

In actual fact, the Zimbabwean Constitution itself stresses the importance of the local citizenry in local government processes in general and devolution in particular. As Section 264, sub- Section (a), states: “The objectives of the devolution of governmental powers and responsibilities to provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities are to give powers of local governance to the people and enhance their participation in the exercise of the powers of the State and in making decisions affecting them” (Mupfudze, 2 October 2020: 1).

There is need to actively engage various sections of local communities, particularly vulnerable ones such as the unemployed youths and the disabled, in consultative processes with regards to the administration of funds in terms of disbursement, development planning, formative evaluation and summative analysis (Takawira, 2021). It is urgently necessary to take on board “a popular citizen participation ideology” in development (Moyo & Ncube, 2014: 293). Such a people-centred or rights-based approach will go a long way in ensuring transparency and social accountability in local governance and developmental issues. According to Sihanya (2012), accountability and answerability are key indices of sound governance. Hope (2014) reiterates that devolution should be characterised by democratisation, good governance, transparency and accountability and these tenets are largely attained by ensuring people- centred participation and decision-making.

1.6.4 Establishment of local community-based development committees

It is pertinent for local government authorities to involve local communities in issues of governance and development. Such an inclusive paradigmatic shift can be realised through the formation of local community-based development/devolution committees that work hand-in- hand with local government authorities. These committees can be constituted by local representatives from sections of the community such as the youths, women and vulnerable people. Representatives from the traditional leadership, churches and civil society organisations operating in the locality can also be included in these local development/devolution committees. Such entities can play a critical role in development through identification of the community’s urgent needs, and project planning and evaluation when it comes to the administration of funds such as Devolution Funds and Constituency Development Funds. These approaches to governance and development are both inclusive, sustainable and socially accountable (Takawira, 2021). Thus, as Morgan (2006) argues, devolution attains economic dividends when it allows local authorities, together with local citizens, to institute locally-designed policies that respond to needs and interests of local people.

1.6.5 Civil Society Organisations and local governance

Since civil society organisations are key stakeholders in development dynamics such as poverty alleviation, health and nutrition, they need to be considered as indispensable partners of local government authorities. Central and local government authorities need to embrace civil society organisations as development partners rather than enemies or competitors. Many civil society organisations have the capacity to identify the critical needs of local populations, lobby for assistance from local and international donors, fund development projects, and engage in advocacy in upholding the rights of marginalised people. As key development partners, Civil Society Organisations can also employ various strategies to draw the ZANU-PF government’s attention to the need to fully implement devolution with sincerity. As Takawira (2021: 10) stated: “There is need for civil organisations and Non- Governmental Organisations to engage in vigorous campaigns that highlight the importance of devolution for a balanced development of the nation.”

1.7   Conclusion

This report has noted that local government should be a collective and inclusive institution that accommodates various sections of the community. While local government institutions should be guided by elaborate legal frameworks designed by parliament, they need to take a bottom- up approach in identifying the needs of the people and in the administration of various programmes that are meant to uplift the livelihoods of communities. By doing so, local government institutions will go a long way in actively engaging communities in shaping their destinies and ensuring social accountability and transparency.

1.8  References

Amali, L. (26 January 2023) Interview: Mutare Civic Centre, Mutare, Manicaland Province.

Bond, J. (8 February 2023) Interview: Mutare Civic Centre, Mutare, Manicaland Province

Centre for Innovation and Technology (26 February 2021) ‘Legislators demand answers on devolution funds,’ Available at: on-devolution-funds/, Accessed 10 March 2023.

Dube, T. (22 August 2022) Interview: Great Zimbabwe University, Mashava Campus, Masvingo Province.

Heal Zimbabwe Trust (20 October 2020) ‘Communities in Zaka and Gutu demand accountability      over                         devolution                                     funds,’           Available                at: devolution-funds/, Accessed 10 January 2023.

Hope, R.K. (2014) ‘Devolved government and local governance in Kenya,’ Available at:, Accessed 28 January 2023.

Hove, J. (22 August 2022) Interview: Great Zimbabwe University, Mashava Campus, Masvingo Province.

Jack, N. (14 February 2023) Interview: Chivi Growth Point, Chivi District, Masvingo Province. Kay, A. (2003) ‘Evaluating devolution in Wales,’ in: Political Studies, Volume 51, Number 1.

Kusauka, K. & Chitsika, E. (24 January 2022) ‘Devolution projects: Is there accountability, involvement and incorporation of ordinary people?’ Available at:, Accessed 20 February 2023.

Mberi, T. (22 February 2023) Interview: Hauna Growth Point, Mutasa District, Manicaland Province.

Morgan, K. (2006) ‘Devolution and development: Territorial justice and the north-south divide,’ in: Publius: The Journal of Federalism, Volume 36, Number 1.

Moyo, P. (2013) ‘The devolution of power debate and the Zimbabwe national project,’ in: S.J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni & F. Ndhlovu (eds.) Nationalism and national projects in Southern Africa: New critical reflections, Pretoria: Africa Institute of South Africa.

Moyo, P. & Ncube, C. (2014) ‘Devolution of power in Zimbabwe’s new constitutional order: Opportunities and potential constraints,’ in: Law, Democracy and Development, Volume 18, pp.289-304.

Muchadenyika, D. & Williams, J.J. (2016) ‘Social change: Urban governance and urbanisation in Zimbabwe,’ in: Urban Forum, Volume 27, Number 3, pp.253-274.

Muchadenyika, D. & Williams, J.J. (2018) ‘Politics, centralisation and service delivery in urban Zimbabwe,’ in: Journal of Southern African Studies, Volume 44, Number 5, pp.833-853.

Mukwewa, T. (1 March 2019) ‘Devolution as a panacea to development,’ in: The Chronicle, Bulawayo: Zimbabwe.

Mupfudze, L. (2 October 2020) ‘Devolution must enhance citizen participation,’ Available at:, Accessed 3 November 2022.

Ndoro, N. (21 June 2022) ‘July Moyo in US$55m fire trucks scandal, diverts devolution funds,’ Available at: scandal-diverts-devolution, Accessed 6 February 2023.

Nedziwa, J. (26 January 2023) Interview: Mutare Civic Centre, Mutare, Manicaland Province.

Newsday (21 July 2022) ‘Government in Pomona deal climb-down,’ Harare: Zimbabwe.

Nhamo, J. (24 February 2023) Interview: Watsomba Rural Service Centre, Mutasa District, Manicaland Province.

Roberts, I. (26 January 2023) Interview: Mutare Civic Centre, Mutare, Manicaland Province.

Sihanya, B. (2012) ‘The role of the judiciary in accountability and governance structure: A presentation to the Institute of Certified Public Accountant of Kenya 20th Economic Symposium at Hilton Hotel Nairobi,’ Available at:, Accessed 29 January 2023.

Takawira, C. (2021) ‘Devolution in Zimbabwe: Unfulfilled constitutional mandate,’ in:

Journal of Humanities and Social Science, Volume 26, Issue 1, Series 5, pp.1-11.

Zango, S. (11 February 2023) Interview: Mhandamahwe Growth Point, Chivi District, Masvingo Province.

Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) (31 August 2022) ‘Devolution remains a myth in Zimbabwe: ZIMCODD,’ Available at:, Accessed 12 March 2023.

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