Presidential speeches must depict dignity, maturity

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Cyprian Muketiwa Ndawana

BY Cyprian M Ndawana
DEAR President Emmerson Mnangagwa,

Your Excellency, methinks Presidential speeches ought to foster frank ideals of nationhood. They must be Stately, virtuous and conspicuous by wisdom, constitutionality and self-restraint. Essentially, they must depict the dignity and maturity befitting the hallowed office.

Their motivation must predominantly be to influence, inspire or bargain for consensus and shared understanding. They must explicate policies and priorities with sobriety giving expression of national feelings, be they triumphant happiness or sadness in tragedy.

Your Excellency, it is by Presidential speeches that national agendas are set, thereby inspiring citizenry, despite their diversity, to stride forward, even against odds. It was in the face of imminent peril that Winston Churchill delivered one of his famed speeches.

“If we can stand up to Hitler, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward . . . let us, therefore, brace ourselves to our duties and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for another thousand years, men will say, ‘This was their finest hour.”’

Your Excellency, one thing citizenry ought to be particularly attentive to is Presidential speeches. It is my fervent conviction that you will awoke to the verity that proficiency in speech delivery is a requisite attribute. They are the brick and mortar with which the country is built. Their delivery must, of necessity, be scrupulous.

It is imperative, for anyone who aspires to lead others, to strive for cordiality and friendliness through skillful speeches, mindful that winning respect of audiences is a prized goal. A pleasant tonality, even amid disputes, is a reflection the sincerity of the speaker.

Your Excellency, Daniel Webster was forthright about the effectiveness of the power of speech. His conviction: “If all my possessions were taken from me, with the exception of one, I would choose to keep power of speech, for with it I would regain the rest,” is a transcendent verity.

Presidential speeches must be cohesive, bringing citizenry together, regardless of whatever differences. They must be genial, embracing divergence, without denigrating any social group, particularly the opposition. As I see it, that is the hallmark of a leader worthy of belief.

Your Excellency, with all due respect, your speeches are devoid of the expected Presidential Stately poise. They are homely, apparently unable to express with clarity and conviction. Consequently, you struggle to win audience appeal, more so on the international arena.

Methinks, the three honorary doctorate degrees that were conferred on you henceforth, your ascendancy to the Presidency by the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) and two other State universities are basically a label that does not resemble the sample they are sawn on.

Your Excellency, Presidential speeches must be renowned for embodying the oneness of citizenry. They must characterise deeply held national virtues regardless of differences in ethnicity, political or whatever other social groupings people belong to.

Even when speaking at meetings that are comprised of political party faithful, it remains imperative to deliver speeches that are Stately, reasoned and seasoned. It must be observed that being the President is a higher office with stature bigger than that of the party.

The late founding Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda’s speeches were largely all encompassing. His appeal: “One Zambia, One Nation” was an enhancement to all and sundry despite the umpteen tribal groups, each with its own culture. His speeches appealed to them all, evenly.

Your Excellency,  speech delivery ranks among your yet to be developed attributes. As I see it, it is a drawback that is in the same bracket as that of negation of your promises. Given the extent to which Zimbabwe is in economic throes, these two negatives are your inhibitions.

Granted, it is not at all a remission for Presidential speeches to convey disagreements. They occasionally express disapproval with the stance of other groups. That is perfectly normal, given that governance is a marketplace of competing perspectives.

Your Excellency, it is a practical impossibility for everyone to perceive social phenomenon and arrive at the same conclusion as all and sundry. Differences are bound to happen. Yet, it is by their measured responses that set apart Statesmen from the run of the mill.

Actually, it is these differences that enables debate and discussion to flourish. They are the essence of public discourse. If handled humanely, with open hearts, they are an ideal source of generating noble nation building ideas.

They constitute the opportunity to persuasively table one’s ideas, to others. It is an opportunity which progressive minded Presidents handle with tact.  They acknowledge the existence of alternative ideas, while showing respect for holders of the competing views.

Your Excellency, it then becomes a central feature of their speeches to be conciliatory. They do so with no hint of malice towards the opposition. Ultimately, they underscore the rationality of their point of view without any expression or inference of stupidity on the part of the opposition.

There are world leaders whose speeches earned them Statesmanship colours. Their adroit in conversion of opposition into co-operation was awesome. Former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat springs to mind. He initially swore never to shake hands with an Israeli.

“I will never shake the hand of an Israeli as long as they occupy an inch of Arab soil. Never, never, never,” he declared. His audience responded chanting: “Never, never, never.” But, on reflection, he unprecedentedly negotiated a peace agreement, the Camp David Accord.

Your Excellency, the series of Presidential speeches you delivered of late are beneath the dignity of the President. It does not auger well for the country in general and your reputation in particular, that you constantly denigrate the opposition at whatever forum you speak at.

Apparently, you appear oblivious of matching speeches with the occasions. It is self-harming that you curve for yourself a legacy of haranguing adversaries. It goes against the essence of a “listening President” that you constantly verbally assault those who differ with you

Your Excellency, it is disdainful that obituaries at the National Heroes Acre are punctuated with salvos at the opposition. Also, your officiating at boreholes handovers and ground-breaking ceremonies are converted to arenas for taking digs at the opposition.

Yet, the new dispensation owes it to itself to showcase newness by refraining from base Presidential speeches. As I see it, there could be no Stately focus for a State of the Nation speech than your response to the corruption exposed annually by the Auditor-General.

Your Excellency, it is my fervent plea that you heed the transformative insight of Pericles. His presage: “A man who has the knowledge and lacks the power to express it is no better off than if he never had any ideas at all.” This is a panacea for leadership.

  • Cyprian Muketiwa Ndawana is a public speaking coach, motivational speaker, speechwriter and newspaper columnist.