n Law, Democracy & Development - Devolution of power in Zimbabwe's new constitutional order : opportunities and potential constraints

Volume 18, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1028-1053
  • E-ISSN: 2077-4907



Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have adopted constitutions which legislate different forms of decentralisation for their governance structures and systems. This currency and desirability for decentralisation is built on a consensus of African governments, international development agencies and civil society organisations that see it as a democratic system of government which advances citizen participation in human development. This consensus further sees decentralisation as a key for local democratisation in Africa since it brings a locally responsive government closer to the people and makes government more accountable to local people. Although there are four main forms of decentralisation, namely, administrative, political, fiscal and market, many African governments have chosen to implement political decentralisation (devolution) and administrative decentralisation (deconcentration) with those running devolved systems of government being seen and acclaimed as more democratic. These are the democratic credentials usually showered on Kenya and Uganda which run devolved governments, as well as South Africa which uses a unique decentralisation model based on a three tier co-operative government structure. Of late, Zimbabwe has joined this group of African countries with constitutions that legislate a devolved governance system. Zimbabwe's new Constitution adopted in May 2013 states that governmental powers and responsibilities must be devolved between the national government, provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities which are expected to ensure good governance by being effective, transparent, accountable and responsive to the needs of local people. This introduction of devolution of power as a new governance model in Zimbabwe replaces deconcentration on the premise that devolution is a more democratic, citizen centred, participatory, more transparent, accountable and locally relevant development focussed governance system. This article examines the opportunities and potential constraints associated with this transition from deconcentration to a three tier devolved system of governance. It does this through answering the following questions: To what extent will this reconfiguration of the State from centralisation to devolution give citizens more power to elect representatives who understand and champion their local development needs? Will local needs, aspirations, influence and drive the development agenda as opposed to the current top-down deconcentration model of development? Which consequentialist and deontological benefits will be derived from devolution of power? Is devolution going to influence equitable and fair exploitation of local resources for the benefit of all communities including "marginalised" provinces, such as, Matabeleland, Midlands and Manicaland? Does an anti-devolutionist ZANU-PF dominated government have the political will to fully implement devolution? Or maybe devolution of power will remain a symbolic constitutional provision while the deconcentration status quo remains?

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