By Hopewell Chin’ono
I was just wondering about the upcoming election and pondering on whether there are people still to be won over, so called floating voters.
The electoral dynamics in Zimbabwe are very interesting for political watchers.
What matters now is how the protagonists are engaging with the electorate and how their messages are being received, embraced or dismissed.
Nelson “Wamba” Chamisa went into the campaign cycle early to test the waters and from the crowds coming out to his rallies, he has greatly energized his social base with his message of and for Change.
The attached video shows how the elites debate is detached from the reality on the ground and the messages that the voters want to hear.
Emmerson Mnangagwa has not yet hit the road and as such we are yet to measure the strength of his message and how the electorate will receive it.
However there are certain things that we can use to test the seriousness of those around him and their resolve to put up a strong message scaffolded by common sense as opposed to the Robert Mugabe arrogance of power attitude.
My original question is still as relevant today as it was a month ago because after watching the BBC Hard Talk interview on ZBC, the average Wamba supporter that I have spoken to is not bothered at all by how Wamba fared.
They seem committed to supporting him regardless and have declared that their vote is not negotiable.
These people have reasons for saying and thinking like that, their main issues like the lack of money in the banks have persisted regardless of Robert Mugabe’s demise.
This is a huge problem for the incumbent President and his team who haven’t been able to communicate with the voters why things haven’t changed.
Wamba is promising to sort out the money supply problem in two weeks. He argues that the real issue is lack of confidence in the system of governance.
He is referring to 2009 and how the GNU restored confidence in the banking and financial services sectors. It is fact that only the MDCT can claim the fruits of the GNU whether rightly or wrongly.
You can never convince an average Zimbabwean voter otherwise because they enjoyed the fruits of that inclusive government.
So Wamba is basing his message on his government track record and he has the GNU Finance minister Tendai Biti on his side as a show of confidence to the multitudes turning up at his rallies.
Tendai Biti is credited with running a tight ship at the finance ministry, whether it was all down to him alone is a debate for another day.
In politics it is perception that matters especially when you are talking about complex matters.
Wamba’s opponent, Emmerson Mnangagwa has no such luxury, all his government ministers are tainted with wholesale corruption or have no decent track record to fall back on.
So the only cogent human tools that ED has are Constantino Chiwenga and himself, tools that also carry the bogeyman tag of the 2008 post-election violence.
Nelson Chamisa is selling himself and his party as the victim of that 2008 post-election violence and electoral fraud.
This is difficult to dismiss because the evidence is well documented and out there.
So I have argued to my elitist and social media friends that issues like lying about Trump’s $15billion and bullet trains pale into insignificance to an electorate that was once a victim of a ZANUPF campaign of terror.
The two are incomparable and that is what explains why his London trip and its Hard Talk baggage have not hurt Wamba.
It is easier for an average voter to believe that Wamba will sort out the money supply problem because the MDCT is credited with having done exactly that in 2009.
The other side has not explained how they also contributed to that success and as such, what we do not know does not matter.
It is difficult for ZANUPF to claim anything from that period because they have their DNA all over the ruinous rule of Robert Mugabe.
They are the party founded by Robert Mugabe after all and they have not done anything to rebrand themselves as Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson did with New Labour in Britain.
The greatest tools that ED has are the huge team of technocrats and experts around his office and government.
However they have failed to communicate that message to the masses, a message that the world now has some confidence in them.
I know that besides Britain, the major financial institutions see his continuity as a stabilizing factor in pulling Zimbabwe out of the sewer that Mugabe left us in. However this has to be underpinned with legitimacy which can only come through a clean electoral victory
How does he get that message to the masses, a message to let them know that their vote will assist him smoothen the path to prosperity?
Their communications experts need to figure that out because it is a technical message that needs proper crafting so that it comes out with clarity to the voter.
The other issue helping Wamba is his age.
Whilst Stephen Suckur thinks that Nero (as Nelson is also known) is a man in hurry, his compatriots and supporters believe that his time is now.
The majority of the voters are young, so it is an insult to their own self-esteem to tell them that one of their own is still “a toddler” as some ED supporters have been doing.
The old folk in rural areas see Wamba as their own son who left the village and did well in the City, they don’t see him as a toddler because they are being looked after by their kids who are much younger than Wamba.
These kids are cushioning them from the financial vagaries of 38 years of a ZANUPF government which they consider to have delivered nothing except wealth to the corrupt political elites.
So belittling Wamba on the basis of his age will backfire terribly, only be a dishonest ZANUPF supporter trying to please ED will advice him to use that line. ZANUPF has no luxury of peddling insults because of its track record.
A serious ED supporter should tell him the truth kuti shefu pane nyaya(boss there is an issue here) and devise a better plan to counter that narrative of Wamba being the future and a clean break with the past.
The problem that ED has is that Mugabe’s people who benefited from lying to and pleasing Mugabe now surround him. It is difficult to sell a new dispensation that is driven by an old dispensation.
They disregarded security reports that would annoy Bob, ED needs people that will tell him the truth so that he can plan ahead with clarity and precision.
Wamba is selling a message of what he can do if he is elected, a message of hope and a departure with the past.
He is telling them that his presidency will revive the economic growth that took pace during the GNU days, he is telling them that the hospitals will be up and running again as happened during the GNU era. He has a recent past to refer to and make his supporters visualize on.
So far all I have seen from ZANUPF is spending hours on end delegitimizing Wamba’s message instead of telling us what they will do if re-elected and how they will do it.
It is difficult for ZANUPF to talk about a departure with the past when in the same vain they refer to Robert Mugabe as their icon and revolutionary hero in their election manifesto.
