Without manifestos, the election is a shouting contest

Both parties are gallivanting around the country, addressing mega rallies and mobilizing votes from the electorate.

Our election campaigns this year are a cause for concern in many ways. Events like the nullification of the Bulawayo 12 MP candidates by the high court dent the credibility of the election. By the time you are reading this piece, dear reader, the Supreme Court would have sealed their fate. We hope for a positive outcome.

Concerning as this event is, amongst others, my focus this week is on a major campaign issue for both Zanu PF and CCC. The issue is that there are no election issues. The political parties have not framed the issues and their proposals to addressing them.

Both parties are gallivanting around the country, addressing mega rallies and mobilizing votes from the electorate. And both have no manifesto detailing and framing their policy issues and how they will tackle Zimbabwe’s increasingly complex and intractable problems. That we are only 22 days away from polling day and none of the main political parties have launched a manifesto is not only unfortunate but is appalling. This is how low our politics have degenerated.The status quo is an isomorphic mimicry of some carnival Japanese contest which has been a source of derisive humour for this writer.

The ‘oogoe taikai’

There are many bizarre but humorous Japanese contests there like the ‘Crying baby festival’, ‘eat beef and scream competition’. All these are meant to entertain both the participants and the audience. My all-time favourite is the shouting competition called ‘oogoe taikai’ in their language.The rules for the shouting competition are simple:

“We will measure the loudness of your voice. The winner gets a nice prize.You can shout anything, but you need to do it in Japanese.”

This rule book is precisely what our political parties are following. All they have are megaphones and a crowd, sometimes a rented crowd. Sometimes the crowd is recycled from one campaign rally to the next across the country. But that is not the point. The point is that all that seems to matter in this election is the loudness of the candidates’ voices. It doesn’t matter what they shout, as long as they shout in the political language of the voter. And the language has a few intelligible syllables like, ‘pfee’, ‘chete chete’ and some hashtags like ‘God is in it’ , ‘nyika inovakwa nevene vayo’.

Campaign manifestos

There is no comprehensive articulation of policy proposals to tackle the glaring socioeconomic and political hardships that the country faces. All that doesn’t matter. What matters is to rent the biggest crowd, hire the biggest megaphone and deploy your vocal chords to do the trick. If you do that, and you do it well, you win a ‘nice price’.

Only that the nice price in this case are the instruments of power to govern. And this naïve writer though such an important job required a more robust and rigorous discourse anchored on public content. But, it seems the political parties do not seem to want to be bothered by such pestilential voices calling for a policy based campaign. Without manifestos, the election has been reduced to a festival where loudmouths gather for a screaming contest!

You may feel like I am blowing a trivial issue out of proportion, dear reader, but stay with me on this. A manifesto is a sacrosanct document that frames the contents of the social contract between the would-be rulers and the citizens. It frames what the party thinks are critical issues affecting the public, what duty the party will assume if elected, what rights the citizens must have, and how they will be advanced and upheld by the party once elected.

A broad vision, a program of action

For a country in the doldrum of an economic collapse, which has been lingering at the precipice for two decades, the importance of a manifesto cannot be over-emphasized. It outlines a broad vision, a programme of action and lists in specific details,the priorities and policies the party will pursue once elected to govern.

It also shows the ideological standpoint of a party and makes it clear to the voter how it views Zimbabwe’s problems and how it intends to tackle them. This is important in that it gives the public, confidence that the party is in touch with problems confronting Zimbabweans and is alive to the national question of the day. Over and beyond, a manifesto is important for voters as they can use it to hold parties accountable for promises they made during campaigns.

The problem is deeper.

I have problematised the seeming lack of public content in our politics in previous instalments. The apparentdisdain displayed by political parties towards the centrality of a manifesto in any election is indicativeof this deep problem. And the problem with an election campaign that is bereft of public content is that it betrays an entrenched “arrivalist mentality. An arrivalist mentality thrives in an environment wherepolitics has been reduced to spaces for eking a livelihood in the form of a paltry parliamentary or council allowance.

Most politicians are content with meagre material trinkets accompanying their position, and, the pathological see it as a prime spot for corruption and theft as the level of access tends to facilitate. All they look for is to arrive at the feeding trough. Ideas do not matter; policy does not matter. What matters is securing access This is the unmitigated tragedy now manifesting itself in political campaigns that have no policy discourse in the form of manifestos.

But God is in it butdo we have the bricks?

I will not discuss my religious inclinations in this piece. May at some point, may be never. But to reduce a campaign manifesto to one statement, “God is in it” is not only an insult to the intelligence of the electorate but -without purporting to understand the almighty- is unnecessarily burden God with political pursuits of us mere mortals which may not find much importance in the grander scheme of things.

Enough of me dabbling in subject which I’m not an expect of. Let me go back to my comfort zone.

The CCC needs to layout their socioeconomic and political programme articulated in policy proposals clearly framed in a manifesto. “Ngaapinde hake mukomonana” can not be the sole pursuit of the party in these elections. Surely there’s some substantive policy proposals to tackle the national question, to motivate why Nelson Chamisa should be handed the keys to the state house.

Zanu PF is no saint either. All we hear is the slogans like, “brick upon brick”, “nyika inovakwa nevene vayo”, ïlizwe lakhiwa ngabanikazi balo”. A manifesto would do justice to articulate these statements as an expression of well thought out realistic policy proposals. Surely, we need to be confident that thebricks being mentioned everywhere are there. We need to understand where these bricks will come from and what it is that we intend to build with these bricks. That’s what a manifesto would do.

This similar conduct between ZANU PF and CCC has an apt characterisation in the last sentence of George Orwell’s seminal book, Animal Farm. In that last sentence, he captures the scene thus:  "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which”.

How do we know the difference between CCC and ZANU PF proposals in this election if there are no manifestos from both sides. While the two parties are different sides of a coin, one is left with a rude awakening that it is the same coin still!

The sober view

The audacity of main political parties to gallivant around the country addressing rallies without manifestos shows the contempt with which they hold the Zimbabwean public. And Zimbabwean’s are not asking questions. The media and civil society is complicit in the silence.

Regretably as this incident is, the truth is that the 2023 election history will go down as one that was just a shouting contest. And remember the rules; “We will measure the loudness of your voice. The winner gets a nice prize. You can shout anything, but you need to do it in Japanese.”

This is my sober view; I take no prisoners.

  • Ntando Dumani is an independent political analyst. He writes in his personal capacity. Twitter @NtandoDumani


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