Popstar-cum-military ambassador strikes a chord in celebratory Zimbabwe
Was Jah Prayzah’s Kutonga Kwaro ("How a leader rules) just a great song, or a prescient view into the political future of Emmerson Mnangagwa?
Harare — It could easily be mistaken for being the national anthem of Zimbabwe, as all over Harare, one song, Kutonga Kwaro, which means "How a leader rules" by popular local musician Jah Prayzah, dominated play in cars, restaurants and bars as Zimbabweans received the news that Robert Mugabe had stepped down as president.
Even as incoming interim president Emmerson Mnangagwa gave his first public address on Wednesday after a two-week absence, the same song blasted through the speakers at Zanu-PF headquarters.
On Thursday, Jah Prayzah’s manager Keen Mushapaidze said the musician was likely to give a performance at Mnangagwa’s inauguration on Friday.
When tankers rolled into Harare last week as the military warmed up for a take-over, which eventually felled Mugabe, among the early explanations for the unexpected military roll-out was that Jah Prayzah was preparing to shoot a music video.
This is not surprising as Mukudzei Mukombe, Jah Prayzah’s real name, is the army’s brand ambassador. He enjoys the rare distinction of being the only civilian allowed to wear battle fatigues which, in terms of the country’s Defence Act, is a crime.
But Mukombe has not been spared from Zanu-PF’s factional politics. Kutonga Kwaro, also the name of his latest album, has largely been interpreted to mean that the military will run the country and that citizens will rejoice.
In the Zanu-PF succession battle, Mukombe’s song has also struck a raw nerve as some are of the view that the musician was praising the Mnangagwa faction, which is known to have strong military ties. "It is just music for me with no politics involved," the singer countered.
His previous album, Mudhara Vachauya ("The boss is coming") with the same title track, was viewed as a direct plug for Mnangagwa. An anonymous, unofficial video of the song was released showing Mnangagwa making a triumphant entry with his wife Auxillia.
The song also makes reference to "Shumba" the Shona word for a lion, which is also Mnangagwa’s totem.
That the song could be making reference to Mnangagwa angered supporters of his rival, the former first lady Grace Mugabe — some of whom retorted that only Robert Mugabe was the real Mudhara (boss).
"All those [referring to Mnangagwa] are uncles; there is one father and it’s Robert Mugabe," the now ousted Zanu-PF youth leader, Kudzai Chipanga once said at a Zanu-PF Youth League rally.
But Mukombe’s "cheek" persisted — at least in the imagination of self-styled pundits. He released yet another song with his protégé, Andy Muridzo, called Emma. Claims were that it was a play on Mnangagwa’s shortened first name.
Despite countless denials, Mukombe has been branded a politically inclined musician. However, when the "coup that was not a coup" happened last week, he was on tour in Australia, but returned on Thursday.
He said in a statement: "I am so overjoyed to see Zimbabwe come together, united as one. Even though I was not there, I am happy I was with you through my music and would like to thank you, Zimbabwe, for embracing my new album and letting it speak to you and your lives."