Case Studies

Customary Justice | Zimbabwe – Governance training for traditional leaders


In Zimbabwe, traditional authorities are the custodians of customary law and practice, and represent the crucial interface with the state for most of the population. The social importance of traditional leaders is formally recognised in state law, which empowers chiefs in matters ranging from land disputes to natural resources management and rural family life. The new Zimbabwean Constitution approved in 2013 further reinforces legal pluralism in the country.

In the context of widespread political violence and intimidation in electoral periods in recent years, traditional leaders have been often accused of aligning with and serving the interests of ZANU-PF, in power since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980. Pervasive tensions and violence at the community level lead one NGO, International Rescue Committee (IRC)/Zimbabwe, to initiate a two-year training programme for traditional leaders to remind them of their responsibilities under the law, and the basic standards of professionalism. The project was called Supporting Traditional Leaders and Local Structures to Mitigate Community-level Conflict in Zimbabwe. It was conducted for a period of 24 months between 2012 and 2014, with funding from USAID and carried out in conjunction with the Legal Resources Foundation (LRF).

Entry point

Traditional leaders are strategic agents of change in their communities.  Given the allegations against some traditional leaders, the IRC/LRF project sought to address critical knowledge gaps through a capacity building initiative. The project targeted all leaders at all levels of the traditional chieftaincy system (chiefs, headmen, and village heads) in two rural districts, Mutare and Mutasa, in Manicaland province. Its main objectives were “to prevent violence and to promote positive relationships at the community level, by strengthening traditional leaders’ capacity to perform their role effectively, to make sound decisions, and to resolve conflicts peacefully”.

The activities involved two 3-day training sessions with groups of villages, conducted about three months apart. IRC ran five programs: two groups with village heads only; the other three including community leaders. The sessions were divided into the following six modules: the local government structure in Zimbabwe, leadership and communication, conflict resolution and management, gender and traditional leadership, the district assembly and local leadership and natural resource management. Modules were delivered through lectures, role plays and group discussions.

Lessons identified

The evaluation study, carried out by USAID, focused on two questions: is there a correlation between training and improvements in governance? And are there gains or losses in social peace within the community? The underlying issue is how effective are operations that aim at regulating traditional institutions, as many governments try to do?

Results showed a tangible difference between villages where only the leaders received the training, and villages where other community leaders were part of the trainees. The latter (broader training) was more effective in changing traditional governance in two ways. First, it created an individual within the village who could act as a check on the power of the village head. Second, the community leader was able to inform a larger number of community members of the legal framework governing traditional leaders.

As highlighted by the evaluation study, the main points emphasized by the village heads where extended training was given was that the community leader helped “remind” them of the law, thereby checking their powers, and the community leader effectively disseminated information on the legal framework, especially to groups – such as youth -- over which the village head had limited influence. At the same time, the limits of such activities were also documented on which behavioural measures suggest that traditional leaders didn’t become more consultative or deeply committed to inclusive governance. They “may have become savvier about surrounding themselves with people of similar views, choosing family members and people who do not express critical views to attend meetings.”

The study indicated two things. First, regulation efforts depend on how the regulation is structured; training sessions for village heads by themselves are likely to have little impact, but they have greater impact when other community leaders are involved, since “horizontal pressure” from these and other citizens after the training sessions is necessary for traditional governance to change. In other words, efforts to build the capacity of traditional leaders should also include mechanisms to strengthen accountability. Second, changes in the procedures of traditional institutions may increase inter-group conflict and reduce social trust in communities. Put simply, there may be trade-offs between fostering consultation and maintaining social cohesion.

The study also cautions against a narrow consideration of impact in capacity building projects. Gains in governance transparency imply as well a broader awareness of social tensions and differences in opinions amongst citizens. A careful consideration of power relations within the community, and the potential changes or challenges introduced by capacity building, is needed to avoid creating or exacerbating conflicts. Traditional institutions might become more respectful of good governance, transparency, and consultation, but the inherent policy changes will inevitably create winners and losers in the community.

Selected Resources

case study


Freedom Nyamubaya (1960-2015) : ZPSP and Security Sector Transformation in Zimbabwe

In 2010, Freedom Nyamubaya joined with several other prominent Zimbabwean figures from across the political spectrum to establish the Zimbabwe Peace and Security Trust (ZPST), whose aim is to contribute, through the Zimbabwe Peace and Security Programme (ZPSP), to the effective and sustainable modernisation and transformation of the security sector in Zimbabwe. Freedom passed away last Sunday at her farm in Chinhoyi. In this interview with ISSAT, conducted during a mandate in Harare, she reflects on the challenges to SST. Freedom, a former fighter and frontline commander in the Zimbabwean liberation struggle, was also a well-known author. She brings her personal background into her analysis of crucial issues of legitimacy, sustainability and ownership in SST. The interview was recorded during a recent field mission by ISSAT in Zimbabwe as part of a mandate to document the ZPSP experience through the views of a broad range of stakeholders. As such, this short video by ISSAT is also a tribute to her legacy.


