It is time we had leaders who listen

For all his shortcomings, real or imagined, Morgan Tsvangirai had two great strengths – humility and the ability to listen. My first direct interaction with him was in 1999 in Gaborone, Botswana, when he was on a regional tour campaigning against the draft constitution which was to be put to a referendum the following year.  I next met and spoke to him almost twelve years later in Perth, Western Australia, when he was Prime Minister. I am yet to see his kind of humility, clarity and selflessness in any of those he left behind. Anokodzera korona (he deserves a crown).

Morgan Tsvangirai

The only other Zimbabwean politician of repute whom I have known for similar traits was the late Eddison Zvobgo. These two men could talk to anybody on any day and would never interrupt you until you finished talking. Zvobgo would even ask “Mapedza?” meaning “Have you finished?” In contrast, former President Robert Mugabe thought he knew it all. He would not listen to anyone. In the process, he reduced his ministers and deputies to mere placeholders. He also disconnected himself from the people to the point that for 37 years, most of us only saw him in the media.  Consequently,  he became a dictator and a monumental failure. That era must be gone for good!

Looking at some of our leaders today, I get the impression that most of them like to hear their own voices more than they want to hear anybody else’s. They are only willing to listen to other voices if they are full of praise. If you tell them the truth, you become an instant enemy. They are immune to frank discourse. They forget that you learn more from criticism than praise. They would rather be proud than wise.

At his inauguration, soon after his return from his short exile in South Africa, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said “The voice of the people is the voice of God”. This has become almost a mantra. It was his way of reaffirming the fact that he would be a listening president. He carries the burden of his promise.

In the past few months, I have noticed that some of our aspiring leaders are showing worrying signs of dangerous vanity to the point of not listening to any dissenting voice. As I have said elsewhere, a combination of superficiality and arrogance can be disastrous.

Primary elections in both camps, ZANU PF and MDC-T were chaotic. Imposition of candidates became the order of the day while some candidates were sidelined or frustrated. Some were surprised to find their names missing from the ballot papers. We saw a manifestation of the confusion and shenanigans at the Nomination Court as well.

As we have always done, without fear or favour, ZUNDE spoke out against these irregularities. Personally, I challenged the decision to sideline or frustrate Jessie Majome from contesting in Harare West. I have known her as a genuine, fearless, consistent, intelligent but humble colleague in the democratic struggle. I am not surprised that she has decided to contest as an independent. If leadership had listened to the people, this situation would have been easily avoided.

There is also some perennial deadwood that has made it to the final list of ZANU PF candidates. Some have been senators for many years but have never opened their mouth to say anything in senate. Surely, Zimbabwe does not have a shortage of quality candidates.

Leaders who listen do not resort to inflammatory or derogatory language each time they take to the podium. Rather, they articulate issues, policies and programmes. They talk about peace, love, reconciliation, prosperity and opportunities.

Election 2018 is probably going to be the most interesting after the 1980 plebiscite. This is not because we do not have Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe in the ring. It is because for the first time, Zimbabweans are going to scrutinise and assess candidates based on their ideas and policies as opposed to which party they belong. That is the mistake we have made in previous elections.  In 2008, we voted for many candidates whom we did not even know. It was about the party, not the candidate. This must and will change.

On social media, I have observed that Zimbabweans are so polarised. They almost threaten to harm those who do not say what they want to hear. It is blind supporters and shameless parrots who create bad leaders for us. Their candidate is always right and the opposing candidate is always wrong. That is utter rubbish! There are no angels in politics and there are no infallible politicians.

As we prepare for one of the most crucial elections ever, I urge my fellow Zimbabweans to move away from emotion and embrace objectivity. After July 30, whoever wins or loses, Zimbabwe will still be there. Let us look closely at what our leaders do. Let us listen carefully to what they say. Are they making sense? If yes, let us vote for them. If no, let us ditch them. It is that simple.

We do not belong to political parties. Rather we belong to Zimbabwe. Let us do the best thing for our country. Let us even vote for a candidate from another party including independents, if they make more sense. We only have one chance in 5 years to make this decision. Let us choose wisely. We do not want to be stuck with zombies or arrogant winners after the election — we would be the losers.

Do not feel sorry if you are not decided yet. It is OK to delay your decision until the very last minute. For now, listen to their messages, watch their actions and analyse carefully.

It is time we had leaders who listen.

Moses Chamboko is a pro-democracy activist and Secretary General of ZUNDE.

He can be contacted at [email protected];


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