Candid Comment: We Desperately Need Leadership

SOUTH Africa’s elderly statesman Nelson Mandela recently commented obliquely that Zimbabwe’s persistent crisis reflected a “tragic failure of leadership”.

 

It is a comment very fertile for abuse when in fact it should provoke serious introspection among those in leadership positions, especially politicians whose actions have a definitive influence on what happens to our country as we have seen in the past 28 years.

Mandela’s comments were opportune given that Zimbabwe is a country at a crossroads between economic recovery and further decline depending on the decisions the political leadership takes at the ongoing talks between Zanu PF and the two MDC formations after the signing of the MoU on July 21. Failure of leadership can mean only a long nightmare for the country.

We have already had our fair share of tragedy in the past decade, and its effect has been to turn ordinary Zimbabweans from sceptics to cynics about politicians.

Many people have commented on the memorandum of understanding signed last week, especially its ability to get the country out of the current morass. The drama started well before the MoU signed.

Was Morgan Tsvangirai going to attend? Once it was confirmed that he was at the Rainbow Towers for the ceremony, the next question was whether he would sign. That phase passed, and anxieties grew about whether he and President Robert Mugabe would shake hands. That is when they did what was unthinkable just a week earlier; a handshake between Mugabe and Tsvangirai. The prophets of Baal who had foretold another grim-faced embarrassment for key mediator, Thabo Mbeki, were inconsolable.

Tsvangirai was saving Mbeki and Mugabe, both of whom should be crucified. Mugabe was being insincere. Why the sudden climb-down to talk directly to a puppet of the British and the Americans? No, all Mugabe wanted was to gain political legitimacy and for the MDC to help him get international financial assistance.

They said Mugabe must be left to stew in own soup for “stealing” the June 27 elections; he should never be rewarded with a peace deal. This would set a bad precedent for other dictators. (Nobody paused to tell us whether Charles Taylor’s extradition to The Hague or Saddam Hussein’s execution had had a salutary effect on other merchants of violence.) Since the signing the emphasis in discourse has changed to cynicism about the success of the talks. The MDC and Zanu PF are seen as poles apart ideologically.

I agree with those in civic society calling for broader representation. It would be a travesty of justice for just six people and their three leaders to come up with what they purport to be a democratic constitution for a whole nation, which is what the two-week deadline for the talks appears to presuppose.

Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah put it succinctly in the Mail & Guardian when she observed that the mediation should have included civil society “because the people who truly need watching over are not mediators (Mbeki) but the politicians”. She warned that politicians were prone to compromise. Regrettably, compromise is a necessary evil in any genuine and balanced negotiation process.

This is where leadership is critical for judgement. What do you compromise on without sacrificing principle? How do you strike a balance between the populist demands of supporters for humiliating conquest and practical realities which move the process forward and limits further damage to the object of dispute — economic recovery? How do you deal with the personal prejudices and insecurities of advisors masquerading as the national interest or the pursuit of social justice and moral obligation?

Supercilious inflexibility by the leaders to impress or spite alien observers can be counterproductive too. I believe leadership is about being able to manage one’s ego at the very zenith of one’s moment of apparent superiority.

Tsvangirai was well able to manifest extraordinary humility when he noted at the signing of the MoU that Zimbabweans need to work together to succeed. Many expected a lot of bluster from him after the “international community” acclaimed him the ultimate victor on the basis of the March 29 elections.

Unfortunately it is the same international community which appears keen to wreck the prospects for an immediate political settlement in Zimbabwe.

“We want a better Zimbabwe,” said Tsvangirai of the talks. “If we put our heads together, I am sure we can find a solution.” That is what every Zimbabwean is praying; a settlement and peace.

Said a senior MDC policy advisor, Eddie Cross, a few days later: “There is absolutely no point in negotiating a deal that is not acceptable to the people with money.”

For money, one can safely substitute might. Cross’s declaration was endorsed with nodding approval from the authors of the story, whose echo was blunter than the original voice:

“The MDC knows that any agreement must be acceptable to Britain, the US and other Western countries, which want Mugabe to go,” they said.

Everything about it is utterly foreign and unsolicited. Which begs the obvious question: Are we free or are we not as a country? What exactly does it mean when aliens declare that whatever our representative political leaders decide is null and void simply because we have neither money nor might? Under what UN statute do foreigners, whatever their money or might, become putative custodians of an independent nation’s sovereign will?

If theirs are indeed acts of altruism impelled by a perceived collapse of central authority, shouldn’t the DRC, where people actually live in the mountains and sleep in the bush due to rebel raids, and Somalia, where aid UN workers are fleeing violence and starvation, provide these world powers with a fitting experiment in external intervention, so that, in the words of American federalist lawyer Alexander Hamilton: “We may profit by their experience without paying the price which it cost them?”

If we are a sovereign state, shouldn’t it be our people who decide who should be prosecuted for their crimes according to the laws of Zimbabwe? Undue foreign intrusion smacks of purely retributive, punitive and primitive instincts which conceived the Treaty of Versailles. Zimbabwe cannot hope for enduring peace when we leave it to foreigners, no matter however rich, to decide for us how we should move forward in disregard of what people’s representatives, no matter how few, propose.

We need aid indeed, but not aid which enslaves us to the base interests of foreign powers. The longer we remain divided, the more room we give to forces whose motives are inimical to our long-term interests as a nation.

By Joram Nyathi

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