Friday, November 22, 2013

My life: A symphony of beatitude?

“Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth - more than ruin - more even than death.... Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man."
- Bertrand Russell 1872-1970

If today, I stood in the light of him and he asked me why I should walk by his side forevermore. I really do not know what reasons I would advance. But again, need I do that? I thought when I was a child, I was told he keeps a little black book on us.

Anyway, let us say he indeed asks me. Well, perhaps now that on May 30, this year I turned fifty (50), I have enough years of looking back and searching wherein my existence there would be answers justifying my walking by his side forevermore.  

Looking back, it has been a tortuous 50 years of existence, a time of dancing with the devils. The salient features of these times are the governance impunity and developmental ineptitude I have witnessed over the years; and of course, the evidenced failings in academia, an environment I have known for half my life time. A disjuncture in the latter can have dire consequences in attempts to correct the former. Hence, the two are interlocked and mutually self reinforcing.

That I have witnessed many of my fellow humans failing to walk with me, and falling before me, is often because many a time our primal behaviours are those of self-absorption and self-aggrandisement. We delude ourselves that we exist as “me” and/or, and “mine”. In our delusions, the boundaries of our existence are most often defined by how I am going to be there with me and mine. And when I arrive there, our minds now shift to how I am going to protect the there for me and mine. Arrival syndrome, I often call it. “I have arrived, it is me, Mbinji Mufalo, and I am not coming down soon. I will fight for where I am.”

Of course, it is you, you have arrived. But did you really get to your there by yourself? The answer is no, as I know when I stand in the light of him, he will remind me that if he really wanted to be only me he would have created only me. But he did not. He created me, you and those multitudes we watch failing to walk with us, and those who have already fallen before us.

On academia, and the witnessed governance impunity and developmental ineptitude, surely, here I know I will be nailed. This is because deep in me, I always doubt that there has been a symphony of beatitude[1] in my life. I really do not think I can claim an existence in a state of supreme happiness. How can that be when I know I have not done enough to mitigate the effects of inertia in academia, and impunity and ineptitude in governance for those who fail to walk with us and indeed those who fell before us?

Academia in my motherland is an affliction. It is an environment of great suffering, distress due to adversity and indeed self-absorption and self-aggrandisement. Criticism and reasoning are mostly conceived as transgressions.

If I may digress. This, however, seems to pervade our everyday existence. Someone does something or presents something that is surely hogwash, we still start by saying “that was very good”. And in rare occasions when we seem to be forthright we are apologetic about it. In such rare times, we again start by saying, “that was very good, but I am sorry…”.

In academia, it is a common occurrence that academic staff think students are dodos, and also think anyone outside their field of study is a dodo, too. Hence, over time the essence of academia as a principle change agent always dissipates in the evening wind.

I work in this environment, and I am culpable of its inability to have changed the circumstances of the majority of our people.  The definition of the country we desire and/or the change we need to uplift many of our fellow humans that fail to walk with us is no longer evidenced in academia. Our research agendas and discourses are often driven by being me, and more so being me in the eyes of those who do not exist in our spaces of influence. That is, those who merely use us to understand spaces that they seek to influence tomorrow.

How it be, that fifty (50) years after independence day, our children still do not know why they are citizens of the country we call Zambia? Exactly what are our individual characteristics by which we are recognised as Zambians? I know there are some who will say, we are identified as a people because we are a Christian nation. Lest we forget, when I stand in the light of him, he will definitely ask me, what Christian values have we adhered to? Do our children know these values? 

Well, and I also always ask, do these values have any evidenced developmental stewardship?

We have failed, I have failed. Academia has failed.

Identity defines a people. It defines their aspirations and the change they desire. Identity inherently is determined by shared values. Decades ago such attempts were made, much more with the interrogation of humanism as a national ideology and also these values created a national identity. Problem was, the man at centre was not me. It was him. The other him, during those times. I always remember how my lower primary school teacher nearly tore my ears off my head when I once said, “when I grow up, I want to be the president” (With hindsight this still happens today. You cannot aspire to be him without any serious consequences). The man had asked us what we wanted to be when we grow up. He never told us which ones where the don’ts.

Anyway, humanism was not sustainable. After that, what next should have been the question?

Clearly, academia did not and has not answered this question. An example that comes to mind is how with the demise of humanism in our education curricula we have continued to have a void with respect to what values define us. We are teaching our children zilch!

We are not teaching our children that freedom is inviolable; that wealth creation is the pinnacle; and, that the public good (i.e., services and delivery commodities) is sacrosanct.

To which end, whatever research we do or works we do, without any defined identity, these can seldom serve to change the undesirable circumstances the majority of our people find themselves in. Many will still fail to walk with us, and many will still fall before us. We can have some walk with us, we can have a few fall before us, if we introspect and start to define ourselves, and not me, in our academic pursuits.

For many, the witnessed governance impunity and developmental ineptitude is a state that politicians are ultimately responsible. Well, I always agree and disagree.

