The SOCA is an important event in the calendar of any progressive city that seeks to engage its key constituents and build collective understanding of the successes made and challenges they are facing. Given that Mayor Herbert Gomba has hit the one-year mark of his 2018-2023 term, this is a critical time to take stock of the work already achieved and challenges ahead. Mayors and cities have become important players in solving the ‘perilous challenges’ of local and global governance given that the nation-state is increasingly democratically and administratively dysfunctional. Benjamin Barber a prominent scholar of governance in his seminal work, “If Mayors Ruled the World”, cites the, “unique qualities cities worldwide share: pragmatism, civic trust, participation, indifference to borders and sovereignty, and a democratic penchant for networking, creativity, innovation, and cooperation”. They have become political protagonists and important centres of global value chains. But is the City of Harare up to this task? The Mayor presented a long but detailed address signifying both the great work achieved and the challenges that lay ahead.

The title of the Mayors address is, “New Hope: Towards a Smart City” but What hope? and what smart City? is the question that the Mayor sought to unpack. Given the economic and political challenges facing Zimbabwe, it is notable that at the very least the Mayor and his team have kept the City afloat despite massive challenges facing local authorities. His honest engagements and understanding of the problems at hand have been his key weapons. On assuming office the Mayor has been implementing the 100 day plan initiatives which have seen several projects being undertaken key among which have been, performance based contracts for senior management and the appointment of a substantive town clerk after nearly 3 years, audits into land sales and markets which have unearthed serious financial leakages, construction of the Glen Eagle/High Glen traffic circles, improvements in revenue collection to an 68% efficiency, replacement of the old billing system, clearing an 8 months’ salary backlog, City beautification program which is changing the outlook of Harare, completion of the Tariro Hopley Clinic and Kuwadzana library. The Mayor announced much to the celebration by residents that the City will no longer fund its football team; Harare City Football club owing to unsustainable costs. This is a great move and allows the City to streamline its resources and focus on core service delivery issues. Listening to the litany of projects the City is engaged in. There is hope that- Indeed Mayor Gomba and is team are at work to deliver services.

The proposed comprehensive urban renewal program is set to change the City of Harare and already the response by the private sector has been pleasing. Econet Zimbabwe has adopted First street for an urban concept remake as part of the City strides to boost tourism and investment. This has been tied with enterprise reform of council business. The creation and commercialization of City parking is bearing fruit as the entity has already remitted about RTGS 1.3 million in dividends. In its basic form a smart city is one that incorporates information and communication technologies to enhance the quality of its urban services. These technologies are applied in transportation, energy generation, healthcare, buildings, water and public safety. The City is therefore smart when investments into human and social capital, together with ICT infrastructure, leads to sustainable growth and enhances quality of life. There is a lot of work that needs to be done in this direction. The city’s traffic management strategy, solar powered clinics and traffic lights fall into this category. However, the City of Harare could benefit its residents with quality service if they fully embrace technology (smart city) initiatives in its work. For starters, the City loses over 60% of treated water each day due to non-revenue water a problem technology could address. A computerized lease management system will also go a long way in improving revenue collections. The Mayor must nudge council to adopt the full spectrum of technology and smart projects at its disposal to improve service delivery.

But it is not all rosy. There are massive problems facing Harare resulting both from poor policy making to internal organizational issues. The City of Harare faces serious water shortages largely due to high purification costs needed to clean sufficient amounts to cater for the City’s needs at its main source, lake Chivero. The response by the Mayor has been pleasing. For the first time in years the City declared a state of emergency on the water crisis which allows it to mobilise local and international support. The Ministry of Finance responded to this call and allocated RTGS 37,4 million dollar financial bailout. At least RTGS 6,1 million dollars in intergovernmental fiscal transfer has been received to date and being utilized for water projects. The City has procured 9 water bowsers, 5 delivered and 4 under production, to be utilized in areas that do not access water. The short term solution in terms of Council is to procure a mobile modular water treatment as part of its 2020 budget year plans. In the long term, construction of Kunzvi dam is an urgent priority that the national government must invest in.

But there are big challenges that lay ahead. At a global scale these challenges emanate from the reality that the City is not spared by the challenges facing Zimbabwe. The shortage of foreign currency has meant that local authorities are unable to discharge their mandate and provide reliable services. Water services have been hard hit and it seems the problem will continue to expand. In an era of diminished revenue collections and no foreign currency the City must devise new strategies for raising funds. Without these strategies Harare will ground to a halt. The City must plug loses and avoid wasteful expenditure and dealing with corruption must be high on the agenda for the next annual cycle. Land is an important assert of the City. I am aware that the City currently does not have a credible land bank which it can use as part of land sales and leases. This is unacceptable and as recommended by a special committee on land sales in August 2019 Harare, loses millions of dollars each because of illicit land deals. The City must follow up on its un-serviced debts and leases. Currently, the city of Harare has nonperforming leases running into millions of dollars. This is the critical revenue it needs to function and boggles one’s mind why these have not been followed. Some of the challenges require central governmental intervention. The City has proposed a 20% infrastructure development fund to support purchase and maintenance of public infrastructure. This proposal must be tied with the speedy implementation of devolution. Devolution provides several opportunities for local economic development and comprehensive City planning.

In the final analysis, the one year in office by Mayor Gomba and his team has been about laying the groundwork for a working City. There are clear successes as well as challenges. The Mayor is lucky to work with a sober and professional Town Clerk geared towards delivering a service. If City of Harare is to be a successful global city, it must certainly change path. What has taken it here cannot certainly move the City forward. Key decisions in revenue collection, combating corruption and strategy planning and reform of its bureaucracy are needed. So far everything is work in progress.

Mfundo Mlilo is an Urban Planner based in Harare and works with the Zimbabwe Transition Initiatives.