A NEW political party called Build Zimbabwe Alliance (BZA) recently registered with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).
By Desmond Kumbuka
Nothing unusual about that; historically in Zimbabwe, before any major election, new parties sprout like mushrooms.
And since Zimbabwe is scheduled to hold harmonised elections in 2018, the emergence of a new party on the electoral horizon is hardly news.
But there is something unique about the new political formation – at least that is what BZA founder-president, hitherto United States-based cleric Noah Manyika is telling would-be supporters.
“BZA is no ordinary political party,” he says and adds somewhat despairingly: “as standard political parties in Zimbabwe have destroyed the country and failed to challenge the status quo.”
In many respects, Manyika (54) does not strike one as the usual swashbuckling Johnny-come-lately political maverick firing brick-bats at the status quo and promising heaven on earth to gullible followers.
On the contrary, he is actually quite down-to-earth, pleasant, humble, unassuming – all of that and easy to by-pass on the street because he exudes none of the artificially effected charisma of modern-day evangelists nor is he given to the arrogant bombast that one might associate with political upstarts nowadays.
But once he gets going on his ambitious project to transform the Zimbabwean political landscape into one guided by “accountability, honesty, hard-work, responsible leadership and more principally, Christian values,” he is difficult to ignore.
In a recent one-on-one with Manyika, it was easy to become emotionally imbued by his passion when he started to articulate his vision of how Zimbabwe can overcome its monumental economic and political problems and return to being “the jewel of Africa” that the late Tanzanian liberation icon, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere envisioned nearly four decades ago.
Much more intriguing is the disarmingly simplistic way he defines the challenges facing Zimbabwe and the whole process of transforming what many consider a decidedly lost cause.
“Principled, accountable leadership are the hallmark of the BZA; with the voice and role of the citizen, we can overcome any of our problems.
“With one of the highest literacy rates in Africa, BZA believes it is the citizens that will rebuild Zimbabwe. The citizens just require support and the necessary skills, policies, and leadership within relevant structures, to succeed,” he says.
Stopping short of stating categorically whether BZA is prepared to be part of the much-touted coalition with other existing political formations, Manyika says BZA “will join forces with every existing and new citizen and political movement that desires to work towards building Zimbabwe”.
“Only a true alliance of like-minded citizens will bring about the change that Zimbabweans so desperately desire,” he says.
However, starting from the premise that no one knows who Manyika is and many may say he is not even a politician – but a church pastor – and, therefore, lacking the gravitas to navigate the inherently inhospitable terrain of Zimbabwean politics, he seems unfazed by the enormity of the credibility challenge he faces.
“I think first and foremost – the critical thing is that I am a citizen of this country. Many a time we are discouraged to participate in the affairs of our country because, we are told we have to be politicians or members of some elite organisation or political party.
“I think as a citizen I am entitled to take a position where I feel I can contribute to building the country for the good of all of us its citizens” he says.
Challenged with the fact that his social media campaign as the Build Zimbabwe Movement which went viral from his base in the US sometime last year, may not necessarily convince Zimbabweans at home of his political pedigree, to claim leadership of a credible opposition party in Zimbabwe, Manyika dismisses popularity as essentially “not counting for anything.”
He is contemptuously dismissive of populist politics.
“Political popularity has so far failed to resolve the country’s problems,” Manyika said.
“Popularity will not bring investors back in the country. I actually think the popularity of the president has been overstated,” he says.
“The president is supposed to be the manager of a functioning system that delivers on its mandate to the people.
“It is the citizens that must judge from the work that we do as leaders whether we deserve to hold those leadership positions or not,” he says.
Born in Shurugwi in 1962 where his parents worked as school teachers, Manyika is the son of veteran educationist and diplomat Kennedy Manyika – a founding member of Zanu, the forerunner to Zanu PF, who shared with his late brother, liberation war stalwart and national hero Robson Manyika “a vision for a free and prosperous nation”.
But can BZA survive and succeed in a poisoned political environment in which long-established but struggling perennial electoral underdogs, MDC and its various offshoots have failed, Manyika is confident his party’s “radically different” approach to mass mobilisation will make the difference.
He speaks passionately of his pet Project 210 Plus (P210+), which he elaborates as a coaching programme targeting BZA candidates for political offices.
Manyika says while “candidate -programmes” of other “conventional” political parties in Zimbabwe traditionally focus on the campaign period and how to secure votes and positions in government, BZA’s P210+ “aims to ensure that leaders taking office will effectively deliver and will be agents in rebuilding Zimbabwe”.
“Every candidate under BZA in 2018 and beyond must complete P210+ training and commit to servant leadership of the highest level,” he says.
The P210+ curriculum includes the Constitution, human rights and the rule of law, integrity and accountability models, effective leadership, strategic planning and execution.
According to the party’s introductory brief, for the 2018 elections, BZA will train and support 210 candidates to compete for every parliamentary seat.
BZA will also train and support councillors to compete for ward representation seats.
A Fulbright scholar and graduate of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington DC, and of the Stefan Gheorghiu Academy in Bucharest, Romania, Manyika says he has, in recent months, been on a whirlwind tour of the region and all the country’s provinces meeting with prominent Zimbabweans to drum up support for his party.
His biography describes him as a foreign policy, international business diplomacy, communications and community development expert who has pioneered several social and community initiatives in the past 20 years in Zimbabwe and the United States of America.
Manyika has served on a variety of local, regional, and international boards and was a key advisor to the Organ for National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration during the Zimbabwe government of national unity (2009-2013). He is credited with helping the organ to design programmes to support peace building in the country.
BZA has also established cells in places where there is concentrations of exiled Zimbabweans like South Africa, the United Kingdom, USA, Australia, Europe as part of a concerted membership drive.