THE justifiable obsession with the “Mugabe must go” by the MDC-T and the “Sanctions must go Mantra” by Zanu PF has been the dominant motif in current electoral politics.
This has been used at the expense of the quality of issues, quality of candidates and quality of political parties contesting in the elections.
The justifiable concentration on the presidential polls has been at the expense of focus on the election of local and provincial council representatives.
MDC leader Welshman Ncube and Zapu president Dumiso Dabengwa have been more articulate than the other players on issues of devolution of power, equitable distribution of resources and local benefit from local resources.
This has not been necessarily matched by the quality and quantity of candidates that they have fielded to achieve this goal.
What makes the elections especially complex is the electoral architecture with at least four structures being put in place through the process namely councillors, MPs, senators and the President.
Elections for the two lower tiers of governance created under the new Constitution, namely local government and provincial councils, have been clouded by the presidential elections which are the focus of most Zimbabweans.
Many people actually do not even know their council candidates even though councillors play a critical role in the lives of citizens, as local authorities are the level of governance in touch with people on a day-to-day basis.
Councillors, unlike MPs, directly control budgets, service delivery, local development and in a way, are more relevant to the day-to-day lives of citizens since they deal with or are supposed to deal with issues that affect people on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, they have been reduced to, or have reduced themselves to merely attending funerals and social functions, or licking the boots of central government politicians.
The new Constitution recognises local government as one of the three tiers of governance, thus making local government elections a crucial site of electoral struggle in the new three-tier governance dispensation.
It, therefore, becomes important for political parties and citizens alike to take local and provincial government seriously, as these are levels of governance which will directly determine the scale, level, proportion and magnitude of local development and service delivery.
People will not necessarily meet and engage the President on a day-to-day basis, but they will, or should be able to meet and engage with councillors regularly through organised spaces.
It is sad, therefore, that elections for councillors are underplayed due to obsession with the presidential elections.
It would have been ideal to have elections for local authorities separately from legislative and presidential elections so that people are able to scrutinise the quality of their councillors.
However, this would be administratively complex given the complex nature of metropolitan councils and the cost implications of running a separate election.
The cost at the level of quality of representation and good local governance is arguably greater, as we then have to live with clueless councillors for five years with notable achievements of some councils being increased allowances, stands and laptops.
Most if not all of Zimbabwean political parties do not take the local government tier seriously.
Notably, the Ncube-led MDC has clearly articulated devolution of power as a key campaigning issue and with it, local development and equitable use of local resources for local benefit.
Zapu has likewise invested more in local and provincial government issues in the coming elections.
The MDC-T has made fleeting references to it in its campaign which, however, seems to be founded on the imperative of making Mugabe go and creating jobs, both of which are absolutely essential.
The MDC (Ncube)’s focus on devolution is noble and commendable in this context in terms of the quality of its electoral policy.
Though their electoral policy is good, it is not matched by the quality of many of its local government (council) candidates who appear to have been selected willy nilly.
Zapu, while fat on quality, is thin on quantity representation, as it did not field sufficient representatives to occupy space at local government level.
MDC-T will be greatly advantaged by the incumbency of may councillors who have over the years learnt the ropes of local governance.
Their greatest weakness is their lack of policy clarity in terms of local governance, especially on devolution, which they appear to only emphasise on only when addressing meetings in Matabeleland when it is a national concern.
Zanu PF boasts of some experienced councillors, but this is marred by decades of poor service delivery and a clear rejection of the principle of devolution of power with emphasis on decentralisation rather than devolution.
I implore Zimbabweans to elect quality councillors at local level who understand local governance processes, the imperative of service delivery and an enabling legislative environment at a local level.
A good president will fail if the local developmental and governance structures are occupied by a bunch of clueless individuals chosen for their loyalty to their parties and not on merit.
Parties that do not embrace the concept and practise of devolution should be rejected by the people as good national governance is premised on a vibrant local level democracy.