EACH American election cycle produces a phrase or word that either becomes controversial or defines the election.
In 2008, then Senator Barack Obama found himself in the eye of a storm when he criticised his Republican rival for the White House, John McCain’s proposed policies, saying this was akin to putting lipstick on a pig.
The Republicans immediately jumped onto this, accusing Obama of being a sexist, claiming he had made those remarks targeting Sarah Palin, the party’s nominee for the vice presidency, who had previously spoken about applying lipstick to herself.
Never mind the controversy, Obama’s point was that even if you put lipstick on a pig, it was still a pig; in simple terms, what this saying means is that making superficial or cosmetic changes is a futile attempt to disguise the true nature of a product, entity or person.
I was reminded of this saying when I read that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration was stumping just over US$1 million to an American firm to “foster better relations with the United States government”.
This is in addition to the US$500 000 they are paying to another American firm with close links to President Donald Trump’s administration, also to lobby for the removal of sanctions against Zimbabwe.
The first thought that came to my mind was: What are these people smoking?
It is trite to mention that Zimbabwe faces an acute foreign currency shortage and we should be very frugal with all the money we get.
Instead, we are using it on useless ventures that are akin to putting lipstick on a pig.
If I was in Mnangagwa’s inner circle, I would give him simple advice, which any strategist knows; first concentrate on the internal issues, which are in your control before seeking to deal with the external issues that you have little or no influence over.
What lies at the core of Zimbabwe’s problems is that most urbanites, particularly in the commercial centres of Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru and other towns and cities, have little faith in Mnangagwa, his party or administration.
They are sceptical of his capacity to run the country effectively and some suspect that there are too many interest groups that he has to please, and that is holding him back.
Others also think he is old wine in a new bottle or what Evan Mawarire of #ThisFlag said; “same bus, different driver”, hence they have absolutely no faith in him.
Last year’s election results, disputed as they are, are a pointer to the fact that Mnangagwa does not have the support of the majority urbanites in the most important commercial centres, and that is at the heart of his problems.
So, my advice to Mnangagwa is to stop trying to put lipstick on a pig — that US$1,5 million spent on American lobby firms is a royal waste of money.
In recent times, we have also seen an increase of opinion articles on some dodgy European websites, all telling us how good Mnangagwa is and how his administration is just what the doctor ordered.
This is all wasted money and effort, and Mnangagwa would be better advised to realise that charity begins at home and the people that he should be looking to please are Zimbabweans, who are desperately disillusioned by his government.
What Mnangagwa needs to do is win the trust and confidence of Zimbabweans and once he does that, he will see that the effects of the US sanctions would be negligible.
The days of the government of national unity (GNU) are instructive when it comes to this; while former President Robert Mugabe obstinately held on, claiming sanctions were an outstanding issue, this was seen as empty rhetoric, as the country experienced economic growth.
Even the foreign currency black market, that Mnangagwa and his administration are so obsessed with, died away without as much of a whimper because there was a perception and a belief that economic fundamentals were being addressed.
In a nutshell, as much as Mugabe was a nasty piece of work, Zimbabweans had some confidence in the GNU and believed it was working for them.
This is the opposite of what is happening today; faith in Mnangagwa is at an absolute minimum.
Zimbabweans need to know that they can demonstrate without being shot at by soldiers and that when they are shot at, whoever is responsible would be arrested and charged.
They need to have faith that elections are free, fair and transparent. They also need to know that they can openly criticise their President without fear that they would be arrested for saying he has failed.
They need to know that what they deposit in the bank today, they can withdraw tomorrow and not fear that the government will change the currency overnight without as much of a consultation.
They also need to know that they can go to the supermarket to buy bread anytime, or that when they are finished with school, they will find jobs or an environment that promotes entrepreneurship and innovation.
Furthermore, they also need to see that positions in government are based on merit and not proximity to whoever is in charge.
Without this, Mnangagwa can hire all the lobby firms in America, he can have glowing articles written about him by all the dubious websites in Europe, but Zimbabwe’s prospects will not improve. Instead, they will get worse.
Without the confidence and trust of Zimbabweans, particularly the ones in urban centres, who have borne the brunt of Zanu PF’s maladministration, Mnangagwa might as well buy a million tonnes of lipstick for the pig, but it will still be a pig.
Lobbyists can help Mnangagwa sugar-coat the situation in Zimbabwe; they can help with the public relations spin, but without deep political and economic reforms, they cannot mend the broken relationship between the President and the citizens of Zimbabwe.
And that is where Mnangagwa needs to start.
Nqaba Matshazi is AMH head of digital. He writes this in his personal capacity. Feedback firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @nqabamatshazi