In Africa, as in the rest of the world, elections have been held and endorsed, but in the bulk of the cases, they haven’t produced good governments and/or good leaderships. That narrative is all too familiar in Zimbabwe and that is a fairly solid reason for guarded optimism as the country goes for elections tomorrow.
WITH TAWANDA MAJONI
No doubt, key African observer missions that include Sadc, the AU and Comesa will endorse the polls as free, fair and credible. European observers might have a problem with the “fair” part of the benchmarks considering the litany of complaints that the opposition has presented on the eve of the general elections, but they will still pass them as free and credible. So will the USA, the Commonwealth and other observers from the rest of the world.
This is because the administration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa that pushed Robert Mugabe out last November has been pretty smart with the optics and sounds. It recalled the soldiers from the villages and replaced them with military intelligence operatives who are fairly invisible and not intimidating voters in an obvious way. It’s playing the peace song wherever there is an audience. It invited a whole gamut of international observers. There is little election-oriented violence — verbal or physical — and, for a measure, the ruling party is almost hoarse promising free and fair elections.
The mere fact that all these things are happening after Mugabe’s four decades of hell is a wee too sexy to resist. So, whatever contestations there are — sensible or petty — will be conveniently acknowledged, but shoved away. After all, the international community feels that Zimbabwe must move forward, whatever the perceptions around the election outcomes. If they endorsed the Kenyan elections late last year with all those cases of violence and loud protests against that country’s electoral commission and alleged rigging, the observers will be too keen to roll out the red carpet for the Zimbabwean polls.
That is settled. The question, though, is: Will Zimbabweans get a good leader — and therefore a good government — out of the elections? It’s unlikely that the first round of polls will produce an outright presidential poll winner. If we go for a run-off, Mnangagwa or Nelson Chamisa will win. Forget about the rest of the 23 candidates. They are just making the numbers for one reason or another. That means that either Mnangagwa or Chamisa will be our president by September after the run-off. But then, what kind of leadership will either of the two bring us? They must be assessed in terms of their private and political personalities.
Chamisa first. No doubt this young man has lots of charisma. He can woo crowds with his above-average oratory and clever turns of phrase if rhetoric is what you need for a good leader. He is intelligent too. Chamisa is indisputably brave and he stuck it out in the trenches when his age mates like Tafadzwa Musekiwa decided to skip the border to sell curios in the UK for failing to withstand the political heat in the early 2000s.
And he is such a deferring character you would almost get convinced that he is pleasant too. He refers to every male journalist as “mukoma (big brother) and calls them by their names. Well, at least he used to do that before he managed to get influential people in MDC-T to endorse him as the party president after Morgan Tsvangirai’s death earlier this year. He is young and energetic and is at speed with current trends and expectations. He has been relatively accessible to people too.
Politically, Chamisa is a shrewd and strategic schemer. He knows where to be, what to do and what to say if that will get things working for him. When Tendai Biti and his sympathisers decided to pull out of MDC-T in early 2014 after the devastating loss to Zanu PF in 2013, the rebels thought they were singing from the same hymn book with him and would go together. But he sneaked out of the bus and sped back to Tsvangirai because he knew that was where real power resided. Even when Tsvangirai tried to sideline him at the 2014 congress, he hung around. Besides, he has demonstrated the capacity to mobilise people to his cause by getting the party endorsement to lead it, making him somewhat a strong leader with sufficient clout. That is necessary in any president of a country.
But Chamisa has numerous shades of darkness to his personal and political personalities. It seems he is not entirely an honest person, nor does he appear to be principled enough. One big speck in him is the apparent past relationship with ex-president Mugabe. A former manager at Mugabe’s Gushungo Holdings who is also my homeboy, wields the real story about Chamisa’s alleged business links with Mugabe. I heard several years ago that Chamisa was providing transport services to Gushungo Holdings, but have not been able to independently verify that. This would be disturbing if true. You can’t be fighting Mugabe during daylight and doing business with him at night. That is taking your supporters for a ride. For a measure, he was part of the team of lawyers that argued a case not long ago that resulted in thousands of people losing their jobs.
And there also seems to be the largely untold story regarding the circumstances surrounding the near tragic assault on Chamisa at the then Harare International Airport where he was left for dead in early 2007 on his way to an EU conference in Brussels. Was he beaten up by Zanu PF thugs or state agents as was widely reported then? Or maybe he was assaulted by hired thugs sent by a prominent Zanu PF member with whom he had misunderstandings over a botched business deal? The point is, while this sounds speculative, there is always substance in perceptions that come out of certain happenings.
