In May 2023, the SIVIO Institute in Zimbabwe presented the findings of their survey related to Zimbabwean’s level of satisfaction with government performance. The report aims to influence political campaigns by highlighting key issues that Zimbabweans are not happy about and to shape public electoral decisions. We spoke to Tendai Murisa, Director of the SIVIO Institute, to get his insights into the report and what it would take for Zimbabweans to get the government that they want.
The SIVIO Institute in Zimbabwe is an independent policy think tank that regularly conducts surveys to evaluate public attitudes towards matter of democracy and governance. In May 2023, it published its ‘Citizens’ Perceptions and Expectations’ report that presented the findings of their survey related to Zimbabwean’s level of satisfaction with government performance. The report aims to influence political campaigns by highlighting key issues that Zimbabweans are not happy about and to shape public electoral decisions.
We spoke to Tendai Murisa, Director of the SIVIO Institute, to get his insights into the report and what it would take for Zimbabweans to get the government that they want.
What would you say are the key issues driving this year’s elections?
Surprisingly, the 2023 election has been driven by public issues. The ruling ZANU-PF party challenged the voting public to base their votes on the party’s performance from 2018 to 2023. It has produced provincial reports on their performance around infrastructure development projects, agriculture production and attraction of foreign investors. Citizens’ Coalition for Change – the main opposition party – is also appealing to citizens’ interests in hopes of gaining their votes. They are campaigning on issues such as security of tenure, reliable energy supply, plans to build cities around mining sites, free education, and ease of securing important documents, such as birth certificates and passports. Prior to being banned from participation in the election, presidential candidate Savior Kasukuwere was promising title deeds to urban-based settlers, the repeal of the Patriotic Act and Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Bill, a US$1billion Gukurahundi genocide compensation fund for those who were affected by the government- (military-)-led executions in Matabeleland in the 1980s.
None of these campaign issues are what citizens want. They are looking for a government that can create employment for all, stabilise prices and reduce incidences of corruption.
Has there been progress made on these three key citizen concerns? The government would appear to have failed to deliver on stabilising prices given that Zimbabwe has one of the highest levels of consumer-price inflation in the world.
There definitely are concerns around inflation. It is important to note though that while most transactions in the country are United States Dollar-based, inflation is mostly measured on the basis of the local currency, whose usage is declining. Inflation, however, destabilises the price of goods and this is compounded by government’s low wage model. Civil servants – teachers, nurses, doctors and university lecturers, for example – earn less than the equivalent of US$400 in local currency and a fixed allowance of US$350 a month.
Government has not made any noteworthy progress in creating employment. There have been promises made about job creation related to the opening of mines, such as the new lithium mine 50 kilometres east of Harare. In addition, more local products are being found in retail outlets, which suggests that unused or under-used production lines are starting up again. All of this, however, is not enough to provide what is needed to fill the employment gap. Note though that rural producers are often regarded as unemployed. If they were regarded as self-employed, the employment figures would be much improved.
There has not been enough done to reduce incidences of corruption. Our report, which tracked government’s performance on this indicator from 2018 onwards, provides a score of only 44% related to corruption. Government made four key promises to reduce corruption. It has set up anti-corruption courts in all 10 provinces, trained the judiciary to judge corruption cases, initiated anti-corruption campaigns and made several arrests with several convictions. It seems though that ZANU-PF-related officials are often arrested, granted bail and then never tried. Some, like the former Health Minister, have, however, been fired because of corruption-related allegations. These actions may not be adequate, given the allegations of deep corruption that dominate the media, and which also led to the production of the #GoldMafia documentary series by Al Jazeera. This documentary served to confirm what many had already raised as an issue in the mining sector.
Given the little progress on those priorities, how satisfied are citizens with the government according to your report?
We have noted through our surveys over time that citizens discuss public issues by identifying matters dear to them. Since our 2018 survey, there has been a citizen focus on service delivery (at the local and central levels), job creation, dealing with corruption, economic policy (such as stabilising prices), resuscitating industry and fixing cash shortages. Our 2023 survey indicates that very few citizens rate central government’s performance as high – only 4% of those surveyed. Most (57%) felt that government had performed poorly. The same trend persists at the local level – 4% felt government had performed well and 48% felt they had performed poorly. Only 3% noted that government has improved its performance in highly rated areas, such as resuscitating industry, stabilising prices and providing quality education and healthcare. Most actually noted that government’s service provision has deteriorated. Survey respondents blamed central government’s poor performance primarily on corruption and incompetence.
Does citizens’ dissatisfaction with their elected representatives run across all political parties?
It would appear from the survey that citizens are dissatisfied with their elected representatives, regardless of which party they represent. Most urban local authorities in Zimbabwe are run by the opposition party. Citizens were asked to rate the performance of their local authorities since 2018 – only 4% rated them as high, with an equal number rating them as medium (48%) and low performers (48%). The survey also indicates that most citizens felt that service delivery levels had deteriorated since the last election. Survey respondents were asked whether they were satisfied with the performance of their ward councillor (typically an opposition party member) and 47% felt that their performance was below satisfactory. When asked if they would vote to retain their ward councillor, 33% said no with another 34% undecided.
What is it that the citizens of Zimbabwe are looking for in a government?
We asked citizens to describe the government that they wanted and how they would know that it was performing well. They noted that Zimbabwe would be on a positive trajectory if most people were in well-paying jobs, industries were open and exporting, the price of goods was stable and affordable and that they had access to well-provisioned healthcare services.
Losing faith in the electoral process as well as the change that it could bring could lead to voter apathy. What is needed to ensure that citizens remain engaged in the public space?
Our survey findings show that citizens in Zimbabwe and most of Southern Africa have not given up on the idea of a functional government. While this may sound like a positive, it has also limited the idea of democracy. In Zimbabwe, we have an event-based approach to democracy. Elections are no doubt necessary, but they are not a sufficient condition for democracy. Active citizenship is a critical ingredient. In many instances, active citizenship has also been narrowly framed to suggest or mean holding government accountable and raising awareness on constitutional rights. In both instances, democracy is defined as the act of voting or as an accountability mechanism. In this way, we reduce democracy into a transaction.
Democracy is a culture anchored around balance of power, strong institutions and an effective civil society. It requires citizens to be engaged in solving public problems collectively, and, at times, with the state. The current framework is about giving those elected five years to perform and if they fail, we remove them to bring in others. Yet we know that the majority of the time, the problems that societies and countries face are ‘wicked’ in nature; they are multifaceted, with no clear distinction between symptoms and causes. In many instances, governments cannot resolve these problems on their own without active citizens. A vibrant and inclusive democracy requires active citizens who are engaged in processes of co-production.