The Lion and the Antelope: A footnote to Justice Alfred Mavedzenge’s analysis of Nelson Chamisa’s Leadership Style
The Serengeti Metaphor
In the Tanzanian Serengeti game park, the lion wakes up ready to outrun and pounce on the slowest antelope for its breakfast. Likewise, the antelope wakes up geared to outsprint the fastest lion for it to survive and see the next day. Whether you are the lion or the antelope, with each day break you better be running!
It appears such is the scenario in Zimbabwean politics today. The political pendulum is swinging on two highly polarized and extremely polarizing far right wing (the liberation movement) and the ultra-leftist outfit (opposition).
In the current Zimbabwean political menu there are no visible or remarkable centrists. If they are there, they are either scared stiff or sitting on the dogmatic terraces and fences commenting; analyzing and sometimes over analyzing up to a point of paralysis of analysis, wishing that the challenges the nation is facing will somehow commit suicide.
As Mavedzenge observed correctly messianic or angelic politics have settled in the Zimbabwean citizenry for a very long time. Consider, for instance Joshua Nkomo as “mudhara tsuro-tsuro” in the fifties and sixties and how he could outwit the “fox” (Ian Smith).
Then comes Robert Mugabe being the “mukoma vauya kuzopedza nhamo” and how he, through such populist rhetoric and insinuations, introduced free education and free health at independence and in his twilight years; the dramatic land reform.
We also saw the re-emergence of the messianic sensibility in 2017 during Operation Restore Legacy, when a purely love song by Jah Prayzar, featuring a husband who is far away on account of work, who was assuring his wife that she should be consoled by the fact that the distant hubby will certainly come back home for her, miraculously assumed new meaning.
The wife becomes a metaphor of the entire nation of Zimbabwe and the husband becomes Emmerson Mnagagwa, the “mudhara vachauya”. Currently certain sections of the Zimbabwean society are staunchly viewing Chamisa as the deus ex machine who is going to save Zimbabwe from the morass of poverty and misgovernance. This is very normal in environments where there is a crisis of expectations over a long period.
All human beings, Chamisa, included have faults and inherent weaknesses as Mavedzenge outlined.
At the same time in a shipwreck, for instance, human ingenuity dictates that any piano top floating your way can become a fortuitous life preserver, yet under normal circumstances if we want to design life savers we won’t consider piano tops in the equation!
In the current scenario, despite Chamisa’s seemingly horrible sins of omission and commission, he appears to be the fortuitous piano top to certain sections of the electorate judging by his surprising victories in by-elections.
Mavedzenge is worried that the absence of formal structures negates the concept of democracy and good governance, where decisions are a product of robust engagement and consensus.
It appears to me that Chamisa could be the proverbial gambler who knows what to throw away and what to keep in his political gamesmanship, thereby keeping his competitors miserably and desperately guessing in terms of his next move. He has given up conventional, predictable and orthodox politics and has gone guerrilla to inflict massive surprises and confusion.
Face without bodily Form as a Strategy
Instead of his followers complaining about the so-called lack of structures, they are actually conveniently quiet as if encouraging him to remain structure-less, formless and hence difficult to infiltrate from the grassroots level.
When you are fighting a rich contestant your structures are vulnerable and not immune to stomach politics. History has plenty of examples of people and countries who stood for their stomachs and not their brains when required to make crucial decisive choices.
So for now, there are no structures to bulldoze through money or anything. Without structures Chamisa is winning seats and without structures he is putting a shadow government- in-waiting. Without structures the nation is just nine months away from elections and he doesn’t appear troubled at all. How he does that remains a mystery.
The Eneke Principle
In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958) Eneke, the bird is asked why it is always on the wing, flying without perching. His reply is that since men have learnt the art of shooting without missing he, too, has perfected and innovated the art of flying without perching.
The current structure-less nature of the opposition movement cannot be accidental, incidental or coincidental. It appears to be by design and there is method in it. The opposition appears to have applied the Eneke principle and so far with considerable success. His movement remains fluid, unpredictable and very slippery to pin down.
Unleashing Disruptive Innovation
If we were to borrow from the field of business intelligence, Chamisa becomes a force for disruptive innovation. For him in a handicap match it’s too foolhardy to place yourself within shooting range by placing your cards bare open in the porous gesture of democracy and good governance.
You have to dig deep and search your subterranean resources for survival. If we remember well, it is the same structures which caused MDC to have almost a dozen splinters in the yesteryears! So once beaten twice shy.
If you keep doing things the same old way you risk the danger of getting the same old results. The longer he remains without a structure the more the movement entrenches his personality as the centripetal force of the perceived democratic agenda.
Should his political opponents throw another dirty fly into his party nomenclature saucepan and pronounce another mischievous duplicate of CCC (Citizens’ Collaboration for Change) taxonomy to confuse the electorate come 2023, the opposition like a typical political amoeba can easily morph into some other histrionic lexicographical acronym difficult to impersonate.
