- Last Updated on 19 July 2012
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The next elections in Zimbabwe, have been called by some 'watershed elections', while others have called them 'decisive'.
While the above characterisations are correct, in my opinion the next elections, likely to take place within the next calendar year, will be breakthrough elections. Breakthrough, in the sense that they hold the possibilities of changing political epochs and arrangements that will usher in a new value system in the way that our country is governed. The significance of the next elections is higher than the transitional elections of 2008, which facilitated the onset of the transition through some democratic openings and eventually ushered in the Inclusive(transitional) government. They are, in my opinion only second to the founding elections in 1980, which got us into our first republic. Some have argued that it has been lack of leadership or what Nelson Mandela, at the height of the violence in June 2008, called a tragic failure in leadership, that has landed us in the near Hobbesian state of nature where life is short, nasty and brutish. Because the next election will be a breakthrough election, it will also demand breakthrough leadership.
The supreme contest for political power is often considered as ascendency to leadership at the highest level, and in Zimbabwe's case that ascendency is often associated with costs. Costs that position of service to the nation calls to leadership and visioning should not attract. They include but are not limited to the use of political violence, rigging elections, beating people into submission, and at worst extra judicial killings and enforced disappearances.
In the old days, where the best warriors and conquerors led the world, and where barbarism was a rite of passage to rule, that could have been acceptable but in the 21st Century, where political contests are supposed to be contests of ideas and visions as well as hearts and minds of the people, the idea of violent capture of power is conspicuously out of place.
While we have a very thin slate to choose from, with the likelihood being that we will have to choose a President from the current leaders of the main political parties at the moment, we still have to subject even these few candidates to clear demands for breakthrough leadership and a new set of leadership values that are predicated on democracy and inclusivity, while driven by a clear vision and the ability to inspire and influence. Leadership, should address first and foremost an understanding that real leadership is about influence, and that those who aspire to lead us must influence us to do so rather than beat us into doing so. The use of violence as a way of ascending to a political position of leadership, is an archaic way of doing political business that belongs to the past. Force is not an operational word here neither is it a pre requisite to this process. John C. Maxwell in his Irrefutable laws of leadership says that, " To be a leader, a person does not only need to be out front, but needs to also have people INTENTIONALLY coming behind him, following his lead, and acting on his vision €. Breakthrough leadership is about enrolling and engaging rather than conscripting.
The flip side of the leadership as influence equation, is also that people should not just wait for positions in order to lead, because leadership is also not just about positions, but also about the disposition of leadership. As we look to our breakthrough election, those aspiring to lead us should understand that real power will not come from their position of authority or titles but from their authenticity and their ability to relate with the people, including those who will occasionally fight against them. Maxwell adds that, "it is not the position that makes the leader, it's the leader that makes the position €. As such our leaders cannot and should not wait to be Presidents or MP's to lead, we need to be able to see their leadership in practice from stations they occupy within or without the state. The leadership qualities should be discernible at a micro, meso and macro levels.
If those who want to lead cannot be faithful over little, how can we expect them to be faithful over much? Or as Deprose. Muchena, a Zimbabwean born expert on Leadership puts it, € one cannot be a crocodile outside their home, when they are a lizard inside their own homes €. In leadership, nothing proves ones ability to lead others more than what they do every day in their own lives. Unfortunately in Zimbabwe, 'leaders' lives are barricaded in secrecy, and when that veil attempts to be removed it is often met with great repression on those who try. While in cases where we are given access to information on 'leaders' daily lives, it is almost always contrived, either to paint a good image or to taint as part of the bad way in which we practice politics.
One of the challenges that face African leadership generally, especially in young countries like ours is a failure to break with the past, and preaching a sense of entitlement because of the past. The Shona have an apt saying in answer to that 'matakadya kare haanyaradze mwana' (what a child ate yesterday will not keep him or her quiet when he/she is hungry today). This is not to say that records do not matter, they do, and often enough they are what allow us to trust in abilities to deliver in the present and the future, but they are not enough. As we go to a breakthrough election, part of the leadership challenge that faces those aspiring to lead us is their ability to move us, as a people, from seeing our world as it was and as it is, to the world as it should be under their leadership. In other words, without the ability to express a vision for the future, the qualities of anyone who seeks to lead are questionable. Lofty promises of future patronage rewards do not constitute a vision, so this is not an appeal for false promises and platitudes. Breakthrough leadership demands that Leaders be able to present us with a vivid mental picture of where we can be with their leadership and we need to be able to see that they try to live the vision now in their own lives.
