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Friday, June 24, 2011

Devolution/Federalism in Zimbabwe: Is It the Panacea??

For some time now the idea of a Federal State in Zimbabwe has been thrown around, Devolution is the new anthem sung by politicians. For those who are not in the know, the idea of a Federal State is premised on the principle of decentralization of power from central government or authority to provinces of a nation. But Federalism alone cannot solve the problems that Zimbabwe finds itself in. On the contrary it might actually worsen the under-development in many areas. Those who are calling for Devolution/Federalism are doing it without the right mindset; their goal is to entrench the “each man for himself” idea. There are some in marginalised regions who feel they must have their resources to themselves, govern who gets what job in their region. It is being used as a way to side-step the corruption that has gripped our nation. But one area where politicians are not clarifying (whether by omission or design) is that Devolution/Federalism does not grant the general populace access to resources, it only results in management of revenue and expenditure allocation. For purpose of this thesis I will analyse pertinent issues centring on resource distribution and the pitfalls a federal republic is likely to run into in trying to use this as a way to pacify the community.

Natural Resource Distribution

There is an uneven rainfall pattern across the country, with the South Western and Southern parts of the country receiving little rainfall during the year. The Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project was started to resolve this problem. There is need to share this resource equitably to avoid exploitation of those without by the haves. A situation whereby a province sells water to another can fast track the Water Wars as predicted by Science in Africa. How much will a people or region part with to secure access to water? After water there is arable land to consider, according Food and Agricultural Organization, no place in Zimbabwe receives rain all throughout the year. The most arable land in the Eastern Highlands receives rainfall for between 200 – 269 days per year, the most arid parts of the country South, Midlands and South West receives rain for not more than 90 days per year. This has repercussions for crops and livestock sustenance. Despite attempts to establish this area as the hub of cattle ranching, these factors still make it hard to maintain the herds without incurring much cost. The ratio of animals per square kilometre bears testimony to the fact that animals have sought domicile in the middle to upper parts of the country where flora is in abundance. The mineral deposits in the country are also concentrated along the Great Dyke which cuts across the middle of the country giving some provinces an edge over others. (For details of Zimbabwe landscape: Click Here)

Financial, Logistics & Human Resource Distribution

In the current environment, the wealth of many Zimbabweans was depleted by hyper-inflation, so there is little investment potential from within. Despite many having moved to so called greener pastures, the upkeep costs in the Diaspora makes it almost impossible for one to set aside income for capital or wealth creation. The Zimbabwean way of life also involves one looking out for not only one’s immediate family but also the extended family; this does not leave room for a saving culture among those in the Diaspora. This leaves Foreign Direct investment as the most attractive option to develop the regions; however this has setbacks as there are logistical points to consider. Capital (FDI) will naturally flow into those regions that have the infrastructure to support business with easy access to market via a good rail/road network. The areas that are remote will lose out on any meaningful investment because of high costs of set-up. As people increase their disposable income through education, they want more luxury to go with their status. This is evident in the movement of the most skilled labour to better places like Harare and Bulawayo that can sustain the need for luxurious lifestyle. This is also the reason many MPs are elected in their constituencies but within a short time they move to stay outside the constituency. However most of this movement is put down to proximity to parliament for attending government business. The concentration of highly skilled labour would entail that companies/investors will have to pay a premium to attract the best skills to the not so luxurious areas but still this does not guarantee that they will remain there for lack of other necessities such as good schools for kids.

Private Capital Consideration

There is an element of private capital to consider, we have to consider how much income/wealth is held by whom. What if those who have a bigger share of the nation’s wealth come from a certain region? This would mean they can grab opportunities/investment at the expense of others. This would see such investors setting up in other areas but the Net Property Income earned in other provinces will be spent and kept elsewhere in the form of dividends, share disposal and investment. While the region or community gets something in the form of employment and Infrastructural development, dividends and profits make a large portion of the resources extracted. A good example is how Great Britain developed its economy by making profits in Africa, Oceania and South America; the profits were simply exported back as dividends. In Zimbabwe the government does not have much of a stake in business, while policies can be put in place to retain some of the income earned by companies or investors, there has to be a balance struck in order not to price the region out of the market or scaring investors away. This is on the backdrop of regions fighting to attract much investment from the others. The same private investors do not give heed to policies that limit them on who to employ and from where. Although incentives can be put in place to encourage sourcing of labour within the region, there is no guarantee that the skills are readily available, the past level of development has an influence on how much the local inhabitants are skilled in a particular area.

So in the final analysis, Zimbabwe needs transparency, cooperation and a spirit of togetherness if we are to achieve growth and general improvement in the standards of living across the provincial divide. We have to share the meagre resources available with those who might be in areas that cannot derive development given the limitation of resources. Each province for itself will only exacerbate the under development of certain areas as the provinces do not have an equal composition of natural, human, financial resources and attractiveness to Foreign Direct Investment. The need to fulfil basic needs will result in further exploitation of regions by countries with an advantage of capital as we are witnessing happening with Chinese investors.  It is needful to strive towards a balance in terms of development, accessibility and skills development before Devolution/Federalism can be considered. This can be modelled along the lines of having a national purse then government determines which region to grant money for capital generation and investment. Who gets to get what and when can be directed by the short term and long term goals of government. In that way equity can be achieved across the whole country, thereafter the advantages of Devolution/Federalism will outweigh the disadvantages.

Credits: The Landscape Analysis of Zimbabwe is courtesy of Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO)

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