In defence of a 'weak' leader

HARARE - Thomas Hobbes’ work, The Leviathan, is one of the greatest works of political philosophy.

Hobbes essentially articulated a theory of “political absolutism”. Without a powerful sovereign (Leviathan) to hold man in awe, he argued, we would live in a constant state of war as we each struggle to protect our persons.

Society, therefore, needs a sovereign power to enforce the laws of peace on all citizens or risk a return to the state of nature. Since governments are necessary to maintain peace, we, the “liberal” persons, must voluntarily choose to part with some individual freedom as the price for enjoying tranquility and greater security.

Hobbes’ work has, of course, been the subject of critique.

On the one hand, it has been held as a groundbreaking articulation of modern day  dynamics of social and political order, while on the other, it has been dismissed as an excuse for dictatorship.

The Leviathan holds some explanatory relevance to Zimbabwe’s socio-political order.

In terms of power, President Robert Mugabe represents the archetypal absolutism that the Leviathan postulates.

Nonetheless, the guarantees of domestic peace accompanying a powerful sovereign have not materialised. The theory also explains Mugabe’s obsession with absolute sovereignty that, however, no longer obtains in the current world order.

Some time ago, I said Mugabe’s hold on power resides within a paradoxical mix between reverence and fear.

Reverence because his role in the liberation struggle has had a lasting hold on the minds of some.

These are people, to borrow from Hobbesian thought, who have chosen to part with their individual freedoms entirely, see no evil and will seek to retain him in the forthcoming elections.

Fear because, through the coercive apparatus, he has managed to crush opposition and dissent with chilling brutality. These two qualities have converged efficiently to sustain Mugabe’s rule.  
Last week, Munyaradzi Gwisai of the International Socialist Organisation made a distinction between current Zanu PF rule and a possible Morgan Tsvangirai regime. Gwisai asserted: “The truth is that a Tsvangirai State will be innumerably much weaker than the current Mugabe regime, and thus easier for the working classes to confront.

Moreover, having removed such an entrenched dictatorship such as the Zanu PF one, the working classes will be much more confident of taking on the much less sophisticated, blundering and less credible Tsvangirai regime.”

Gwisai is probably right on the character of a Tsvangirai regime. Essentially, it stands in contradistinction to Hobbes’ Leviathan.   

I have argued that Tsvangirai as president would have a more uncomfortable time than Mugabe for reasons I have already posited. For starters, Tsvangirai will not have on his side the liberationist pedigree and honour that has dissuaded many from protesting against Mugabe over the years.

Instead, a Tsvangirai leadership would have to contend with an irreverent population seeking to ventilate pent-up anger after more than three decades of suppression.

Secondly, Tsvangirai will not be able to generate the fear that Mugabe has spawned through the use force.

Having ridden on the theme of a democratic change and human rights observance, the routine deployment of force on a disgruntled population by Tsvangirai would constitute a grave betrayal.

Such use of instruments of coercion is also based on a presumption that Tsvangirai would have endeared himself to a security sector that has been so heavily politicised.

In any case, it is unlikely that such use of force would quell the popular uprising of a population that has had enough.

Tsvangirai would, thus, be more vulnerable to a “Zimbabwean spring” than the Zanu PF leader.

In fact, it is inconceivable that any leader for that matter will in the future enjoy the uncanny reverence-fear mix that has sustained Mugabe’s deleterious rule.

Therefore, having a vulnerable leader may not necessarily be a bad thing after all.

Why? Because we can remove him. This may sound anarchist but leaders need to be vulnerable to the collective will of people.

A fearful, and not fearsome, leader will probably be more hard-pressed to respect rights and meet people’s aspirations, or risk removal from power.  

Given the option between a Leviathan and “weak” leader, I am inclined towards the latter. - Conrad Nyamutata

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