Long Read: Opposition has lost Zimbabweans

Guest Column by Munya Hoto

Before the year is over, Zimbabwe will hold harmonised elections to select the next government. This election is unique for a number of reasons but the key and most outstanding reasons is that for the first time in its long history, the ruling party ZANU PF, will be fielding a “new” presidential candidate. Robert Mugabe (RGM) has… retired.

Former President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe
Former President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe

RGM’s retirement from the office of President remains, in and of itself, a matter of great controversy. However, if the letter he signed is to be believed, his decision to resign was, and I quote, ‘voluntary on my part and arises from my concern for the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe and my desire to ensure a smooth, peaceful and non-violent transfer of power that underpins national security, peace and stability.’ The self-styled ‘G40’ faction, enemies in all-but-name of the current government, insists that RGM was forced out in a military coup and to support their claims, they are currently lobbying various bodies including the African Union and SADC to challenge the legitimacy of Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa (EDM) and his new government.

To be fair to skeptics, the events surrounding RGM’s resignation beggar belief. After days of protest, an unprecedented deployment of military tanks on the streets of Harare and the commencement of impeachment proceedings in parliament, Zimbabwe’s 93-year-old leader bowed to intense pressure and essentially jumped before he was pushed, although the shoving had already begun. The world celebrated. Zimbabweans from all races and backgrounds united in euphoria. Opposition leaders praised the army for the intervention and lined up to congratulate EDM at his inauguration as Zimbabwe ushered in a new era. The atmosphere on the streets of Harare was heavily pregnant with jubilation and to a large extent… relief. Perhaps, the cautious among the masses wondered, our suffering had finally come to an end.

Leonard Ravenhill said on one occasion that opportunities of a lifetime must be seized in the lifetime of the opportunity, and EDM did not waste time in striking a tone in sharp contrast to his predecessor. “Zimbabwe is OPEN for Business,” he BELLOWED as he took his oath of office. His turn-around message of economic recovery, job creation, and prosperity has seen him travel to neighbouring countries and even to the World Economic Forum in Davos to market a country that is ready to reclaim its rightful place on the world stage.

As the dust has begun to settle after EDM’s coronation, opposition parties both old and newly formed, have suddenly found that their celebration (read: endorsement) of EDM’s rise to power has simultaneously crushed their own relevance in the upcoming elections. For so long, their key electoral message has been ‘RGM Must Go’. Now that RGM is gone, with their help, and EDM is now in power, they have, predictably, resorted to their politics of protest and ad hominem attacks, turning on EDM.

Attempting to discredit EDM by accusing him of staging a coup, primarily, is somewhat odd, especially coming from the leaders of the opposition and also highly hypocritical. Those who cried ‘crown him’ yesterday are chanting ‘crucify him’ today. This is not an entirely unfamiliar tale. However, hypocrisy, as shameful as it is, is actually the least of the opposition’s problems. The main issue that confronts the opposition actually lies in the psychology of the voting population, particularly a voting population like that of Zimbabwe, a country that has been through a lot to say the least. As at RGM’s resignation, the country was on its knees. Less than a quarter (17.3 percent) of Zimbabwean children between the ages of 6 and 23 months were receiving the recommended minimum acceptable diet for adequate nutrition. 11 million Zimbabweans, representing 90% of the population had no access to medical aid and 84 children out of a 1000 were likely to die before they reached the age of five. 98% of drugs used in public health centres were funded by donors. Unemployment currently stands at historically high levels and cash is in short supply. Zimbabweans were desperate for CHANGE. The poster child for the above mentioned cocktail of problems of RGM and his resignation (through whatever means necessary) has become the symbol of true CHANGE. I think it would be difficult to pinpoint any greater turning point in Zimbabwe’s history.

Back to the struggles of the opposition… The core argument being put forward by the opposition is that EDM is cut from the same cloth as RGM and allowing him into office at the next election will result in a regression to the suffering of old, something they know Zimbabweans cannot even bear to imagine. It’s too painful. Some have gone so far as to brand any and all who are willing to give EDM a chance to prove himself as #Ediots. The opposition, wrought with infighting, is currently incapable of extricating themselves from the politics of protest. I, personally, have not seen a single presentation by the opposition that addresses the key issues that grip the core pillars of Zimbabwean society. I also don’t think this has been intentional on their part, which makes it even worse. It actually appears as though the opposition BELIEVES that discussing EDM’s personal vices on social media will result in his indictment by the Zimbabwean population in the court of public opinion. Wrong. Zimbabwean are all-too-aware of who EDM is, and in spite of his credentials, which have existed in the public arena for some time, they are willing to lend him the benefit of the doubt because they can attach themselves to his grand vision and mission to make Zimbabwe great again.

