By Chimwemwe Mwanza
What we know and understand about politicians is shaped by their actions precisely why posture, decorum and empathy are some of the few but greater attributes to winning a political congeniality contest.
Typical of democracies, the most ardent electoral base will naturally gravitate towards a candidate that speaks the language of the proletariat – never mind their traits. For whatever reason, grass- root voters detest those they perceive to be, arrogant, egomaniac and wealthy.
The 2012 US Presidential elections aptly exemplify this analogy. Speaking at a closed but intimate session with potential donors in Boca Raton Florida, former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, used this occasion to scorn a large section of the US electorate, arguing they would stop at nothing short of voting for his opponent Barack Obama – this despite Romney’s spirited determination to sell his candidature.
“They will vote for the president (Obama) no matter what. All right, there are 47% who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing to you name it,” said Romney.
The crafty Obama campaign team, superbly guided by David Axelrod seized upon a leaked video of these comments to use them with maximum potency. Thus, they succeeded in projecting Romney as a callous individual who didn’t care a dime about their hardships. With Romney entangled in all sorts of explanations regarding his reasoning for issuing such comments, the pendulum swung Obama’s way. Suddenly what was Romney’s election to lose, slipped out of his grasp.
And the likeable Obama drawing on his appeal among the US middle class, bested his robotic opponent to win the fiercely contested Presidential elections. There are parallels to draw from this experience.
HH the enigma
Who is HH? Like Romney, intimate details of the enigma that is HH have largely been espoused by the UPND leader’s inner circle. Dr Canicious Banda and GBM – who both served as his co-deputies, describe him as an aloof, arrogant and a self centred tribalist who will stop at nothing to win the Presidency. His failure in 2011 to maintain a political pact with the PF, designed to oust MMD from power and the eventual but unceremonious ousting from UPND of both Dr Banda and GBM have been cited as examples of his ruthlessness.
Like Romney, HH is a wealthy business man – a factor that should be counting in his favour – at least given the country’s economic malaise yet he has allowed his detractors to cast him as a rent – seeking plutocrat who is out of sync with the hardships facing your average Zambian.
The fact that he has at times engaged in petty but opportunistic political skirmishes has not helped his cause but instead lends credence to such innuendos. Otherwise why would the leader of the largest opposition party stoop so low as to deny his parliamentarians and party officials the right to interact with the ruling party or Head of State on matters of national interest? Should politics of engagement and consensus take a back seat to await his inauguration?
In retrospect, whether such misgivings about the UPND leader are borne out of fact, envy or even bitterness is hard to tell but what is poignant is that some of these charges have been laid at his feet by people that were once in his inner sanctum – more like the stab of Brutus on Caesar.
And the challenge in the court of public opinion is that, anything that quarks is considered a duck. If it has along neck, it is likely a giraffe and if it roars, it certainly is a lion. This stigma has stuck like a monkey on his back. Even worse, it’s almost as though the raison d’etre for the existence of the Patriotic Front’s (PF) propaganda machinery is to reinforce the belief that the UPND leader is in fact, a cold calculating bourgeoisie who has little interest in the well-being of Zambians.
The real HH?
It’s indisputable that the disinformation strategy has ably served to snuff his political oxygen. How so? Here we are discussing the man’s wealth when the riddle of 48 houses – without an owner or the 42 fire trucks that cost the fiscus, K13m each – ought to be the subject matter.
Even more telling, the electorate’s reluctance to intimately interrogate the real persona of the UPND leader has enabled a diversion to focus solely on perceptions. Unfortunately, this is the prism through which the grass root views HH’s political posture.
Yet, watching him speak at a few local and international platforms, both his heart and mind seem in the right place. Constantly empathising with the struggling working class, the man is nowhere close to callousness. The character traits he exhibits are those of a patriotic Zambian that is prepared to break the confines of a luxury life to heed the call to serve. His articulation of the country’s economic terrain and his prescriptive solutions are on the mark. Simply put: he seems to have a plan.
Speaking to investors at the 2018 Mining Indaba in Capetown South Africa, he sold the audience, his vision of a Zambia that is open to investment, respects property rights and above all, one in which both the international mining community and the citizenry would share in the spoils of the mining industry – which off course is the country’s economic life blood.
If anything stood tall in his presentation, his plan to stabilise Zambia’s rising debt crisis seemed tangible. And the standing ovation he received was befitting of a head of state. And for some in the audience, the apostle of a broader economic and sociological emancipation the country had been looking for suddenly showed up.Could this be HH that the Zambian grass root has been looking for?