Saturday, August 27, 2011

Waiting for William Banda

Today, August 27, 2011, ZNBC TV news showed some news items worthy comment.

The first, was the coverage of the President of Zambia, Rupiah Banda, at a traditional ceremony in Katete, and his vice, George Kunda, at a Church function in Mkushi. It was interesting to note that in both cases, the two did not use the occasions to campaign for themselves and indeed their party. Instead, they approximated the objectivity we so seek to observe when politicians are at forums that are non-partisan. In stating the foregoing, I know that MMD sycophants would overtly extol this objectivity. But I here hasten to argue that it is not just enough for the Presidency to recognise the difference between a political space and a non-political space. They should manifest this understanding to senior public officials. The Presidency should endeavour to implore senior public officials to discern the difference in a political governmental space and a non-political governmental space. Public officials operate in a non-political government space. To which end, at no point in time, should the citizenry be subjected to public officials having the phrases "MMD government or Rupiah Banda's leadership" in their vocabulary, publicly. (They can do that in the confines of their private spaces). Their's should simply be a vocabulary of "the government", and us the citizenry will of course know which government is being talked about.

Second, and inarguably the most critical, presently, was the news items on the need for non-violence behaviours as we head towards the September 20 General Elections. Moses Muteteka (MMD) and, Guy Scott and Given Lubinda (PF) publicly denounced violence and called on their respective cadres to refrain from violent behaviours. Moses went further to state that he will personally escort MMD cadres arrested for violence to prison, and that he will not visit them once in prison. Profoundly, Moses, Guy and Given all called for the police to carry out their law and order mandate professionally and in a non-partisan manner.

In addition, Guy asked the PF membership to always seek police intervention when threatened by other political party cadres. That an opposition party (PF) can ask its membership to always seek police intervention when threatened can be argued to evidence a recognition of the constitutional authority of the police in Zambia. The onus is now on the police to show the citizenry that indeed they have the constitutional authority to be non-partisan.

BUT, despite these welcome developments, there is William Banda, of the MMD in Lusaka. William is on record criticising violence and advocating violent retaliation in the same sentence". How he managed that, is a feat I am still trying to unravel.

William needs, to also, take to a public podium and denounce violence in categorical terms and not proclamations with claw-backs.

Mr William Banda, sir, we are waiting!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Long Road to Limbo - Fencing the 20 years of Zambia’s democracy

Nearly 20 years ago on October 31 1991, Zambia emerged from a one-party State into a multi-party democratic State. Looking back, there is really nothing much to celebrate as the aspirations of the era to have come are yet to be realised.

Today, in my mind it seems much like all we did was increase the number of empty cans beating the same cacophony of “self-governance, democracy, at last”, and indeed the empty can drummers. The noise has got louder. The number of self-appointed connoisseurs of democratic knowledge and protectors of good governance has multiplied. And tragically, such connoisseurs have become a law onto themselves or simply continually engage in a repertoire of manoeuvres aimed at enriching themselves and or enhancing their socio-political standing in an information-deficient population under the pretext of being voices for the voiceless.

In all this, the fundaments of what we aspired for in 1991 have got so murky that it is clear our democratic experience is failing. There is no doubt in my mind that the period before September 20 should have been a time of serious objective introspection and better perspectives on the years to come. But, I know many only remember the worthless debate on 50 plus 1, which in my mind epitomised our traditional reverence of leaders! A president has to have political legitimacy, was the sour singsong, as if in a democracy only the legitimacy of a president matters. Sic. In any case, many self-appointed connoisseurs of democratic knowledge and protectors of good governance did not even read the Constitution of Zambia draft!

And of course, many will also remember the “private individuals” task force on corruption, that many did not realise was merely an unfortunate usurpation of State agencies’ powers by some individuals that deemed (and still do) themselves the perfect connoisseurs of anti-corruption. They will not even remember the lies that led to Mukelabai Mukelabai, an eminent public prosecutor, being hounded out of office.

Let us remind ourselves and acknowledge that the failure of democratic regimes in emergent democracies, like Zambia, has often been because of the rushed regimentation of western democratic ideals and economic paradigms on populations whose prevailing socio-economic and political context provides a perversion of the ideals and sustains an elite ruling class that preys on the populations’ economic malaise. This is not however, like I have consistently stated, to argue that democratic ideals and western economic paradigms are a failing in their entirety, but to affirm that any adoption or regimentation of any ideals and their subsequent sustenance has preconditions.

