Saturday, August 30, 2014

Me, Michael Sata, and Country

"The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naive and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair."
- H.L. Mencken

This year, this backwater country of my birth celebrates its 50th year of independence from the British Colonialists, though I don’t know what is being celebrated. And it is nearly three years since the Patriotic Front (PF) came to power, and already I see so-called golden jubilee billboards with Michael Sata on them.

Strangely, I really don’t remember reading about him in the grade seven or form five history books of our country. I remember reading about Lewanika, Kaunda, Nkumbula, Chona, Kapwepwe, Katilungu, and that famous lady who stripped to scare the colonialists, just to mention a few. Funny, I always forget her name. Perhaps, the history teacher was always so fascinated with Otto von Bismarck that he forgot to mention Michael Sata. Anyway, that is a discussion for another day. Sic!

I love my country even though I often refer to it as a backwater country. I know there are those who often argue that referring to one’s country as backwater is evidence of lack of pride in one’s country.

In my mind there is clearly nothing wrong in one always reminding oneself that the country of their birth is a place in which no expected substantive political and socio-economic progress is occurring. If anything, pretending the contrary is evidence of lack of pride in one’s country.

We must always remember that we can only change our circumstances, more so the circumstances of the multitudes of the poor among us (fifty one years from the day we celebrated our independence), if we accept that we are indeed a backwater country.

In the near three years of PF being in power, there are many of us who are now subjected to uninformed, infantile and unreasoned flak whenever we criticize the Government. Perhaps, what these nihilist protectors of the State do not really know is that our position has never changed.

Lack of respect for civil liberties, dictatorial tendencies, abuse of public resources for political hegemony, lack of transparency on governance issues, and unreasoned submissiveness were vogue then. They are still vogue today, if not more abominable! How then can any right thinking citizen expect us to shut up?

We criticize, because we love country and we hope for something better as a people. And if what we are criticizing today is what we criticized yesterday, all the more reason that a government and its crawlers should listen. This is simply because PF could not have been the incumbent ruling party, if it did not in any way campaign on the basis of our criticisms of the previous governments.

This is not to say we are not cognisant of whatever infrastructure development strides the PF and previous government have undertaken. But we must always remember that political parties contest to form government to, not only build roads, hospitals, but more importantly to uphold the liberties and dignity of individuals in the country.

Whereas there are those that believe we should shut up because Michael Sata is building roads, etc at unprecedented (if not fiscally unsustainable) levels, I vehemently believe my civil liberties, the right to express myself is more important as that is what can determine what country we need. Shutting up is not a solution. It is merely evidence of hate of one’s country.

It is unfortunate that the intensity and perversity of the inability of today’s ruling party supporters and government itself, to stomach any form of criticism is now reaching dangerous levels. Any form of criticism, which is often well intended, galls them to the extent that they actually turn blue with rage like a Bunsen burner. The now frequent sadistic use of the State to violate civil liberties attests to their perplexing rage.

However, in hindsight today, I realize that their rage is not perplexing after all. It is simply a question of trying to be more holier! Most of today’s PF goody-goodies were not actually there in the formative years of the party.

Thus, our position is unlike some of the self-anointed megaphones of truth on governance in this country. These megaphones now seem to be always eating their own vomit of what they always said about Michael Sata and the PF when in opposition. They are now fawning around Michael Sata like they always idolized him. But I don’t buy into their fawning. It’s a fa├žade! Things are not right. Period.

Exactly, where were these goody-goodies that are now so holier than the incumbent President Michael Sata himself? Do they know him politically? Do they share his passion for country? Michael Sata’s love for country, we have never doubted, but for his means.

Even in the formative years of PF there were times Michael Sata would show evidence of disrespect for process and procedure as he deemed that abiding to these were mere retardation of progress. We never witnessed any evidence that can convince us that Michael Sata revered civil liberties, in particular freedom of expression and freedom to impart one’s ideals. He just always had to have his way!

Further, these are times in which the likes of Charles Chimumbwa, Edward Mumbi, Sylvia Chalikosa, Chisenga, Chileshe Mulenga, Paul Lumbi, Faustina Sinyangwe, Bernadette Mvula, Elizabeth Phiri, Guy Mulenga, Given Lubinda, and uncle Guy Scott stood up to his off-the-cuff decision making in an attempt to better develop and democratize the party. Today, we don’t hear much of such individuals from the PF’s formative years. Wonder where they went! Perhaps, if some of them were the ones closer to Michael Sata today and not the present goody-goodies that were never there then, they could have made a difference. Just perhaps, or is it wishful thinking?