I agree because a politician is me. He or she is also soaked in self-absorption and self-aggrandisement. To expect anything different is merely sophism. We change me, then we can change the politician’s governance impunity and developmental ineptitude.

If we grew up, the children grew up being taught or knowing that freedom is inviolable, wealth creation is the pinnacle, and the public good is sacrosanct, then surely the politician will not be what he or she is often today. And this is why I also disagree that the politician is responsible for our retrograde state. Perhaps, it is time we accepted that instilling identity and values in our people can intrinsically serve to create a population that provides better oversight on its leaders.

In conclusion, therefore, If today, I stood in the light of him and he asked me why I should walk by his side forevermore, I would simply tell him: “I am sorry, my life has never been a symphony of beatitudeI have failed you, please let me just walk past you and continue dancing with the devils”.

Ora pro nobis.

[1] State of supreme happiness

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Tomorrow a hundred of us will be killed

- Reflections on the PF intra-party violence of November 7, 2013

“No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” 
- John Donne's Meditation XVII - No man is an island

The brutal violence of November 7, 2013 involving youths from differing opinions on leadership in the Patriotic Front (PF) Party is tragic. There have been various comments on the incident in multifarious social media, and indeed from stalwart political players. Of concern to me, are the unfortunate comments used to describe the villains and victims of the brutal mayhem. 

“Thugs, mad people, uneducated youths, criminals”, are but some of the comments I find wanting. In addition, we have had words of solace from some political stalwarts at the eye of the storm. 

I here argue that to call the villains and victims of the November 7 PF intra-party violence as thugs or criminals merely serves to minimize the underlying reason any group of individuals can decide to butcher each other with machetes like pigs in a slaughterhouse. We must accept that these youths have souls as beautiful as we have. They are humane and they can reason. The problem however is that, the practice of their humanness and reasoning is constrained by the very people they dance for euphorically during elections, and more so on September 20, 2011. 

We should not, today, bury our heads in the sand, and pretend to forget that the youths we are calling “thugs” had their hopes raised by empty promises by those in power today. 

“More money in the pocket, enough employment, et cetera”, were the hit lullabies at the time. Lest we forget, not long ago we had a brave political office holder curtly tell us that the promises made were mere political rhetoric. In short, Miles Sampa told us that the promises sermonized during the 2011 political campaigns, were just meant to lure votes. Nothing else. Sic.

That the youths in most of urban Zambia are desperate, disgruntled and hungry is a fact only those who live in ivory towers can deny. This is chiefly due to unsustainable high levels of youth unemployment. News of youths stampeding for jobs (with occurrence of death as in the Mpulungu fishing factory saga mid last 2012), is clear evidence of youth desperation in this country. In addition, our pursuit of a rather archaic education system that does not prepare our children with appropriate life skills when out of school has also continued to merely serve to increase the numbers of desperate and hungry youths.

This has been the case before, and it is the case now. The only difference is that, the Patriotic Front in 2011 gave them what they deemed infallible hope that their misery will now end. I know there are some who will counter argue that surely the youths should have reasoned that the political sermons were merely water in a reed basket. However, we must often realise that poverty, desperation renders reasoning worthless. 

Youth is a virginal experience. It is highly susceptible to experimentation, peer pressure, and more so exploitation by those that realize their vulnerability. When youth is imbued in desperate poverty levels, its susceptibility is even higher. This is the state of the youths that today without shame we are calling thugs, criminals or whatever derogatory term that we can conjure. 

Someone comfortable, someone who never thinks of where his or her next meal will come from knows the objective susceptibility of the urban youth in this country. It is he or she that we should be calling a “thug, criminal”, not the youths. He or she, exploited their desperation, armed them with machetes or perhaps instructed them to find any weapon that can cause serious injury or death to another human. 

My sincere plea is that we should be demanding that the Zambia Police investigates, arrests and prosecutes whosoever is behind the use of vulnerable youths for political dominance. Simply arresting the youths involved in the mayhem is not the solution its in entirety. Tomorrow, there will still be more youths to prey on. 

In any case, it is folly of us to believe that these youths can waste their own money buying machetes, axes, knives, knobkerries, if someone somewhere is not promising a better tomorrow in the long term, or mostly likely some coins to fender off their immediate hunger needs in the now times!

If we so choose not to reason and mitigate the vulnerability of the youth to political hegemony in our country, then we should not be surprised if tomorrow a hundred of us will be killed.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Any life unnecessarily lost diminishes our humanness

My sincere condolences to the family of the reported youth that died in the PF intra-party violence yesterday (November 7, 2013). We must always remember that any life unnecessarily lost diminishes our humanness. 

Hence like, John Donne writes, "any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

And I here wish Julious Komaki a quick recovery. My plea is to the Zambia Police. They need to tell us who is getting these youths to start butchering each other, and who is supplying some of those new machetes alleged to have been observed. 

The question going through my mind is – when are the police going to investigate and establish the source of these machetes? Doesn’t the police surely realize that these machetes may one day be used on political opponents. I sincerely hope the police gets to the source of these dangerous weapons. Someone is surely distributing them.

We need answers. It is our right.