HomeBusiness DigestThe role of civic society in transformative leadership

The role of civic society in transformative leadership

Ronald Zvendiya
Transformative leadership is leadership that brings about positive radical changes. Put in a development context, it is leadership that engenders widespread, demonstrable improvements in peoples’ lives as evidenced by rising incomes, longer life expectancies, comprehensive social safety networks, and universal access to basic services. Transformative leadership is the avenue through which Zimbabwe can tackle the challenges of weak governance, high levels of corruption, and inefficient growth common in most African countries. Achieving transformative leadership is an enormous task, which calls for high level commitment from political, bureaucratic, business, religious, traditional, and civil society leaders.

The African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) published the 2019 Africa Capacity Report (ACR) titled ”Fostering Transformative Leadership for Africa’s Development” covering capacity dimensions of transformative leadership based on 46 African countries.  Among the areas covered in the report  is the civil society which is a social sphere consisting of organised groups and institutions that are independent of the state that plays a key role in bargaining with the government on behalf of the people to address their needs and rights.

ACR 2019 measures and examines capacity concerning the development agenda in African countries and addresses the capacity dimensions of transformational leadership. It looks at the major elements of transformative leadership in Africa, highlighting the leadership capacity gaps concerning achieving sustainable development on the continent, and identifies strategies for addressing them.

According to the Africa Capacity Report, Zimbabwe’s Africa Capacity Index (ACI) stood at 46.1 in 2019, indicating that the country is in the medium capacity bracket when it comes to transformative leadership.

Civil society has contributed to Zimbabwe’s socio-economic development despite multiple obstacles. Dating back to pre-colonial times, organising and mobilising people has been central to advancing the interests of citizens.

Trade unions across large parts of the country marshalled popular forces in the anti-colonial liberation struggle. However, following independence, many of them saw their transformative power turned into transmission belts for the policies of the ruling parties. They gave up fundamental freedoms in exchange for secured statuses, jobs for their members, and privileges for their leaders. The debt crisis in the 1980s and the ensuing push for economic liberalisation led to massive job losses in the formal economy and a strong decline in union membership. As governments introduced labour law reforms, trade unions saw their influence further diminished, putting employees in a more precarious situation.

The rise in political liberation brought about a positive trend. Not only did it reduce the dependency of trade unions on government but it also provided avenues for the emergence of new, independent trade unions. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, trade unions were key in mobilising mass protests and strikes that led to the overthrow of authoritarian regimes and ushered in democratic transitions. They also organised strikes and protests that paved the way for the creation of political space where other social and political groups were able to mount protests and form political coalitions.

Unions continue, with varying degrees of success, to protect the economic and social rights of workers and to be a political force in many countries. The Zimbabwean trade union movement has emerged as an important countervailing force to anti-worker legislation. It has helped secure short-term to medium-term direct benefits for workers and pushed the frontiers of politics and policy in the direction of social transformation for the benefit of people. Unions remain one of the few societal organisations in Zimbabwe with a sizeable constituency, countrywide structures and the potential for mobilising members on social or/and political matters; these elements enable them to play a leading role in both public and political domains in ways that are crucial to the vitality of democracy.

Despite these strengths, some academics and citizens maintain the view that trade unions and their leadership are weak due to internal problems. Some trade union leaders have also been accused of being partisan and co-opted by governments while others are viewed as too keen to strike and shun hard work.

Other members of civil society have also made significant contributions to democratic governance in Zimbabwe. Civil society organisations (CSOs) have improved the environment for meaningful policy engagement. In some parts of Africa, CSOs have fully integrated development policy frameworks and processes that were formerly the exclusive domain of the state. For example, CSOs’ policy influence has been especially pronounced in donor-initiated macro-level policy processes, such as the Structural Adjustment Participatory Review International Network and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers.

Civil society activities have expanded from purely service delivery initiatives to active public policy advocacy work because of global initiatives such as Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, and the sustainable development goals. These platforms encouraged and defined the interface among government, donors, and civil society organisations. They have helped amplify the voice of the public and its demands for accountability in government decision-making. Based on the belief that effective checks on government would prevent the re-emergence of authoritarian rule, CSOs have built a grassroots capacity to scrutinise the exercise of power by local office holders and monitor the performance of individual government bodies, as well as the executive and legislative branches.

Civil society leadership in Zimbabwe is making significant contributions to human development. Zimbabwe’s CSOs have become increasingly innovative in supporting the continent’s transformation of public services, such as health care and education, and in empowering citizens. Civil society leadership is also working actively to secure transparent, peaceful, free, and fair elections in several African countries including Zimbabwe, and has extended democracy-building activities to direct engagement with political parties, especially during elections.

Nonetheless, civil society leadership in Zimbabwe remains at the periphery of policy-making. There has been a lack of consistency in the level of direct involvement in the policy process and organisations that have made significant differences in policy outcomes are more the exception rather than the rule. Most worryingly, consensus between governments and civil society organisations remains elusive even on such basic issues as fiscal prudence, the insulation of key aspects of economic policy from direct political pressure, and the institution of central banks and other independent agencies of restraint.

Based on survey findings by the African Capacity Building Foundation, the 2019 Africa Capacity Report recommends that CSOs take the following steps:

Nurture internal leadership succession through inclusive capacity building involving young people.

Lobby political parties to groom youth for political leadership positions and support them with continuous capacity building when they come to power.

Invest in developing networks among civil society and other forms of leadership and encourage the institutionalisation of mentoring and capacity development for building leadership.

Further, engage in the transformative leadership agenda in Africa by building constructive state-society relations. Civil society leaders should approach political leaders to create a space for constructive engagement and dialogue.

Step up their advocacy role and continue to lobby governments to recognise the needs and rights of disadvantaged groups from women to youth to people with disabilities.

Set up platforms of peer learning that periodically bring together opinion makers in key sectors, leading experts and practitioners, and young people with demonstrable leadership potential to deconstruct complex challenges and find solutions.

Advocate expanding organisations offering training programmes in leadership and refocus them on demand-driven issues.

Promote diversity of leadership by encouraging participation of people of different ages, competencies, and learning habits.

In conclusion, the essential role of capacity development in Zimbabwe and the socio-economic transformation of the country has been reiterated in political statements, strategies, and evaluations. The commitments have however not been translated into widely available and well-developed capacity development models as well as actual financing of capacity development interventions. Thus, transformative capacity remains the critical missing link.

  • Zvendiya is a Research &  Innovation  Analyst  at Insurance &  Pensions Commission (IPEC). — rzvendiya@gmail com. Disclaimer: The opinions expressed  in thi article are solely the  author’s  and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of IPEC or its affiliates. These weekly New Perspectives articles published in the Zimbabwe Independent are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe (CGI Zimbabwe). — kadenge.zes@gmail.com or mobile: +263 772 382 852.

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