Inclusion and Partcipation of Marginalised Groups in Local Democracy in Rural Zimbabwe
Today marks the 15th anniversary of the International Day of Democracy. In 2007, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution establishing the International Day of Democracy to review the state of democracy and to highlight the importance of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. To reach the ambitious goals of the 2030 Agenda, change must be anchored at the local level through the involvement of all citizens by means of transparency, participation, and accountability.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) especially focus on decision-making and participation of vulnerable groups. Democratic governance and the idea of human rights imply equal participation in decision-making by all citizens all around the world. However, the access to civil and political participation varies: Women have historically been disadvantaged in participating in politics. In this regard, the Swedish International Centre for Local Democracy (ICLD) published a research report on the extent of marginalised groups’ participation in local democracy in rural Zimbabwe. ICLD promotes local democracy in primarily low- and middle-income countries by encouraging decentralised cooperation through municipal partnership programmes; capacity-building and investing in relevant research and creating important research networks.
The report presents results from research conducted during the pandemic, 2020-2021, in Chiredzi, Zimbabwe. Through interviews and focus group discussions, the researchers found that poverty, lack of political will, religious and cultural barriers, and low self-esteem are the main barriers that prevent marginalised groups from participating in local government. In this regard, the study also found out that women are more knowledgeable about their local representatives than other groups. Marginalised groups often lack technological access including radios and TVs, and smartphones, especially social media platforms and therefore miss out information about community meetings.
Due to missing local and administrative structures, there is a lack of civil society organisations. According to the report, women and youth constitute more than half of Zimbabwe’s population. However, the inclusion of women, young people and people with disabilities in local democracy and political decision-making is lagging behind. Additionally, local and central governments have a top-down structure, which leads to the problem that marginalised and vulnerable groups often remain excluded in local governance: from choosing and electing their leaders to holding leaders accountable. The status quo leads to a ‘circle of marginality: the manifestation of passive participation, disempowerment and disenfranchisement.
Finally, the authors of the ICLD report give some recommendations how to break the ‘circle of marginality’. In particular, the amendment of the Constitution to improve the participatory rights of vulnerable people and minorities, i.e. reserving quotas as well as lowering the nomination fees regarding political parties for women, young people, religious-cultural minorities, and people with disabilities. Awareness campaigns in rural areas by Zimbabwean civil society organisations for citizens and leaders are necessary to better understand the role of marginalised groups in local democracy. Even though the government of Zimbabwe implemented grassroot structures to strengthen local democracy, such as committees, there is still the need to empower marginalised groups at the local level.
The stated development about local democracy in rural Zimbabwe on the occasion of today’s Democracy Day shows a gap between the goal and the empirical reality. The SDG target 16.7 aims to “ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels”. However, this is still not applying for most vulnerable groups and minorities in rural Zimbabwe. Efforts are still necessary to break the ‘circle of marginality’ in the future.