Brittle leadership often leads to disastrous end

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Waiting for a new day ... Street vendors spend the night on the pavement along Robert Mugabe Way in Harare to save on bus fare.

Some like to call it dictatorial leadership but I prefer to call it “brittle” and this is the kind of leadership that we have had for the past 36 years in Zimbabwe. Those who understand the meaning of the word brittle will know that you cannot use a hammer to flatten a brittle surface. Instead you either soften it first and then tap it down nicely or chisel it off depending on whether its metal or wood.

Mike Toni,Business Consultant

Waiting for a new day ... Street vendors spend the night on the pavement along Robert Mugabe Way in Harare to save on bus fare.

Waiting for a new day … Street vendors spend the night on the pavement along Robert Mugabe Way in Harare to save on bus fare.

The consequence of using a hammer on a brittle surface is that many cracks will appear, some of them taking in portions that will be hard to mend. There is no clearer illustration of these consequences than what has and is happening in Zanu PF right now. Once the hammer was used to remove the so-called “Gamatox” element in the party, many cracks have appeared and there is clear evidence more cracks will continue to appear, leading to the demise of a party that has failed miserably to listen to its internal voices and those of the people at large.

Many of us now see President Robert Mugabe’s leadership as not only a burden on the people of Zimbabwe, but that in many respects his leadership was and continues to be fake. Despite his sphinx-like dominance on the political stage, Mugabe has failed miserably to leave a legacy of accountability. Because of him we are no longer a value-driven society, but one that believes in taking other people’s possessions without compensating for them. We believe in using force rather dialogue to resolve issues and, most damningly, we will not serve the nation in our appointed positions unless we are paid a bribe to do so.

Brittle leadership tends to mask these tendencies when it is at its peak, but all hell breaks loose when it starts to lose its grip on matters of state. Zimbabwe is currently going through an advanced stage of the hellish manifestation of Mugabe’s demise as a leader of this country. The breakaways within Mugabe’s party, including the one by the war veterans who, by all accounts were the strongest pillar of the brittle culture in Zanu PF, illustrates the calamitous end to a political structure that was sustained by sheer force and lies.

As Zimbabweans, we failed to see the signs of decay even in the early stages of Independence. The intolerance exhibited by Mugabe and his inner circle spoke loudly about the disastrous path that this country would be drawn into. Those who dared to speak out were viciously cast aside and pummelled into silence either through intimidation or death.

Mugabe’s political bravado turned even tame people into monsters. The clocking up of a US$200 000 cellphone bill by Mariyawanda Nzuwah, long-term chairman of the Civil Service Commission and reportedly a close ally of Mugabe recently, if true, is a clear illustration of how the regime’s appendages have become immune to norms of decency and frugality. Add this to the shenanigans at various parastatals, including Zesa, a picture images of a regime that has long ceased to care about its citizens in pursuit of personal gains. The level of insensitivity is made worse by the regime’s parading of Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo, whose history is shrouded in serious controversy, as the public face of its repressive policies.

The insidious decimation of over 20 000 people in Matabeleland was another clear sign that this country was inherited by gung-ho leaders who brooked no dissent and were prepared to kill in order to remain in power. While we clapped and ululated at that time because the scorpion’s tail was killing people in the southern region, that tail has turned around and poisoned the whole country this time through land invasions, corruption and electoral fraud.

In typical fashion, Mugabe’s brittle leadership paid little attention to the most important facets of development in any country — the economy and the strengthening of democratic institutions. This miserable performance led to many Zimbabweans defecting to the diaspora and to the unprecedented levels of economic, political and social dysfunction that we are witnessing today. This brittle leadership arrogated itself the power to regulate everything, including how we as citizens should engage with the political elite; what we should listen to and read; and at what levels we should participate in the political system of the country.

The brittleness was even more manifested when a few brave man and women like Edgar Tekere, Morgan Tsvangirai started questioning the status quo and even beating it at the polls. Mugabe’s reaction was to resort to scorched-earth methods bent on forcing people rather than persuading them to accept Zanu PF’s rule — this to disastrous effect. Today many Zimbabweans celebrate when they see Mugabe with a bloody nose. As they witness the cracks that have developed out of the once mighty party they cannot wait for a strong current of water to start sipping through the cracks and turn into floods that will drown this burdensome edifice forever.

