Employing Citizen Engagement in Revolutionizing Governance in Africa

The Sivio Institute was established in the backdrop of the November 2017 removal of Robert Mugabe as President of Zimbabwe, and pronouncements by the transition government that it was open for engagement with citizens around how to address the socio-economic challenges the country was facing.  

Political developments provided an opportunity for the SIVIO Institute (SI) to develop platforms/tools to help in the shaping of a more informed citizenry especially in the run-up to the July 2018 elections in Zimbabwe. Following the elections in July 2018 and the appointment of a new government, SI used the ruling party’s manifesto to track the progress made by the government in implementing the promises made.  

However, the current way in which  governance is conceptualized and applied in Zimbabwe and across the African continent is very narrow and top-down focused. Citizens are seen as just recipients of government policies and development plans, and the only time it seems that citizens have any power or sway when it comes to governance is during elections. This is not working, and citizens are still unhappy with government performance, and is reflected in two  national surveys carried out in Zimbabwe in 2018 and 2019 where SIVIO asked citizens’ their perceptions and expectations when it came to the government’s performance. 

In 2018, 65% of the respondents to our survey ranked the government’s performance as low; and in 2019, 90% felt that overall performance by the government was still low. The increase from 65% to 90% suggests a growing dissatisfaction with government performance.  While one of the hallmarks of best practice in policy-making entails engaging citizens in problem-solving through their participation, in our 2019 survey the majority (60.18%) indicated that they had not been in any sort of government consultations and processes, whilst 39.82% confirmed that they had been a part of some consultation process. Those who had participated before were asked to describe the processes they were involved in, and the majority (58.27%) had been active at the local government level in discussions on the performance of local authorities.

As long as citizens are relegated to be recipients of policy/development, the problems and crises faced not only in Zimbabwe but across the African continent will continue to perpetuate themselves. Therefore, advocacy and citizen engagement are key to revolutionizing governance and are at the cornerstone of advancing ‘co-production’ which will allow citizens to be involved in the creation, delivery, and assessment of public policies and services.  

The SIVIO Institute Solution Tree

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the limitations with governance in its current form, and the limitations of the state in dealing with this crisis but especially in terms of improved livelihoods for citizens. In Zimbabwe, we have seen a number of citizen-led initiatives that have come up to support government efforts in managing the pandemic. One of the most prominent was the Solidarity Trust Zimbabwe initiative which mobilized resources that allowed for the reopening of a hospital wing with 100 beds for the treatment of COVID-19 patients. This is one of many citizen-led initiatives to help enhance and support public health facilities.

Sadly, citizens have still not been provided with the opportunity, or widely involved or consulted in the policymaking and planning processes when it comes to the COVID-19 response strategy but more broadly for improved public health access and infrastructure.

The solidarity that is present within philanthropy is important in shifting the power dynamics when it comes to development, defining citizenship, and bringing citizens back within the policy and development space. It creates a platform for co-production between citizens and the state; where citizens are not passive recipients when it comes to development but are active participants and contributors to the development they want and how they want it. 

These insights are culled from a contribution by the SIVIO Institute, a research and policy  advocacy organization in Zimbabwe. Connect with SIVIO Institute on Twitter,  Facebook and LinkedIn.

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