Ever since the advent of the so-called ‘Second Republic” (also deceptively misnamed, ‘new dispensation’, as there is hardly anything ‘new’ about those in power) through a military coup d’etat in November 2017 – the Zimbabwe regime has never tired touting its leader, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, as a ‘listening president’.
Already from this intro, it is easy to tell that the country’s ruling elite are big on mantras and slogans – from ‘new dispensation’, ‘Second Republic’, and ‘listening president’, to ‘Zimbabwe is open for business, ‘leaving no one behind’, and ‘building brick upon brick, amongst a whole host of others.
However, what I have learnt from my forty-eight (48) years of existence on this planet, and more so, in Zimbabwe, is that – talk is cheap, and those who love boasting and blowing their own trumpets, are seldom who they claim to be, and never achieve what they promise.
Let us take this ‘listening president’ mantra, for instance – how many times have we actually seen Mnangagwa listening to the people, especially during his current whirlwind tour of the country?
Have his audiences ever been awarded an opportunity to address him?
Judging from reports emanating from those campaign rallies – for that is what they truly are – all we have heard is a president who has merely stepped onto the podium, shouted his lungs out, and that was it.
Never have the people been afforded the chance to stand up and speak their minds out, ask questions troubling them, and generally express their thoughts.
We have an estimated 7.9 million Zimbabweans (nearly half the country’s population) wallowing in extreme poverty (earning less than USD1.90 a day, according to both the UN [United Nations], and WB [World Bank]).
One in three children is malnutritioned, with ninety-three percent (93%) between six months and two years of age not consuming the minimum acceptable diet – as well as, seventy-two percent (72%) of the population living below the poverty datum line.
We have a government that can not stop bragging over a $9.8 billion surplus – yet, pays its own workers less than USD200 and pensioners getting USD45 per month, public hospitals that are poorly equiped, and schools liitle more than mere children’s playgrounds.
On top of that, we have been witnessing an increase in Chinese companies wrecking havoc in rural areas – where, they have been callously harassing ordinary defenceless villagers, threatening to evict them from their ancestral lands, as well as desecration of their foreparents’ graves and local heritage sites.
With such savage suffering, horrifying hunger, and unimaginable impoverishment – I am pretty sure all those thousands of Zimbabweans being gathered (in stark violation of the government’s own COVID-19 restrictions, and their lives being placed in unnecessary peril) have something to say, and ask the president.
If truly he was such a ‘listening’ person, would he not see it imperative to spend more time listening to these mostly rural villagers – who bare the brunt of the economic meltdown we are facing in the country?
Additionally, Mnangagwa – soon after grabbing the reins of power from his long-time mentor and boss, Robert Gabriel Mugabe – opened social media accounts (namely, Facebook and Twitter), which we expected would be used to interact with, and listen to, the people he led.
Yet, these have, unfortunately, turned out to be nothing more than one-way announcement platforms – without the president ever bothering to interact with those who comment on his postings.
Similarly, as far as I can remember, Mnangagwa has never (as the state president) held a press conference with local journalists, especially from the private media – who would be expected to ask tough questions, as opposed to the lame scripted, choreographed, and cautious questions from the usual ‘suspects’ from state-controlled houses.
If Zimbabwe has a ‘listening president’ then, why is he not listening?
As a matter of fact, he appears to be doing more talking than listening.
If Mnangagwa sincerely wanted to hear what the people had to say – as someone who once claimed that ‘the voice of the people was the voice of God’ (as statement that I find rather blasphemous than anything else, since there is nothing scriptural about that) – should he not be taking full advantage of the numerous opportunities presented to him by his nearly daily rallies?
What better way is there to listen to the people, than having them right there with you?
At such fora, we also expect ordinary citizens to be assured that they can express themselves freely, without the fear of retribution and victimization – should they say something considered ‘anti-government’, or even ‘insulting the president’, considering how some people have been arrested for merely saying something as simple as, ‘Smith did a better job’.
Furthermore, let this not be another platform for scripted, choreographed, and cautious fake engagements – whereby, those who would be allowed to ask the president questions, would be praise-singers and hero-worshippers, without anything much to say except thanking him for his ‘visionary leadership’, and for giving them handouts.
It is time that Mnangagwa proved himself as truly a ‘listening president’ – something we have, so far, only been told about by his staffers and followers, but have never witnessed being exercised in real life.
© Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and political commentator. Please feel free to contact him on WhatsApp/Call: +263715667700 / +263782283975, or Calls Only: +263788897936 / +263733399640, or email: email@example.com