By Hopewell Chin’ono
I had a chat yesterday with a friend emanating from the article I had written about the upcoming MDC Congress and Nelson Chamisa’s imminent official ascendancy to the MDC Presidency, after being nominated without opposition.
I want to share a snap view of what I said to my friend about how the MDC and Nelson Chamisa can emerge stronger from their congress being held in the Midlands capital of Gweru in May.
In my view they can emerge much stronger from this congress if there is a true representation of the country’s regions in the top six positions.
My ideal top six if I were a member of that party would be, Nelson Chamisa, Welshman Ncube, Tendai Biti, Tabitha Khumalo, Lynette Karenyi Kore and Fortune Daniel Molokele).
The MDC should avoid the retrogressive temptation to elect their number 1 and 2 positions from the same region, and they should also not try to appease folks close to their President in return for proximity to the main center of power.
They should choose either to be a stronger team of rivals or to be a weaker team of friends and sycophants whistling into the dark unaware of the political and electoral dangers that lie ahead in 2023!
Those well known dangers require a team with solid and uncompromised skills and abilities that can help navigate the MDC away from the treacherous political mines which ZANUPF will indiscriminately plant.
They should actively recruit genuine supporters and not only rely on grievance votes, they should become a party of ideas that stands for something instead of exclusively being an anti-ZANUPF party and nothing else!
Nelson Chamisa is nicknamed Wamba Dia Wamba after a Congolese consummate intellectual and one of Africa’s great political thinkers and theorists.
Chamisa needs to go beyond populism and become a figure that stands for something solid other than people’s frustrations with ZANUPF.
He finds himself today in exactly same position as Tony Blair was in 1994 after taking over the Labour party leadership following the death of John Smith from a heart attack.
Tony Blair turned to great thinkers and intellectual heavy weights in the Labour party, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson.
Together they turned the unelectable Labour party into a powerful and modern political machine that thumped the Conservatives at the polls in 1997.
Nelson Chamisa can easily achieve this goal if he does not become a prisoner of his own political insecurities around equally Big Idea thinkers such as Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube.
Welshman Ncube and Tendai Biti actually served in government with Chamisa, and Tendai Biti was the star of that Unity government when he managed to arrest the economic decline and stabilize the economy.
Why would a political party such as the MDC chose to sacrifice one of their best and respected brains for someone like Morgan Komichi who comes from the same province with the party President?
This is a moment when Komichi should put the interests of his party ahead of his own personal interests, such thinking is always rewarded ahead with bigger prospects if their party wins the election.
Citizens will always respect and reward such selflessness.
Komichi needs to ask himself if his party will be much stronger with him as Vice President or Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube in those positions.
Welshman Ncube is a well-known quantity who similarly to Tendai Biti, is a founding member of their party and has a solid head and impeccable international reputation that would immensely add value to the MDC which has lost gravitas on that front.
Their ascendancy to the top would mean that Mashonaland and the Midlands provinces would have been covered, and the party gets a bonus and sweetener too in that Ncube is also Ndebele.
These are ethnic realities that any honest Zimbabwean should not pretend don’t exist because they do and they define how communities feel included.
Then on the same issue on the Eastern part of the country, regardless of Douglas Mwonzora’s leadership appetite miscalculations, it would be catastrophic for the MDC party not to have someone solid from Manicaland at the top table.
Manicaland is the province that gave Wamba the best bloc vote, so it would be ridiculous not to acknowledge that important reality at their congress!
Much as we might want to pretend that ethnicity doesn’t matter in our country, it does matter, that is why there is disquiet in ZANUPF because of what Temba Mliswa called, Emmerson Mnangagwa’s “Midlands Karanga mafia.”
Democracy doesn’t only mean popular appeal and selection from the party supporters or congress delegates, it also means a fair representation at the top table and the ability to elect capable people who can attain the objectives of why the party was started in the first place.
Maurice Nyagumbo was elected as the party deputy president in 1984 at the ZANU congress at the Borrowdale racecourse.
That meant Simon Muzenda would have been pushed out and Manicaland would have had Edgar Tekere as Secretary General and Nyagumbo as Vice President at the top without Karanga representation.
Robert Mugabe intervened and asked Maurice Nyagumbo to put their party’s survival ahead of his own ambitions, most likely because Mugabe knew what it meant with an imminent election in 1985.
Mugabe ruled the country with at least two other clans at the top table, he understood the relatedness of ethnicity in African politics.
All regions should feel represented at the top table instead of becoming places only good for vote scouting during election campaigns.
MDC supporters should understand that they don’t have the luxury to experiment because they are up against a dangerous and militant ZANUPF in control of the state and all its apparatus.
