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UK’s Nigel Farage and challenge to the political class: lessons for Zimbabwe
08/08/2016 00:00:00
by David Mutori
 
David Mutori writes in his personal capacity
 
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LIKE him or loathe him, there are some important lessons that Zimbabwe can learn from Nigel Farage’s leadership of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) some of which are as follows;

  • success is possible when people unite around national issues rather than personalities;
  • national issues do not just affect members of the opposition parties, they affect everyone;
  • membership of a political party does not mean that one has to defend everything about that party;
  • ideological and policy differences between members of the same party should not necessarily lead to that party splitting. There is value in embracing difference and;
  • it is perfectly acceptable for leaders to step down once the issues that they fight for come to a conclusion;

Starting from a position of being ridiculed, Nigel Farage has just shaken the political class to its core in what can only be described as throwing a cat amongst the pigeons. The impact is still being felt in the corridors of power and the country’s future is still uncertain. Even experts and political veterans are pondering what a post Brexit UK will look like.

Back in 2006, the now former UK Prime Minister David Cameron once described Nigel Farage and his supporters as fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists; Zimbabwe’s equivalent of traitors, treasonous and ‘not one of us’. Supporters of David Cameron thought that Cameron’s comments were a masterstroke in distinguishing the Conservative Party from UKIP which was then described as extremist, illiberal and nasty.

In response Farage retorted that such insults showed that his party had touched upon a nerve. Fast forward 10 years and both Farage and Cameron just stepped down from the leadership of their respective parties but for different reasons – Cameron for failing to convince the British public to support his vision of Britain inside the EU and Farage for mission accomplished – he had succeeded in his bid to take Britain out of the EU as he had set out to do.

Nigel Farage is a bit of marmite character; you either like or hate him. Most people despise him and the UK Independence Party that he led. Known for being a bit of a loose cannon, Farage’s brand of politics divides opinion. There are some who saw him as a sideshow, others tried to distance themselves from him to protect their brand. It is indeed tempting to focus on Farage the man but the objective of this post is to focus on ‘issues rather than personalities’.



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The previous few decades had seen UK politics move from both right and left to occupy the so-called ‘swing’ middle ground. The view then, was that voters on the left would vote for labour regardless and those on the right would vote conservative, it is therefore those in the middle that determine who wins. Tony Blair’s New Labour even went as far as rebranding and coining a pro-business term called the ‘third way’.

This middle ground political age was characterised by the emergence of subjects that people simply did not talk about. One such subject is immigration into the UK, a subject that all parties shied away from because it was perceived to be racist. The recently installed Prime Minister Theresa May once warned the party about discussing the immigration issue for fear of being called the ‘nasty party’.

Enter Nigel Farage and his so-called loonies and they started talking about those issues that main-stream parties had previously shied away from. Farage’s then small party argued that there was unsustainable immigration into the UK, most of which was from within the EU. In response, the UK government reiterated its commitment to EU principles and insisted that it could not stop free movement of people within the EU.

Farage and his then small group of followers were initially dismissed as far right extremists. Over time, Farage started picking up votes from some members of the conservative party. It also became apparent that although Farage the person drew mixed feelings from the people, the issues that he focused on resonated with a large part of the British public. Farage proposed that the UK needed to consider exiting the EU if a solution to the intra EU immigration was not solved. His message resonated with a significant part of the population and more members of the conservative party switched to UKIP.

Facing loss of members, the then Prime Minister David Cameron panicked and offered British people a referendum (with the mistaken view that British people would shun and therefore bury Farage’s political ambitions) as part of his 2015 election manifesto. As it turned out, even members of the labour party agreed with Farage’s views.  We now know that Farage’s views resonated with people whose people political ideologies are spread throughout the political spectrum.

Farage managed to unite the previously silenced majority around issues allowing some previously quite political heavyweights to come out of the woodwork. While it is not clear what the future implications of Brexit will be, the cross party nature of the Brexit victory suggests a future where issues matter more than allegiances to political parties.

Zimbabwe, plagued by mushrooming personality-centred political parties has also witness a new phenomenon in recent weeks. Pastor Evan Mawarire is a breath of fresh air and a clear departure from established norms. Contrary convention, he has not called a press conference to announce the formation of a political party to fight for ‘democracy’. Starting by swearing his loyalty to the country, the pastor articulates issues, offers the government time to respond and then rallies the country to demonstrate its frustrations.

Although the journey is long, the pastor has already busted one myth; power is with the people, not the politicians. When he speaks, there is no sloganeering, his messages are simple, and he gives examples and speaks for the whole nation and garners support from the whole political spectrum. It would not be a surprise if there are Zanu PF members who are closet #ThisFlag supporters. Pastor Mawarire has proved that results are possible when people unite around issues and the shutting down of Zimbabwe on the 6th of July opened the people’s eyes to new possibilities.

Issues such as corruption, police road blocks, very poor healthcare and education affect the majority of Zimbabwean citizens whether they support the ruling party of not. It’s okay as a country to unite and fight for improvements in these areas. The change that we yearn for will only be possible when we stop calling each other Tsvangirai’s people, Biti’s people or Mai Mujuru’s people.  It is rather better to be known as the citizens who are unhappy with the state’s failure to deliver on basic services.

Contrary to President Mugabe’s seemingly egomaniacal ‘not one of us’ remarks, Pastor Mawarire IS ‘one of us’ – A Zimbabwean who is articulating issues that affect all of us. Perhaps President Mugabe should call for a referendum and ask the people whether they agree with him or Pastor Mawarire.

David Mutori (FCCA MBA MSc) believes that Zimbabweans underestimate their individual responsibilities and potential to determine their future. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on mutorid@gmail.com.


 
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