In Zambia’s context, such preconditions should have been a parallel process of streamlining State institutions tasked with State regulation (like the judiciary, parliament, the electoral commission) as a means of providing safeguards to the likelihood of perversion of the ideals and, more so as a means of securing the citizenry’s enjoyment of rights and freedoms of democratic ideals and practice. In addition, the observed creation of Donor driven parallel structures of public administration and governance (like Central Board of Health, RDA, et cetera), should have had a parallel reform of existing Public administration structures. E.g., we have RDA and we have Department of Roads!

In the nearly twenty years of multiparty democracy, the country has turned to gloom and a questioned hope for the majority of the people of Zambia. There are unstable governance frameworks, dysfunctional institutions, an unsure civil society, and a polarised media. The latter, today, evidences a private media that assumes it is puritanical, and a public media that can not differentiate between a party in Government and a Government. Well, I guess could be the public media do not realise that the one-party State ended 20 years ago, and so did the concept of the PIG! As for the puritanical private media, I will dwell on that later.

In introspecting the country’s democratic experience so far, it is inarguable that intra-party and inter-party political intolerance and lack of inclusiveness is threatening the gains of the democratic dispensation. While Zambia has most formal institutions of democracy, these institutions have remained empty shells failing to function effectively and provide the necessary checks and balances, mostly because the perversion of power is our fixated mental state.

Our fixation on perversion of power is so manifest even in our own small spaces of influences, to the extent that we are always quick to blame political leaders for our own failures and cowardice. We fear, even where there is no reason to. And we fear because we are not sure we are where we are because we deserve it!

The most salient failing in our democratic experience is the critical misunderstanding of democratic representation. There is a serious misnomer in this country that our political representatives, in particular members of parliament, are the epitome of knowledge on what we seek our country to be. It is this fallacy that led me to write somewhere; I do not remember where, that “In Africa, democracy often ends where it starts. The polling booth”. That, periodic elections in this country have failed to provide means of vertical and horizontal accountability that should prevent the abuse of power and misuse of authority, is mostly because of our fixated mental state on perversion of power, and indeed our failure to reason on democratic representation.

For instance, that members of parliament are representatives of different interest groups in a society is evidently an alien understanding for the majority of Zambians. Most Zambians, educated or not educated, hold the belief that MPs should solely initiate governance reform (development, legal and otherwise) without the interest groups lobbying for such reforms. What we forget, is that our MPs have no qualms sitting idle in parliament for five years doing nothing. After all, they are a power onto themselves that we have allowed.

In our nearly 20 years of democratic experience, we are misgoverned mostly because we do not know our relationships to people that represent us. The onus is not entirely on MPs to consult (why should they, when they are cosy!). It is the citizenry that should demand a return on their group interests as an exchange for choosing them as their representatives.

September 20, offers us an opportunity to walk a different road, a road away from a road to limbo. We have had opportunities to define a new road, but we have always been allowing narrow self-servicing interests to dictate the national agenda. And one opportunity, which I have consistently argued could have defined a road away from limbo, is the Constitution Bill. It is my firm belief that the 50 plus 1 “empty can rantings” were merely a paternalistic sophistry that hoodwinked most Zambians to the detriment of well intentioned Constitutional provisions, and indeed those that could have been suggested. The argument that 50 plus 1 safeguards a president’s political legitimacy is otiose. One of democracy’s principle tenets is equity in representation, and not mere majoritarianism, which 50 plus 1 is founded on. I argue, here, that today majoritarianism is the antithesis of democratic representation, and one of the major reasons of the failure of democracy in most emergent democracies.

Let us not forget that the most manifest dark side of democracy is legitimised mediocrity, through unreasoned adherence to majoritarianism. I say this, because I firmly believe majoritarianism is not a representative paradigm that takes into account human population diversity in space. In short, the legitimacy of a president is not about the number of people that voted for him or her, but the number of diverse human populations spaces that voted for him or her. That is, the proportions of diverse spaces should be what provide political legitimacy! Noteworthy is that, equity in representation is a democratic tenet that is also absent within our political parties.

Amidst all the political euphoria characterising our democracy at the ballot only, expected sustained parliamentary lobbies for social justice and good laws are yet to be a daily occurrence in this country. I seriously do not remember the last time, I saw an interest group lobbying at parliament in this country! Madam Lucy Sichone was the last person, I can remember doing so. Any way, she was the perfect epitome of civil society activism that the country has ever had. (Me, I use words of pen).

