Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Simba Makoni as presidential candidate: Much ado about nothing

Posted by CM on January 25, 2008

by Chido Makunike

Media reports now seem to indicate that all the recent speculation and excitement about ZANU-PF insider Simba Makoni challenging President Mugabe in the upcoming election was much ado about nothing.

Either there was never any substance to the speculation or Makoni simply chickened out. I wonder if we will ever know which it was for sure.

According to the reports over the last few weeks, Makoni was either going to resign from ZANU-PF and head a new party, or he was going to lead a spirited anti-Mugabe reform effort from within the ruling party. One report went so far as to say he had actually tendered his resignation a few days ago but that Mugabe had declined it, as if one has to get permission to quit an organization. But then other reports said the plot was in disarray, with the reformist-minded co-conspirators rushing to pledge loyalty to Mugabe.

The whole thing sounded bizarre. The timing of it just weeks before the election is just one obvious aspect, although one news report weakly suggested that this may have been a deliberate ploy to ambush Mugabe. But I also find it hard to believe that Makoni would have the guts and the courage of convictions to be involved in anything like this. And if he was involved, I think it is entirely in keeping with the man he has shown himself to be over the years to chicken out at the last minute. The pulling out would have been more in character than the initial standing up to be counted.

He is a ZANU-PF team player and follower far more than he is a dissenter and leader. Whatever disagreements with the direction of economic policy he has tentatively and ambiguously expressed on a few occasions, they have been mildly stated echoes of what the general public had long been saying. He has always given the impression of someone who could see as clearly as the ordinary person that the country was going to hell, but was simply too beholden to the ruling dispensation to make a break with it.

It has long been obvious that whatever anguish it may have caused him, he was a kept man, not his own man. He never appeared free and bold enough to state things as he saw them and then stand by his statements. When he has been probed to elaborate on his occasional mild criticisms of the system, he has tended to soften them and pull back.

When he differed with Mugabe over currency devaluation and left his then position of Minister of Finance, it was after Mugabe had called him a saboteur for his suggestion. Makoni did not resign at that insult on principle, but appeared to have been cast aside by Mugabe. He gave the impression that he would have continued to suffer the indignity of serving a president who had effectively accused him of being against the national interest for his ideas.

When he headed Zimpapers, the governments stable of propaganda publications, he clashed with the then editor of the Sunday Mail, the most rabidly “Mugabe-can-do-no-wrong” of the group’s papers. The since deceased Charles Chikerema was also a close relative of Mugabe’s. Makoni humiliatingly lost the battle against his junior and had to leave his job in a way that was not exactly dignified.

It is things like these that cemented his reputation as a like-able bureaucrat and chair-warmer with no strong convictions and little backbone. These are not the qualities of a leader. A leader rather than a bureaucrat at its helm is what Zimbabwe is most in need of now.

Bureaucrats like Makoni are a dime a dozen in Zimbabwe. There will come a time of reconstruction when good bureaucrats will play an important role again. But what is required to move the country out of its prolonged crisis period is the quality of leadership in the classic sense.

Zimbabwe needs a Mugabe challenger and successor who is a “leader” in the sense of inspiring the people to think beyond their present depression. We need a leader who can give us hope that we can return to a time where it is possible to imagine a tomorrow that is better than today. Under Mugabe, everyone is resigned to more misery being in store. The country is depressed and dispirited about its prospects in a way I do not believe it to be possible to undo as long as Mugabe remains ruler.
We need a leader who can bring out the spirit of being prepared to make sacrifices for one’s country in building a better future. Under Mugabe there has become a deep cynicism and a sense of everyone-for-himself. This has been fostered by how the rulers show in their behaviour that they believe the country to be on a course of self-destruction, with them being in the forefront of plundering whatever they can from the crumbling shell.

We need “leadership” in the sense of courage borne of conviction, akin to the “principles” that Mugabe has so awfully corrupted. We need a leader in the sense of someone who can inspire us to do more than we would normally do.

I’m sure Makoni is as “nice” as people say he is, but “nice” is not enough in this situation! “Nice” Makoni has shown none of the leadership qualities that are called for in a prospective president at this juncture in Zimbabwe’s nationhood.

Apart from Makoni clearly not being the man of the moment because of his characteristic wishy-washiness, he has further ruined his reputation by the way he has mis-handled the speculation about his possibly challenging Mugabe.

By not denying them, he gave the impression that the rumours were true. One would think that perhaps he was still working out the logistics of his bid against Mugabe. For things to simply fizzle out without any public statement from him after weeks of public speculation not only makes him look like a coward, it makes him also look like a cynical, shallow opportunist.

The impression one gets is that he was indeed considering a bid. If he wasn’t, one would reasonably surmise that he would have come out strongly denying the substance of the speculation early on. By not doing so, and then not saying anything at all later, he gives the impression that he had done his calculations and decided not to go ahead with the plan.

But if that is what happened, the way he has handled it sends all the wrong signals. Leaving such a crucial decision until so late does not suggest any element of a sneak attack on Mugabe just before the election. It instead makes him look like a careless last-minute planner.
If he had made all these public-relations “mistakes” but then still dramatically announced that he was indeed standing against Mugabe, his tactical errors would have been forgotten and forgiven in the uproar and shock of his announcement. But “thinking about it” silently for weeks while the fevered public speculation was going on makes him look particularly weak and indecisive, now that it seems pretty clear he is not challenging Mugabe.

The overall impression left by Makoni not making any effort to manage the speculation, if not the actual process of considering a challenge to Mugabe, is that of somebody who was indeed thinking of it but developed cold feet. What is worse, all the reports of his making clear overtures to “prove” his loyalty to Mugabe will only further taint his reputation.

The meeting he is confirmed to have had with Mugabe at State House on January 21 makes him appear like a little boy who was summoned to be spanked for being wayward, or a coward who went groveling for forgiveness. Neither does Makoni’s reputation any good.

This political sideshow has not been a complete waste of time. Hopefully it permanently removes Makoni from the long-speculated list of contenders for the presidency. He does not have what it takes – he is a follower, not a leader.

The best position for him is a safe, well-paying routine job with a prestigious title and a fashionable car, a nice big corner office and a pretty secretary There will surely come some bureaucratic opportunity for which he is well suited, but for now we need the kind of leadership which people like Makoni cannot provide.

We have made considerable progress in our politics just by getting the ridiculous “Simba Makoni-for-president” sideshow out of the way, hopefully for good. Now that the brief circus is out of the way, perhaps we can go back to more serious explorations of how we are going to fix the awful mess Zimbabwe is in.

One Response to “Simba Makoni as presidential candidate: Much ado about nothing”

  1. […] Simba Makoni as presidential candidate: Much ado about nothing […]

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