With our kind of challenges nothing short of proactive, visionary and inspiring leadership will help us. Zimbabwe needs leaders whose eyes are on the horizon, not just on the near at hand. They are social innovators and change agents, they should see the big picture and think strategically. Morgan Tsvangirai was once chided for dreaming about occupying state house; it made for good political jokes but showed that at least he had the capacity to dream. Martin Luther King Junior had a dream. The war of liberation was won on the basis of a dream for a free country where whites and blacks were equal, it was a powerful vision and dream, dismissed as impossible once, but attained eventually through the efforts of Robert Mugabe and others. Indeed, 'if one cannot dream why should one sleep, and if one cannot pursue their dreams why should you wake up? '.
As we go to our breakthrough election, part of the leadership challenge for aspirants is the extent to which they have the ability to enhance the possibilities of rule by the people for the people. Some Political scientists like Henry David Thoreau have argued that, "it is that government that governs best, which governs least €. These may seem like platitudes that brainwashed dreamers and proponents of democracy spew out, but it is also an integral characteristic of the kind of breakthrough leadership that should be a factor in us choosing who next presides over our key institutions. We need leaders, who understand that they will gain our love, respect and gratitude through not amassing authority by giving it away. Our breakthrough, as a country will come through us realising that we do not need other power hungry despots but leaders who understand that ultimately people want to lead themselves and their lives. The situation that is prevailing now where newscasters and propagandists think they can project power and leadership through constant reminders that President Mugabe, is " the head of state and government, commander in chief of the defence forces € and 'chancellor of all state universities', portrays a picture of one who wants to amass authority instead of sharing it, especially in a country with some of the smartest people in the world. Such situations propagated by examples which musical jingles on state television create opportunities for one of two things, either pure genius or absolute failure. In our case, it seems to have been the later.
The next chapter in our country's history demands breakthrough leadership, leadership that appreciates that people seek to contribute. As such leadership should pay attention to talent and cultivate it through sharing responsibility, power and authority. A country that is led by 1 person and a bunch of acolytes is doomed to fail in spite of the talent of the one leader or his or her vision. As we approach breakthrough moments, we need leaders who facilitate leadership at every level, and appreciate that in as much as success breeds successors, leaders breed leaders, after all one is only as good as the 5 people around them. The time for personal rule or big man politics is as archaic as the notion of leading through physical conquest. Part of our breakthrough and the breakthrough leadership required should be focused on building strong institutions and not promoting strong men.
So as we move towards the breakthrough election, we will need to pay particular attention to leadership aspirants who thrive on inspiration, show wholesome leadership, and visionary leadership. Leadership that works with imagination, insight, and boldness, that which presents a challenge that calls forth the best in people and brings them together around a shared sense of purpose. More self-aware and reflective than others, visionary leaders follow an inner sense of direction, and lead from the inside out, as exemplified by Mahatma Gandhi. He said, "I must first be the change I want to see in my world. € He was a prime example of a commitment to values, as he freed India by appealing to the moral conscience of Britain and using non-violent action. Nelson Mandela clearly held a positive vision of a racially harmonious South Africa during his 28 years in jail and helped bring it into reality peacefully - to the amazement of the world.
We may fail to find such leadership, but if that happens; we can find solace from the fact that leadership is not a function of positions. As such we can try as a people to provide leadership ourselves in our various stations, and hope that the political leaders can follow. After all, one cannot lead, if they cannot follow. If that doesn't work, we can derive strength from what Wael Ghonim, once an ordinary Egyptian, promotes in his book, Revolution 2.0 , that "the power of the people is greater than the people in power € and take responsibility to lead, because at potential breakthrough moments, like the next election, how respond individually and collectively will determine the legacy of our country. With breakthrough opportunities the possibilities of setback are also there, we can choose wisely or act wisely and make 2013 a historic breakthrough year, or poorly and make it just another year of set back as has been previous lost opportunities.