BY EVANS MATHANDA
Forty one years after independence, Zimbabwe still looks much the same.
If Cecil John Rhodes was to come back to life, he wouldn’t get lost in Harare except being confused by new street names and a host of squatter like structures west and south of Harare.
There are hardly any new modernised structures in the central business district.
It looks like development went on holiday and up to this day, we have forgotten about infrastructural development.
Service delivery has been a once in a lifetime visitor, with some suburbs enduring dry water taps for more than a decade.
Qualitative and quantitative measures of progress vary from one society to another, from time to time and from place to place depending on governing techniques.
Urbanisation and change management have become a necessity in developing countries with growing urban populations due to rural-urban migration.
The advent of industries necessitated the mass movement from remote areas to urban areas.
Zimbabwe’s largest city, Harare is believed to be a city where one can get all “services”.
Some have said Salisbury used to be a centre of attraction during the Rhodesian times.
In the city of Harare, some have said that there have been little or no changes and innovations despite some notable developments since 1980.
However, the process of transitioning from a colonial city to an inclusive one has brought a crisis in dealing with the broader needs of the growing population.
Zimbabwe is still far from achieving rural development status and for that reason urbanisation remains unavoidable, but we need to urbanise in such a way that involves a thoughtful planning and sensitive implementation, with consultation and involvement of the people affected by the changes.
The management of towns and cities in Zimbabwe should incorporate various stakeholders apart from the local governance and city fathers to ensure smooth urbanisation and change management system of the government inherited from the colonial era.
Harare City Council’s poor management is a result of the blame game between the ruling Zanu PF and the opposition MDC Alliance.
In most cases, the Zanu PF government has been giving a dark image of how MDC-A ran the city.
On the other hand, the MDC A usually accused Zanu PF of centralising financial issues, which makes it difficult for them to run the city. It’s a game of politics.
Towns and cities should operate through elected or appointed local government leaders, who have the mandates to provide and manage social and physical infrastructure services.
However, in Zimbabwe “the powers that be” have the prerogative to decide on how to operate the towns and cities.
Poor service delivery in Harare is not only due to few resources that can hardly meet the demands of the growing population, but the political environment is a threat to change management.
There have been calls to lobby for improved urban management and building up capacities at local and national levels as a strategy to reduce the impacts of urbanisation.
Some engineers say that urban management must be a paradigm that represents a shift from master plans to a much more dynamic process of managing urban culture.
Of course, there are experts who are responsible with city planning and designing maps to curb the challenges faced due to urbanisation.
But the main challenge is who gives orders?
If urbanisation and change management is not considered as a priority then how can Harare achieve a world class city status by 2025?
How is that possible with the current situation on water and sanitation?
Urban management should address land problems, environment, infrastructure, poverty among other issues.
It is difficult to reduce rural-urban migration in a country where rural development is at its lowest levels.
Urban management is operated on the basis of various institutions like health and city council which have responsibility for providing and maintaining services.
These departments or institutions are usually linked to the operations of those central government ministries with responsibility for managing cities.
Some have said that all these models form a top-down approach to managing systems.
With the growing population in urban areas and bad governance, Zimbabwe will continue facing challenges related to urbanisation.
A lot of initiatives have been done, but still Zimbabwe’s cities and towns continue to lack proper management systems to deal with the challenges of urban development.
Critical issues such as devolution have been singled out as major threats to urban management, but without clear understanding and knowledge of the political dynamics in Zimbabwe.
It looks like almost everything related to development is politicised.
For this reason, there are small changes and initiatives that take place at local municipal and city levels.
The political environment in Zimbabwe and the urban management experience can exhibit that some notable changes and developments such as construction of the Mbuya Nehanda statue can occur in terms of who manages the cities and what objects are being managed.
Within the areas already provided with services there is a maintenance crisis – potholes in the roads, broken water pipes, lack of garbage collection services, and a general lack of investment in infrastructure.
I think the source of these problems is the government’s policy framework that has not allowed significant resource flows to the local authorities and has not provided local autonomy for revenue generation.
It is important that urban management, like economic management, be viewed first and foremost as the management of scarce resources in ways that can help deal with the impact of urbanisation.
The urban management should,therefore, have a significant economic and business orientation.
We need management processes that can shift focus away from central government to local government.
This can undermine the traditional top-down approach system and strengthen the role of democratically elected authorities and civil society generally.
It will mean that those elected to manage the cities are fully empowered and capacitated enough to take responsibility for their actions and should have the freedom to appoint good managers.
- Evans Mathanda is a journalist and development practitioner who writes in his personal capacity. For feedback email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0719770038 and Twitter @EvansMathanda19