A good leader should be able to explain to his party delegates why their choices should at times be suspended in pursuit of the long ball and desired main victory.
A weaker MDC run by a bunch of perceived cowboys will be mauled at the polls by ZANUPF’s multiple electoral accessories at its disposal.
They include the right ethnic profiling at the top with Emmerson Mnangagwa, Constantiono Chiwenga, Oppah Muchinguri and Kembo Mohadi all coming from different regions and ethnic groups.
Would Morgan Komichi be able to go to Uzumba, Muzarabani and Marirangwe to mobilize the Zezuru vote for Chamisa and the MDC parliamentarians?
MDC should leave their Congress venue as a party ready to govern with a team at the top that would excite even the doubters and traditional naysayers.
What would Wamba rather do, have his friends and homeboys in top positions and lose an election or have a powerful team of rivals representative of the country’s complexion and win the electoral titanic battle with ZANUPF?
If you are in doubt of what I mean, ask yourself why the MDC prospective parliamentarians got less votes than Nelson Chamisa nationally.
Zimbabweans vote for people that they know and representation is the beginning of local familiarity!
MDC should keep their eyes on the prize, the most important thing is for Zimbabwe to have a viable opposition party!
What the MDC needs is a team that can dismantle ZANUPF’s stranglehold on the State, and a team that can built consensus around an alternative policy agenda to what ZANUPF is offering!
The best people to do this should be on the top table not on the basis of tokenism or sycophancy, but on merit and a track record based on skills and abilities!
Zimbabwe right now is suffering from a severe leadership deficit and citizens are despondent because they don’t see a way out of this quagmire.
The MDC will decide who its leadership will be in May, however their fate will largely fall into the hands of non MDC members in 2023, and those matter more than the local MDC membership or congress delegates!
They should take their congress as an Electoral Indaba to plan on how to win the next general election instead of a gathering to reward loyalists and bootlickers.
Therefore the MDC needs to put together a strong team of leaders, and not a club of friends!
If Nelson Chamisa is to be successful and achieve his central aim of becoming President, he is going to have to learn the difference between power and influence.
He has to come up with a national narrative that transcends the narrow-minded regional and tribal mentality, which keeps the nation divided.
He should use his party congress to unite not only his party, but also the country and to show that he is a genuine and viable alternative to ZANUPF’s old and tired nationalist politics.
He may not yet understand this, but he needs to think and be bigger than the MDC itself, in the same way that Joshua Nkomo became bigger than ZAPU becoming an iconic political figure for every Zimbabwean regardless of party affiliation, something that Robert Mugabe failed to do outside ZANUPF!
Chamisa still thinks like a politician but he needs to show that he is a Statesman and someone ready to govern for all and not only for those that agree with him, that is the mark of transformational leadership not just empty rhetoric which the country has been subjected to by ZANUPF.
We know what he is against, we now need to know what he stands for outside the grievances against ZANUPF’s corruption, incompetence, nepotistic nature and mismanagement of national resources.
The people of Zimbabwe need Hope and they need to be able to dream again and cast a vision for change that is attainable.
Chamisa needs to inspire the masses by not only showing them where he will lead them to, but how he will do it, assembling a team of great thinkers would be a very good start!
The Born Free generation is far more educated and aware of the trickery applied by politicians.
They want solutions not mere rhetoric that is not rooted in easily explainable narratives.
They will roll up their sleeves and go to work if they believe that a political party represents the values that can advance their causes and that it has the right leadership able to make it happen.
Chamisa will need to give them something bigger than rhetoric and niceties but instead a vision underpinned by great ideas to reach for.
His good friends like Chalton Hwende should make way for people who will deliver victory at the polls and they will get a bigger prize when their man gets into power.
Getting bigger positions at their congress will be a mere pyrrhic victory which will not translate their objective desires into reality in 2023.
If Nelson Chamisa loses the 2023 election, he will become an inconsequential politician and a has-been and the MDC will meet its destructive end on that day.
ZANUPF has never needed to win fair and square, for them a win is a win, why would the MDC then help deliver their demise by electing weaker leaders at the top?
Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean international Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker.
He is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow, CNN African Journalist of the year and CNN Television Journalism Fellow. He is also a Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Africa Leadership Institute.
Hopewell has a new documentary film looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe called State of Mind, which was launched to critical acclaim.
The late superstar Oliver Mtukudzi wrote the sound track for State of Mind.
It was recently nominated for a big award at the Festival International du Film Pan-Africain de Cannes in France, in the UK at the Heart of England International Film Festival and in Texas at The US African Film Festival (TAFF).
You can contact Hopewell at email@example.com or twitter @daddyhope