Michael Sata loves country, as much as we do. Possibly, Michael Sata’s love for country is an infatuation that breaches expected norms in a democracy. Could be, he seriously needed the people from the formative years of his political party. These would, perhaps today, mitigate his historic “man-of-action” off-the-cuff tendencies. Off-the-cuff decision making, is regrettably dictatorial. It does not allow space for reasoned participation.

In wishful thought, during these trying times of us not having any irrefutable evidence of how he is, if some of these individuals of PF’s yesteryears were still around Michael Sata, may be we would not be subjected to the now unbearable suspense of why the President has not been seen in public for close to over two months now. A good number of these individuals loved Michael Sata and country, just like we do. They would do what is best for him. And not what is best for themselves, as can be suspected from the current Michael Sata crawlers.

Thus today, we ask: show us Michael Sata. We may have differences with his approach to democratic governance, but he is our President too. Verbum satis sapient .

Ora pro nobis.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Salome’s song

"Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings..."
- Patrick Henry

The day is Saturday. The date: Unknown. Place: The country of my birth.

Salome looked up at me with her milky beautiful eyes. Now that the excitement of my presence among them after a month or so had ended, it was time for the interrogation. I always get that. And the dialectic excuse that I am a prodigal son never washes with the little angels. Perhaps, they are yet to know what a prodigal son is.

“Where did you go?” asked Salome with the serene innocence only children have. The other little ones never really have insightful time for questioning my absence. But Salome is different. She exudes inquisitiveness that I always seek in my students and indeed most of my country folk. As far as Salome is concerned, I am not the kind that just disappears and re-appears without justification. I belong in her world. It seems the little thing has this thing in her that I always owe her an explanation. I do anyway, so I had to.

“I was in school,” and with that I hoped the interrogation was over. Not knowing I had just opened a can of worms.

“Boza,” (lies) she screamed. And she turned onto her friends. “baMbinji is saying he was in school. Huh! He is too old for school.” And for a while a debate among them commenced, with “boza” being the most pronounced word I could hear.

Perhaps, I got caught up in my own lies by not explaining exactly what I meant by being in school. Should have told them what school I really was in. To them school is a kindergarten. And I am surely too old for that, except as a teacher. It didn’t matter, I had already lost the ploy.

In hindsight, Salome’s lament[1] was not really that I had lied. No, it is simply that I did not accord her the dignity she deserves. Salome and I dwell in the same world. We are each other’s keepers. We celebrate joy and success together, as this builds on our understanding of each other. And we lower our heads in sadness, shame and remorse together, as one’s misfortunes, failings or thoughtlessness, gives us the strength to always seek to walk paths on the bright side of the moon.

And as it is so between Salome and I; in a democracy it is so too between a people and those that they choose to lead on their behalf - the valets de chambre. Those chosen are after all the employed. We are the employers.

Democracy is about mutual respect between the led and those that lead on their behalf, thereof. But, democracy places a higher price on the dignity of the valets. More so because the valets should always remember that a people do not queue up in the scorching summer heat, just to throw pieces of paper in a box so that they reduce their worthiness as keepers of those among them that become valets. Look, we can’t all be valets, someone has to do the dirty work and for that we respect them. And they too should respect us for giving them the honour to do so.

However, the events of the last few weeks in my country have filled most with foreboding and uncertainties as to the worthiness of some of our valets. This is a period in which, instead of humbling themselves in recognition of the fact that the positions they hold are because a people decided so, they on the other hand diminished the worthiness of the very people that in multitudes queued up to cast the ballot for them.

There surely is nothing wrong in saying the chief valets de chambre is not feeling well, and hence has gone for a medical checkup. Doing so, is in fact a demonstration of evidence that a people are respected as that is what a democracy demands. In addition, there is nothing not African in saying the chief valets de chambre is not feeling well, as some would want us to believe.

And if the contrary is the case, which is the chief valets de chambre is actually well, then mutual respect demands that the chief valets de chambre should walk into the cool July sunshine and greet the people. The people will jubilate, not only because the chief valets de chambre is indeed well, but much so because the chief valets de chambre and his deputy valets do indeed respect them.

For deputy valets to instead, threaten a people for simply asking of the chief valets de chambre’s well-being, as has been the case lately, is simply callous and not deserving of a country that prides itself of being a democracy. It is disrespectful. Sic.

The chief valets de chambre, is like Salome and I. I owe Salome an unhesitating answer. An answer that will soothe her lamentations, as this is what Salome expects if she is to continue respecting me. In lying to Salome, I have injured her dignity.  I have to restore the mutual respect we have.

