Substance matters in politics, governance

The curtain came down on the campaign season yesterday with Nelson Chamisa addressing a bumper crowd in Harare.

His nemesis, the incumbent, President Mnangagwa closed off the show on Saturday with a rally in Shurugwi.

You would be forgiven for thinking there are only those two in the field. No. Zimbabwe has a dozen candidates for the presidential polls and scores of political parties contesting, plus a sprinkling of independents.

The latter don’t seem to matter, because matters will play out between the two traditional rivals. Nelson Chamisa is the protege of the opposition movement that has competed against the party of liberation, Zanu PF since 2000.

In the latest show, there are some largely unedifying realities, which we highlighted in our main story.

This past election season will have pretty little to look back on. It was bereft of big ideas and big moments.

The political acts and packaging all revolved around optics of mustering numbers.

Which is a very lazy and misleading phenomenon itself.

Numbers are bought off, massaged and embellished.

The ruling party was accused of “busing” supporters to its rallies across the country, shoeing numbers wherever the President went.

This doesn’t mean that the opposition doesn’t do it- or that individual or groups of supporters may choose to follow their leaders or invest in their logistics.

That should be normal.

On the other hand, a critical examination of the repertoire of opposition rallies would show that Chamisa opted for traditional urban redounds and growth points – some of which, like Gweru, Gokwe, Binga or Marondera, he repeatedly visited over the past three or so years.

There is significant debit in numbers – and it goes for all players. The fixation with deceitful numbers and optics could be the reason why major political players were not very convincing in messaging and suavity. Not that there should have been an obsession with oratory, itself another foible.

But substance matters.

We expect the next government to be full of ideas that can transform Zimbabwe from the current state of paralysis and constrained capacity to realise its potential. The country has lost much in the past 23 years in particular – the 23 years of the new millennium.

In many respects, we have remained stuck in the century past. The political campaigns and the political culture and system (we are to witness the gruelling first-past-the-post crab fight), all point to this.

Considering that major political parties did little to impress and citizens don’t see wrong in it, one can safely say that we are a nation unalarmed by mediocrity.

In fact, we live mediocrity, already as symbolised by decaying urban areas and depressing countryside.

A flicker of hope here and there or some promise thither and yonder punctuate the national condition.

We deserve better.

The election season must not just have provided a clear direction towards the better.

The elections must have fired flames of hope and expectation.

The manifestos, where applicable, and the messaging should have given an indication.

Yet, does the voter have so high standards?

We don’t think so!

For many people, the election is merely about fulfilling a fixture, and hoping that the preferred side wins.

No questions asked. No standards demanded.

No accountability. There is something fundamental about the political system – and it can be relied on to produce and reproduce mediocrity.

And yes, that is fundamentally the meaning of a “system”.

We can change parties and personalities but the inherent structures, behaviours and characteristics remain the same.

This means that we could have benefited more if our political system were more inclusive, meritocratic and dynamic.

It would not surprise anyone if some of the best ideas of these elections came from small parties or some insignificant political quantities that we didn’t hear of in the media, or had a chance to follow on their rallies or meetings.

Or from the Diaspora.

We tend to be partial to the idea that some of the challenges and facing the country could be solved by non-mainstream political actors and technocrats and talented, dedicated people.

However, there is no prize for guessing that across the political spectrum, the sense of inclusiveness and receptiveness to new ideas is in critically short supply.

As such, we will likely remain where we are – whoever wins this particular race.

And we deserve it.

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