NEXT MOVE: Policy activism within the system

In 2015 the then War Veterans minister Christopher Mutsvangwa claimed that some of President Robert Mugabe’s Cabinet ministers are throwing spanners into his look east policy efforts, leading to its failure.

Evangelical doctors and tribalist bureaucrats exists everywhere in Zimbabwe, my recent review of the treatment of LGBTI people within Zimbabwe’s healthcare system showed me how people’s beliefs determine their conduct as professionals.

Some of that conduct maybe subconscious and subtle however most of the time it is against the law, laid down procedures and ethical standards.

I envied one thing about these people, in their day to day work they can determine the failure or success of a million dollar project, a slight change in their conduct can be the difference between a policy failure or success, and for me it is something to be emulated for the SOCIAL GOOD.

I am not advocating for democracy and social justice activists to do the same, however just like Niccollo Machiavelli I am talking about effective strategies here, I am highlighting a window opportunity for activists within the system to shape policy and produce their desired results without staging an army.

Activists I encountered in the past few years working with civil society organizations were people highly motivated by the conception of democracy and social justice, most of them young people determined to do ANYTHING to make a difference in their country.

Recollecting from my conversatiosns with some of these young people, in 2019 one woman in her late 20s commentingnt on the “military” politics in Zimbabwe suggested that young people who want to leave a mark both in policy and general politics should join the military, using their determination they can grow through ranks and reach a level of impactfull influence, and then they can change what they see as wrong.

I did not understand the logic of joining the oppressive state machinery then, however after two years of conducticting citizen research on the treatment of LGBTI people in the healthcare sector I come to understand how civil servants and low profile bureacracts can make or break public written or unritten policy.

In the past two years I met with people working within the system however driving the system towards the good. I had an impression that these are the activists we have not recognized for years, civil servants who remained failthfull to their job discriptions like Mildred Chiri the Auditor-General, Whistle blowers who have shared COVID-GATE saga documents with journalists and securitocrats who helped expose a morally corrupt vice-president, these activists either driven by self-intrests or not they are effective in solving some of our country’s pressing problems.

Some may not even understand that by just sticking to the dictates of jobs or just by listening to their guts and make a slight adjustmet of how they do their jobs they are positively affecting the lives of many.

These activists risk everything by doing right in a corrupted system. I have met some low level civil servants who demonstrated a guile and cunning, commitment and passion, imagination and vision and a capacity for strategic networking in their pursuit for a better Zimbabwe.

I am talking about a medical doctor working in a public hospital strategically providing specialized care for the LGBTI people in Bulawayo, midwives who shun the practice of mistreating women giving birth and school teachers who enforce anti-bullying mechanisms in their schools.

Theirs are not heroic acts at least in their perspective, they are just doing their work albeit with close attention to issues of their special concern.

I called the doctor in question to understand what drives his work, after a 45 minutes zoom meeting I come to understand that he is not simply technically sophisticated doctor whose background equips him to advance the idea of competency and ethical conduct but he is committed to the social responsibility which comes with his special position as a doctor in a discriminatory environment.

I may not have many examples of these good people I am calling insider activists because bureaucratic work is by its nature discrete however I am sure they are everywhere and they deserve the support and recognition by the outsider activists. My thinking being the need to create deliberate demarcated division of labour between these two types of activists.

Whilst outsider activists are highlighting issues from the margins insider activists can engaged in strategic policy-oriented action which overturn the established policy agenda through small unrecognisable changes in the way they do their jobs.

The number of people who engage with the policy process from its conceiving, formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation is vast hence many entry points for “insider” activists to shape it to their wanting.

Usually the setting of the policy agenda is done by politicians and at this point the finer details and plans of the policy are not thought out. This is a good thing because at this level there are fewer options for activists to influence it however as the policy comes to bureaucrats for development and formulation, civil servants at this level can twerk it to suit social justice requirements.

The policy implementation phase is the one which offers many opportunities for influence by low level civil servants and at this level policies may be killed, adjusted and amplified.

The monitoring and evaluation of policy which often do not happen in Zimbabwe can also be a phase where policy insider activists can justify issues raised as unintended outputs or outcomes.

The policy process interacts with three main structural interests the political aspects, market aspect and public interests. Policies which are easy to influence from the inside are those which are in the public’s interest.

The point I am making here is that new policy ideas are not under anyone’s control, as the policy agenda goes through the process it can be hijacked by social justice forces and produce positive unintended results.

Good intentions, and good ideas, then, are no guarantee of success and so are bad intetions and bad ideas, good forces can alter the course of a policy to good ends for this reason I am calling for insider activists to continue working to push our government towards the good, the better and the best.

About Author /

[ Development Practitioner • IR Postgraduate Student • African • Queer • Anti-Poverty ]

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