Devolution: Reconfiguration of Power for the People

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Devolution: Reconfiguration of Power for the People
Reflections with Prof. T. Murithi on the Peace Potential of Devolution in Practice. “Beware of devolution lite.”

By Dzikamai Bere
We have just concluded the Second Episode of the Devolution Series focusing on the Peace Potential of Devolution in Practice.

Our guest was a good friend and learned peacebuilder Professor Tim Murithi from the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Cape Town. In this conversation, hosted by Trevor Ncube on In Conversation with Trevor, Tim unpacked the wisdom of devolution and how African countries can reap the benefits of peace. Tim said devolution is an opportunity to reconfigure government – people power relations in a way that improves the relationship, the benefits and peace.

“You can have power over the people. Or you can have power with the people.” He said.

It is clear that power with the people is more desirable than power over the people. But for that to happen, communities must step forward and make real devolution a reality. You can have ‘devolution lite’ or you can have ‘real devolution’ with real power and wealth. The reason why we have violence is because the situation is unequal. When communities feel left out, they sometimes find other means of getting the power to be included. Devolution can help bridge inequality.

But as Kwame Nkrumah said, “No body gives you power for free.” For devolution to work, communities have to work. Politicians will not let you have power for free, otherwise you end up with ‘devolution lite.’

For real devolution, people have to work. First you need to make sure that there not merely a constitution which is a collection of pages, but Constitutionalism. Constitutionalism is when people give life to the Constitution. When they animate it. Secondly, civic engagement is key. A critical mass is needed to put pressure on the politicians.

Devolution does not make sense for the majority of the people. People care about bread and human rights. So you have to link devolution with bread. Young people must make use of new media and technologies to unpack this concept. It must be clear to everyone that the reason why we do not have bread on the table is because of the way our governance system is designed. It is designed to impoverish and not to enrich. Tim gave examples of devolution in South Africa, Kenya and Switzerland and how these have worked more to empower the communities.

He sounded out the risks in implementation that include the need to ensure that the tension between the centre and the communities is well managed. Things that require a national approach like defence, foreign policy – must remain in the in the central government. He spoke of the need for a conflict management mechanism to resolve disputes. He addressed the fears of disintegration and said fragmentation will not work in the 21st century where Africa has over 50 000 ethnic groups.

ZimRights is grateful to the knowledge investment by Prof. Tim Murithi into the devolution conversation. We remain indebted to Trevor Ncube and the AMH group for hosting these important conversations that matter. We thank the Embassy of Switzerland in Zimbabwe for making it possible to bring great minds to the devolution conversation. You can watch the whole programme on ZimRights LIVE Facebook Page.

Next week we move to Kenya where we look at Devolution and Inclusive Economies. Can devolution spur inclusive economic growth? Please join us on 10 September 2020, same time, same place.

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