Echoes: Is education the be-all and end-all in politics?


Politics is no easy ride, because people will almost go to any lengths to score points against their opponents. A State leader can easily be blamed for a natural disaster.

In Zimbabwe, Zanu PF leader Robert Mugabe has been overwhelmingly subjected to most of the attacks, some of which border on the personal, but then that goes with the territory.

The greater the power, the greater the scrutiny, the greater the criticism. It isn’t surprising this has been the case because as State President, Mugabe has wielded the most power over the past 31 years and there has been national decline under his watch with crisis after crisis especially over the past 11 years. So naturally he will take most of the flak and much. The buck stops with him.

MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai has also been attacked left, right and centre. Some of the attacks, going back to about 2001, when Tsvangirai started to venture on the international stage, were indeed justified as various diplomatic missions expressed worry that he didn’t appear intellectually attuned to his enhanced role as a major political player, with one report saying he needed “massive hand-holding”.

These reservations have resurfaced in the leaked US diplomatic cables with some of his top lieutenants such as Tendai Biti and Roy Bennett expressing grave concern about his indecisiveness and vacillation.

Bennett described Tsvangirai as one who “does what the last person tells him to do”.Any neutral observer will find that this is largely true and the MDC-T leader has got to face up to his limitations or ignore them at his own political peril. If he doesn’t rectify this one way or the other, his political star will definitely wane.

Last week Welshman Ncube, the leader of the smaller MDC formation, branded Tsvangirai an “uneducated person who has no capacity to deal with the country’s problems”.

Addressing about 100 supporters, Ncube said problems Zimbabwe faced were too complex for an “uneducated” Tsvangirai.

“The people who started the struggle for Zimbabwe’s liberation in 1957 were aware that for them to win over white colonialism they needed an educated leader . . . now Zimbabwe has more complex problems than those of 1957. Business has collapsed, factories ruined and schools have all but collapsed and these require a leadership with vision and capacity, which only this party has, not a teaboy (referring to Tsvangirai),” said Ncube.

Yes, education is essential, but not on its own. Mugabe, a highly educated man, said a few years ago when the country was hurtling towards economic meltdown: “No one could have run this economy better than me.”

Did Ncube stop to think that those responsible for the “more complex problems than those of 1957” are the present-day educated leaders who have chains of degrees?

Does he miss that glaring irony which even the ordinary person sees? By using such disparaging terms, he faces real danger of alienating the common man and woman.

One doesn’t have to be educated to know this is wrong and in bad taste. Before the consummation of the inclusive government in 2009, Mugabe used to routinely label Tsvangirai “chematama” (chubby face) and his deputy Gibson Sibanda as “a mere train driver”.

One doesn’t have to be educated to realise that this is totally unacceptable and uncouth, especially coming from a Head of State.

Does this language really belong to serious politics or it’s more of pub talk?

Once a teaboy doesn’t mean always a teaboy, Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono being an example.

Reference to teaboy is a metaphor of the racist past. It’s most disrespectful to current “teaboys and teagirls” and disastrous as a campaign strategy.

When Mugabe misguidedly said Mbare people “havana mutupo” (are totemless), he sealed the fate of his party in the populous suburb.

So, whoever is advising Ncube on this one is way off tangent.

Is this why Zapu has said the MDC takes an academic approach to politics?

Of course, generalisations are alw
ays dangerous, but there is a common thread among lawyer-politicians across the political divide — from Ncube, to Biti to Zanu PF’s Patrick Chinamasa.

They tend to take legal reasoning and legal argument to the political podium treating the whole country as a courtroom.

More to the point, the same traits that bring lawyers success in the workplace can, and do, militate against them achieving success in politics. While lawyers are technically proficient in making narrow arguments that will benefit their clients in court, it’s a much wider world out there of politics.

If I may paraphrase Susan Daicoff, author of Lawyer, Know Thyself, the same qualities that persuade juries and win cases can also work like acid in politics.

That adversarial, argumentative style works against you if used on the campaign trail.

“To the extent that this conception represents law school experience, it is evidence of an instrumentalist approach to legal learning that explicitly divorces law . . . from its natural combinations with other fields of learning.”

Furthermore, on personality tests, most lawyers score high on the “thinking” scales and low on the “feeling” scales.

In short, a disproportionate number of people who are less emotionally astute gravitate into the legal profession. Ironically, it is this same personality type that creates great lawyers.

But successful leaders don’t just speak to us; they speak for us. Being intelligent and being politically savvy are two different worlds.

Therefore, when one becomes educated, truly educated, not just in possession of a diploma or degree,
he/she will never been the same as that artless, myopic person they were before.

There is a difference between learning from the past and living in it.

Awareness is the first step to successful change. Education in itself does not speak to a person’s intelligence, moral fibre, or compassion, all qualities that each of us would like to see in a leader.

Since there is no actual connection between education and being a good politician (other things like honesty, caring and common sense have more of a connection), there is no reason to over-emphasise any sort of educational requirements.

So education, in the narrow sense, doesn’t have much benefit in politics. What is more important for a politician to succeed is the timeliness of ideas or message and the force of personality.

British statesman Winston Churchill was considered a dunderhead at school. He knew so little bookwise, but accomplished so much.

So where did his greatness come from? He was the right man at the right time. He had natural bravery and personified courage and tenacity in the face of danger.

These simple truths elude the more bookish-minded among us. Critics have said the modern education system only feeds children the simplest knowledge in the most complicated and arduous ways.

“It is a thousand times better to have common sense without education than to have education without common sense,” said American social activist Robert G Ingersoll.