A turnkey communication strategy needs to be in place to not only build goodwill and understanding between citizens and the presidium, but to also ensure that socio economic reforms are both successful and far-reaching. Granted, it’s an assortment of constantly moving parts. However, an effective strategy can help achieve the national vision, exploit emerging opportunities as they arise and pave the way for sustainable socio economic development. The Government will need a clear plan and the political will to implement it.
An effective communication strategy serves as a guide and gives Zimbabwe some legroom to set its own agenda rather than importing one made to order from Western think tanks. It will be a delicate dance entailing the engagement of a potpourri of citizens with as many disparate views, interests and expectations as the regional and international community. Whatever the case, President Mnangagwa has to oversee the creation of relevant and sustainable policies that empower every Zimbabwean to give the best of themselves to their country at every waking moment. How Government communicates this message will determine their credibility on the back of watershed elections slated end of July.
In the meantime, the Mnangagwa Government has the goodwill of a sizeable section of the population eager to see Zimbabwe on the rebound. It is this goodwill that Government can piggy back on to tackle the low hanging fruits of endemic corruption and widespread unemployment. Public service must transform to meet citizens’ rising expectations, especially in the area of digital experiences. Government driven Digital platforms make public services cheaper, deliver better social and policy outcomes, and increase engagement. This makes sense on the back of tremendous growth in citizen driven social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp as tools to call policy makers to account.
The reason why and how Governments should communicate has changed – yet dated communication structures and skills endure since policymakers hardly understand the role of Communication. Zimbabwe should embrace technology that enables seamless access to their service portal to open up dialogue with its citizens and increase transparency. Sadly, Public Relations is still regarded as a tactical tool rather than a strategic function of policy delivery in Zimbabwe. This is why public service remains under-skilled in areas such as social media, data analysis, audience segmentation and citizen engagement. The remedy? – realign civil service to meet the needs of a demographic that expects service at the click of a finger!
There is a global arms race of Governments selling the hope of a better life to citizens which Communicators have to contend with if they are to maintain the heartbeat of their respective Government’s policies. Such focus not only ensures that the public relations function takes a frontrow seat and also conveys a unified message to all stakeholders to stay on brand. A meeting of minds across all sectors of society from Government, civil society and the private sector is necessary to advance the country’s new economic development agenda
The current Leadership will have to choose cause over ambition and take a long term view on its communications strategy which will need a lot of patience to see it through. Meanwhile, the President and his Government will be judged by present actions over any convoluted promises about the future no matter their face value. If anything, the nickel and dime reformism of the past is no longer panacea to the economic progress nor socio-political cohesion. Instead, indications are that real progress on the ground will not be a walk in the park. This is why Government will do well, to maintain ‘steady hands’ with institutional memory balanced with a fresh crop of professionals to deal with the demands of the new dispensation. This will require extensive rationalization of the mandate of many institutions and their secretariat within Government to improve operational efficiencies and enable swift decision making.
Another forward thinking aspect of the Government’s policy should be encouraging the return of its best talent resident in the diaspora by guaranteeing existing positions for a certain period of time whilst tweaking the civil service’s terms and conditions of employment to align its development aspirations with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 – the continental development framework for socio-economic transformation. In addition, Government should commit towards ensuring that the SADC target of 15% of the national budget goes to the health sector to upscale the access of citizens to basic health services and better remuneration for the health service profession. A healthy nation will not only yield high political and economic dividends but the confidence for citizens to participate in the development of the country.
On the international front, a push for wholesale adoption of the UN Global Compact which brings business together with UN agencies, labour, civil society and governments will advance ten universal principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. In addition the UN SDGs should provide an inspiring guide for sustainable development in Zimbabwe through providing solutions for the community’s most pressing needs, ultimately creating impact across the globe.
Over and above this, the Government needs to take this strategy further to setup communications units in line Ministries and cascade the same mandate to Local Government level. This will ensure that the Government’s programmes successes, failures and challenges are fully communicated to stakeholders to measure progress and coordinated sharing of information between the central Government and its units. At the confluence of all these high sounding undertakings should be a cohesive message that marries action on the ground with policy pronouncements on paper in a wholesome way to bring together stakeholders from Government, private sector and civil society.
The modern PR Professional working in the Zimbabwean public sector needs to tap into these policies with the aim of creating trusted and productive relationships that form the foundation of lasting change. This is easily done if there is a unitary communications strategy from Government which spells out what the Government wants citizens to know, think and do. The varied ethnic, religious, social and political persuasions of the Zimbabwean society will elicit a multipurpose approach from Government so as to manage expectations. Setting realistic goals and channelling adequate resources where they are needed is critical lest disillusionment and apathy sets in especially with the advent of independent media and a constantly evolving socio economic situation.
To overcome the challenges faced by Zimbabwe will take massive commitment and hard work complemented by strong institutions and relevant human capital. However, with good advance planning and effective policies, the battle is half won. Whilst looking in the rear view, it is important to keep focus on the future because that is where will spend the rest of our lives. The missing link here is the millennial generation to bridge the gap and take up the initiative of leading this transition into new opportunities. The civil service needs a complete overhaul and skills retooling to keep up with citizen’s aspirations. Importantly, Zimbabweans need to put thoughts into action – analysis is not a tonic, nor is complaining a solution. Administration of a constitutional republic can never be left to one’s devices. It’s the sum total of the causative action of active citizens informed by an effective public relations strategy.
Archie Mathibela is a Public Relations and Marketing Communications Consultant with Junechild Corporate Communications, a converged Public Relations and Marketing agency geared for services to Government, Civil society and the private sector. His 10 year career has seen him working with brands in diverse sectors from Insurance and Financial services, Government Legislature, Telecoms, Sustainable Development and Arts and Culture sector. Archie holds B.A Hons and M.A in English Degrees from the University of Zimbabwe, a Diploma in Public Relations and a Post Graduate Diploma in Marketing Management from the Institute of Marketing Management in South Africa. He regularly writes on thought leadership issues that explore how P.R communications can be leveraged by brands and Governments to influence perceptions.