Citizens laugh at the power of the central government

HARARE, ZIMBABWE – In the suburb of Mabvuku, east of Harare, the nation’s capital, Sunday and Monday are water days. Jean Chizimba wakes up at 5 a.m., walks to the tap outside his brick house, and turns the valve counterclockwise. Sometimes the water is streaming. Sometimes not.

Chizimba pays around 2,500 Zimbabwean dollars (ZWL) ($ 25) each month for erratic service at best. On dry tap days, she has to go to the local clinic, which has a reliable water supply. She can take home about four buckets home for free, just enough for her family of five to wash and flush until the next watering day. “Imagine you are on your period and there is no water coming out of the tap,” says Chizimba, a 42-year-old vegetable vendor. “How do you go about maintaining cleanliness?” “

In Zimbabwe, the central government plays a role in urban water supply and garbage collection. The system is widely ridiculed. According to the Afrobarometer research network, 62% of Zimbabweans say “the government is doing a bad job in providing water and sanitation services” – a number that has been stable for a decade.

Community groups say there is a clear solution: decentralization or the transfer of some powers from central government to Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces. It could improve the quality of schools, clinics, roads and water, advocates say, and help hold those responsible for poor service. “Decentralization is when citizens start to exercise state powers,” says James Chidakwa, who represents Mabvuku in parliament.

The move comes amid growing global mistrust of government. Exactly one year ago, protesters stormed the United States Capitol in an attempt to thwart the results of a Democratic election.

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In Zimbabwe, the central government plays a role in water and garbage services. As of June, authorities had not collected trash in Mabvuku for months.

Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution specifically calls for a “devolution of power and responsibility to lower levels of government”. At the time, local control was seen as more than a way to improve services, according to an article by ZimFact, an independent fact-checking site. After contested elections a few years earlier and the formation of a unity government with two parties sharing power, decentralization was the key to “deepening democracy” and “promoting national integration and peace”.

Zimbabwe has taken steps to hold local officials accountable. Last year, the central government set aside ZWL 19.5 billion ($ 184 million) in “devolution funds” to help provinces improve health care, education and water supplies. . However, the government did not put in place the boards that were supposed to oversee the transfer process, so most of the money was not distributed.

Budget 2022 allocates ZWL 42.5 billion ($ 391 million) for decentralization, more than double the amount last year.

Under pressure from community groups, lawmakers recently introduced a bill that would establish supervisory boards, but parliament has yet to act on it. Zvinechimwe Churu, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works, dismisses criticisms that officials are procrastinating. “The government has shown a strong commitment to deconcentration and decentralization,” he said in a statement. Nonetheless, Churu cautions against viewing local control as a panacea for water and sanitation problems – there are too many factors involved in improving service delivery, including funding and infrastructure.

Hardlife Mudzingwa, founder of the environmental group Community Water Alliance, raises a different question. He says the bill does not go far enough in changing the current system, as the provinces would still report to the central government. “Decentralization is about reviewing the whole architecture of the state and therefore cannot be dealt with by a single law,” he says.

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Lindiwe Tsikwa draws water from her well. “The only problem has been trying to make sure our kids don’t fall for the trap,” she says.

Mudzingwa and other activists spread their message on social media. Under the Twitter hashtag # 3Dcampaign – to devolve, develop and deliver – Zimbabweans posted photos of a decaying road and called for local checks on vehicle licenses, liquor licenses, passport applications and taxi permit.

Vital services are at stake. Take water: Less than a third of Zimbabwean households have access to a clean and unlimited supply, according to a 2018 report from the United Nations Children’s Fund, known as the United Nations Children’s Fund. ‘UNICEF. The epidemics of cholera and typhoid – water-borne diseases – have become more common.

As in many African countries, Zimbabwe’s National Water Authority oversees the country’s water. In the Harare region, which includes Mabvuku, the water authority only supplies water, while the city processes and distributes it, water authority spokeswoman Marjorie Munyonga said. But there is not enough water, she says, a problem the water authority is trying to solve by building a dam.

The people of Mabvuku say that the supply is not the only problem: under the authority of the water is a stratum of water councils and sub-councils; complaints often disappear in the Byzantine system. If decentralization transferred more power to local authorities, residents say, they would know exactly who to call when their taps are dry. Instead, they have to sort out their problems on their own.

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Abigail Mizha pushes a wheelbarrow with about 100 liters (26 gallons) of water. Against payment, Mizha collects water from the local borehole and delivers it to the inhabitants of Mabvuku.

Mabvuku hasn’t had a reliable water service for nearly two decades, Chizimba says. Years ago, that meant waking up at 2 a.m. to queue at the health clinic – sometimes until eight a.m. “There were strong men controlling the lines, and there would be a lot of fights at the borehole,” says neighbor Lindiwe Tsikwa, a 36-year-old mother of two. “It has become dangerous for us.”

Around 2008, Tsikwa devised her own solution: she dug a well in her front yard. “The only problem has been trying to make sure our kids don’t fall for the trap,” she says. “But now they’ve grown up and know they shouldn’t play near the pit area.”

Still, there isn’t much Tsikwa can do about the mound of garbage. As of June, authorities had not collected trash from Mabvuku for months. Used diapers and sanitary napkins were falling out of a trash can and littering the floor; a stench hung in the air. “It’s really dangerous,” she said.

Meanwhile, every morning, Abigail Mizha gets up at 5 a.m. and carries a wheelbarrow full of buckets to the borehole. It is his livelihood: filling buckets, returning painfully to town, delivering water to his customers. The 42-year-old man uses nine water points a day. Residents willingly pay for her services – they say she is more reliable than the government.

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