ONE of the enduring images and stereotypes around African leaders is their detachment from the people and paranoia about security. More often than not, their entourages are huge with security details comprising the bulk of their aides.
While they claim to be popular and therefore strongly connected with the people they govern, they are privately terrified of their subjects to the extent that they invest heavily in their security and are always accompanied by a phalanx of bodyguards. Since assuming power in November last year, President Mnangagwa has been breaking with tradition as he seeks to create a new and more open society.
Zimbabweans have been amazed at the pace with which he has instituted far reaching economic and political reforms in his quest to build a prosperous, stable and peaceful nation. He has received praise from home and abroad with the world marvelling at the revolution slowly taking shape in Zimbabwe.
Unlike his predecessor, former President Robert Mugabe who led an authoritarian Government not given to advice or criticism, President Mnangagwa is an accommodative leader who listens to the voices of the people.
His leadership style and policies resonate with the masses and this has left even the opposition at sixes and sevens. President Mnangagwa is accessible to the people of Zimbabwe through various platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. He interacts with Zimbabweans of all creed, age, tribe and religious persuasions.
As campaigns for the general elections go a gear up, Zimbabweans have had an opportunity to get a closer look at their President who has obliged by removing barriers to his interactions with them. At the weekend, residents of Chegutu got a pleasant surprise when President Mnangagwa joined a queue of food lovers at a fastfood outlet, bought his lunch of a two-piecer and a Minute Maid and even tipped a cashier.
The President, who is now famous for his accessibility, has discarded extravagances of the former regime’s tradition in many areas. For instance, he has done away with the habit of hiring a marquee for official engagements, opting instead for modest tents just to shed VVIPS. He also uses his escort vehicles to accommodate photo-journalists and walks about to greet the crowd during rallies.
On Sunday afternoon, he brought Chegutu to a standstill after he commandeered his full motorcade to Chicken Inn in the city centre. Hundreds jostled to capture the rare moment on their smartphones and they recorded the scene free of any interference from Presidential security details.
President Mnangagwa, who is widely tipped to win the July 30 elections by a wide margin, has left many convinced that Zimbabwe is now witnessing a different political game to that of former President Mr Mugabe, who maintained a buffer zone between himself and the masses.
Ms Isabel Mtongerwa, the Chicken Inn cashier who served the President, could not believe that she met him face to face. “I could not believe that I was serving the President,” she said. “It has never happened in my life and somehow he proved to be worthy of my vote. He ordered a two-piecer and a Minute Maid, paid $3,75 with US$20 and told me to keep the change. He is very welcoming and makes you feel comfortable in his presence.”
Management at Chegutu Chicken Inn could not believe a rare visit by the number one citizen. The food outlet’s manager Mr Peter Mutate said as an organisation, they felt honoured to serve the Head of State. “We can describe him as an amazing man, very friendly and free to interact with,” he said. “In other words, he is a people’s person. Some of our staff members felt free to greet him. At the end of the visit, many people were left convinced that indeed the country is now witnessing a different political game.”
One food lover at Chicken Inn, Mr Lovejoy Ngondo, said: “We have seen for the first time that this is a real President who is human like us. He eats Chicken Inn like us. At least he lives the same way we do. We can trust him with our lives.”
Many who spoke to our Harare Bureau said after walking side by side with the President on his way to and from the food outlet it was now clear that Zimbabwe was witnessing a new political dispensation where leaders are closer to the people. Indeed President Mnangagwa has been a game changer on the political scene and we are glad that Zimbabweans are connecting with him.
Openness and transparency are key tenets of a democracy and the President has shown the way by embracing a culture of servant leadership and humility.
We applaud the way he has won the respect, trust and confidence of Zimbabweans in such a short space of time. With a five-year mandate after the July 30 general elections, who knows where he might take Zimbabwe.