Civil society in Zimbabwe, which has traditionally been an avenue for public engagement in the past decades, is now weak and fragmented and needs to bring back a culture of activism which is not driven by financial gains, a research and policy analysis institute has said.
In a report titled Governance, Politics and the Shifting Political Economy in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) also say civil society should acknowledge the changed and changing nature of the Zimbabwean political economy to remain relevant.
“The seeds of weakness in civil society were sown in 2009 at the formation of the inclusive government. Since 2000, the MDC has arguably acted as an interest aggregation and convergence point for civil society. The party’s entry into government with Zanu PF demobilised civil society and the latter could not criticise government, in which one of its key allies was part to,” the report observes.
The report comes at a time when civil society organisations are struggling to survive because of underfunding due to donor fatigue.
Infighting has also become common in civil society, a development which has resulted in some organisations, mainly from Bulawayo, withdrawing their membership from major body organisations such as Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.
According to ZD1, most non-governmental organisations were leaning on the MDC and were negatively affected by the party’s defeat in the 2013 general elections.
The decision by the donor community to engage the government rather than to work through civil society has also affected NGOs.
“The heavy defeat of the opposition in the July 31 2013 election also dealt a significant blow to the programming and activities of civil society which was also banking on change. The challenge was further compounded by the paradigm shift in the donor community with focus devoted to engagement with government and funding priorities directed more to issues of socio-economic rights and livelihoods,” says the report.
“Zimbabwean civil society has since the turn of the millennium concentrated on civil and political rights while paying scant attention to socio-economic rights in their programming. However, the shift in the political economy characterised by the surging informal sector has presented new challenges and the need for a trajectory shift.
“Civil society seems not to have taken stock of the new realities and tailor-made responses and programmes that resonate with the obtaining challenges.”