Capacity building in a hostile environment: The case of Zimbabwe's Rural District Councils

David Mandiyanike


The paper examines capacity building in Zimbabwe’s Rural District Councils (RDCs) from 1994 to 2001 and the resultant erosion of capacity during Zimbabwe’s protracted political and economic crisis that followed. It is prudent to ask whether there was ‘capacity building’ or ‘capacity erosion’. The paper establishes that the capacity building was piecemeal and that there was no genuine desire to build capacity, but that Councils embarked on these programmes to access the funding that came with the programmes. In some cases, the design of the Rural District Councils’ Capacity Building Programme (RDCCBP) was too rigid, derailed by the central government’s half-hearted attempts towards decentralisation, and failed to allow RDCs to learn-by-doing. Because of Zimbabwe’s politico-economic crisis, national level politicians were peremptory in their demands for better RDC results and an opportunity to learn was lost. The plethora of other rural development projects coupled with the project-based approach of the RDCCBP condemned capacity building efforts to the rigidities of projects and programmes, yet capacity building is better perceived as a continuous process with experiential learning. The paper concludes by arguing that capacity building efforts in RDCs were largely unsuccessful, and were derailed by the ‘Zimbabwe crisis’; the result can only be described as ‘capacity building that never was’. Internal efforts by RDCs to build their own capacity are more sustainable than efforts prompted by the ‘carrot and stick’ approach of external actors, such as central government (in a bid to ‘hive off’ responsibilities) and funding agencies.

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