Elliot Ziwira THE INTERVIEW
The following is a transcript of a conversation The Herald’s Elliot Ziwira (EZ) had with Dr Noah Manyika (NM), one of the 23 presidential contestants in the July 30 harmonised elections.
EZ. Can you give us a background on who Noah Manyika is?
NM: I am a businessman, academic, publisher, author and gospel singer. I have had a rich life experience post college, including being co-publisher of “Beat International” (a music magazine), co-founder of Landlocked Fish Distributors, which worked with the fishing communities in Binga to distribute fish in the larger Harare market, founder of Hillside Bakery in Bulawayo, founder/publisher of “Burning Issues” (faith magazine), and music producer and creator of the House of David music label through which I produced two gospel albums, “Chitsike” and “Ngoro DzeMoto.” I am also the author of the book: “The Challenge of Leadership: Is There Not a Cause?” which is used as a leadership development setbook by Vision University in the United States and various leadership development programmes of Christian institutions.
My academic background includes training in mass communication, political science, international political and business diplomacy and transformational leadership. I am a Senior Fellow with the Sagamore Institute and a Fulbright Scholar and graduate of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington DC and of the Stefan Gheorghiu Academy, in Bucharest, Romania. My passion in addition to global affairs is building pathways out of poverty for the poor, which is what led me to pioneering social entrepreneurial work in poor and underserved communities in the United States.
The projects I founded and/or led between 1994 and 2016 include the Charlotte Children’s Scholarship Fund, Brookstone School (a private school of excellence for low-income children), Hope Junction (provider of creative enrichment programmes to youths from fragile communities), NeXus Urban Serve, and the Charlotte Empowerment Zone, and were widely recognised by educators, mayors and global leaders like former world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield and global music superstar will.i.am.
I served on the Affordable Housing Cabinet of Mecklenburg County and on the Board of Visitors of Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the boards of United World Missions and Harvests of Hope, which between them have projects and workers in over 35 countries. My “Shoes for Healing Programme” which was adopted by the Organ for National Healing in Zimbabwe under the leadership of the late Vice President, Honourable John Nkomo brought thousands of shoes for distribution to schoolchildren in all of Zimbabwe’s provinces for distribution at events that were designed to promote national healing and peace.
I have been married to Phillis Manyika for 30 years, and we have two daughters and a son.
EZ: what would you consider to be the origins of the Build Zimbabwe Alliance?
NM: The Build Zimbabwe Alliance emerged out of my call starting in 2016 for Zimbabweans to boldly reclaim the original goals of the liberation struggle and of the true freedom fighters like the late General Josiah Tongogara, who was clear that we were fighting for the liberation and prosperity of all Zimbabweans.
There was an awakening in Zimbabwe that had young people and the general populace, not political parties and traditional politicians, on the frontlines of a movement that shook the system and is largely responsible for bringing us where we are today.
That awakening also coincided with the realisation by many of us that what makes us citizens of Zimbabwe; our country’s greatest resource is not membership of political parties or a war record, but that we love our country and know enough to no longer excuse the destruction of our country and the modern day slavery of a few, keeping the majority trapped in poverty for political power in the name of preserving the legacy of our liberation struggle or our national sovereignty.
Changing the story of our country and winning the war on poverty cannot be done with the kinds of councillors, members of Parliament described in Proverbs 28:15 (NLT): “A wicked ruler is as dangerous to the poor as a roaring lion or an attacking bear.” The goal of the Build Zimbabwe Alliance is to have leaders who care about the lot of the majority of our people serving at every level.
EZ: As an aspiring leader of the Republic of Zimbabwe what do you have in store for the electorate?
NM: The problem for our country has never been the inability of leaders to make promises, even great ones. It is, however, the participation of citizens in the political and civic process that will deliver more than any promise that a politician makes. That participation must not just end with electing the leaders of our choice. It must also include being willing to exercise your rights as voters to recall leaders, who don’t fulfill their promises and only reappear like ghosts after five years to bribe the electorate with more promises. So the electorate is going to have to make a judgment, not just on the basis of promises but of character and values.
