The Deputy Dilemma

The death of a charismatic leader highlights a dilemma in the game of politics.

As the family of former Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai lowered his body into his grave, a battle was being fought to take his place – not in the ground, but as leader of his party. Such is the upshot of the ‘deputy dilemma’.

Any healthy leadership needs a strong deputy waiting in the wings. This is for two reasons: (a) to immediately step in if something terrible happens to the leader; and, (b) to be a constant challenger to the leader – to keep them on their toes.

Note: we said ‘healthy’ leadership. In the ruinous game of politics (see ‘GoT’) strong deputies represent a threat, and are therefore one step away from being enemies.

At the time of his death, Morgan Tsvangirai had three deputies – one (Thokozani Khuphe) elected by the party, and two (Elias Mudzuri and Nelson Chamisa) selected by him. This was done partly to deal with factions within his party, the MDC-T*. The result: while Tsvangirai was dying both Mudzuri and Chamisa (supported by different Tsvangirai family members) made a bid for the leadership of MDC-T. According to News24, Khuphe decried the battle as “un-African, uncultured and barbaric”. Chamisa was eventually appointed acting leader.

Division is a classic political manoeuvre: if your enemies are fighting each other, they’re less of a threat to you. But there’s a flipside in the case of deputies: if they’re fighting each other, and something happens to you, the resultant leadership vacuum could damage the party. This is the ‘deputy dilemma’.

In politics, only confident leaders have strong deputies. Now, with that in mind, examine every leader you know.

(*Note: The Movement for Democratic Change split in 2005 into different sub-parties: MDC-T, MDC-M and MDC-N, each named after their respective leaders – Tsvangirai, Arthur Mutambara, and Welshman Ncube).

[This article originally appeared on the mindofafox Growing Foxes app in the week of 19 February 2018. Growing Foxes is a school strategic intelligence programme designed by mindofafox. It is being piloted in a number of leading schools in the UK and South Africa. The app serves to support those students currently engaging with the programme. Click on the logo to find out more].

Image: Tawanda Mudimu