In Salome’s song lies the one lesson our valets always have to learn – “We simply ask for and deserve mutual respect”. And that is not asking too much. Or is it?

Ora pro nobis.

[1] Song

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The PF did not lie?

“Pointed in the wrong direction, trapped outside their own history and unable to retrace their steps because their footprints had been swept away."
- Arundhati Roy (The God of Small Things)

Every day, I walk into different human class spaces in this country. Upper, middle, lower classes and, the forgotten class that we only see when they stretch their hands seeking alms or when they pee on our comfortable lives. The beauty is that as an anachronistic, I don’t blend, but I learn. The lamentations are symmetrical. “Gosh! RB times were not bad at all; Times are so rough now; We were cheated; PF lied; Where is the more money in our pockets; How come we now seem to be a province in China”.

Yet when, I browse print and online media, glaring discrepancies hit me in the face. The public media and the past newspaper, seldom echo the lamentations that shriek in my ears lately. From these media perspective all is well. “The economy has improved (so they should be more money in our pocket); RB was a rogue, “alleged corrupt leader”; The Chinese are sacrosanct; The Public Order Act has been relegated to the ashes of our colonial history; The current Constitution is perfect; MMD was evil”.

This is, surely, a media that lives on Mars as it seems they do not know that media freedoms are now under threat. Radio stations, journalists are now and then asked to “pay an unsolicited visit” to some police station to answer some frivolous questions on news likely to alarm the nation or some alleged theft of a library book.

This is a media that is so closeted that it is not aware that some opposition party leaders were “frog marched” from the very town were a ruling party official had the “freedom of the town”; that some gun-totting police officers raided an in-door meeting by some opposition party leader; and indeed that some opposition party leader had to find a hole in the roof to escape from some panga-wielding party cadres of some known party. It is fortunate that the fellow is not dumbly fat, else he would not have fitted in that hole in the roof.

With the most classic being that this media did not see the military-type truck and hordes of police officers blocking a road so that some opposition party leader does not pay respect to the King in some province to the west of the country.

The rogue media (as it is governmentally alleged), on the other hand, echo the lamentations that shriek in my ears.

The public media and the past newspaper is however, not all that bad. At least, it was able to tell us of human rights abuses in our country when some so-called eminent persons from some Western embassies issued statements on the very observations that the rogue media have consistently being communicating.

Rather absurd, that it is only when hypocritical voices[1] from the West say what is known that the public and past newspaper deem it worth our news reading. And I thought the editors and journalists in these media live in the same country as we do. Perhaps not. Could be their newsrooms have now shifted to Washington DC. Sic.

About it all, the question that in the end vexes me is: did the Patriotic Front lie during their campaigns leading to September 20, 2011. With much thought and reasoning, I have come to the conclusion that, perhaps, the PF did not lie after all.

To understand whether the PF lied, we must first unravel what the PF is as a party. From our knowledge, we know that the PF is a wamuyayaya party, it has no defined membership (well unless now it has) only followers, and has never had internal democracy. Democratic values and practices are alien. This is a party that has had no impersonal or neutral rules and procedures to avoid the arbitrary control of party functioning and internal elections (if they occur) by individual leaders or groups.

Critical of all, we knew and know that the PF is founded on two paradigms of political domination and privilege-seeking. These are patrimonialism and clientelism.

Patrimonialism is inbuilt in power relations within one’s heritage, and is strengthened by an individual’s rhetorical or financial prowess. Patrimonialism permits negation of rules, procedures and processes by the almighty leaders as the followers or membership often tends to hero-worship them. Well, we knew it was more rhetorical prowess. Could be we love folklore so much, that we seldom ask how an impossibility can be possible.

Clientelism is when we close our ears and offer our political loyalty to those we hero-worship for promises of material rewards (more money in the pocket) and security (donchi kubeba).

The PF is irretrievably soaked in patrimonialism and clientelism. This we knew, and perhaps today we should accept to learn. We can retrieve our footprints in the sands of democracy.

And this is because as Arundhati Roy writes in “Not Again”, “Those of us who have only ever known life in a democracy, however flawed, would find it hard to imagine what living in a dictatorship and enduring the absolute loss of freedom really means”.

To which end, the PF could only have lied if we never devoured life in a democracy. But we did, and gluttonously.