In retrospect, there is no doubt in my mind, that if as a people we do not have a mental shift in our perception of democratic representation, come September 20, the democratic experience of the last 20 years will simply be a long road to limbo!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My Father & the Picture on My Wall

We all always have jaded memories of our parents. But in our revering our parents, we all always create such utopian parents that if they were still alive they would look like angelic fairies always holdings our hands and leading us to greener green gardens under which rivers always flow. My jaded memory of my parents only always comes into vivid focus when I reflect on their solemn moments, happy and sad times, and mostly the questions they always deferred to “when you are older I will tell you”.  My father was the most ardent at giving this response, to the extent that it always became a chorus we sang for him whenever he scratched his heard before responding.

Mum is a memory of this pretty patrician black woman in whose bosom we would find warmth, and to whose skirts we would hold on to dear life when the man she called darling wanted to give us a serious spanking. It often did not take much to upset her darling. A simple omission like not watering the garden or even lazing in his favoured sofa, would invoke in him the sense that the wrath of his leather belt should descend on us. But, there was always mum’s skirt to intercede.

 A vivid memory of mum are the times this sweet woman we loved so much would abandon us to go and work at a women’s group in the community distant from our middle class environment. Well, there were no upper class areas then. It was either you lived kumayadi, the low density green residential areas, or the compound, the high density not so green residential areas. 

From our infantile rationalisations, it was not fair at all that mum would leave us to go and work in the compounds! But of course, in our minds, there were also the times this sweet woman turned into a hideous creature. Then, my father would be our darling too. These were mostly the times, she would holler so loud that our eardrums would nearly burst. All because we were still playing hide and seek or kicking the hide off a soccer ball way after dusk. She would round us up, march us into the bathtub, and give us a scrubbing that in our little minds felt like we would leave the bathtub without our skin. Our new darling would then come to soothe us with the chocolate sweets we had hoped he would give us when he knocked off from work.

Ah! In my mind it is clear how at other times the “chocolate sweet” saga unfolded. Sometimes after getting tired of kicking the hide off the soccer ball early, we would keep sentry on the plush porch, looking out for my father. We did not have prison-like wall fences then. A sighting would see us rush to the gate to greet my father, walk with him a bit hoping he will give us chocolate sweets. We always believed, we could smell them on him. When the sweets were not forthcoming, we would run into the house and crowd around his favourite sofa. The sofa always had a clandestine thing about it. And yet, when he walked in, his first destination was the kitchen.

We would sulk, walk out, and in the local language, say, "gosh that woman is a spoiler. Now she will ask if we have already bathed”. And my father would retort, "I don’t allow that criminal language in my house". Those were the days!

My father was a stern man, who seldom smiled, but liked the sound of his voice. His worst moments were when politicians came to visit our town. His position in the office always meant that he had to attend without fail, else the wrath of the Party would fall on him. And he would bulldoze us to accompany him.  Did we glow, looking up at my father up on the podium, next to all those big Party comrades! Yet, he did not smile. If anything his face got sterner and contorted as if angry. It always got worse, when the political creatures from the Capital started eulogising nothingness for development. No different from the incident when one day my father came home seething, neck bursting to the seams.

“Woman,” he shouted at mum. “Some Party chairman and his cadres rudely walk into my office without knocking, to simply come and tell me that he has a report that I do not respect the President. Why? Because the President’s picture hangs behind my seat. What nonsense.” And he walked out ranting. The next we saw him was deep in the night, smelling like a brewery. The next day, he apologised to mum, and gave us a lecture on cretins pretending to work for the people. Why can’t they learn from Jesus, he surmised. Who exactly is this guy he always talks about, we would always ask ourselves. Whoever Jesus was, he seemed to be fixated in my father’s life.

That brings me to the few instances, my father smiled. The most vivid instances that seemed to light my father’s face like an angel were when in the presence of mum, and when in a huge building with frosted crystal-like glass and a huge cross on top. The huge building with frosted crystal-like glass and a huge cross on top is one building we dreaded. We associated it with early Sunday morning serious scrubbing from mum.

On Sundays, we would be frog matched proudly, in our Sunday best, to this monstrous building, inside was his favourite guy on the Cross. And when, the Hail Marias and Pater nosters started, my father would beam like a full moon on a dark night and hail along. The guy on the Cross always struck a weak cord in us. Despite looking eerily solemn and melancholic, it was always like he was calling out to us or even reading our thoughts at the time. He really made us very uncomfortable. We would look around agitated, wishing we were kicking the hide off the soccer ball, and not having some guy on the Cross interrogating our inner fears. We could never wait to bolt from the place.

