Sometime this week, the traditional media and other publications reported on the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOU) between City of Harare and Clean City, a subsidiary of Cassava Smartech.
According to the reports, the two organisations will jointly work in improving service delivery in Harare from refuse collections, repair and maintenance of City of Harare refuse trucks, clearing of illegal dumpsites to joint waste management awareness campaigns, among other initiatives.
Whilst I should admit that I am one person who is not quickly persuaded by press articles alone without seeing tangible results on the ground, it is a fact, even to the admission of City of Harare, that the City is battling with a number of challenges at the moment.
The situation has resulted in residents having to contend with pitiable service delivery, from inconsistent refuse collections and the resultant mounting of illegal dumpsites, scarcity of clean water due to shortages of water treatment chemicals as well and dilapidated infrastructure, not mentioning some suburbs that have not had tap water for decades.
Therefore, when I read about the strategic partnership between City of Harare and Clean City, for me it was not only a landmark but also a refreshing development for a number of reasons.
Firstly, I commend the current crop of Harare City Councillors led by Mayor Cllr Hebert Gomba for their vision in tapping into vast and underutilised opportunities in Private Public Partnerships (PPPs).
Across the global markets, Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) are being embraced in transforming municipalities into world class smart and sustainable cities. Rwanda’s Kigali, for instance, has developed some of the best water projects in sub-Saharan Africa using a Private Public Partnership (PPP) model. In Kenya, PPPs are widely becoming modes of service delivery with Nairobi experiencing enhanced service delivery brought about by radical improvements in infrastructure networks.
Coming back home, no one wants to see a repeat of the sad era in 2008–2009 when Zimbabwe was plunged with the cholera epidemic which saw more than 98,000 cases being reported and caused more than 4,000 deaths, and more recently, the 2018 cholera outbreak in Harare when more than 8 000 cases were reported and more with more than 50 deaths reported.
I believe that avoiding these “cholera time bombs” is among the major driving factors in the minds of City fathers as they battle to avoid another repeat of the above unfortunate eras through improving water system and poor waste management. Following his appointment at the helm of the country’s biggest urban area, Mayor Cllr Hebert Gomba promised to transform the capital city during his tenure and we are witnessing the initiatives being taken, step-by step.
In the recent past we have seen City of Harare partnering with various players in the private sector including its recent partnership with a BancABC where the latter would assist the Council in funding the acquisition of refuse trucks and water reticulation treatment among others. This indeed is commendable.
However, what makes the City of Harare and Clean City MOU partnership unique, from what I read is the way it is structured. It appears it is not a ‘silo’ arrangement (do this and we will do this) but the two entities will literally co-execute services delivery in a 360 degree perspective.
However, from discussions with my close circles, this whole arrangement between City of Harare and Clean City raises a number of pertinent questions which need to be clarified and ironed out by both City of Harare and Clean City if it is to be sustainable. These issues include, but not limited to fears of double billing, billing structure, affordability, how the City of Harare chose Clean City as a partner vis-à-vis tender procedures and sustainability and impact of the partnership in the medium to long term.
These questions, as one of my colleagues described, are genuine taking into consideration possible fears of the ‘financially muscled’ Econet linked company monopolising service delivery in the local authorities’ space.
At the end of the day, I believe that whatever the results this MOU will bring, the most important stakeholder is the customer, who in this case are the residents. In its strict sense, the MOU partnership is for the residents and must aim to meet current service delivery concerns.
My first real and personal encounter with Clean City include my visits to Budiriro where Clean City has set up a Material Recovery Centre at a Shopping Centre. I am so impressed by how Clean City is changing the face of Budiriro and Glenview which were the epicentres of cholera and typhoid in 2018.
Whilst I cannot say the suburbs are now entirely litter free, it is evident that the impact has been noticeable with most of the well-known dumpsites and blocked drains that had become a health hazard having been decommissioned. Anti-litter monitors are also a regular feature in the suburb, as they are regularly deployed to educate the community on dangers of anti-littering.
I also like the fact that Clean City has been working with Ward 43 Councillor in executing its work, even before the MOU.
Whilst the issue of how the tender to Clean City was ‘awarded’ so to speak, in my opinion it bottles down to the rationale and logic behind the partnership. Yes, Cassava Smartech, the parent company for Clean City has the financial muscle but importantly that advantage must be channelled – under mutually agreed terms- towards expanding the little steps we are already seeing in Budiriro and Glenview to greater scale across the whole of Harare. The winner must be Harare residents.
This also includes the most contentious issue inconsistent refuse collections, one of the causes of water borne diseases (cholera and typhoid) that plagued the city in the recent past. Since Clean City’s establishment sometime mid last year, the company has in a big way shown its intent to turn around the City’s fortunes with its refuse trucks visible in some suburbs.
On affordability, it is undebatable that the current economic situation obtaining in the country is difficult with most families surviving from hand-to-mouth. The obligation entirely lies with the City of Harare and Clean City to give residents a reason to pay for the services through consistency and excellence in picking up garbage, both from household and commercial areas.
It is therefore incumbent that both City of Harare and Clean City come up with a pricing model that meets residents’ pockets, whilst at the same time enabling operations to be sustainable. This also includes clarity to residents on fears of being charged twice for refuse collection.
If Clean City is to position itself as a significant player in the local authorities space, it is my opinion that inclusive engagements with Councillors and Residents Associations is key in educating and explaining to the community the rationale behind the partnership right from ward levels. Residents’ fears of double billing is understandable given that currently, city council bills have a line for refuse collections. The truth is, Harare residents have lost trust in City of Harare which for a long time has been forcing residents to religiously pay for services that they do not get particularly refuse collections which sometimes is never executed. This situation is evident from the illegal dumping sites sprouting in most suburbs.
So the new marriage must clarify to residents on the payment modalities and assure them of service delivery going forward. I have no doubt that residents are willing to pay for services where they see value.
Its all systems go and the ball is now in City Council and Clean City court to show us what they are to offer residents. At the same time, residents will also have a role to play in developing a sense of ownership for their city. City of Harare’s 2025 vision to attain world class city status can only come to fruition if all stakeholders come together.