Hence, I argue here that the PF could only have lied if we fail to muster our numbers and call them to account for their political rhetoric, and the now evidenced numerous human rights abuses. And it is not about making them account by not voting for them during elections. That is inane, in part. It is now. Like Wilson Pondamali’s observes, “This is not the time to weep for mistakes made three years ago, rather it is time to roll sleeves and get tough”.

Our PF members of parliament should be humbly and respectably questioned whenever they meet us in our constituencies or in whatever forum, and even when they are having dinner somewhere in public. Consistent and persistent questioning for accountability by us the citizenry, in addition to groups like the Grand Coalition, rogue media, and the Church, can to some extent lead to redress of our legitimate lamentations.

We know, they will give us the dog-eared excuse of “we are busy with infrastructure development”. But say unto them that “but, but.., the previous government was also doing that, anyway; or that why then did you set up this and that commission”.  Let us humble them, for I believe there is some good in every human. They surely should have a conscience. Sic.

Seeking accountability from our leaders is both legitimate and legal. It is our right. That is what democracy demands of us. We did not ink our thumbs at the ballot, drop it in the box and go home thinking democracy, and more so the demand for accountability is for those we voted for. Or did we?

Oh! And don’t forget to hold our church leaders accountable too. They too, are political power wielders. In any case, God is a just God.

Lastly, although, we know we were pointed in the wrong direction; we know we are trapped outside own history (well mostly because of our deliberate historic amnesia); we are able to retrace our steps because our footprints have not been swept away. Ours are not footprints in the desert sands of dictatorship. Ours are footprints in the white clear sands of democracy. We can overcome, if we do not continue sitting under trees lamenting while sipping katata.

Ora pro nobis.

[1] Take the case of the US government’s stance on gay laws in Uganda, and yet such laws exist in oil-rich nations like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and UAE. Has the US imposed sanctions on these countries?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ukufita kwati nindoshi - Questioning our Independence

“Now we demand a chance to do things for ourselves
We tired of beating our heads against the wall
And working for someone else.”
― James Brown (“Say it loud” song lyrics)

I know for most the title of this article, “Ukufita kwati nindoshi[1] (you are as dark as a witch or wizard)”, evokes sentiments of self-hate because they are of a darker hue than others. There are children, teens, and even adults that are still subjected to expressions like these. The end effect is often loss of self-esteem. This, mostly among females and to a lesser extent among males, leads to persistent use of complexion lightening substances. Does being of a lighter complexion mean one is superior or even more beautiful? I leave the answer to you.

Me, I sing James Brown’s song. “Say it loud, am black and proud”. But the question in my mind lately is – am I black and proud? No, because this article is not about complexions. Though, truthfully it is not much different from the question of complexions.

It is about the indoshi (witch or wizard), not ukufita (being dark). You see, we usually consider indoshi to be divisive, confused and dreadful. Indoshi is a delusional answer to one’s misfortunes or tribulations.

Indoshi still abounds in the motherland I call Zambia. Well, it is called Zambia as off October 24, 1964. Before that, it depends on which side of the historic pendulum you are sitting on.

October 24, 1964 is the day our demand to have a chance to do things for ourselves was realized. We danced, we laughed, we hugged. Hooray, independence at last. I was just over a year old, so I really did not dance, laugh, nor hug anyone. Or perhaps, mum and dad hugged me, and danced with me. Well, if they did, I am sure I did not understand what the hullaballoo was all about.

Looking back over the near 50 years of independence, I really wonder exactly what freedom from control or influence of others we attained. The influence of the British colonialists? The fear of the influence of the village headpersons? No pun intended. I mean traditional influence.

Or was it both? Unfortunately, it was only the fear of the influence of the village headpersons, we seem to have got freedom from. And here in, lies the lesson of today’s obtaining political and socio-economic decline. The village was as dark as a witch or wizard. The colonialists were not.

Hence, the British colonialists really never left. I am not going to go into imperialist or neo-imperialist theories to justify this. That is, a discourse for Akashambatwa Mbikusita-Lewanika, Donald Chanda, Derrick Chitala (sorry Mbita), Azwell Banda, Owen Sichone, Tyoanse Kabwe or Neo Simutanyi. These fellows can write a Bible on this issue.

In any case, that I am communicating to you in the language of the colonialists, and in addition, that you and I were imprisoned in the four walls of a classroom for years learning how to do things the colonialist’s way, is evidence enough. Surely, one does not need neo-imperialist theories to understand this. Our governance and political systems are all colonial anyway. Sic.