On the way back home, we would ask my father who the solemn looking person on the Cross was. “Jesus, and he loves you”, he would reply, lovingly patting our heads. “But why is he on the Cross”, my elder brother would ask. “He is the son of God, and he was crucified. He loves us so much that he decided to die for our sins”. 

 “Who is God?”

“Papa, what is sin?”

“And what kind of guy would want to die for all of us?”

“Come on papa, how can someone love people he does not know?”

 The questions would rain on him like rain falls during a thunderstorm. In his usual manner, my father would resort to the best answer he seemed to always have.

“When you are older I will tell you”.  As we entered the teens, my father tried to explain, but it all always seemed like a fairy tale. God, Jesus, mother Mary seemed so distant to our reality as children. If anything, Church was just a building where, every Sunday, adults like my father dragged children to against their will. 

Many years later, in my adulthood, my father, then retired, came visiting. I had just moved into my flat. It was still scantily furnished. In the living room, there were only two stringy straw chairs, two three-legged traditional stools, a heavily tobacco stained coffee table, a poorly stocked bookshelf, and a television set on the floor. On the wall behind the television set, hang a picture of an iconic person whose story I held in awe. I even had several books on him. In the few times I sat pretending to watch TV, I think I spent more time looking at the picture than watching TV.

It is an inspirational picture, this picture on my wall.

The distance he stares at. The dreams of freedom he longed for peoples of all creed.

This picture on my blank wall is a melancholic palimpsest the road I walk.  I see so much pain, I see so much sadness. If only.

My father sat in one of the stringy straw chairs, beaming like he was sitting in a King’s throne. Little did he know that I was worried sick that he might want to spend the night. The flat was gravely Spartan that the beds were simply cheap single mattresses on the floor, and it was only two bedroomed. My sister was staying with me at the time.

From the stool, I cringed and watched him. He, strangely, did not talk much. He just sat straight-backed, pensively looking at the picture above the TV set. Later, he continued looking at the picture as he ate his super.

When it dawned on me that he was indeed spending the night, I offered him my room. It was going to be a rough night, as I would have to sleep on the floor.

“And where are you going to sleep?” He asked.

“Don’t worry dad, I will manage,” was my sheepish reply.

“Hey I am lean. I won’t take much space in your bed,” he simply replied, laughing. “You do not need to be ashamed that you think you do not have enough to share. I say this because you do, but in your heart you deny it.” He added.

Indeed that night my father and I spent the night on the single mattress on the floor! And he slept so peacefully that I did not even feel he was in my bed. I spent most of the night thinking I need to do something about my Spartan existence.

 When I woke up, my father was already in the living room.

“There are people who are much worse off than you, my son,” my father simply said, immediately I walked into the living room. He, then again, pensively locked his eyes on the picture above the TV set.

“Who is he?” He asked.

“Ernesto Che Guevara,” I proudly replied. My father did not know Che!

“Why is he on your wall?” I explained.

“And he left his well-off life to fight for others?”


“Then I know him, too.”

“You do?” My father did not answer. He paused and asked another question instead.

“How can someone love people he does not know?” My father suddenly asked. The ground below me seemed to give in. I looked away, remembering a time when I had asked the very same question.

“He may not be Jesus, but at least from what you have told me, his ways could be admirable. Humane, but he can not be Jesus,” my father solemnly said.

Later in the day, he bid us farewell, and his departing words till today always hang around my deepest thoughts.

“Are your ways like the man on your wall,” he had asked. “As humans, do we really care for those we do not know? He had added.

My father, always an enigma, a solemn reminder of our deepest fears. We are always afraid to care beyond those we know, beyond those we love. And yet we claim to know God.

The guy on the Cross in the building of my childhood Sundays is a testament of what our existence should be. A greater love beyond our inner fears that we should know we can be able to love beyond those we know. That tomorrow we should look back and say: “Those are my footprints, and many that could not walk with me, that fell besides me, and those that came after me found the footprints to be the light that shone an existence of hope for them”.

That if, tomorrow my father walked with me again, I would proudly say: “I now know love.”

And I write this today, because looking back I now know my father and the picture on my wall revealed a truism by which we should all live. That is, my father is an anachronism, whose meaning is only deciphered today. And, Jesus the son of God that was fixated in my father’s life is a testimony whose meaning lives beyond time, and indeed beyond our religious affiliations, for love has no religious hegemony.