Travelling from capital cities to rural areas using public transport like long distance buses could go a long way in inculcating servant leadership in African presidents and ministers. Such experiences would also lead to better people-oriented policies. Imagine the President of Zimbabwe boarding Zvishandwa Bus Service at Mbare Bus Terminus in Harare on the way to Nembudziya Gokwe North.
To fully appreciate the reality of public transport, the President could wear a t-shirt, some jeans and a cap so that he appears like any other passenger. No need for suits. However, for security reasons, he might just be accompanied by two security personnel, one seating at the back of the bus and the other somewhere in the front. At Mbare, the President would witness how able-bodied young men who should be producing food in farming areas and working in manufacturing industries have been reduced to aggressive touts fighting for passengers to earn a few dollars. He would also see countless vendors selling the same items to passengers either inside the bus or through the window.
How public transport move food and people
In addition to more passengers getting onto the bus, along the route at Kuwadzana bus stop, the President would see more goods being loaded onto the carrier, already full with diverse items like beds, wardrobes, bags of fertilizer, cement and fresh commodities like potatoes and tomatoes. He would also get to know that food vendors from Gokwe North travel by night using the same buses to come and hoard food commodities from Mbare market when such commodities should be coming from Gokwe North to Harare. At Norton bus stop, the President would see more passengers getting onto the bus including a blind young man. As soon as the bus starts moving, the President would hear some of the most powerful words from the blind man as he begs for assistance from passengers. Speaking in Shona, the young blind says: Handisi kukupai mhosva nehubofu hwangu hama dzangu asi ndirikukumbirawo rubatsiro ndigonewo kurarama. (I am not blaming you for my blindness but just appealing for your assistance so that I can also survive like everyone else). Such powerful words of appeal are very difficult to ignore and the President would join other passengers in giving the blind man some dollars.
In Kadoma, the President would witness how the bus stops for more than two hours to load more passengers and goods. Around the bus, the President would see more than 200 food vendors selling similar drinks like Pepsi cola, Mirinda, Coke as well as home-made pies, biscuits and roasted maize. Being observant, the President would notice that, among the drinks being sold there is no indigenous drink like maheu, masvusvu but industrial processed drinks that have negative long-term effects on consumers.
Appreciating the state of rural roads
When finally, the bus leaves Kadoma for Gokwe North via Sanyati, the President would come face to face with the poor state of the road especially from a place called Makabheji which is a few kilometres after Patchway where the tarred road ends. Together with other passengers, the President would endure a 90km bumpy ride to Sanyati Business Centre. When the bus arrives at Sanyati, the driver switches off the engine for two hours while the bus crew eats some free food at the nearby makeshift restaurant. Meanwhile, food vendors would be surrounding the bus shouting what they are selling to passengers, most of whom are already very tired from the bad road and hot weather. When the driver and conductor eventually decide it is time to continue with the journey, the President would see more passengers getting onto the bus while those with no bus fare will negotiate with the driver and conductor to seat on the bus carrier. At the next road block, the President would witness how national police receive bribes from the bus crew to allow an overloaded bus to pass through.
Having left Mbare at 9am, the bus will cross Sanyati river bridge and arrive at Chinyenyetu business centre at around 5pm (a distance of less than 300km from Harare). The bus would stop for 40 minutes so that passengers who will have arrived at their destination get off while new passengers get onto the bus. From Chinyenyetu to Mtora, the bus spends more minutes at every bus station because the conductor and touts have to get on the bus carrier to off-load each passenger’s goods. Since most of the goods tend to be similar or are in similar bags, most passengers have to get off at every station to check if those getting off the bus are not taking goods which do not belong to them. The process of off-loading goods and tying back goods on the carrier with ropes takes a lot of time such that the bus gets to Mtora business centre at close to 7pm.
Two security personnel would have gone ahead of the President to secure accommodation for the President at one of the lodges at Mtora Growth Point. As soon as the bus arrives at around 7pm, the President would get off the bus and be driven to his accommodation for the night. By then the President’s head would be boiling with so much information to process.
The transformative power of a journey by bus
This journey by bus would be so transformative to the President that when he goes back to Harare he would revise a number of policies. First of all, he would instruct the ministry of transport to immediately start revamping the dusty and muddy road to Gokwe North from Patchway.
It is unfortunate that most African leaders have become prisoners of protocol which has alienated them from realities of their people. In the name of loving and protecting the President, the protocol department decides where the President goes, what he sees and who he talks to including the number of security personnel to accompany him, the kind of vehicle he uses and the route to be travelled. While this might sound like caring for the President, it actually isolates him from real issues and ordinary people’s pain points. When the President travels at high speed in a tinted vehicle, it is not possible for him to see vendors selling food around buses under a very hot weather yet these people would really love to talk to their President. After a journey by bus, the President could introduce several drastic changes that really enrich his leadership as a man of the people. For instance, he might ask his ministers to visit some rural areas by bus as part of a learning journey on servant leadership.
For self-serving purposes, protocol people tend to instil fear into African Presidents by suggesting that ordinary people would harm the President if he travels to rural areas using public transport. Yet in reality, ordinary people love their leaders and would not harm their President. How can African leaders come up with the right policies if they have no idea what ordinary people go through on a daily basis? The late Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya proved that it is possible for an African President to deeply connect with his people in ways that enhance his legacy. May their Dear Souls Rest in Eternal Peace.
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