Decentralisation and community participation for development in Muchinga and northern provinces of Zambia.

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Silomba, Sastone
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The University of Zambia
I had to change the direction of my study from focusing exclusively on decentralisation and forms of decentralisation to decentralised community participation in Muchinga and Northern provinces of Zambia. The change of study focus was because several scholars have written on decentralisation and forms of decentralisation without curiously undertaking a study on decentralised community participation in specific regions. This study relied on the ladder of citizen participation theory in the analysis of findings employing mostly qualitative methodology by engaging participants to review their real-life experiences and feelings. In that way, it enabled community members and key informants to tell their own stories about community participation for development thereby facilitating the understanding and appreciating the study objectives on the nature and extent of community participation within the context of decentralisation in Zambia since independence. It has been discovered that in 1964 just after Zambia’s independence, government’s provision of public services to citizens was very impressive because the economy at that time was very good. However, after 1970s, considerable decline in service delivery by the central government became prominent giving rise to declines in the living standards of most of the people and as such, citizens exerted pressure on the state with demands for increased provision of social services. To address the challenges being faced by communities in both urban and rural areas regarding shortfalls in infrastructure, economic and social service provision, government devised institutionalised community participatory structural mechanisms at local service delivery levels. The study results however, have shown that, despite the creation of institutionalised participatory structures in communities since independence, community members have not actively participated in decentralised community development activities because the linkages and mechanisms to participate are fragmented and not very clear to the users and public at large. The unclear structural provision and guidelines on local participatory framework has resulted into citizens and authorities failing to gain the legitimacy which should be enjoyed at community level. The local governance structures lack integrated mechanisms coupled with a strong overarching legacy of centralisation affecting institutions and a conservative mind-sets at all levels which are not useful platforms for community members to champion local development agenda. Citizens have a poor image of poor service delivery by local authorities rendering decentralisation reform and outcomes not immediately visible to most actors. Although community members have traditionally provided some support to community programmes, there is little control and influence over local planning for enhanced community participation. And as such, the decentralised community participatory process does not characterise effective community engagement because of poor collaboration and coordination among stakeholders. Among others, the evolution of a participatory process is blemished by lack of appropriate legal continuity and poorly coordinated community structural participatory mechanisms. The study results however, have shown that, when political will exist, it is possible to extend local participation beyond its traditional levels. Under present circumstances, where local participation is promoted by central government or local authorities, it is difficult to establish whether this type of participation has effectively met decentralisation objectives and the mechanisms which in principle should be that of promoting community participation. Community participation results have indicated massive political manipulation hampering effective community participation thereby creating a poorly coordinated community participatory process because the centre occupies the driving force. In this situation, much of decentralised community participatory failure has been due to lack of associating citizens to decentralisation reforms as well as the failure by central government to quickly devolve both human and fiscal resources to the lower level structures. There is need to devise a comprehensive approach to compel communities to participate in local development activities and reduce the dependence of community members to government for service provision. It is also imperative to thwart the forces working against meaningful community participation in development efforts. In this context, the political landscape on the matter is necessary as resource providers because the mechanisms of decentralisation have to be implemented by a way of recognising citizens as custodian of local development. Local participation and democracy can be better served if a link exists between community members and central government.
Thesis of Doctor of Philosophy in Public Administration