To further demonstrate why the opposition’s attack of EDM is a woeful misjudgment, one only needs to analyse a series of elections on the global stage (UK & US are key examples) to understand how voters approach such matters. The politics of protest and ad hominem attacks on individual candidates have emerged as complete and utter failures from a strategic point of view and do little to change mindsets within the voting population, especially against the unstoppable force and momentum cultivated by a clearly articulated vision of HOPE and a BRIGHTER FUTURE. Zimbabwe is OPEN for business.

Here are some examples of how the politics of protest and ad hominem attacks has failed completely:

Hilary Versus Donald:

Donald said: Make America Great Again Hilary said: Donald is BAD.
Donald said: Make America Great Again
Hilary said: Donald is BAD.
Guess who won?

Theresa Versus Jeremy:

Jeremy said: For The Many Not For The Few Theresa said: Jeremy is BAD.
Jeremy said: For The Many Not For The Few
Theresa said: Jeremy is BAD.
Guess what happened?

 

Remainers Versus Brexiteers:

Brexiteers said: Put the GREAT back into Britain Remainers said: Brexiteers are racists
Brexiteers said: Put the GREAT back into Britain
Remainers said: Brexiteers are racists
Guess who won?

EDM Versus Opposition:

EDM says: Zimbabwe is Open For Business Opposition says: EDM is BAD. I’m sure you can predict how this story ends.
EDM says: Zimbabwe is Open For Business
Opposition says: EDM is BAD.
I’m sure you can predict how this story ends.

The principle behind this trend/phenomenon is grounded in subset of neuropsychology called prospect theory. In a joint study on decision making, research psychologists Irving Janis and Leon Mann describe a wartime phenomenon called the “old sergeant syndrome” — when infantry on the frontlines, having witnessed the deaths of many comrades, are known to actually delay making decisions that might protect them from a similar fate. Though anecdotal, the old sergeant syndrome illustrates just how powerful the human preference for staying the course can be. Faced with a choice between EDM and a confused and frankly ‘mission-less’ opposition, Zimbabwean are, on a balance of probabilities, likely to stick with EDM.

The election of Donald Trump as POTUS, against the backdrop of scandal and inexperience, is clear evidence that the decision to vote is not a rational one but rather an emotional one that is justified rationally after the fact. The Zimbabwean opposition parties need to study this carefully if they are to even stand a chance of competing effectively in the upcoming election.

One of the sins of omission that punished Hillary, Theresa, REMAINERS and will most certainly punish opposition parties in Zimbabwe, is the failure to realise that voting is like buying. The study of buying behaviour can be a powerful way to craft messaging that ensures that voters are more likely to go with your solution than with that of the competition. Findings in neuroscience and behavioural science show that the rational brain, the one that objectively assessed facts, ROI calculators and case studies actually takes a back seat in a lot of decision making. It doesn’t matter how many charts you show, how many leading academics come out in your favour or how lengthy your resume is; voters, like buyers are processing the decision emotionally, with fear playing a large part.

In actual fact, the primitive brain, that part of the brain that operates on a completely subconscious level, dealing mostly with emotions and impressions, creates the foundation that the rational brain ultimately uses to arrive at and justify its decision.

The primitive brain tends to be disproportionately risk averse. This part of our brains is so risk averse that studies have shown voters are THREE TIMES more likely to make a decision that avoids them potential harm versus making a decision that will bring a potential benefit. My view is that the opposition, because of their chaos and lack of vision look riskier than EDM and his team.

The Paradox of Buridan’s Ass

This inherent behaviour within voters to “settle” for the status quo was alluded to by French essayist Jean Buridan in reference to free will, but the principle stands. Buridan’s paradox refers to a hypothetical situation where a donkey finds itself exactly halfway between two equally big and delicious bales of hay.  There is no way of distinguishing between these two bales – they appear to be identical (there is no easy way to distinguish Zimbabwe opposition parties from each other – and they are incapable of mounting a credible merit based offence on the incumbent).  Because the donkey lacks a reason or cause to choose one over the other, it cannot decide which one to eat, and so starves to death (hopefully prospers under EDM and his government).

Essentially, voters, when faced with choice overload between opposition parties that lack clear differentiation or messaging about issues they care about, would rather return to the perceived safety of what they already know rather than go through the “trouble” of risking it all with the opposition.

In my view, the election is a foregone conclusion. Not because of voter rigging or intimidation but actually because there is only one credible horse in the race.

Zimbabwe is OPEN for business. Let’s make Zimbabwe GREAT again.

What do you think?

Disclaimer: I am not a member of any political party and I am looking to voting for the party that presents the greatest opportunity for the prosperity of the Zimbabwean people

  • Munya Hoto is a Digital & Content Strategist, Marketing Leader, Tech enthusiast and conference speaker. He is currently leading Digital Strategy at @TheFoundryTeam