By Mbongeni Mbingo | 2023-11-05
When His Majesty appointed Cleopas Sipho Dlamini in mid-2021, it was clear that it was a stop-gap appointment, necessitated by the devastation of the pandemic that robbed us of our prime minister and then subsequently the unrest.
The instruction back then was that the country needed to rebuild and that Cleopas was the man for the assignment given his impressive curriculum vitae as a man who had presided over the growth and expansion of the public pension fund.
To date, the pension fund remains Cleopas’ biggest achievement and one doubts the stint as prime minister will be etched somewhere near that lofty success.
But, it does follow that in the period he was prime minister of a country trying to rebuild and reconnect after a series of events that threatened to tear the small nation apart, he was at the helm when things got back on track.
That, fortunately, can never be taken away from him. However, there was a sense on Friday late afternoon when His Majesty the King announced the new incumbent prime minister that something had shifted – and that what he would have perhaps an opportunity to make good of his two years at Hospital Hill was snatched away.
The appointment of Russell Mmemo Dlamini as the new prime minister of Eswatini must have caught him off guard too, even if he would have come into the Ludzidzini cattle-byre without any expectations, per se.
The reality is he would have thought that he did enough to be reappointed, especially given the context to his appointment and that historically, the appointing authorities have previously allowed a prime minister to get a crack at the full term.
However, there are reasons and circumstances that have allowed for this, and as such it makes sense that there has been a complete detour from the style of Cleopas Dlamini to what Russell Dlamini brings to the equation.
These are two completely different set of leaders whose contrasting styles tell their own story in terms of the trajectory the King has now taken in reviving the fortunes of this country.
Perhaps this is where Cleopas Dlamini will look back and feel that although he must have done enough to warrant the next few years at the helm, he did little to suggest that he carries the energy and enthusiasm that the younger Russell brings as his skills set.
There are many who felt that the prime minister looked disinterested more often than he brought the aura of a man who was on top of things.
The public wanted a man who was going to inject a sense of authority and charisma, and yet that is not who our former PM is, to be honest.
Even yesterday, at the byre, he wore the look of a man who would have rather been elsewhere than in the glare of the world on a hot Friday afternoon.
One doubts he said as many words to those he was sitting with, except to keep his thoughts to himself. What must have mattered to him was his presence and who knows, just how quickly he could get out of the byre – just as he disappeared within a flash from the stunned Sibaya once the new PM was appointed.
In the years to come, Cleopas Dlamini will look back in his time at Hospital Hill and admit – even if grudgingly – that he has himself to blame for how he did not get that second term appointment, for he gave it away.
The consensus at Sibaya was that the King had made a sensible appointment in the context of what the country has gone through, abandoning the captaincy of Cleopas that had flattered to deceive. He has gone for pragmatism than idealism and has sent a message that he was tired of the tried and tested that fails to deliver where it matters.
There will be many who will be sitting uncomfortably in their seats until the Cabinet team is announced, for the signs are there that not everyone is guaranteed a seat at the table.
The conversation and perhaps the mandate for all of those around the king, is that for many, their time is up – and now it is time for freshness and vigour – for that is what Russell Dlamini represents.
The thing that will be pleasing, and quite telling with Russell’s appointment, will be that the new PM does not get into the habit of referring to a spade as a garden tool.
He also does not know how to hold back.
He also has a tendency to be outspoken.
He also is very hands on, and wants total commitment to the cause.
He wants to deliver on the things he sets himself to do.
If the new PM is to be half the person those who worked with him at World Vision, and in Rwanda know him to be, then this is a very good appointment for all those of us who only want this country to do better.
In appointing his youngest prime minister yet, His Majesty the King has taken the dim view that his previous captain is not the ideal man for the job for the next five years, effectively accepting that the experiment has not worked.
In effect, the previous Cabinet should also take a very strong look at the mirror themselves, for they too, are walking a very tight rope.
With a fresh-faced prime minister, and an equally fresh-faced speaker of the house of assembly, it is clear what the direction is. And that perhaps explains why Cleopas Dlamini has not been given the assignment, following his less dynamic stint.
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