Academic credentials no substitute for leadership

In recent weeks there has been heated national debate about the link between academic achievement and national leadership. This has been triggered by comments attributed to professor Welshman Ncube that, on account of a limited educational profile, MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai is out of his depth when it comes to leading Zimbabwe into the future.

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki and current President Jacob Zuma.
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki and current President Jacob Zuma.

In various discussions, reference is often made to President Robert Mugabe’s ‘impressive’ academic record and even that of professor Ncube or professor Arthur Mutambara. However, a perusal of the various records of these leaders and others from elsewhere would show that there is no direct relationship between academic excellence and national leadership.

Those with so-called impressive academic records have presided over ruinous national policies that have hurt ordinary people while serving the interests of the elite. Puffed up with a false sense of superiority and overtly supercilious, leaders riding on academic profiles have quickly separated themselves from the people and consequently from reality – with the obvious ruinous results.

In touch with the people

In South Africa one reason why former president Thabo Mbeki was dumped by ANC cadres at the 2007 Polokwane congress was that his elitism had driven a wedge between him and the people, leading to the preference of Jacob Zuma, a man with little formal education but who was in ouch with ordinary people.

Zimbabwe does not need a leader with several university degrees, but lacking in common sense and compassion for the people. All we need is a sensible, sensitive and compassionate leader with the common touch and common sense. While professor Mutambara maybe a brilliant academic, that does not necessarily mean that he will be a better political leader than a person without university education.

Undoubtedly, for Zimbabwe, a country boasting of one of the highest literacy rates in Africa, there is need for government to be driven by technocracts, experts in various disciplines, but not necessarily at the level of political leadership. Surrounded by suitably qualified technical experts, Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s leadership is likely to benefit Zimbabwe much more than the intellectuals have over three decades.

Giving peace a chance

To his credit, Tsvangirai has already displayed visionary leadership when he firmly led his MDC party in the path of peaceful, democratic struggle in the face of a vicious state machinery unleashed on him and his supporters. It takes vision, wisdom and great courage to steer away from the path of violence in the face of repeated attacks and resistance to peaceful transfer of power. In Angola a stolen election plunged the country into several years of civil war when the opposition took up arms. Something similar happened in Mozambique. But in Zimbabwe it is Tsvangirai who gave peace a chance when Zimbabwe stood on the brink of civil war.

To focus on individuals and their personal credentials is to miss the point of modern-day democratic governance. Focus should be on building and strengthening democratic institutions and elevating them above any single individual.

The fundamental governance crisis in Zimbabwe that was laid bare over the last decade is how state institutions were subverted and replaced by an individual to a point where that individual – Mugabe – became the embodiment of various institutions. Presently, the democratic struggle is how to extricate various institutions and separate them from Mugabe and Zanu (PF) in order to restore their independence and professionalism.

Big man syndrome

The ‘big man’ syndrome that has taken root in Zanu (PF) has blinded them from the need for leadership renewal. Now Mugabe is deified, and worshipped as a superhuman being who is excused from the laws of nature, and presented as Zanu (PF)’s strongest presidential candidate for future elections.

Going forward, it is important for Zimbabwe to encourage the pursuit of academic

excellence for individuals, but with a caveat that academic credentials are no substitute for visionary leadership and that good governance is not about superstar individuals with extra-ordinary abilities, but about strong, robust and democratic institutions that serve the interests of all Zimbabweans – particularly the most vulnerable members of our society. – Dewa Mavhinga

Post published in: News

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