Thinking outside of the box was a valuable lesson

The Swedish International Centre for Local Democracy (ICLD) is working to strengthen local governments in Zimbabwe. Since 2011 four international training programmes (ITP) has reached 83 alumni. Between December 2016 and May 2017, ICLD commissioned a study based on insights gained from 70 alumni of these ITPs.
The aim was to consolidate the emerging impact of this training.

Kudzai Chatiza Researcher and Consultant at the Development Governance Institute, Zimbabwe together with Virginia Makanza, Lecturer in Local Government Studies at the Midlands State University, Zimbabwe are the researchers behind the study.

Can you point out aspects of importance to strengthen and improve ICLD:s work in Zimbabwe?
“Involving individual Councils formally from inception so they commit to supporting and enabling the learning to be applied. Second is building an alternative civil society version of the ITP as they are critical especially as a resource for local leaders”, says Kudzai Chatiza.
He also says that enhancing cooperation with local knowledge institutions such as universities, researchers and capacity development-experts or organizations sharing ICLD-material online is important.

Something in the study that surprised you?
“That local leaders and staff found that transparency paid off. Also, we were surprised by the number of alumni that had participated in the ITPs without any idea of consolidating the experience. A lot of experiences still need capturing and analysing with our study only a first part”.

A conclusion in the study was that the support to, and partnership with, the University’s Local Government Studies Department aided its sector influence and established clear prospects for sustainability.
Could more of the implementation of local democracy take place in schools and universities?

“The political environment in Zimbabwe does not yet provide for scaled up implementation through schools, even though the 2013-constitution provides normative expectations for full scale democratic development. The University route is a good prospect that can benefit from ongoing efforts steered by the Ministry responsible for higher and tertiary education to link local government institutions and Universities in Zimbabwe”, says Kudzai Chatiza.

To think outside the box is mentioned in the study as a valuable lesson.
How difficult was that for the participants, and how important is thinking outside the box to press the process of democracy forward?

“Participants are mainly held back by structural and cultural factors. They need to be ‘freed’ from these consciously as part of building space for applying innovations learnt under the course. The ITPs have been quite good at helping participants realize their potential to do things differently, to think and act outside boxes”, says Chatiza.
The majority of those who benefitted from the ITPs are female technical and political leaders. The local democratic environment limits the impact of the ITPs at different levels, the study says.

Any suggestions of how to brake the boundaries of these constrained environments?
“The first ITP for local leaders targeted women and despite addition of male local leaders the ‘culture’ of ensuring more numbers for female leaders appears to have been set. Building local back-up for implementation support and linking this to ongoing projects that the Government of Sweden is support, for example on social protection, could enable participants to apply their knowledge with regards to funded projects”, says Chatiza.
Lessons were learnt from studying local democracy on sight in Sweden; an eye-opener to the participants pre-training leadership choices, says the study.
How valuable are these educational trips to Sweden?

“Very valuable as most of the participants are exposed for the first time in their private and public lives to mature democratic systems that work for and with citizens. For most, this actually surprises them and changes their attitudes irretrievably”.

What can Zimbabwe learn from Swedish democracy?
“At the basic level Zimbabweans, like other humans globally, aspire to be governed democratically. This is noted in national policies and laws. The current macro-governance structure, culture and performance does not readily allow full implementation of democratisation. As such, participants’ isolated innovations become difficult to scale”.

By being exposed to alternative local democracy settings in Sweden, various alumni were able to challenge the socio-economic pressures that framed their pre-training leadership choices, says study.

How do the Zimbabwean local leaders and technical staff overcome these difficulties?
¬“They mainly use new knowledge and invite outsiders to facilitate initiation of changes. Trainings and workshops are often the basis for introducing new ideas”.

The study suggests some ideas for future initiatives by ICLD and others actors interested in strengthening local democracy in Zimbabwe:
– Introducing local platforms to sustain change and increase their reach
– Adapting relevant ITP aspects when designing local councillor inductions
– Exposing key national institutions such as the Portfolio Committee responsible for local government and thus expanding the spaces within which alumni apply their local democracy skill
– Developing a framework for councils together with ITP participants to identify and support change projects and strategic issues.
– Strengthening the selection of trainees, their preparation and support (during and after training).

A somewhat unique lesson learned by the alumni was that one can make a choice regarding the type of leaders they want to become. Capacity development, particularly the type that unlocks personal potential, assists in making relevant choices.
The town secretaries of Ruwa and Chegutu, agreed on that being open and transparent ‘pays off’, help people matter and enables people to grow.
Was the benefits of being transparent a surprising experience for the local leaders?
“It was more of a lesson than a surprise”, says Kudzai Chatiza.