Unpacking Zim’s leadership gene


HARARE – Zimbabwe’s oral history as narrated by Chief Chiduku is full of rich inheritance in terms of wisdom, indigenous knowledge and real wealth for the people of Zimbabwe.

Mambo Chiduku  is the direct descendant of Munhumutapa, the founder of the present day Zimbabwe.

It is Munhumutapa who gave birth to the expansion of the Rozvi Empire under the able leadership of Changamire Dombo.

The first son of Changamire was Rupengo Rupandamanhanga (meaning a  possessed mad fighter who cut pumpkins to pieces if he fails to find opponents)  who inherited a modest empire and expanded it as far as Tete in Mozambique after defeating the Portuguese who had invaded the Zimbabwean plateau in the late sixteenth-century.

The Rozvi  Mambos left a very rich leadership heritage (Utungamiriri Musire) which can be traced in their works of art, sophisticated architecture in the Great Zimbabwe and recited totem that emphasises the supremacy of subjects over the Mambo or King.

The Shona word for leadership is Utungamiriri, it is the term that has got a rich vein of internal meaning to the Shona people.

The word is derived from the verb Tungamira meaning “lead, that is: go in front and show the way”.

The honour in the person given the role to Tungamira (lead) is in the hidden trust bestowed on him or her.

The assumption is that those who are following need direction hence they have trust in the person given the tungamira (leadership)  role to give vision, direction, knowledge and resources to get to the desired destination.

When the person performs to expectations then the followers would give accolades to the effect that the leadership (Utungamiriri) of the person is satisfactory.

It is only when the person has led to perfection that the followers would then say this person is a real leader and they would say  “Mutungamiriri  Wakanaka” meaning he or she is a good leader.

If a leader as a Mambo becomes despotic and burdens the followers with heavy taxes and rampant corruption, the people would take away the term Mutungamiriri and replace it with the word Mudzvanyiriri ( meaning the leader who uses force to get what belongs  to the people and rules by force).

The people and the predecessor of that leader would shun everything to do with the previous leader from generation to generation.

By the same token if a leader shares the meagre resources equally amongst the people and governs fairly, the leader will be called Mutungamiriri wakanaka anosiya nhaka yomusiiranwa kuvanhu vake meaning ( a good leader who leaves inheritance which can be passed on from generation to generation — tene natene in  Kikuyu).

So the word Mutungamiriri is specific to the person “Mu”, and the actual action of leading is called Utungamiriri.

To shorten the meaning of a leader who governs by example and leaves Nhaka YoMusiiranwa (people’s inheritance) one would then say Utungamiriri  Musire.

The word Nhaka in Shona is a common name for inheritance and in this particular case it can be any inheritance.

However if the inheritance becomes valuable either in the community or on a national scale that Nhaka  is then qualified by the word Musiiranwa meaning that inheritance is revered to the extent that  other generations will love it.

The further that Nhaka is passed on from generation to generation the more it qualifies to be called Nhaka Musire.

The word Musire would then mean heritage to be passed on and on.

It is in this context that when Utungamiriri is so good that the core values of that leadership can be passed from generation to generation, then it qualifies to be Utungamiriri Musire (meaning leadership with heritage that can be passed from generation to generation).

The word Musire is not just a term but it becomes metaphorically a basket full of good cherished inheritable values, legacy and actual wealth.

Goko Routungamiriri (Gene of Leadership).

As human beings we need to be conscious of the best practices in leadership which have been passed from generation to generation by our great ancestors who deserve the title Mutungamiriri akanaka ane Utungamiriri Musire (good leader with leadership values that are so valuable that they are passed on to other generations).

Just as we share the same DNA as human species, metaphorically effective leaders who transform organisations and societies should have common denomination when it comes to those leadership values that drive societies and organisations to greater heights.

In scientific terms, “DNA, or Deoxyribonucleic Acid, is the molecule that makes up an organism’s genome in the nucleus of every cell.

It consists of genes, which are molecular codes of proteins, the building blocks of our tissues and their functions.

It also consists of protein making.

DNA shapes how an organism grows up and the physiology of its blood, bone, and brains.”

By the same analogy my point is that Goko Routungamiriri should enable a leader to shape the society and the institution as long as there is consistency in living by the ethos and values that are upheld by the present and future generations as the hub of leadership values and behaviours.

In Shona there are words which have a very deep meaning to such an extent that an English translation will sometimes not be anywhere near the Shona meaning.

The word Goko in Shona means the origin of life in plants and animal species. When you say this person is a Goko of this tribe you mean that the person defines the being of a tribe in terms of ancestry, culture language, and the form of human relations and leadership.

If in another context you say this part of a plant is a Goko of the plant species you are basically saying this type of plant cannot grow without planting the Goko of that plant.

By the same analytical context, African leadership cannot bring the best out of communities if the leaders fail to have the African Goko Routungamiriri (gene of  leadership).

The continuous application of Goko Routungamiriri will result in Utungamiriri Musire. What needs to be emphasised is that Utungamiriri Musire is the fruit of hard work and consistency in living by and application of.

The Western literature on leadership assumes that a leader will have to switch from one style to the other in the process of leading organisations or communities.

My leadership model is deeply rooted in African philosophy that emphasizes the importance of Unhu Hwomutungamiriri  (The human nature of a leader) which is Community defined  as opposed to leadership theories based on situations and individual preferences.

What is difficult in Western theories is the actual assessment of when a leader for example can switch from being Participative to being Autocratic.

In most African societies, it is taboo to be inconsistent when a leader is dealing with issues that affect communities or groups when one looks at organisations.

This may explain why we have government failures and static institutional development in our African continent.

The leader behaves in a certain Westernised manner when in an organisation and tries to replicate the same behaviours when in a community and this discordancy then affect the common understanding of issues both in the organisation and in the society.

The result is general decay in the society and in an organisations because the people will fail to reconcile what the leader is trying to promote with their day today expectation of someone who should protect their interests.

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