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”.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Perhaps, we don’t need democracy!

And if it is a fear you would dispel, the seat of that fear is in your heart and not in the hand of the feared.”
- Kahlil Gibran

 Well, not too long ago a journalist friend asked me what I think of the obtaining democratic space in the country. My answer was simply that, “perhaps, we don’t need democracy!” And this is because, when one comparatively observes the presently obtaining practice of democracy to that in the past, one is left with a cold chill up his or her spine. It is a parody of democratic practice!

The fact that one organized his or her party, campaigned and voted freely (or not so acceptably freely) in September 2011, is evidence enough that at least the government adhered to the fundamental principles of democracy. Respect for human rights, and in particular the right to choice (personal liberty) and, freedoms of expression, movement, assembly and association.

In arguing this, I am also aware of the fact that in 2011 there were instances of disrespect of freedom of expression, and assembly. Disrespect of freedom of assembly, being mostly through use of the Public Order Act by the police to deny assembly for political party campaigns.

Thus, for instance, the 2011 CSEC election Report observes that of a total of 770 political campaign events observed, only 4.3 percent cases of denial of freedom to assemble were recorded, with “no incidents of denial observed in Northern and Western provinces”[1].

But interestingly and ironically, the Report also notes, “As a proportion of the total observed political campaign events, the right to hold an event does not evidence any critical incidents, but for marginal incidents for MMD (1.9%), PF (0.9%) and UPND(0.9%).”

The party in power was also denied the right to assemble![2] A case of police non-partisanship and professionalism? Maybe.

Anyway, Plato, observes, “Tyranny naturally arises out of democracy”, and I cannot fault him. This is mostly because in our impoverished country, the most people know about democracy is “euphorically and sometimes dementedly shouting the need to vote for their candidates”, waiting to vote and voting.

That democracy, in addition to the holding of periodic elections by universal suffrage, is also founded on respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, is alien to most of our people.

This is unfortunate and a serious mockery of democracy. Perhaps, nobody (CSOs included) teaches the general populace of the link between respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and their ability to assemble and communicate the ideals of their preferred candidate or political party.

An election does not occur in a vacuum. That one is able to vote freely is evidence of one’s ability to express themselves on who should represent them and why. This is linked to the fulfillment of freedom of choice or the right to personal liberty. It is also linked to freedoms of conscience, expression, assembly and association, and movement.

Further, for there to be elections in a democracy there has to be groups of individuals (political parties)[3] competing to be chosen by the people to rule on their behalf. To do this, they need to freely exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms. This is because they need to both organize themselves as a political party, and to communicate their ideals to their members and the general populace.

Clearly, the present government’s unequivocal resurgence of exercise of repressive colonial laws (in particular the Public Order Act) that negate fundamental rights and freedoms critical to a democracy is making citizens impotent with respect to participating in their own governance.

We must understand that human rights as proclaimed in the Constitution of Zambia and international instruments are simply a socio-political and economic contract between the citizenry and the government. In this contract, the government is compelled not do to something against its citizenry (like not to impinge on freedom of expression, assembly and association). The citizenry on the other hand is compelled not to do something that can likely constrain the government in its pursuits of its obligations, in so far as there is no State failure.

Today, we are in a catch-22. Media reports of people trying to hear a political party’s message, being beaten up; political parties being denied the right to assemble; and, international human rights observer Reports providing evidence of escalation in human rights abuses is certainly clear evidence that the government is not meeting its part of the human rights bargain.

Undoubtedly, the understanding that respect for human rights and democracy are mutually reinforcing, and are a precondition and foundation of democracy is not only lost on the current government, but also on us the people.

In hindsight, thus, like I said in the beginning, perhaps, we don’t need democracy. But we should know that the consequences can be terrible. There will be breakdown of acceptable democratic governance, and increased civil and political dissent. 

Is this what we desire as a country? The answer is no. Our plea to the government of the day is that acts that are criminalising the right of a people to freely assemble or dissent should be stopped. We plead, as we also know that the most manifest dark side of democracy is legitimised illegal acts.

Ora pro nobis.

[1] Civil Society Election Coalition (CSEC) 2011 Election Report, Zambia, December 2011. Section 5.2.4 Freedom of Assembly).
[2] This is not the only ironical incident observed. The CSEC Report also notes, “.. observed incidents of use of Government resources for campaign purposes occurred in 31 constituencies. Fifty-eight point one percent(58.1%) of the incidents were observed at MMD campaign events, with those observed at PF and UPND events constituting 16.1% and 12.9% respectively.
[3] Or individuals (independent candidates).