That icon is seen as the chief architect of today’s problems and a broken Zimbabwe, so the contradiction is stark!
The bullet train and airports stuff has not hurt Wamba at all because the masses know that it is all electoral campaign theatrics. It is no different to the two million jobs promised in the 2013 ZANUPF election manifesto that was called Zim-Asset.
It is no different to the 1,5Million houses promised in the 2018 ZANUPF election manifesto.
They can’t be delivered and anyone who tells you that they can should see a shrink.
Wamba has nothing to his name but a track record of five years in the GNU and the people loved that short-lived experiment. It was an experiment shared with ZANUPF but somehow ED and his team will have to figure out how they can also claim credit for some of that success.
ED and ZANUPF have a soiled 37 years under their belt, their advisors need to undo that memory and package ED as the Moses who will unlock the door to the future although he won’t be part of that future. The President is 75 years old, the same age that Robert Mugabe was in 1999.
ED and his team have so far failed dismally to pluck low hanging fruits like attempting to do cosmetic work on hated legislation like AIPPA and POSA.
They failed to even publicly rebuke corrupt ministers and this to many voters is proof that the administration is still the same regardless of changing the administrator.
Instead of being creative, ED’s team are being defensive both in private and on social media, they need to start telling the nation why their man is different from Robert Mugabe.
Shouting that #EDhasmyvote is as annoying as it is hollow to a person facing daily challenges in their life, more so when it is coming from someone who has disembarked from a brand new Japanese or German SUV bought by tax dollars.
The other problem that the Zimbabwean President has is that he is surrounded by a lot of buccaneer businessmen, fraudsters, dealers and deceptive characters who lack the exposure to realize the damage their presence around him will do to ED the candidate.
They have no big ideas for him to succeed and win the election legitimately except the usual brown nosing and sycophancy.
He needs to get rid of these thugs and create a palpable proximity between himself and these people and stick with the professionals.
Nelson has put a team of well-known and capable political hands next to him, Tendai Biti, Douglas Mwonzora, Welshman Ncube and David Coltart.
We will see whom the president will rely on publicly once he gets on the road to win hearts and minds of voters.
Internationally, ED won the support of the British government through their ambassador, Catriona Laing. This they won before Mugabe’s demise. Contrary to this charm offensive, Tendai Biti has been denigrating the person of Catriona Laing on twitter and in public spaces.
This is not helpful because the Brits are a key stakeholder in giving a clean bill of health to the electoral process. Wamba will never get this support from the British Ambassador Laing, it is too late.
ED gained a bit of respect from the Americans when Senator Christopher Coons and his team came to Harare in early April. However that short-lived respect is now wilting because he hasn’t done anything yet as a statement of intention to fulfil what he promised them.
They are now thinking of turning the screws as they feel that what they were promised by Ed and his team was meant to buy time.
His people haven’t engaged with the US as much as they did with the Brits.
Typical of ZANUPF, they are spending more time with the Brits and yet that battle was won long ago, the more time they are spending with the Brits is now delegitimizing both themselves and the British ambassador. (I will write about the America view during the week.)
This week there is a BBC team in Harare led by Jonathan Munro that seeks to smoothen relations with the Zimbabwean government.
This is all good for purposes of healing the two decades broken relationship between the BBC and the ZANUPF administration.
However ED needs to be engaging more with the American media because his problem lies with convincing the US government that he is indeed the real deal and change agent.
He needs to give a big US interview to an American Network, an interview that will position his credentials as the rightful man to take Zimbabwe out of Mugabeism.
It doesn’t need to be a Hard Talk type but something with a network that is taken seriously on Capitol Hill.
He also needs to give a big interview to a respectable American newspaper as opposed to his New York Times Oped.
It was roundly dismissed at Capitol Hill as the work of a Lobbying Company.
Zimbabwe needs America’s backing because all the international financial institutions take their cue from Uncle Sam.
So far the US is not convinced and instead of spending hours on end with the Brits, ED’s team needs to engage the Americans and win them over.
So I come back to my question again, with all these variables, have Zimbabweans made up their minds on who to vote for or there are floating voters to be won over?
Can the President turn the corner and halt Wamba’s charge if he deploys the right team and tactics?
Can he win the Americans over by doing some reform work that is credible enough?
Can he get rid of the toxic characters around his informal teams and can he leverage on the post Mugabe euphoria and eloquently speak into the common man’s struggles without it being dismissed as an election gimmick?
He needs to convince the country and the world that he has the capable people to help him turn the tide. He needs to borrow a leaf from South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s book.
Cyril Ramaphosa deployed what he called a team of “lions” and “tigers” to lure domestic and global investors with the aim of raising $100-billion for South Africa in the next five years.
President Mnangagwa needs to send a similar message of seriousness to the electorate, the local and international investors and the global political elites. Deals from places like Belarus don’t count as they are seen as only beneficial to the ruling elites and not the country.
Since taking over from Robert Mugabe, roads are being fixed and money has been released to councils, however it is only those of us who speak to the political elites who know about this.
He needs to use an effective media campaign team that can show what his administration has done so far and explain that change is incremental.
He needs to explain why buying brand news cars for Chiefs was more important than buying ambulances for district hospitals.
All this communication work will assist in making sure that the present government is not forced to use its old ways of retaining power, in which case we will be back into the future.
Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is a CNN African journalist of the year and Harvard University Nieman Fellow.
His next film, State of Mind looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe will be launched in June in Harare and Johannesburg by Graca machel. He can be contacted on [email protected] on twitter @daddyhope