A healthy dose of political stuntmanship can help galvanize a moribund Presidential campaign

By Bishop Dave Chikosi

Running for high political office requires a carefully managed public image. Optics are everything. If you are a Presidential candidate you need to be seen doing and saying the right thing, in the right place and at the right time. I get that.  

Bishop Dave Chikosi
Bishop Dave Chikosi

However, as a candidate you also don’t want to come across as too polished, placid and predictable that your campaign becomes dullsville or plain vanilla. Instead of repeating hackneyed and ho-hum political phrases or lines, you will need to inject some pizzaz into your routine every now and then, and let folk know you not only have substance, but you got style.

A Presidential candidates must lead the news cycle, not merely read the news. He/she must endeavor to dominate the headlines as much as possible. Unfortunately what we have seen among the current crop of candidates is more news reading than news leading.

The fact is if you are running in 2018 you have to do more than be mesmerized or hypnotized by the stupefying regular news headlines surrounding the whole Command Agriculture debate, as interesting as that debate is.

I am amazed at how our Presidential hopefuls have seemingly chosen to just allow this rather pointless discourse to suck all the oxygen out of political newsrooms, and reduce these hopefuls to mere spectators in a game that I suspect is nothing but a ruse or red herring to keep the ruling party on top of the news cycle.

Time to wake up Mr/Mrs Presidential hopeful and smell the Tanganda tea.

Your brief sir/madam is not to be a spectator in the Lacoste vs G40 vicious fight to the top of the political food chain. Who wins the “ugly-culture” race to the feeding trough should be your business only to the extent that you are able to use it to highlight the moral inexactitudes and failed vision of the incumbent government. Only if you can use these dog-fights to wrest public discourse away from the political fuddy-duddism that currently perambulate the halls of power in Harare.

No sir/madam, you are a player not a spectator. You need to make some noise, on the playing field not in the terraces. You need to raise a diversionary ruckus over and against the current dominant narrative. There is more to establishing political presence than holding a presser, or designing and displaying a cute party logo.

It was the great Albert Einstein who told us that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” In other words, if you want something you’ve never had before, you’ve got to be prepared to do something you’ve never done before.

That something you have never done before may be to carve for yourself a niche in the political terrain with some brilliantly conceived and well calculated political stunts. Yes I said that. Ndini ndadaro.

There are tons of things you can do to capture the attention of the daily newspapers. Be creative. If you feel like your campaign has levelled out and momentum has waned, how about, for instance, getting on a white or black horse and riding it on Harare’s Main Street shirtless? Your name may not be Vladimir Putin but I can guarantee you that you will have the whole of Sunshine City talking.

Or you could feign your own death and have a hearse drive through Sam Levy village with a bullhorn announcing your untimely demise, only to stage a resurrection as soon as you get to Parirenyatwa Hospital. I don’t think even the ruling party press would ignore that.

How about if you were to get someone to do a photoshoot with you, Mr/Mrs Presidential candidate, on your knees at the feet of a popular local prophet?

I think you are beginning to catch my drift.

But hold up. Before you go full throttle on any of this, there is an important caveat. Whatever you do please craft your stunt in such a way that at the end of the political day, people are talking more about you and what your campaign stands for, rather than the stunt itself.

This, my friend, can only be achieved if you go out there and try not to do something stupid or immoral, irrelegious or culturally taboo. Don’t think you can crack tribalist, racist or sexist jokes and get away with it. The old phrase, “There is no such thing as bad publicity” is simply bad advice. Publicity stunts can backfire badly.

And so can poorly crafted media ads. Ask Christine O’Donnell of the Tea Party movement in America. She took out a TV ad in 2010 which featured her making the famous disclaimer, “I am not a witch.”

The problem with disclaimers or denials is that they tend to have the opposite effect of focusing the attention of the electorate on the very thing you are trying to disassociate yourself from. Needless to say, that particular disclaimer by Ms O’Donnell proved to be one of the main causes of her political downfall.

Yes the media will readily gobble up political stunts and gimmicks simply because they add color to news articles and boost the organization’s bottom line. By all means provide all the coloring the media is looking for, but make sure that the color does not overwhelm content and substance.

Good “luck.”