You see in our deluded sense of independence, our traditional governance values and systems were perceived to be as dark as a witch or wizard. The colonialist’s values and systems were of a superior complexion. So instead of embarking on a process to shed off the colonial influence, we simply dreamt up phrases to explain how we will govern ourselves. Zambianisation, humanism, or and later, new culture, new deal, et cetera. 

Yes, we still maintained the undergarments of the colonialist’s governance and economic systems. There still was the colonizer and the colonized, now typified as the urban elite and the rural poor. Being products of the colonialist’s education imprisonment, the urban elites inherently walked in as the new colonialists (rulers), to the continued disadvantage of the rural folk.

Till today, even when this is conceived through the dog-eared claim that we are a democratic State, you will realize that the rural folk are still mostly not represented by themselves in our current political and economic governance. There is always some urban elite that travels back to his or her hamlet during election periods. He or she stands on some desolate anthill and gives a sermon of “being a good son or daughter of the soil that will represent their interests”. When, in fact, the sermon on the anthill is simply a sermon seeking servitude from them.

Clearly, we have continued to think of the rural folk and their traditional systems as indoshi. So we cannot trust them to represent themselves. They are inferior, after all. But are they?

No they are not. The fear of the influence of the village headpersons (sorry traditional influence) is deliberate. It evolves out of recognition by urban political elites that most traditional governance structures are more representative. They have evolved over long periods of time through various forms of conflict resolution strategies and recognition of preserving harmony among similar peoples. Integration of these systems into our current governance structures will only serve to undermine the urban elites - the new colonialists.

Abracadabra! We are independent! All Zambians are now equally represented! All Zambians will prosper equally!

It was all a colonial delusion. New colonialists, in the same undergarments, popped out. Just take a look at how our governance system is organized. You have a political tier (where the president and ministers sit) – the managers or executive as we call it. These are aided by an administrative organ (where the permanent secretary and his/her administrative staff sit). Then we have two other tiers. The legislature (where the people we throw pieces of paper called ballots sit), and the judiciary (where the men and women in cloaks sit, dispensing justice). Not much different from a little Britain.

Now do the same for traditional authorities like the Barotseland case. You have the Namuso, the first tier of government which has the Litunga as the Head of State; and, the Ngambela (Prime Minister) as the political, administrative and judicial head of the Barotseland.  Then, there is the Lwambi, the second tier of government, regional government of the southern part of Barotseland. This is headed by the Litunga-La-Mboela (Litunga of the South), with the Sambi as the political, administrative and judicial head of the southern region. At Namuso and Lwambi there are Indunas (Ministers). The next tier after this, are chiefdoms (these have Lilalos (number of villages), county administrative areas, and an Induna). Note that each level of government has a Kuta. The functions of the Kuta are political, administrative and judicial. Also not much different from a little Britain, isn’t it?

Hence, there surely is nothing ukufita kwati nindoshi, about this traditional governance system. If anything, it is much devolved when compared to how we are governing ourselves.

I know the major criticism that often comes is that, in these systems there are no elections! Well, democracy is not always about elections as conceived through someone throwing a piece of paper in a box. And if, traditional governance systems are a serious indoshi, they surely can be tweaked (fine-tuned). After all, in our current governance system, there is no devolution. I don’t have a micro-government I can really interact with within my residential space, unlike my grandmother in the village.

Inarguably, there is local government in the traditional governance systems, as exemplified herein. Local government is simply a form of self-authority, self-governance.

But can we, after nearly fifty years of independence, say we all have equal opportunities to influence the policies and operations of the government, if local government is a far cry from our traditional governance systems? Or is independence just a word?

So how it be, that we still consider our fear of traditional influence as dark as a witch or wizard? Why did we think freedom from control or influence of the village headpersons is independence?

In retrospect, given the way we have misgoverned ourselves since independence, there is now a serious case for changing our mindset. The village headpersons are not ukufita kwati nindoshi. We did not have to seek independence from our traditional governance systems. We needed to learn, and integrate. It is the other colonialist we needed to seek independence from. Not simply admiring his/her undergarments and then excitedly rushing into wearing them as our own. This simply made us, the urban elite, no different from the British colonizers.

We need to cease being colonizers of our own people. As continuing doing so, makes the claim for independence worthless. For, without adequate representation or indeed independence, the people will continue being impoverished.

You see, the problem is, the politician, you and I, are still trying to understand and cleanse the indoshi. But there really is no indoshi in our traditional systems.  The indoshi is in us, the urban elites.

Ora pro nobis.

End script: Comments on errors of fact are most welcome.

[1] Ichibemba expression meaning, “you are as dark as a witch or wizard”.