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Civic disengagement bleeding African economies

African governments are reluctant to open up space for civic participation as inclusion of people in development processes leaves authorities vulnerable to demands for accountability, civic society leaders believe.

In Africa patronage, weak governance structures as well rampant corruption pushes governments to deliberately sideline citizens from matters which directly affect them as they cannot account for their decisions.

Endemic structural weaknesses, corruption and weak policies which perpetuate colonial economic cycles of exploitation of raw resources in African governments have cost the continent over billions of dollars since 1980.

By one estimate, illicit financial flows from Africa, claims Africa renewal magazine, amounted to US$1.4 trillion between 1980 and 2009—more than the economic aid and foreign direct investment the continent received during that period

A joint report by the African Development Bank and Global Financial Integrity found that a staggering 60-65 percent of this lost cash disappears during commercial transactions by multinational companies.

This sentiment is broadly shared among civil society groups and community organisations across the Southern African Region not spared is Zimbabwe’s own vibrant civic society. These impressions were made from recent meetings held by leading human rights defenders as well as non-governmental organisations championing popular participation of citizens in decision making in the eastern border town of Mutare.

Zimbabwe Environmental Association (ZELA), Churches and Civil Society Forum (CCSF), Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and ZimRights also believe this is reflected by government’s stance on harmonisation, citizen participation as well as protection of socio-economic and cultural rights.

Civil society leaders also claim that as a result of contextual realities shaped by political dynamics of patronage politics, politicians in government will continue to trample on citizens for the selfish gains.

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It is undeniable that when people are better informed they demand greater accountability from duty bearers because genuine space for participation can bring citizens and states closer together.

While African citizens are increasingly aware that corruption and poor governance is cheating them and their countries out of billions of dollars, governments continue to resist by using draconian pieces of legislation.

In developing states this has been worsened by the curse of abundant natural and raw materials which has led to the existence of deliberate tactics of disenfranchisement of communities through the three E’s approach claims Zimbabwe Natural Resources Dialogue Forum coordinator Freeman Bhoso.

Bhoso says government’s externalise costs of mining activities to communities, enclose mining processes from communities bearing the brunt in ecological degradation as well as social disturbances. They achieve this by excluding people from decision making.

He says there is a multiplicity of deviant acts on granting of contracts to mining companies a disparity which has cascaded to limiting beneficiation of local communities from natural resources.

The African Development Bank noted that Zimbabwe holds a significant natural resource wealth, weakness in policies and institutions have led to weak linkages between the resource wealth of the country, poverty reduction and equity among the population at large.

This notion is shared by ZELA Director Mutuso Dhliwayo, who says government should work to improve its institutional and legal framework to allow for systems which emphasize on integrating environment in development, apply to governance at all levels and should ideally influence the composition and implementation of specific measures, while at the same time impacting on the creation and realisation of policy

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Dhliwayo also claims that without due diligence on impacts of anthropological activities on posterity, governments burden both present and future generations with ecological costs.

Senior Projects Lawyer for Human Rights Forum, Tafadzwa Christmas says this prevailing situation is exacerbated by piecemeal solutions used to sugar coat past conflicts which have left indelible scars on populations.

His sentiments reflect the Churches and Civil Society Forum thrust towards pushing government to operationalise the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) by enacting an enabling piece of legislation.

Co-chair of the churches and civil society organisation, Paul Juru believes that without such an act, the commission is doomed before its appointment as it cannot achieve anything without an act of parliament. He calls on government to ensure that the NPRC is functional so that past conflicts can be redressed, to afford closure to victims of human rights abuses.

Andy Ziyera, a human rights activist, however accuses senior politicians in government of manipulating legislation to protect their selfish needs. He says coupled with polarisation of political parties, politicians were preoccupied with expediency, halting much needed progress.

If civic leaders are correct in their assertions hope for meaningful development in African states remain limited to the elite while the bulk of citizens are struck to the peripheries.

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Journalist based in Mutare

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