Doing development planning inclusively: Lessons from refugees and asylum-seekers in Zimbabwe
13 October 2021
2030 Agenda and the SDGs
The UN Country Team (UNCT) in Zimbabwe has finalized its UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework — the document that guides how the UN will work with government and partners to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The UN is in an era of reform, and Country Teams the world over are creating forward-looking strategies so that the UN can work most effectively to help all people flourish.
But, truth be told, some of the steps required to create the Cooperation Framework felt like little more than box-checking exercises. It was only once we finalized the Cooperation Framework exercise that the value of the process became clearer.
Here’s what we learned in Zimbabwe.
The 2019 Cooperation Framework guidance states that it is a vehicle to put into practice the notion of ‘leave no one behind.’ The UNCT in Zimbabwe took that to mean we should consult with all stakeholders. So, in true UN fashion, we drafted an outreach strategy to guide these consultations. Target groups for these consultations included the usual suspects: Government, development and donor partners, political parties and CSOs.
However, it was in talking with the groups we identified as being at risk of being left behind, or traditionally left behind, where we gained the greatest insights as to how we can work differently to contribute to transformative change in their lives.
The COVID-19 era has altered the way we interact, with most consultations taking place virtually as the country emerges from the grips of a severe third wave of the pandemic. Hence, we were forced to implement the consultation and outreach strategy in Zoomland. This approach worked relatively well (most of the time) with the well-connected: Senior government officials and technocrats, heads of development cooperation, political directorate and university professors.
Although not without challenges, we were also able to consult virtually with gender advocates, persons with disabilities, trade union leaders, mayors and local government authorities, youth leaders, broadcasters and journalists, people in the cultural and creative industries, people living with HIV, key populations and migrants in the diaspora.
However, when it came to refugees and asylum-seekers, we realized that a virtual consultation just would not cut it. There is only one refugee camp remaining in Zimbabwe. However, efforts to improve internet access in the Tongogara camp, where the vast majority of refugees and asylum-seekers are located, were advanced but incomplete. So, left with little option in our quest for inclusivity, RCO and UNHCR colleagues loaded up a bus one Sunday morning (while strictly adhering to COVID-19 travel protocols) and headed southeast, driving some 400 kilometres to the Tongogara Refugee Camp.
If nothing else, it was a pleasant drive to what may be the most beautiful part of the country.
In many ways, the 72 hours of consultations with refugees on the four pillars of the Cooperation Framework and hearing from them how the UN can make a difference in their lives yielded some valuable lessons.
The first is that vulnerable and marginalized groups are not homogeneous and face different realities and challenges. It is therefore critical that development planning takes the needs of each sub-group into consideration.
Second, people want to be heard and they are also eager to contribute to the solutions to their challenges. They are not to be treated as passive observers. Inclusion sometimes requires the UN to go the extra mile and to meet them where they are.
Third, while access to basic services is important, ensuring equitable and inclusive access and consistent, high-quality services is more impactful.
Fourth, it is urgent to reinforce the humanitarian-development-peace nexus by bridging the divide between short-term assistance and long-term investments in sustainable development and durable solutions, including for those populations considered vulnerable and marginalized, so that they, too, can live a life of dignity and self-reliance. This is why the UNCT has placed resilience-building, ‘building forward better’ and moving from humanitarian assistance to long-term development at the heart of the 2022-2026 Cooperation Framework.
Finally, a lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic: the UN, despite its bureaucratic constraints, is capable of rising to meet the challenges of the day and implement its mandate, even during a pandemic. It was surreal and humbling to meaningfully consult with more than 940 people (including almost 150 refugees and asylum-seekers) over a period of a few months in a country where internet penetration is only 33.4 percent.
Armed with these great insights, we were motivated to finalise the Cooperation Framework that reflects the hopes and aspirations of all the people of Zimbabwe. In the end, embracing the central themes of inclusivity and leaving no one behind in our consultations for the Cooperation Framework proved indispensable.
Look out for the Zimbabwe Cooperation Framework to be released in October 2021.
Written by Mickelle Hughes, Partnership and Development Finance officer, UN in Zimbabwe. Editorial support by Paul VanDeCarr, Development Coordination Office. To learn more about the work taking place in the country, visit: https://zimbabwe.un.org/.