So my first offer to the Zimbabwean people is principled servant leadership that will not rule, but lead and ensure that everyone participates fully in deciding the future of our country and building it. Zimbabweans everywhere, including the Diaspora must be allowed to vote.
I promise the Zimbabwean people a government and presidency that will be fully focused on winning the war on poverty.
Earlier this year, we released our manifesto, which talks about the need to create a unique social contract where all citizens feel their participation in determining the direction of our country and building it.
We outlined our 10-Point Plan, which includes drastic reduction in public spending, devolving the presidency and building a sound economy from the inside out, which will ensure that no province and no citizen is left behind. Our vision is to treble the country’s GDP from $16,29 billion to $48,87 billion by 2023 and subsequently $100 billion by 2028.
We are now releasing the second and most important plan of our two-part policy platform, our: War On Poverty Manifesto. In my view, no party can fulfill its promises to the majority of the people without a clear and unwavering commitment to winning the war on poverty.
An integrated economy that will improve the productivity and well-being of all Zimbabweans, including the million living with disabilities, who, along with women and children, constitute the majority of people living in abject poverty, will not happen by accident.
Because the lives of the poor majority are just as important as those of the privileged few, we will develop first rate health, sanitation, energy, transportation, education and housing infrastructure in underserved rural and urban communities.
While it is important to have the best road, rail and air corridors to connect our country to outside markets, equal priority must be given to building pathways out of poverty for Zimbabwe’s poor and infrastructure that will shorten the sowing-harvesting cycle and ease access to capital and markets.
EZ: How do you intend to win the battle against poverty?
Because of our commitment to win the war on poverty, we will adopt the One District One Factory policy being implemented by the government of Ghana to “equip and empower communities to utilise their local resources in manufacturing products that are in high demand both locally and internationally.”
The factories, which will mainly run off grid using alternative energy sources will enable poor districts and provinces to reap the rewards of industrialisation and increase agricultural and manufacturing output, thereby reducing the country’s reliance on imports and increasing the production of consumer goods and food availability.
EZ: Considering that politics seems to be the gateway to easy pickings for fly-by-night politicians, who consider their interests ahead of the common good, why should the electorate trust you?
NM: I have had and still have many opportunities in life to make money. I have the education and the contacts to do so without risking my life this way. I chose to focus on community work after graduating from one of the most prestigious programmes in the US because in my view, there is nothing more satisfying than serving humanity.
God blessed me and my wife to be able to own a home and to give our children an excellent education. Our two daughters are independent professionals, and our son is now in his third year of college. I am also not planning to become a career politician. I fully expect to have a productive life after formal politics where I will earn my keep through my experience and qualifications.
I have dedicated my life to building pathways out of poverty for the poor. I am asking the electorate to vote for me because of my commitment to fighting the war on poverty as demonstrated by the story of my life shared earlier. But more than that, I am asking the electorate to vote for themselves, for their futures, and the futures of their children. I don’t take the electorate for granted.
I will not make false promises, and believe that as hard as it may be to be truthful when we are campaigning, this moment in the life of our nation is too important for us to win votes by lying. That does not mean we don’t cast a big vision for our country. There has been an attempt during the course of the 2018 campaign period to discredit those who suggest that we should aspire to be a country with 21st Century infrastructure; essentially a First World Great Zimbabwe where every citizen enjoys all that modernity has to offer. It is my conviction that the people of Zimbabwe deserve that, and that the responsibility of leaders is to make it happen in our lifetime.
What is open to constructive debate is not the aspiration, but how we get to the end we all desire. We don’t get there through ill-thoughts or through mega infrastructure deals that end up only rewarding certain nations ahead of others, probably because of past links, while aggravating our debt obligations.
We desire to achieve the breakthrough leap into the ranks of the First World not out of envy, but because it takes first world economic performance for a country to meet its obligations to the majority of its people.
I am going to make an honest appeal for the vote and will respect the dignity and intelligence of the Zimbabwean people by dealing with them truthfully, not through empty promises.
