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Building a Culture of Openness and Participation in Zimbabwe

by NewThinking Development

The principles of openness, accountability and participation are grounded in the belief that democracy transcends beyond the ballot box. They are principles that enable citizens to be the center of legislation, service delivery and shaping policies that affect their lives. Government’s New Dispensation Strategy Document highlights these principles as values and reforms they aspire to achieve.

For three decades Zimbabwe’s political and administrative system was characterized by high levels of centralization and decline of the country’s democratic life. This decline is reflected in the Mo Ibrahim Index that scores Zimbabwe 44 out of 100, ranking 39 out of 54 countries.

The current administration promised to usher new hope, to put in place citizen focused policies and measures as reflected in the strategy document. However, that hope is yet to be fully realized as the country continues to face numerous governance and socio-economic challenges such as, fuel shortages, high inflation and poor delivery of social services.

The 2013 Constitution established clear standards for reforms that can encourage more openness, inclusivity and participation. It makes a commitment to move towards participatory democracy, transparent governance and holding government to account.

‘Towards an Open and Accountable Government: Context and Way Forward for Zimbabwe’ spotlight publication is a partnership between NewThinking Development and Zimbabwe Institute. It provides an analysis of possible opportunities to advance open government reforms in order to achieve participatory democracy in Zimbabwe. These are reforms that encourage openness to allow citizens to be active participants in their country.

Importantly, the publication takes lessons from countries such as Nigeria, Ukraine, Paraguay and Brazil that are becoming global champions in implementing reforms that enhance inclusivity and participatory democracy. There is clear evidence that implementing open government reforms, saves government money, builds trust with citizens and business as well as improving service delivery. The examples serve as a critical resource for government reformers, civil society and private sector that seek to advance open government reforms.

The spotlight publication discusses critical steps that need to be taken by government and parliament in order to achieve openness, inclusion and participation in Zimbabwe:

  1. To strengthen and empower Chapter 13 institutions to become impartial gate-keepers of participatory democracy and protect citizen’s right to access to information;
  2. To establish a decentralization governance architecture that is inclusive and allows for equal participation of citizens;
  3. Establish a multi-stakeholder platform to drives governance reforms, which will include government, civil society, trade unions, parliament and private sector;
  4. There is need for high level political will-power to address grand and petty corruption. Parliament, media and citizens all need to be empowered to monitor, investigate corruption and for the judiciary to prosecute perpetrators especially politically exposed persons (PEP).

The challenges the country faces are daunting, but the solutions are clear and require political will power. The vision and recommendations presented in this publication provide a guide for government and other stakeholders to advance open and participatory governance. Implementing these reforms will mean moving from just shared intent to ensuring that the promise of democracy and efforts to strengthen and advance it, become the norm in Zimbabwe.

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