Zimbabwe Peace and Security Programme (ZPSP)

This video is a collation of voices speaking on the Zimbabwe Peace and Security Programme (ZPSP), created under the Zimbabwe Peace and Security Trust (ZPST),  a wholly independent, legal trust established in Zimbabwe. The Trust aims to contribute, through the provision of impartial and professional technical assistance, to effective and sustainable modernisation and transformation of the security sector in order to enhance the democratic governance, security and the national sovereignty of the people of Zimbabwe.

This video is also part of the ISSAT Case Study on the Zimbabwe Peace and Security Programme.


Customary Justice in Zimbabwe

In this interview, Fortune Charumbira, the President Zimbabwe Chief’s Council, introduces the concept of customary justice within the context of Zimbabwe. He highlights the responsibility of the traditional leader to ensure the well-being of the whole community including the food security and the protection and maintenance of the environment. He identifies the players involved in the process of traditional justice and he stresses on the role of the traditional leaders to insure peace and harmony. He explains the role of the customary courts in solving the disputes along with the local formal judicial bodies which were set before the independence under the colonial government. He argues that traditional system of justice is mainly based on negotiation, reconciliation and mediation. He insists on the role of the formal police  and the traditional leaders in the local peace and security process. However, he points that the customary justice presents certain limitations and clashes of paradigm.


Overcoming Violence : Exploring Masculinities, Violence, and Peacebuilding

In a response to women's voices in the field, the Women Peacemakers Program initiated a pilot Training of Trainers (ToT) cycle for 19 male peace activists from 17 different countries in 2009 / 2010, entitled "Overcoming Violence: Exploring Masculinities, Violence, and Peacebuilding".
Upon returning home from that first training block, each of the male participants was linked to a female support person ("ally") from his own region and/or country who supported him in the development and implementation of his follow-up plan.
The ToT focused on the theory and practice of active nonviolence; facilitation and group dynamics; participatory teaching methods; conceptualizing gender and diversity; leadership; women's rights; important international instruments such as United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 1325, 1820, 1888 and 1889; an introduction to and analysis of masculinities; and lobbying and advocacy.

For access to the full video, Overcoming Violence : Exploring Masculinities, Violence, and Peacebuilding, kindly follow the link. 


Solving the Crisis in Zimbabwe: A Conversation with Tendai Biti

Zimbabwe’s current inflation rate of 97.4 percent has raised worries that the country is on the precipice of repeating the economic crisis of 2008. Former Finance Minister Tendai Biti argues that the current crisis is fundamentally political, not economic, and driven by a lack of government legitimacy. 

To watch the full video Solving the Crisis in Zimbabwe: A Conversation with Tendai Biti, kindly follow the link. 


Policy and Research Papers

The Security Sector in Southern Africa

The Security Sector Governance (SSG) Programme of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) conducted baseline studies of the security sector in six Southern African countries, namely Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, as well as the Southern African Development Community’s Organ on Politics, Defence and Security (SADC Organ). The results of this research are reflected in this monograph.


Zimbabwe: Political and Security Challenges to the Transition

This briefing focuses on political party and security issues, as well as South Africa’s mediation. Subsequent reporting will analyse other topics vital to the transition, including
constitutional and legal reform, justice and reconciliation, sanctions policies and security sector reform.


SADC 2014 - 2015: Are South Africa and Zimbabwe shaping the organisation?

This policy brief discusses the chairing of the Southern African development Community (SADC) and its key institutions by South Africa and Zimbabwe, for the duration of their tenure from 2014 to 2015. It highlights the constraints and opportunities of their agenda-setting functions, considers change or continuity in the SADC institution and makes some recommendations on how both countries can shape SADC’s policy responsibilities.

It is argued that the relationships between domestic context, foreign policy organisational structure, leadership and political agency will determine Zimbabwe and South Africa’s performance in SADC in the coming year.