A brittle leadership does not spend time on strategic mandates. Instead it relies on sheer force without examining both the unintended and intended consequences. It spawns an arrogant political culture that alienates both citizens and international friends. Impervious to what is happening around it, a brittle regime becomes detached from societal realities. They will brag about not needing the International Monetary Fund or World Bank when they know they do not have alternative solutions. They will brag about not needing the international community when they know they cannot function without the global economic system. They will regurgitate their own lies until they become their operational mandate. They believe in “fixing” rather than engaging with opponents and damn the consequences!

More tragically, a brittle leadership will either deliberately not detect or just ignore change when it’s imminent, hence the use of a hammer whenever it faces resistance. In doing this it not only becomes a threat to itself, but the nation as a whole. This is the position where Zimbabwe is in today. The burden of change — that is moving away from a brittle and fake leadership — to one that is accountable and future-looking is slowly being taken over by the streets through citizen activism in the form of demonstrations. This does not bode well for Zimbabwe. Streets have no boundaries as shown by the so-called Arab Spring in North Africa and in Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu. It is significant that both Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi and Romania’s Ceausescu met their waterloo in the streets after failing to transfer the burden of change to themselves.

Brittle leaders condone excesses as a show of loyalty and support to cronies while mediocrity is applauded together with unbridled patronage. There are no ground rules except for those that seek to perpetuate the regime’s tenure.

Adolf Hitler was a typical brittle leader who allowed unimaginable levels of excesses in pursuit of purist Aryan policies.

As Zimbabweans, we tried to draw the line in 2008, but failed because the ground rules of electability were once again broken. It is no wonder that those that were once in the inner sanctums of the regime like Joice Mujuru and her Zimbabwe People First loyalists, see Zanu PF, the party that was once their preferred home, as a stinking and sinking ship destined for the scrapyard. The attempt by Mugabe to try and patch up the yawning cracks will not resurrect Zanu PF. The battle for tomorrow is no longer in Mugabe’s hands, but is now where it should have been from the day we attained independence.

In its quest for survival, the Mugabe regime has systematically disenfranchised millions of Zimbabweans whose voice should have by now helped to shape the Zimbabwe that they want — a Zimbabwe that is not ruled by fear and pursues democracy and meritocracy, free of corruption and entitlement.

Despite the fact that the population of the country has almost doubled since Independence, Mugabe and his ilk want us to remain steeped in the past where political and securocratic power reign supreme. When a leader tells a young frustrated Zimbabwean like Pastor Evan Mawarire to emigrate to another country because he has dared to tell him he has failed, it says volumes about the insidious culture that this brittle leadership has spawned upon this country.

The coming together of the 18 opposition parties is only the beginning of a rolling revolution. It, however, signals a no-turning back point. The feeling of disaffection towards the regime is palpable. The conversations taking place in churches, at funerals, at workplaces and in the wider community indicate a veritable dislike for Mugabe’s brittle regime and the sooner he accepts that the better for his and our future as a nation.

There are very few instances in the history of the world when change depended so much on the removal of a leader and his party. Blindly, Mugabe has boxed himself into a tight corner where only his removal will create change and extricate this country from the clutches of poverty.

The succession matrix within Zanu PF does not inspire confidence. If anything it points to an even worse political landscape where those at the forefront of looting this country’s resources will find an opportunity to further strip the country of its wealth. They are likely to be even more repressive and brittle given the groundswell of resistance towards a degenerate and backward-looking leadership culture that dominates Zanu PF’s political lexicon.

Calling themselves “stockholders”, some, like the war veterans, will be bent on lining their pockets to the detriment of the country’s economic development. Their obnoxious culture of entitlement will keep away innovative and development-oriented Zimbabweans and foreign investors thereby condemning this country to another cycle of poverty and repression.

The current dysfunction in the economy points to the need for a complete overhaul of the existing structures of governance from a brittle, cynical and arrogant one to one that truly serves the people. This government has failed to work because of a silent but effective resistance from a fearful population that decided a long time ago that they would not be party to a political system that will only accept them if they groveled at the leadership and beat up and maimed and even kill dissenters on their behalf.

This government has become the proverbial rock around Zimbabweans’ necks. Its continued existence represents a crime against the nation. The divide-and-rule tactics being used, including parcelling out up land to a small clique of people such as the party’s Youth League, is yet another show of misplaced patronage policies that will perpetuate anarchy.

When Mugabe is finally gone, we must remember him as the man who led this country into an abyss by failing to recognise the reality of the world and seeking to create a village-like Zimbabwe which chases away its children and abandons them to suffer in foreign countries simply because they have questioned the flawed and failed policies of a brittle leadership.

Toni is a local business consultant.

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