So the question that’s bugging me this weekend is how, or indeed whether, it is possible to reconcile a devolutionary programme with the need to hold involved actors to account in a generally undemocratic and non-transparent system? I’ve reached the point in my thesis now whereby I’m now trying to look forward more constructively and I’ve hit this stumbling block… I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try and write it down and run it past anyone who ends up reading it!
The Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE), Zimbabwe’s famous national community-based natural resource management initiative, was designed to provide an alternative land use for communal land farmers suffering through drought on marginal lands. By advocating the economic advantage of wildlife/game ranching (elephants, buffalos, lions etc.) CAMPFIRE encouraged these marginal farmers to move away from the intensive and problematic cattle ranching to the sustainable use of mega-fauna. The programme was designed to be fully devolutionary, whereby communities set themselves up into cooperatives or used the local government structure of Ward Development Committees (WADCOs) to apply for Appropriate Authority (AA) from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management (DNPWLM) which would give them de facto ownership, decision making authority and control over the wildlife in their communal area.
In reality, the process of AA was only ever decentralised to the Rural District Councils (RDCs) as the lowest legally recognised entity in the governance system. The RDCs are supposed to act as representatives and on behalf of the people on the communal lands under their jurisdiction, but generally, for numerous reasons, they do not but rather co-opting the process for their own financial benefit. The people living on the marginal lands are mainly seen as passive recipients or pawns in this natural resource management process, the outcomes being a decrease in food and livelihood security as access to relied upon natural resources is restricted and the government reneges on development infrastructure hiding behind the inflated expectations of CAMPFIRE benefits. The ongoing conflict between traditional leadership and the representatives of the central administrative system (i.e. Councillors) diminishes the representation opportunities for the local communities, exacerbated by the significant lack of communication and information reaching these remote locations. Struggling for basic needs and daily survival, unaware of their political rights to question and hold others to account, in many cases the local people who were supposed to be the target beneficiaries of the CAMPFIRE process have not been reached.
It is clear to many who have studied this programme that in order to benefit local people, they need to be devolved the power to manage, control and make decisions about the natural resources in question. However, it is equally as clear how much of a Catch-22 this situation is. How does one change the governing system that is inherently hierarchical and power driven, undemocratic, and unwilling to relinquish control of financial revenues streams, to do just that? And due to the lack of empowerment and political power held by the communities, other actors will need to be involved in the process of holding the system to account; it is not enough to just specify the process on paper, it is necessary to have a system in place with checks and balances so that it is also confirmed to be happening in practice. If the process needs to be one of co-management and/or multi-way partnerships, can it still be a process of devolution? Does it not just re-run the risk of co-option, power battles, and fragmentation leaving those with the least political clout once again at the bottom of the pile? But equally, without it having these defined processes in place, a devolved system to the local level would be easily as co-optable by those higher up the political chain?
Basically, to have a devolved system that will function in a wider system of unaccountability and power dynamics those being devolved to must have the capacity and ability to hold their own. But, without devolution, the rural communities have too little ownership or control of their livelihoods and opportunities to build their capacity and ability. To build their capacity and ability there needs to be a complex mix of infrastructural development driven by the government to help meet local basic needs (roads, networks, water, health etc.), education driven by external actors on political rights and accountability processes, and the opportunities to practice adaptive management of these natural resources with responsibility for both the costs and the benefits.
Is that even feasible in Zimbabwe?
*I should make the claim here that my research is based on four villages, 2 in Binga District and 2 in Chiredzi. The findings from these have been supplemented with key informant interviews, a workshop, and significant reading of the literature over the last 3 years. While I appreciate there are some exceptions to the case outline above (i.e. Masoko, Mahenye), the findings overall do paint a picture that is more generalisable.