The David and Goliath Metaphor
The current contesting characters can also be viewed within the prisms of the David and Goliath scenario and a number of insights can be generated. Goliath, who has venerable scars of war to show appears to be heavily weighed down by excesses, the old school of fighting: iron shield, metal chested armor and overly bolstered by past victories and glories.
These heroic wars are factual and real yet they do not necessarily answer the here and now crisis of expectations engulfing the nation! Goliath plays by the tried and tested conventional rules. The heavy armor makes him a lame duck, which is not agile and nimble in the fight.
On the other hand, David doesn’t look like a warrior at all. He is pitifully young, handsome and has no scars of war. He refuses the heavy armor preferring to be nimble and agile. Some are even mocking him that he still has milk not yet dry on his lips because of his age and very vulnerable!
His option to use a sling and a few pebbles is almost laughable. His insinuations towards delivering spaghetti roads and WIFI to goats and cattle in the kraals ordinarily should appear farfetched. It can almost make his opponent to relax and to stand down militarily because there is no match here. It’s child’s play!
Yet on the other hand the field of futurology, world over, is seriously forecasting the future of the world especially agriculture as centrally hinging extremely on incredible technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and mechatronics! So is David really day dreaming? Maybe not.
BBCs and Cyber-Millenials
We could be witnessing a generational clash between the vegetative born-before- computers-generation (BBCs) and the crazy generation of millennials or cyber-whiz-kids who are not fond of rules. You can ignore them at your own peril.
In his article Mavedzenge expects David to play by the rules of democracy and good governance, to play it fair and to convince the electorate through facts that he has a viable alternative plan to the current set up rather than through populist rhetoric.
I do not see that happening because the electorate is not asking David those questions! It is us “armchair twitter critics” and “WhatsApp columnists” who are asking those questions.
David is ignoring us because to him we are not on his priority list of voters; we do not vote and even if we voted our numbers are too insignificant to swing an election either way hence in terms of political expediency and feasibility we are irrelevant in the wider political matrix.
The Obsequious Rhetoric Factor
Dr Nkosana Moyo in the last election tried to be rational and a force for unimpeachable reason. To some he was an intellectual knight in shining armor. He had a clear manifesto. His technocratic background and seasoned stewardship skills made him the right horse to turn on the light.
His level-headedness coupled with his understanding of how institutions are run, having summered and wintered with blue chip organizations, should ideally have made him a force to contend with. Yet the electorate wanted him to crank their psyche with obsequious rhetoric. Without this flattering rhetoric he, paradoxically, became a ‘much-a-do-about-nothing’ and ‘a jolly-good-fellow’ not fit for the highest office.
We see now David focusing on breaking the rules and setting new ones. He is unorthodox and is literally going unapologetically guerrilla in style. He appears to be the strong fish which is prepared to swim against the currents. Ridiculous as he appears, puzzlingly he looks like he has a huge section of the electorate that appears to be sanguinely believing that he will take them eventually to the sublime Eldorado. These cyber-citizens are so daring and persistent! Steve Jobs at a graduation ceremony at Stanford university had this to say about them:
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
Steve Jobs citing Rob Siltanen, Graduation ceremony at Stanford University in 1997
My advice to Goliath
There are fundamental insights that organizations can glean from nature. For instance, the eagle is such an amazing animal. When it comes to the age of, say 30 or 40, it deliberately goes into a self-regeneration process. Its beak becomes blunt hence inefficient. Its claws won’t be as sharp and piercing as they used to be. Its feathers become worn out and it becomes very difficult for the eagle to soar to higher heights or to glide in the rough winds as before. Its legendary enhanced eye sight becomes clogged and dim.
At this point the eagle has two tough choices: either it will die or it will brave the pain associated with the self-renewal process. The eagle will trudge up the mountain and find a rock where it sheds off its feathers. It scratches the rock to remove the blunt claws. It beats its blunt beak upon the rock to take it off. It scratches the eyes to remove the clogs otherwise it will never regain its meticulous attention to detail abilities.
The process is bloody painful yet necessary. Weeks later the eagle rejuvenates its feathers, develops robust eye sight, new sharp claws manifest and gets ready for the hunting expeditions.
It can now soar to preposterous heights and is no longer afraid of the storm. In fact, it uses the vast swaths of energy in the storm to propel it higher. With renewed energy the eagle can survive the next 40 years. What are key lessons here?
Modern organizations in like manner should evolve with the times. Periodic self-reflection is key. Systems which were viable two decades ago may not deliver the same results today because of inevitable institutional fatigue. Geniuses of the past start developing mental fossilization and become moribund.
Talent hunting becomes essential to rejuvenate the structures with young blood otherwise the workforce momentum gets diminished due to the clogs of intellectual cholesterol.
When an organization gets into this mode it is difficult to pioneer any new frontiers. In fact, it will plateau into institutional menopause. This is an ugly situation.
Mufaro Gunduza is an academic, author of business books and a futurology enthusiast. He can be contacted at [email protected]. The views expressed in this article are entirely personal and do not reflect the views of any organization.