The political brouhaha is fast reaching a crescendo, with political parties launching their manifestos pasted with unrealistic promises. I am no longer a fan of those, as they have become nothing but pieces of lies, deceit and betrayal.
By Tapiwa Gomo
If we put together all the manifestos produced in the last 20 years, Zimbabwe today would be a conglomeration of booming towns and cities with the word poverty having vacated our lexicon.
Nonetheless, the campaign season is supposed to be an opportunity for politicians to sell their ideas, but equally an opportunity for the citizens to question their aspiring leaders’ ideas.
Flimsy policy ideas have been allowed to persist because their authors are political untouchables. And questioning their ideas attracts the wrath of their supporters.
One can imagine that once they assume power, criticism would not be allowed during their tenure. This is how our democracy is stunted at birth.
In established democracies, aspiring leaders go through the critical assessment process and defend their ideas through debates and question and answer sessions within their own parties, before they face the nation. Aspiring leaders are not given leadership on a silver platter as is in our case. They work for it. They defend their ideas and their credibility. They justify why they are suitable candidates. Citizens are not afraid to question their aspiring leaders.
That critical assessment continues and becomes tougher and tougher as they represent their parties in national elections. And campaigns are never about personalities, but are tied to ideas. Compare the Chamisa chete chete or #Edhasmyvote taglines with Barrack Obama’s “Yes we can” or Donald Trump’s “Make America great again.”
A campaign is supposed to spell out a vision for the nation and not a person. Neither young age nor old age is a guarantee for success, but ideas and how they are implemented. We have aspiring leaders with great visions, but sadly they don’t attract a lot of attention.
The current campaign season has been characterised by a horrifying parochial stupidity, whose effect is none other than the polarisation of the nation along personality cults and the creation of autocrats.
Shamefully, that stupidity is being perpetrated by none other those citizens who are supporters of some political parties. They are closing every space or opportunity for opposing views and threatening to shut down every critical voice that questions their leaders, that hold them accountable, and that check their seriousness to the cause. They are shutting down democracy.
It cannot be ignorance. We are all alive to the poverty situation in which we find ourselves in and how autocracy destroyed what used to be a promising country.
Political party supporters must, therefore, know that by pursuing the politics of cults and creating autocrats, they are acting in their own worst interest. They are denying the country a chance to democracy and postponing it.
Democracy begins when people can freely engage with and question aspiring leaders. There should never be sacred cows.
Because of that gullibility, we are missing a chance to create servant leadership — leadership that mean what it says and accountable to the people.
The mental slowness to realise this mistake and take action to remedy it is an anomaly we will live to regret. Why have our people fallen to what seems to be a congenital lack of capacity to reason in this moment of great opportunity?
Could it be amnesia caused by nearly four decades of oppression or just stupidity that made some citizens oblivious of the fact that the former President Mugabe became an autocrat because he was never questioned or held accountable from the onset? That made it a criminal offense to criticise or hold him to account. He was the prince, the law and omni-powerful. By the time we tried to rectify the situation, it was too late and the consequences of which the nation still endures today. If, they are protected from criticism now, we might be losing a rare opportunity to tame our leaders.
The forthcoming elections are an opportunity to separate issues from personalities. It is not about betting for a best horse, but bread and butter issues, the requirement of which is a leader who responds to the needs of the people and one who accept criticism.
It is not about ED or Chamisa, neither is it about Zanu PF nor MDC Alliance. It is about correcting the wrongs of the past 38 years — autocracy. It is about creating servant leadership described by Robert K Greenleaf (1970) as a servant first. That person should be different from one who assumes leadership by subverting all democratic and constitutional processes, because of the desire to acquire unusual power.
We want a servant-leader whose thrust is primarily economic growth and the well-being of people. A leader who, when all else fails, he succumbs to the wishes of the people by stepping down than use force to accumulate, exercise and hang on to power.
We want a leader who shares power with the people, puts the needs of others first and helps the nation to develop and prospers.
Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa