Zimbabwe: Making Our Leaders Idols Hurt Our Democracy

Riot police arrest and forcibly apprehend protestors during protests in Harare, Friday, Aug, 16, 2019. The main opposition Movement For Democratic Change party is holding protests over deteriorating economic conditions in the country as well as to try and force Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa to set up a transitional authority to address the crisis and organize credible elections. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Truth is, some of us follow our leaders with such rabid loyalty that we fail to see their flaws or hold them accountable for their failures. Perhaps it’s a cultural impulse that implores us to follow blindly: we are so wired and conditioned to follow one man or woman, figurehead or mambo without question, that we become incapable of taking a step back and objectively judging them purely by the outcomes (or lack thereof) of their actions and leadership.

Zimbabwe has seen episodes of political violence over the years

Our culture over hundreds and thousands of years, much like that of many other countries on the continent, created a sociopolitical structure that gave absolute power to a single individual. These individuals were treated as infallible, and in some instances, almost godly. Moreover, they could rule almost indefinitely, never voluntarily giving up power.

That archaic sociopolitical mindset seems to have never been fully exorcised, and because of this, it is in constant conflict with the fundamentals of the constitutional democracy Zimbabwe needs to be: a nation with a balanced and decentralized power structure, a healthy opposition and civic discourse, and most importantly, an engaged citizenry that holds those in power accountable.

Zimbabwe lawyers protesting the deterioration of the rule of law

There is a reason Robert Mugabe stayed in power for over three decades. It wasn’t just the military and the regime that kept him cocooned, but our propensity to put him on a pedestal and never question his leadership, regardless of how bad things got. A habit we seem to be repeating with not only the ZANU faithful, but MDC as well.

Unfortunately, we hold some of these leaders in such high regard, not because of the quality and results of their work, but simply their title or wealth. When we do this, we allow them to be above the law, we allow corruption and misrule to continue, and the suffering to be prolonged.

‘Tortured Zimbabwe abductees’ facing prosecution

Leaders need to be challenged and held accountable when they are found to be inept and wanting, and this can only be done when we snap out of this mass hypnosis and our propensity to follow without question or reservation. We need to learn to adopt a quantifiable results-based mindset when it comes to how we evaluate our leaders: What initiatives and policies did you propose? Did you deliver on them? Did they do what you said they would? And are things better or worse because of it?

I used to think it was only fear that kept these types of leaders across the continent and the world in power, but I’ve also learned that blind loyalty can be just as effective. Tell people what they want to hear, find someone else to blame for your failures, and create the illusion of change, and they will follow and defend you passionately, sometimes to violent extremes. It’s this, in concert with other factors—corruption, cronyism, sanctions, human rights abuses—that has hurt the beautiful country of Zimbabwe and compromised its potential to be a healthy democracy and thriving economy.


Kwapi Vengesayi is an Amazon bestselling author whose books explore captivating musings and thought-provoking conversations about love, relationships, life and our human experience. You can find his book on Amazon. You can also follow him on Twitter @kwapiv or subscribe to his blog at kwapiv.com