Independent presidential candidates are a joke

Diane Shima Rwigira

Diane Shima Rwigira

Nick Mangwana View from the Diaspora
There will be elections in Rwanda in August this year. President Kagame is being challenged by 35-year-old Diane Shima Rwigira. She is clearly an underdog. The likelihood is that she will have a big majority of bystanders rooting for her. This columnist will probably be cheering her on as well, because everyone loves an underdog. But here is the problem; those who will be egging her on are likely to be those not be eligible to vote in the Rwandese elections.

So she will have followers on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. Those who leaked her naked photos gave her even a better social media visibility (Reader please don’t start searching googling for her photos). That couldn’t hurt her in that department. This might be a popularity contest, but it’s a different genre of popularity that she will win. It is very unlikely that it will be for the presidency of Rwanda. This has been made highly improbable by her standing as an independent candidate. She is not motivated by greed. Revenge is one of her motivations. All this is exciting.

In France someone without a political party won presidential elections and only formed a party to contest their version of parliamentary elections after. This inspired a lot people and we are seeing movements on the ground with Zimbabwe joining the independent candidates craze. Some reject the whole idea of a party. They have said that a party forces them to have misplaced loyalties and cannot independently see their vision through. But to govern one needs to be a consensus builder. So this is a failure at the first point of asking.

An independent candidate can only do well if they were a third force to two candidates who were so poor and so dispiriting that the electorate would need that third way. Now in this case there is only one poor and dispiriting candidate. This reduces the independent candidate’s only realistic effect to that of a spoiler haemorrhaging votes from the opposition. So those of this columnist’s party cannot complain. Remember what somebody said recently, “President Mugabe has supporters, Tsvangirai has sympathisers”. So only sympathisers will shift their allegiance and supporters will remain.

Independent presidential candidates are dreamers. We had one who was well known. He had run Sadc. He had been a minister at 30. He had come back from Sadc and been a Minister of Finance and the public had considered him a moderate in both the Politburo and Cabinet. He was already being touted as possible future leader of both Zanu-PF and the country. The problem of believing your own hype is that when you fall you go flat on your face. The rest is history. But he is not the only one. Zimbabwe has had a fair share of jokers for presidential candidates. Democracy is just beautiful. Let’s go.

Zanu-PF has continued to face an opposition with no discernible policy. Its own policies are not tested by the said mediocre opposition that just comes up with one mantra after another. We have had it all: “Breadbasket to basket case, Mugabe must go, Zanu Yaora,” etc. And the Zanu-PF rebuttal has always been that insults are not ideas. Now comes the third way.

But without parliamentary representation, how do you govern with a legislative assembly checkmating every decision you make? This shows that some of these independent candidates are not so serious. Independent candidates can work as a Member of Parliament (MP), not a president.

It is good to be articulate and independent, but how you channel that unrestrained thought and what you articulate are equally important. Unless this columnist is missing something, there is something neurotic or eccentric about what these independent presidential candidates are trying to do. But whatever it is, let’s encourage them so as to make all reactionaries squirm. It won’t affect the Zanu-PF machinery. Any party or individual that is opposed to Zanu-PF and fails to address the source of its appeal will not win an election in Zimbabwe.

It is tough for an independent to excel in any political climate. It is just impossible in ours. You are not issuing cards or taking subscriptions to help you fund your campaign. Your foot soldiers are not likely to be ideologues or influence pedlars or people whose political importance is tied to yours. This point is seen very much in the conventional parties. Those who are close to an MP will do everything in their power to make sure that he wins so they remain close to power.

Same for councillor all the way to the top. In the case of an independent candidate these franchises do not exist so one has to outsource the service. And these foot soldiers who are the service providers are not going to do it for free. Even those driven by a national purpose to fight the liberation struggle have been fighting for their just rewards for years after, proving nothing is really for free. In this day it’s even worse.

Best case scenario for an independent presidential candidate is that one would need the whole body of social media movement behind them. Despite the fact that some of these are the worst mercenaries out there. And in Zimbabwe one actually needs to cover the physical ground. It’s not a question of a few tweets or even an avalanche of same. Cyber activism without pressing flesh will get one a lot of goodwill in cyberspace. But that would hardly ever translate into votes.

One poll which needs to be taken is about how many of the most vocal Twimbos (tweeting Zimbabweans) are actually registered to vote and how many Facebook “likes” translate into countable ballots. The cyberspace and the physical political space are different. Pressure groups have efficacy in cyberspace. But in real life one should realise that the “likes” were just feeding onto a well held delusion.

A corporate brand and a political brand are different and in many cases the corporate brand will not cause a ripple in the political world. Even the likes of Donald Trump realised that they needed a party machinery behind them despite having billions in the bank.

We have now seen hatchet public relations jobs being put out there. In some cases, a lot of banal rhetoric is thrown in there for good measure. Some of the ideas can work very well in different contexts, but tragically not in our context. That is part of the big difference between intelligence and wisdom.

Wisdom is being able to come up with a sound judgment that is relevant to your context. Intelligence is the capacity to accumulate knowledge. But after accumulating that knowledge, if you fail to adapt it and apply it to your political or social context, then you are not wise. And one of the things that Zimbabweans have shown is an antipathy towards the smart alecks of this world. Politically it has never worked.

Otherwise a certain law professor would have such a large following. So it is good for one to have an exaggerated opinion of themselves. It’s therapeutic, cathartic even. But it’s not convertible to votes. Some smarty-pants got tired of being led by someone they perceived to be a charismatic idiot and they are now trying to converge after they once diverged. It is a merciless jungle.

Now let’s talk of a complete political outsider. Does anyone actually think these independent presidential candidates are serious or they are using this as a way of promoting some non-political goals they have? Is there really a serious intention to form a government when in terms of the constitution they can only appoint five members of Cabinet from non-constituency MPs?

Unless the general election produces some more independent MPs, but then teaming up with them forms an alliance. And isn’t that the antithesis of being independent? That’s actually stretching the underpinning premise here. Without a political infrastructure, it’s a gambol to contest for the presidency of Zimbabwe. The country hopes that one day it will understand these intellectuals’ underlying motivations but whatever they are, we in Zanu-PF can only encourage them. In fact, let the ballot be as long as an unwieldy A3 paper.

People that have met one such a candidate and spent time with him saying he is an affable character. A person one wouldn’t mind having as their neighbour or son-in-law. This is great. But is anyone’s president? He cannot win any accolade for bravery or courage. His appeal is to his friends, a few sympathisers and acquaintances and maybe a few family members. Beyond that it will be sad to see a person who is generally viewed as very intelligent and likeable turn into a proper joke.

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