CYCLONE IDAI –DEVOLUTION WOULD HAVE SAVED LIVES IN MANICALAND
A devolved system of governance would have ensured that Manicaland province adequately prepared for Cyclone Idai which has now claimed hundreds of lives owing to a lackadaisical response by government. Manicaland is arguably the richest province in Zimbabwe, yet government institutions in the province could not save their own people from the devastating effects of Cyclone Idai. The reason is that much of the revenue generated in Manicaland, as is the case with other provinces in Zimbabwe, is administered from and consumed by the ruling elites in Harare, hence local government institutions in Manicaland are poorly resourced to an extent that they could not prepare for the impending disaster even though warnings by SADC climate change service centre and NASA and had been raised in the international media for several days leading to the cyclone.
Section 264 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe states that ‘governmental powers and responsibilities must be devolved to provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities which are competent to carry out … responsibilities efficiently and effectively’. According to the constitution, devolution allows for equitable sharing of local and national resources. It also ensures that people participate in making decisions on matters that affect them. However, there have been attempts by government to reverse the constitutional provision for devolution and six years after the adoption of the 2013 constitution, government hasn’t constituted provincial and metropolitan councils. As a result, government departments in all provinces, have no decision making powers on critical matters because all power and authority resides in central government in Harare. More critically, the reluctance by the central government to devolve power to the provinces means that provinces cannot manage their own resources for the greatest good of their people. Consequently Zimbabwe is witnessing the law of combined and uneven development at work, where provinces endowed with vast natural resources wallow in abject poverty whilst their wealth is financing lavish lifestyles of powerful political and military elites.
In the case of Manicaland the province is home to lucrative Marange diamond fields which have been plundered by the military and ruling ZANU PF officials since 2009. Local government departments in Manicaland do not receive anything from the sale of diamonds which are controlled by corrupt officials in Harare. Not only is Manicaland famous for its alluvial diamonds, the province also boast of gold, timber, arable land for agriculture, tea and coffee, among other products, but these too, have not been fully harnessed to improve the local economy. Consequently Manicaland did not have resources of its own to save its people from the cyclone disaster though the province is robbed of billions in potential revenue annually. Those who have been plundering the province did little to prepare for the disaster using local resources. Rather they called for donations from well-wishers.
Cyclone Idai also brought to the fore, the inadequacy of the centralized meteorological services in Zimbabwe. There was no accurate forecast of the areas to be most affected by the cyclone. This is because the meteorological services department only issues generalized weather forecasts without finer localized details. This results in generalized information that often turns out to be obscure.. This is also affecting farmers who are struggling to plan due to unreliable information from the Met Department. Government must decentralize the meteorological services department to ensure that local people are given more accurate information, especially in times of emergencies. This is not the first time Zimbabwe has been hit by a cyclone. In the year 2000, the country was hit by cyclone Eline
which until cyclone Idai had been termed the worst for Southern Africa in 53 years. Again there were no detailed forecast to warn people in localities to be most affected. Instead, the central met office gave a generalized warning that did little to save lives when the cyclone hit Manicaland and Masvingo.
Finally, Zimbabwe’s Parliament must intensify pressure on the Executive to implement Chapter 14 of the Constitution which calls for the establishment of Provincial and Metropolitan Councils. The establishment of Provincial and Metropolitan Councils will ensure effective and efficient management of resources in host provinces.