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Towards 2023: People’s aspirations


In this second instalment, I analyse the concept of people’s aspirations as the foundational driver of a national renewal process. But first, I want to frame the context in which people’s aspirations find expression.

People’s aspirations find expression in developmental situations, defined as a situation in which people sharing a common environment are engaged in ongoing interactions to define and shape the trajectory of their common futures.

Elections 2023 are a prime example of a developmental situation. And if we assume that people’s aspirations are the foundational driver of any renewal process, this begs the questions: “Who are these people, and what are their aspirations, and why do people’s aspirations matter?”

When Nyerere (1976) said “development is of man by man” he pointed to intentionality and the centrality of people in the development equation.

But “people” are not monolithic; they are more different than similar, in their learned repertoires, interests, aspirations and influence. This in part justifies the emergence of government as a unifying force; to forge unity out of that diversity; to reconcile the tensions associated with that diversity.

Aspirations as unifying concept

According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary, an aspiration is “a strong desire to achieve something high or great”, and as a noun, an aspiration is an “object of that desire”.

Aspirations are the wellspring of people’s actions. They motivate; they animate; they imbue life with purpose. Aspirations determine the battles that we fight; the reasons we fight them; the paths that we take; and are the sources of hope and resilience.

We hope because we believe that life is worth living, that the future is worth striving after…that in fact our struggles and foibles are part of a bigger picture, a bigger fate. Aspirations are the stuff of dreams, the sources of visions and the origins of inner power.

An important characteristic of aspirations is that they are both individual collective; private and public. Aspirations are not completely unmoored from present reality: individuals act in relation to their expectations of what the future may hold. The judgement of what a future holds is arrived at through interpretation of the socially-distributed rhetoric about the future, as well as by the inertias represented by material conditions.

There is a sense then that people’s aspirations are in some way related to the present state of things, linking the concept of aspiration to needs, interests and power.

 If aspirations are sources of visions of the future as I earlier alluded to, we can conceive of visions as the elaborated expression of aspirations. And as with aspirations, visions can be private or collective. Of analytical importance here are collective aspirations because they have the potential to marshal resources, coordinate activities and manage uncertainties.

So, what are the people’s aspirations towards 2023?

Looking for God

To coin a metaphor, people look for God in a leader —  a woman or man of wisdom, power, balance, temperance, aura, reverence and good judgement.

 People look for someone they look up to; someone who elevates them in all dimensions and in whom they take pride to serve and respect. It’s obviously an impossible feat to achieve: no human being ever achieves such a divine status no matter how much they try. But that is the challenge of those vying for power: to approximate the idealised version of a mortal god.

A meritocratic society

By far the most problematic issue in Zimbabwe is a patronage system of social mobility. Key appointments are frequently based on kinship ties, political affiliation and fealty to those in power. Competences are barely considered.

The result has been an insidious decline in effectiveness and efficiency of public services; a culture of impunity and a tolerance of mediocrity. People want to see meritocracy once again becoming the criteria for social mobility and the basis for appointments to key public service positions. In a big way, the performance of appointees reflect the leader’s judgement, and by extension, his/her overall competence.

A culture of law and order

People want to feel safe and secure in their nation. They want to be confident in the law enforcement institutions; and to be protected from those who break commonly-held norms. The current high levels of corruption are a result of laxity in enforcement of existing laws. Usually the corruption is first perpetrated by powerful people, who by their example, normalise and sometimes even glorify corruption. Conversely, fighting corruption is the role of leadership, especially through the power of positive example.

Public systems that work

People hark back to the days when everything used to work as it should. Buses came on time; ATMs dispensed money and pensions meant something, public hospitals, schools and savings worked well. All those things are basically gone and people want them back.

Fair distribution of opportunities

Many people believe that the problem in this nation is not the absence of resources, but an unfair distribution of opportunities. In the final analysis, everyone aspires to a good life. But to achieve the good life, everyone needs opportunities to work or engage in some economic activity.

 They need skills, meaning access to good education. What constitutes “good” education and how different people access that education is extremely important to people. Furthermore, an economy that is “firing” is an integral factor in the distribution of opportunities. How to make the economy “fire” is the perennial challenge of leadership.

In conclusion, those aspiring to power need to address these aspirational issues as articulated. They need to articulate visions of the future that speak to people’s aspirations. But above all, visions of the future (and political manifestos!) require the endorsement and affiliation of the majority before they can be actualised, so they need to be both convincing and resonant with people’s collective aspirations.   

Mangwiroto is a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, Department of Community and Social Development, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences.

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