It’s that insane political season again and soon, strange creatures shall roam our midst.
It is the ninth time citizens of Zimbabwe will face their right and use their power to choose their leaders and place their faith and fate and their lives once more in the hands of strange fellows…an unknown quantity of president, strange makers of our law, parliamentarians and gangs of local authority councillors that will perchance bless or further curse our messed-up lives for another five years.
The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same.
For the ninth time, the build-up to the elections is eventful and buzzy, but significantly devoid of any fruitful dialogue or interrogation of policy and policy options, of party strategic unique selling propositions or indeed of candidate stature and quality or the genetic fitness-for-purpose of those purporting to lead our lives.
For the ninth time, the countdown to ballot day offers anxious, but decidedly disengaged citizens a menu, not of governance issues or potential solutions, but the usual cocktail of poisoned personality-bashing, demented praise-singing, futile factional profiling and the endemic tribal and ethnic niching that has so long defined our riddled political landscape.
Neither the media, nor civil society, neither the universities nor political pundits seem to be seized, as they should with purposive framing of political discourse — the active provoking and animating of an engaging community dialogue and a purposeful national conversation of where, when, who and how to take our wards and towns, our cities, regions, and the country out of this 40 years of wilderness and quagmire and into a fresh trajectory of hope, inclusive growth and sustainable development.
Rather than guide and funnel our pent-up anger and diverging energies around roadmaps to some compelling national vision in this preamble to a watershed election, the first of nine outside the overwhelming shadow of Robert Mugabe, the opinion leaders are happy with the usual diatribe of political sideshows, fanning the emotive, but futile fires of vengeance, witch-hunts, divisions and dead bones or stampeding to stroke the illegitimate ego of a triumphant junta!
It needs to be acknowledged upfront, that among the biggest sources of our failure as a nation, as cities, as towns and wards, is poor and dysfunctional leadership.
Indeed there are a couple other key chains of causality, but the myriad of manifestations of governance collapse that have become second nature to Zimbabwe…the runaway corruption, poverty and unemployment, economic failure and inequality, moral degeneration, tribalism, patronage and factionalism and the general state of fear, restlessness and uncertainty can be traced back to poor leadership and the blind and careless approach we take to electing the individuals that sit in our decision-making institutions, in wards, in the council chambers, in provinces and in Parliament and government and think or think not for the rest of us and decide policy or no policy on our collective behalf.
Why do you Zimbabweans expect a better country, sound policies, a robust and prosperous economy, wonderful infrastructure and social renewal and all the good things and great life that comes with change and good governance when, continuously, you insist on voting blindly, voting for a faceless party logo… electing into office tribal barons and celebrated hooligans, pure political experiments and proven career looters, absolute clowns, consummately failed leaders and spent geriatrics … and those idle floaters among ourselves who have scant integrity and nothing else to do with their own lives — to lead your provinces, your wards, your councils and the country? Why?
We, the governed, living in the same ravaged communities, lifeless villages and wards, falling into the same potholes and drinking the same dirty water, dying daily in drugless hospitals from the same diseases that, ordinarily, shouldn’t kill a rat — surely must agree to create some common leadership vision and standard barometer guided not by party logo, glowing manifesto, nor ethnic or geographical hailing, but our shared and lived experiences and tribulations and an express collective desire for clear governance and leadership outcomes in our ward and constituency.
At the very minimum, those that hope to lead our communities in the wards, in council and in Parliament must pass the test we, ourselves, set in the following community leadership principles if we, the citizens, are to extract maximum governance value in exchange for our vote:
Our leader must be an exemplary brand — a groomed, grounded and motivated individual of high personal integrity and strong principles.
Future instalments will explore further, but such a principle may be monitored over time by the extent to which a candidate distinguishes themselves, building a leadership brand guided by commitment to a personal routine and demonstrable strategy, exhibiting the qualities of responsible citizenship and a ready “thuma mina” ethic. Their sheer humility, sense of empathy, demonstrable respect for all their approachability and commitment to listen and show bigger ears than a mouth are qualities that should guide us to an effective leader.
Our preferred leader must embrace and readily subject themselves to transparent, participatory processes that enhance downward, public scrutiny and are non-discriminatory — sincerely advancing spaces for the most vulnerable, for women, youth, the elderly and disadvantaged.
Shunning the temptation to extend governance favours to their inner circle of cronies and friends, investing instead in the development of effective, inclusive and participatory structures; patience and unpretentious tolerance for dissent and the “other camp” should be a good leader’s foundation for divergence and community-wide representation.
An effective leader must not be an instigator and rabble rouser.
Rather, they should be an accomplished unifier with skills to manage conflicts and a demonstrable commitment to build bridges and serve all citizens, residents and the ward, constituency, country equally in spite of their religious, gender, political and social allegiances.
An effective leader needs to be perceived by all, always as a potential solution to our inevitable community conflicts, not as part of the community conflicts.
A candidate’s readiness to jump to the corner of the minority, their basic appetite for and grasp of conflict management and conflict resolution methods and mechanisms, their ability to draw the line between their political and the developmental mandates and their commitment to the principle of “collective responsibility” should separate the leadership cream from the commonplace mess.
It is plain wrong that we permit ourselves to be led by people who are ignorant, who place little value to learning and have no clue how to go about solving our challenges.
A good leader is one that is knowledgeable and resourceful.
He/she is familiar with the basic laws and regulatory framework governing our lives in the ward or constituency, but also has an exemplary appetite for learning a continuous research.
There must be evidence of things one knows and ways one understands better than the rest of us — that is derived from their education, their travel and wealth of experience and their distinguished commitment to research — which makes them a potentially good leader.
THE ANVIL continues to explore these basic leadership qualities that should form the minimum requirements our communities in those who wish to offer themselves as leaders of our wards, councils and constituencies as we march towards the ballot for the ninth time in 2018.
l Zifiso Masiye is a strategy and development consultant.
He writes as Balancing Rocks elsewhere on social media