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).

Monday, March 17, 2014

Revisiting the Past I: Cherise, a drip, and patriotism

Fore note: Often I write, "in this country we always arrive where we left", and today I went to my commentary archive to show why. The issues are still the same a decade later.

September 12, 2003
Last week, I attempted to show that the mislaid assertion that I hate Mwanawasa, Nevers Mumba and country is a manifestation of failure of reason. I did not dwell on the question of country as it is the subject I now seek to address.
But first, if I may briefly concern myself with the name on most people’s lips – Cherise.  So Cherise won the “immoral and un-African” big brother Africa reality TV show.  She is a role model, hardworking, and all the baloney many are according her. The government has even honoured her with a diplomatic passport.
The only concern with the baloney is the “African and Zambian values role model” acclaim.  It seems in our contradiction of existence and identity a human that enjoys early morning household chores and cooking is an African woman.  Before we get steeped into the “role model” acclaim, we should seek to understand whether Cherise enjoys early morning chores and cooking simply because she is human or a woman.  If Cherise enjoys the chores and cooking simply because she is human, then I too will acclaim her. But, if the contrary, then surely Cherise can not be a role model in current times, as this merely perpetuates the stereotype thinking that a woman is nothing but a vacuum cleaner and food dispenser!
 Any way, congrats Cherise, even though I still do not know what big brother was all about and why some pastor somewhere decided to petition ZNBC TV. 
This week, a question of an intravenous drip brought to mind the apparent failure of reason in a citizenry’s relationship with the State of Zambia.  Whilst under the blade of a young barber, I learnt that in most clinics patients have to provide gloves, syringes and even drips!  This in a country whose government is a ‘new deal’ was unnerving, and hence intellectual trespass was in order.
When questioned on his political preference, the young man was vehement in asserting his support for the ruling party.  An attempt to show the young man that if the party in government was as good as he argued, he would not have had to buy four sachets of intravenous (IV) fluid for his aging father, elicited failure of reason.
“Ba Mudala, ifya ba MMD fi mapolitikisi, ifya ba bbali fya fipatala.” (Old man, the issue of the MMD is politics; the issue of my father is about hospitals).
In his sentiments, it was clear that our reality and our continued socio-economic and political derangement lies in our inability to bridge the gap between the people we vote for and our daily livelihoods. 
Politics and hospitals are inseparable.
That the health sector is decaying is both politics and because of the obtaining political ineptness. It is irresponsible for the citizenry to show fanatical support for a party that does not seem to alleviate their everyday livelihood constraints. The sooner people like the young barber comprehend this, the better for this country.
The health sector in this country is in a pathetic state. It is not enough to continually trumpet the donor-instigated poverty reduction or corruption lullaby, without due recognition of the immediate plight of Christopher. The average doctor per population ratio in this country is one doctor per 16 000 persons. Provinces like Luapula have one doctor for nearly 145 000 persons! The doctors are out-migrating, and the government is busy issuing in-migration visas to deputy ministers and DAs.
Mind you the country’s health strategic plan affirms that the health sector reforms will “provide Zambians with equity of access..., quality health care…”  The problem with nearly all of this country’s reforms is that the average citizen only sees new vehicles emblazoned “something reform, or something capacity building,” or indeed a continually elongating government.
Consider, the two deputy ministers per ministry. Surely, either the fellows in government are dull or this country’s civil service inertia is so overwhelming that ministries need more elective personnel. Come to think of it, may be it will be prudent if Mwanawasa and Nevers Mumba fired all the civil servants and replaced them with deputy ministers and DAs. No. Fire the deputy ministers and DAs, then may be the young barber will not have to buy a drip for his father!
Sorry for the digression, back to the barber.
The young barber did not have to buy an IV for his father because this country is poor, but, in part, because this country’s leaders are ineffectual, contradictory and not worthy looking up to.  If not, why should the young barber have to buy a drip, and not simply have government fly his father to South Africa like they do their kind?
In addition, this country is poor and will continue being poor because the citizenry is seriously irresponsible. For decades now there has been the misplaced belief that sycophancy, denial of ones’ impoverishment is patriotism. In my travels, I have met Zambians who vehemently admonish me for being categorical in asserting that my country is one of the poorest of the poor. 
We are poor and a pathetic lot, period! The sooner we accept it than burying our sorry heads in the sand like an ostrich the better for ourselves and Christopher. It must always be understood that a wrong or problem can only be solved when it is first identified and accepted.
That one, that accepts the realities of one’s country hates his or her country, or is not patriotic is a misplaced assertion.
Patriotism is responsibility, commitment and dedication to ones country and citizenry.  Patriotism is not loyalty to an individual that today is president or vice-president. After all, that individual may tomorrow be a thief, foolish or mentally deranged, and the one that once asserted misplaced patriotism will be the one that stands up and throws the first stone. 
And by the way, the patriots are arguing that all concerned should attend the great Indaba.  Cabinet office this week issued a statement saying all those that seek to attend, should put it in writing. As the years pass by, I can not cease to believe that these fellows in the current government are on a conspiracy to age me faster than I should. How can I write seeking to attend something I have no idea about?
Are we ever going to do something right in this country? Forget the Indaba, since they do not know what the ‘ndaba’ is.  Why should they be in government, if it has to be you and me to tell them what the ‘ndaba’ is?
When conceived beyond politics, could be Cherise, a drip and patriotism all coalesce to manifest a country where there is a deliberate lack of discourse on linkages between political office and one’s livelihood.
After all, the political landscape is not short of individuals that can articulate linkages between lack of a drip and Mwanawasa’s or Mumba’s inability to provide developmental stewardship. The problem as I see it is that most politicians in this country know too well that they are better placed to parody as saviours only in an environment of ignorance.
Ciao. Do not forget to touch a child today, and please also give an affectionate handshake to a cop.