EZ: What percentage of the electorate are you targeting?
NM: As you are aware, the harmonised elections are essentially four elections rolled into one, but with distinct constituencies. The presidential election is a national one. My presidential campaign is targeting the whole nation. At others levels, we are supporting the 42 candidates contesting as BZA MPs and their councillors, as well as all the independent MPs and councillors who share our values.
EZ: What would you say are your successes so far, or the challenges you are facing if any?
NM: We are very excited about how our message is being received wherever we go. Recently, I met with five traditional leaders, and it is truly encouraging to see how they are responding to the message on the war on poverty.
They understand now that the state of their areas of chieftainship and headmanship also reflect on their own leadership. That is a really powerful development in Zimbabwe, considering that over 70 percent of the people are in the rural areas and that is where poverty is also concentrated.
I am delighted that there is an increasing number of chiefs, who are on board and want to fight the war on poverty with us. I am also very proud of my campaign team. We committed from the beginning to be disciplined and not be distracted by whatever noise is there on the political scene. My team has refused to be distracted, and as a result we have a large constituency that is paying attention to the substance of our message.
Challenges are always there in any campaign, but we prefer to see them as opportunities. When rivals try to stop us from campaigning, by defacing our posters and banners, or intimidating our supporters, we see that as an opportunity to expose them to the electorate. We believe that the ruling by the High Court that chiefs should not be partisan was a success for some of us.
I am also delighted to see the validation of our ideas by other formations, including the ruling party. We were the first ones to point out the need to resuscitate provincial economies and changing the role of provincial governors from being partisan gatekeepers to champions of provincial development.
EZ: As the campaign period reaches fever pitch do you consider the playing field even?
NM: Incumbents rarely create an even playing field for their competitors. We currently have the appearance of a level playing field in some areas, but sadly we are going to have to continue to fight to create our own competitive advantage because essentially we are not in control of the processes.
The late announcement of the election date and the apparent confusion of ZEC officers about Nomination Court requirements clearly disadvantaged the opposition. I am not convinced that they were as confused when they we dealing with ZANU-PF candidates.
The reason why the ruling party was able to field candidates in every constituency is because they are in charge of the process and knew the processes ahead of everyone else. The fact that the people working for ZEC may have been “retired” from the army does not make them independent. The fact that only now the airwaves and the public press is being opened up to the opposition does not do anything to address the huge advantage the ruling party has already had before this apparent opening up. They have had a huge start, and everybody else has a mountain to climb.
EZ: As a signatory to the peace pledge what role do you intend to play to make sure that peace prevails in this campaign period, during and after the harmonised elections on July 30?
NM: I have a long history of working for peace and reconciliation in this country, including serving with the Organ for National Healing during the GNU. What motivated most of us to get into politics is in fact the desire to have leaders who would not intimidate people.
I am committed to ensuring that all BZA leaders subscribe to the call to uphold peace. At the end of the day, however, it is important to understand that poverty is also a very dangerous swamp that creates conditions for violence. Our people must feel that their leaders are responsive to their needs. We also know that poor people are susceptible to manipulation by powerful political figures. In order for peace to prevail at any point in the life of our nation, we must win the war on poverty.
It’s important for us to have leaders that can bring stability to our nation, because an unstable nation creates opportunities for violence. The last verse of Proverbs 28 also makes a connection between corruption and instability: “When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily. But wise and knowledgeable leaders bring stability.”
Our hopes would be misplaced if we think that democracy will solve everything. Some of the most horrendous acts of political violence have taken place in countries with long established democratic traditions. Neither can we completely eliminate all the unstable people from society who will resort to violence to make their point.
There is, however, something that each and every one of us can commit to: to be neither instigators nor perpetrators of violence ourselves. We can commit to make our voices as champions of peace heard when our associates conspire to bring physical harm to others.
The mantra “Peace begins with me” which we used to recite during my time working with the Organ for National Healing during the GNU is worth remembering. The responsibility for peace must begin with each of us. Each of us must proudly be the weak link that breaks the chain of violence.