Tichaona Zindoga Acting Editor
“Yes, as in the shallow dish of lukewarm water — and, if you’re ritzy, a lemon wedge — meant to clean any evidence of lavish dining off one’s fingers during or after an upscale meal.”
That is how Canadian columnist, Zi-Ann Lum, explained the meaning of a finger bowl when reference to it was made with respect to Prime Minister’s Justin Trudeau sophistication some time last year.
The owner of the words was a chap named Jason Kenney, a former federal minister and leader of Alberta’s United Conservative.
Referring to Trudeau he said: “I know Justin. He doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing. This guy is an empty trust-fund millionaire who has the political depth of a finger bowl.”
That was brutal, and indeed made the huge soundbite it really deserved.
Across oceans, here in Zimbabwe, that phrase can be quite handy.
The country’s main opposition, MDC-Alliance and its leader, Mr Nelson Chamisa, are fantastically out of their depth, and there has been never a worse time to demonstrate this than now.
Three issues bear discussion.
First, the opposition party went to congress at the end of May – slightly under two months ago.
There was nothing remarkable or memorable about that event whose biggest import was to anoint Mr Chamisa as the undisputed leader of the opposition party, itself a thing that had taken a lot of effort and skulduggery to achieve.
Mr Chamisa took over from Morgan Tsvangirai, the veteran former trade unionist who died on Valentine’s Day last year.
Mr Chamisa’s takeover was less than pretty, as is now familiar record.
Outside that, he needed to ensconce in office with the legitimacy of a congress which also would pacify old and emergent threats.
That is politics, yet. Anyone in that position would be trusted, nay charged, with doing that: isn’t politics all about getting and allocating power and resources!
The worry for those that expected more from both institutional and personal levels, is the fact that beyond the power games – which he clearly won – Mr Chamisa offered little else.
So much is expected from the institution of the opposition anywhere in the world.
Ünal Çeviköz captures it beautifully saying: “In a democratic country, opposition counts. Democratic systems function with checks and balances. They also rely on transparency, accountability and responsibility . . . Opposition parties are inseparable components of parliaments and they also function according to the rules of the game, reassuring the application of those checks and balances with their contribution to government policies and constructive criticism. Democracies become complete with opposition.”
The other common recognition is that opposition acts as an alternative Government and offers ideas and policies that counter those in power.
Mr Chamisa would have done well in these functions if he had taken the role of Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, which President Mnangagwa offered him in one of the most progressive approaches in recent times, but he rejected it.
Mr Chamisa has gone to fashion his approach to opposition as one of confrontation and disruption, and zero responsibility on how the opposition can constructively engage in expected and normative political culture and discourse.
No doubt this reductionist approach has severely degraded both the functionality and image of the party as a viable alternative and key pillar in a democracy.
On an individual level, does Nelson Chamisa fare any better as a leader?
The answer is, “No”.
Mr Chamisa was supposed to be more than his persona.
He was supposed to represent a generation and its aspirations that inspire a movement.
Previous campaigns mentioned something to the effect of “Generational Consensus”.
One would be hard pressed to imagine what sort of “consensus” – the Big Idea – that Mr Chamisa represents.
There is quite pretty none to talk about. Unfortunately.
That Big Idea should have come out of Gweru in May during congress.
It did not.
Hence, bare of this Big Idea the opposition and its leader have never been freer of ideology and direction.
Failure to RELOAD
Perhaps the launch of a blueprint called “Road to Economic Recovery, Legitimacy, Openness and Democracy” (RELOAD) could have been the Big Idea.
The document was actually launched last week and all indications are that it went straight into the political dustbin.
Nobody is talking about it: it failed to arouse national imagination. Much less, of a generation.
Contrast this with what spokesperson of the party one Daniel Molekele said ahead of the launch as NewsDay reported on July 11: “The MDC is not a mere opposition party, but we are ready to govern and we have an alternative strategy, including an alternative policy approach to governance.
“Tomorrow (today) when we launch the RELOAD document, we are giving direction to the country and we are also able to clarify the uncertainty of criticism we get that we are all talk and without alternatives.
“We are hoping that the policy document that we are launching will help to set us as an alternative government to show everyone we are ready to govern and actually better in terms of policy, compared to Zanu-PF.”
It would appear as though Molekele has a miasma of knowledge of how the opposition needs to work, but then the product that his party gave us that forgettable day will surely disappoint.
RELOAD will go the way of other trashy pieces of work that we no longer recall on the top of our heads.
MDC-Alliance has failed to reload national politics.
This is failure attributable directly to Mr Chamisa.
After this it will be difficult to sell yet another high-sounding nothing that pretends to be policy blueprint.
Professor Jonathan Moyo, who has become one of the cheerleaders of Mr Chamisa, recorded this disappointment when he wrote on Twitter that, “The RELOAD document. It could have been better conceptualised, written & presented…”
The harshness of judgment is clearly understated.
A sinking scenario
For many of us who have been watching social media spaces, it is hard not to miss the growing disgruntlement with Mr Chamisa.
Many supporters are growing disillusioned by his lack of depth just as whatever capital he had from the takeover of off.
Opposition supporters will no longer worship his character.
They are no longer entertained by his disruptive and confrontational stance towards Government.
The third issue discussed in this piece, namely the just-ended by elections, becomes relevant.
The reaction of the MDC-Alliance supporter to this loss has been sobered.
The results in Bikita and Nyanga show an emblem of failure written on Mr Chamisa. No excuse is good enough and supporters have been clear to see this hence a lot of introspection at the weekend.
Something is wrong. Clearly.
It does not take much to divine that Mr Chamisa’s stock will be taking a downward spiral from here.
Meanwhile, there are efforts by disgruntled leaders to mount a fight against Mr Chamisa’s leadership from within and this will only be more pronounced in the days and months to come.
When the putsch comes, there are only too many people who will be willing to move over, inspired by a new sense of purpose and direction.