Read the Policy Brief


Zimbabwe: Stranded in Stasis

According to the International Crisis Group, Zimbabwe is floundering, with little sign of meaningful reform and sustainable, broad-based recovery. Governance deficits, political violence, corruption, electoral reform, human rights and rule-of-law violations are deep challenges that must be faced. Therefore, international actors should seek common ground and action that addresses these sensitive political challenges and also promote an inclusive, sustainable economic recovery. Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries – South Africa, in particular – have specific interest in ensuring Zimbabwe recovers its position as a lynchpin of stability and an engine for regional development. To do so, they, the U.S., UK, China, the European Union (EU), African Development Bank (AfDB), World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) should develop an engagement framework that has clear governance, rule-of-law, financial, and economic objectives and enables monitoring and assessment.

Access the full report on Zimbabwe: Stranded in Stasis by following the link. 


Les transitions démocratiques tourmentées des mouvements de libération africains

La récente crise politique au Zimbabwe offre une perspective sur les défis que rencontrent de nombreux pays africains en opérant la transition des structures politiques de leur mouvement de libération fondateur vers d’authentiques démocraties participatives.

Afin d'accéder à l'analyse, Les transitions démocratiques tourmentées des mouvements de libération africains, veuillez suivre le lien.


Zimbabwe: An Opportunity for Reform?

The new presidential administration in Zimbabwe offers an opportunity for much-needed democratic and economic reform after years of stagnation. There are four key areas on which the EU and its member states should focus its support: the security sector, elections, the economy and national reconciliation.

For full access to the article on Zimbabwe: An Opportunity for Reform?, please kindly follow the link. 


Contextualising the SDGs to Leave No One Behind in Health: A Case Study from Zimbabwe

Achieving Agenda 2030 will necessitate adapting the Sustainable Development Goals to the national and community level. Furthermore, given the goals’ commitment to ‘leave no one behind’, the involvement of the communities farthest from achieving the goals is paramount. Contextualising the goals – that is, making them specific and relevant to context – by involving communities is one way to better identify priorities and realistic action plans.

This briefing provides an overview of some of the discourse informing contextualisation, problematises the concept and illustrates one attempt to test an approach through a case study on experience in three of Zimbabwe’s rural districts engaging with SDG3 (‘Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages’). It explores the extent to which collaborative rationality can contribute to contexutalisation, to deliver progress on leaving on one behind, by building understanding between institutions such as the State and local government, businesses, NGOs and communities.

For full access to the Media hub Contextualising the SDGs to Leave No One Behind in Health: A Case Study from Zimbabwe, please kindly follow the link. 


Back to the Future: Legitimising Zimbabwe’s 2018 Elections

Zimbabwe’s next elections are due no later than August 2018 and there has been renewed interest in explaining the remarkable landslide victory of President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party in 2013. Several sources attribute the outcome to the party’s ‘expanded social base’, citing the results of opinion polls conducted in 2013. This report analyses that claim. It suggests an alternative explanation for the extent of ZANU-PF’s 2013 win, and considers the implications for the impending polls.

For full access to the article Back to the Future: Legitimising Zimbabwe’s 2018 Elections, please kindly follow the link. 


Zimbabwe’s ‘Coup’: Infighting and the Primacy of the People

The events in Zimbabwe over the past few days have returned to the conversation an often disregarded stakeholder: the country’s citizens. On November 18, Zimbabweans—both within the country and in the diaspora—took to the streets en masse, with a palpable excitement and of their own accord, to take a public stance. They wanted to communicate to the international community, the African Union (AU), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) that as a people they can no longer be compelled to accept the leadership of President Robert Mugabe.

For full access to the article Zimbabwe’s ‘Coup’: Infighting and the Primacy of the People, please kindly follow the link.  


Zimbabwe: International Donors Should Restart Targeted Finance

The departure of Robert Mugabe provides the international community with an opportunity to use targeted finance in support of the political and economic change that the people of Zimbabwe are calling for.

Over the last decade, Zimbabwe’s economy has halved in size, unemployment has reached 95% and its government has become bankrupt.

The agricultural and manufacturing sectors were the main providers of formal jobs but land reform and indigenisation policies under Mugabe severely weakened business confidence. As levels of investment fell, these sectors shrank and huge rises in unemployment and poverty followed.

For further information and full access to the article  Zimbabwe: International Donors Should Restart Targeted Finance, please kindly follow the link. 


Five Issues to Watch as Zimbabwe’s Transition Unfolds

With the resignation of President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe enters a new political era—setting a course without the only leader the country has known since independence in 1980. However, a change in leadership, especially one not ushered in through competitive elections, is not a guarantee that genuine reform is forthcoming. Such change will require substantive institutional reforms, a challenging task for a political system that has been dominated for so long by one political party.There are five strategic consideration suggested further in the article. 

For full access to the article Five Issues to Watch as Zimbabwe’s Transition Unfolds, please kindly follow the link. 