Does Chamisa pass as a good political leader despite his shrewdness? Maybe not. There is a pronounced tag of violence around him. When Tsvangirai passed on, there was a lot of talk about how he sent thugs called the Vanguard to beat up Thokozani Khupe and call her a prostitute. In 2013, he was the MDC-T national organiser and there were also reports from his internal critics of how he unleashed his alleged militia to beat up party opponents and manipulate primary elections. Zimbabwe has had enough of violence and violent leaders.
At times, the young politician has a wild tongue too. He has promised to send all the Chinese packing and, recently, just came short of telling the team of Elders that came to Zimbabwe off by vowing to use streets methods to protest instead of going to the courts. He may have a good point because our courts are not entirely impartial, but in the politics of diplomacy and international relations, you lose key friends if you don’t know when and where to say certain things.
Will Chamisa be able to make the centre of governance hold if he wins? As it currently stands, his main, if not exclusive, preoc cupation is to get into power.
It doesn’t look like he has a party after MDC-T went to Khupe. Nor has he bothered building enduring power structures or internal party structures. All we know is that he is always flanked by his erstwhile bosses in MDC, namely Welshman Ncube and Biti, plus a few inconsequential hangers-on. That can be a source of turbulence in the post-election period because he will struggle to compose a Cabinet and ensure political stability in the executive. He also doesn’t seem to have a strong strategy to manage the power infrastructure in the form of the civil bureaucracy, particularly the security sector and government departments which pose a real risk to sabotage him.
What about Mnangagwa? When it comes to his private personality, he passes as a good contrast to Chamisa. We have grown to know him as a reclusive and enigmatic individual. That earned him an unflattering monicker — The Crocodile — despite the fact that he wears an enticing albeit misleading smile and describes himself as soft as wool. For decades, Mnangagwa was not a big favourite with the media because of his inaccessibility. He also managed to gag the media from reporting on a court case in which he was linked to corruption several years ago. He seems to have rechristened himself after the November coup, inviting prominent journalists to his office and even holding meetings with vendors. It’s not clear if he is fooling a lot of people with those antics though.
A withdrawn person is not a good leader because he or she invariably fails to associate with the people. We saw enough of that in Mugabe. In fact, most dictators that history has chronicled have tended to have weird and unpredictable personalities. It’s possible that Mnangagwa is just putting on a mask to legitimise his leadership, to lapse back into his old self after the elections and he has won. But it’s also possible that he has genuinely transformed and, after all, might not have a choice, but to transform for the better because he wants to leave a legacy that he changed things for the better after decades in the biblical Egypt.
Mnangagwa is intelligent, too, even though he may not be as sharp as Chamisa or as quick a speaker as his rival. But people don’t eat good oratory skills. In fact, the opposite is often true. We had enough of a smooth speaker in Mugabe, but were left with nothing to show for that. Hitler was a good orator too, but hardly the kind of person this world would ever want to rise back from the dead. ED is a man of legendary patience and is a shrewd schemer too. He thinks through things and doesn’t act on the moment. That patience and calculated approach may be handy for a leader who must take Zimbabwe out of a protracted political, economic and social mess.
Mnangagwa has a dark past when it comes to good corporate governance. He has been linked to quite a number of corruption cases by the United Nations and others. Since taking over from Mugabe, he has dismally failed to fight corruption despite his repeated vows. Perception is against him in that regard, as he can still let corruption prosper and take the economy further down with it.
That aside, ED can still make the economy tick. He might have a poor human rights record having been part of Mugabe’s government for close to 40 years, but more often than not, the world doesn’t care that much for as long as the politics of the economy is well set. Clearly, many investors are waiting on the fence for the elections to run through and they are ready to invest heavily. ED has managed to woo quite a number of rich investors, some of who have already thrown caution to the wind and put in their money. More are likely to come. That constitutes the biggest enticement for ED because sometimes we forget about people’s history if they can bring food to the table.
If he doesn’t relapse into the Mugabe mode and continues with democratisation that has presented perhaps the most peaceful and political stability in a long time, Mnangagwa may turn out to be a somewhat good leader after all.
l Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org