Zimbabwe: Stranded in Stasis

Zimbabwe is floundering, with little sign of meaningful reform and sustainable, broad-based recovery. Political uncertainty and economic insecurity have worsened; the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) government has consolidated power, as the opposition stumbles, but is consumed by struggles over who will succeed President Robert Mugabe. Upbeat economic projections by international institutions are predicated on government rhetoric about new policy commitments and belief in the country’s potential, but there are growing doubts that ZANU-PF can “walk the talk” of reform. Conditions are likely to deteriorate further due to insolvency, drought and growing food insecurity. Economic constraints have forced Harare to deal with international financial institutions (IFIs) and Western capitals, but to regain the trust of donors, private investors and ordinary citizens, the government must become more accountable, articulate a coherent vision and take actions that go beyond personal, factional and party aggrandisement.

For full access to the article Zimbabwe: Stranded in Stasis, please kindly follow the link. 


Zimbabwe’s Threadbare Theatre of Reform

Zimbabweans are slowly rediscovering the courage to speak out as Zimbabwe’s much-vaunted reform process is consumed by insincerity, slow-burn crisis, and infighting over the succession to 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe.

Complementing growing opposition activity, recent weeks have seen a rash of spirited and well organised protest campaigns, most notably #Tajamuka and #ThisFlag, and a widely observed “stay-away” from work, adding further pressure on a bankrupt government, whose efforts to pilot a much needed recovery look increasingly artificial due to political infighting within the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front. 

For full access to the article Zimbabwe’s Threadbare Theatre of Reform, please kindly follow the link. 


Zimbabwe's reforms: An exercise in credibility - or pretence?

Zimbabwe is again facing major political and economic challenges. Prospects for recovery under the leadership of 92-year-old Robert Mugabe and his chief lieutenants in the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front are looking increasingly bleak. The government has publically committed itself to a reform process that is intended to help reconnect to international channels of credit and investment and an underlying confidence in the country’s potential to bounce back remains. The international community supports these endeavours, but convictions are being tested as headway is stymied by a combination of internal and external exigencies that have exposed the limitations of a political leadership desperate to maintain its hegemony, but clearly running out of options.

For full access to the article Zimbabwe's reforms: An exercise in credibility - or pretence?, please kindly follow the link. 


An Inside Job Zimbabwe: The State, The Security Forces, And A Decade Of Disappearing Diamonds

Global Witness has uncovered new evidence linking Zimbabwe’s state and partisan security forces to a decade of disappearing diamond wealth. ‘An Inside Job’ examines five of the major mining companies that have recently operated in the Marange diamond fields and so continue to hold a stake in its future: Kusena, Anjin, Jinan, Diamond Mining Corporation (DMC), and Mbada. It details the steps companies have taken, in some cases, to conceal their finances, shield their operations from public scrutiny, and hide their ultimate beneficiaries and owners. 

For full access to the report, An Inside Job Zimbabwe: The State, The Security Forces, And A Decade Of Disappearing Diamonds, please follow the link. 


Zimbabwe Transition in a Muddy Terrain: Political Economy Under Military Capture

This report presents the findings of a three-month study across ten provinces of Zimbabwe to capture and ascertain an up-to-date map of the current state of security sector involvement in political and economic affairs in Zimbabwe. It found that security sector involvement in politics and related economics is rooted in the nature of the political terrain that underpinned the independence of Zimbabwe, the brand of politicians who entered the political scene thereafter, and their ideologies, hopes and fears.

For full access to the report, Zimbabwe Transition in a Muddy Terrain: Political Economy Under Military Capture, please kindly follow the link. 


Other Documents

ZPSP - Lessons Identified

Lessons Identified doc

This document contains some twenty lessons identified by the ISSAT mission with the ZPSP, as part of the webpage dedicated to the programme. The lessons are organised broadly on process and on programme management.

This document is part of the ISSAT Case Study on the Zimbabwe Peace and Security Programme (ZPSP)

Other Document

ZPSP - Good Practice

Good Practice doc

This document sums-up good practice identified by the ISSAT mission with the ZPSP, as part of the webpage dedicated to the programme, where you can also access fourteen videos illustrating each of the elements described.

This document is part of the ISSAT Case Study on the Zimbabwe Peace and Security Programme (ZPSP)

Other Document

ZPSP - Narrative Report

Narrative Report doc

This narrative report explores how the ZPSP is fostering change in a context hostile to Security Sector Transformation (SST), and is part of the resources dedicated by ISSAT to the programme.

This document is part of the ISSAT Case Study on the Zimbabwe Peace and Security Programme (ZPSP)

Other Document