Saturday, October 14, 2017

Councillor election participation – mukanda a precondition?

“If democracy means rule of the people, by the people, for the people, then it also follows that no one people may rule another.” – Nadesan Satyendra

SHE was not charmed at all. Urban dwellers representing some big NGOs are always an excitement to many in rural Zambia. What with the chance of wetting one’s beak in a free cold coca-cola, or the chance of one striding  back to his or her hamlet with some cash in the pocket. I really do not blame them. That is what we have made them believe. We always leave the comforts of our city life, head to the bundus, round them up for some workshop or interviews, fete them, and later pay them a pittance for the knowledge gleaned. We really seldom give them an ear, when in fact we simply cook the same story we do every other year. After all, we city folks are the heart and soul of knowledge!

“You call me at short notice, and you come late. What is this councillor issue you want to talk to me about?” She ranted. I understood her anger, but I was not really the culprit. I was just like a dog on the leash.

I asked the first question. She laughed. It was that kind of laugh that tells you that you must be stupid. Rather reminded me of Shumpi - our childhood tormentor, and mukanda[1]. Seeing our friends head off to mukanda always fascinated us. It seemed like a nice break from school. And Shumpi would always laugh at us, saying if only we knew what happens there. Well, later she told us that, that is where willies were cut. The thought of having one’s willy cut changed our minds. Shumpi now started calling us - yellow. Damn her! After all, it was all about just nicking the foreskin not cutting the willy.

It was really just an impulsive question. She was too young, too eloquent, and too confident to be a councillor. “Aren’t you too young to be a councillor,” I had asked. Looking back, I really do not know why I asked that question. It was not even part of the knowledge I sought from her.

 I decided to tiptoe around her and she warmed up. We discussed so much, and I realized why Shumpi and mukanda came to mind. One numbing question she had was, whether there was representativeness in the politicized mechanisms responsible for selecting councillors, mayors and council chairpersons.

“Sir, why do I have to belong to a political party to represent my people? And if, I am employed as a civil servant - a teacher, for example. Why do I have to resign to contest a local government election, when I can be better placed to serve my community?”

I told her that local government electoral law does not dictate that one has to belong to a political party. But that, unfortunately the Constitution provides that a public officer cannot seek to be elected[2].  The Constitution further tells us that, a “civil servant means a public officer appointed by the Civil Service Commission”[3]. Sic!

I really scratched my nape on this one. This definition as it stands can actually mean one who is appointed by a public service commission other than the Civil Service Commission is not a civil servant. Anyway, I am sure the drafters of the Constitution meant a public service commission, which includes the Civil Service Commission, Teaching Service Commission, et cetera. So much for fast tracking Constitutional review!

Sorry for digressing. The inarguable fact is that the unwritten and written local government electoral participation laws in our country mean that a significant number of citizens and residents cannot aspire to be elected to represent their communities.

Many can meet the requirements prescribed in the Constitution, Electoral Process Act, and the Local Government Elections Act.

Yet many cannot. Because in seeking political hegemony, we have reduced local government electoral participation to first going to or first leaving a mukanda. Belonging to a political party is like going to a mukanda. Being a civil servant is like being in a mukanda.  

I read somewhere (can’t remember where) that local government is a civil order that should enable local decision making constituting members of the local environment or community so as to democratically promote and have actionable strategies that promote their social, economic, environmental, and cultural livelihoods.

Now if we socio-politically dictate that one has a greater chance of winning a councillor election if they belong to a political party, we are somehow dictating that one has to first have his/her willy cut so as to conform to the ideals and aspirations of that party.  In so doing, we forget that the ideals and aspirations of a party can seldom holistically represent the ideals and aspirations of a community or community members at a local level.

The only ideals and aspirations that can represent a local community are those held by individuals and or groups of individuals within a particular local environment. Which is, interested individuals, and representatives of local interest groups.

In truth, interested individuals, and representatives of local interest groups seldom have partisan interests. They pursue community interests! And sadly most often, they are scared of Shumpi laughing at them for not going to a mukanda.

To which end, local government boards are failing in this country, because we have neglected their premise and paradigm. A councillor is a part-time person that seeks to enhance the provision of goods and services within his/her local environment. It is not a partisan endeavor, nor is it one where public servants can be dictated not to participate.

Clearly, if we have to strengthen local government in our country, we need to redress the mukanda-like unwritten and written local government electoral participation laws.

Politicized mechanisms for selecting councillors, mayors and council chairpersons should not be the norm at local government! It is in fact, such mechanisms that have resulted in the civil servants cannot seek to be elected constitutional dictate. They can and they should at local government.

Verbum satis sapient (a word to the wise suffices).

[1] Mukanda – traditional circumcision camp, but herein, also used to mean a place of forced political likeness.
[2] Article 186
[3] Article 266

Monday, August 21, 2017

Prisons, warts and migodi

“We are all prisoners but some of us are in cells with windows and some without.” - Kahlil Gibran

In the last couple of dark moons, a singsong that has caught my attention the most is the one on prisons and warts. For now, put aside the play scripts on the allegations of cowards; “haulas”; namby-pambies in sisal wigs; and, of treason for allegedly eating, then stealing Pride, the King’s prized cockerel. Take a Yoga position, and mull over Hakainde Hichelema, Mwaliteta, prison and warts. Think of their memory of our prisons.

“Dehumanising, urine, faecal matter, disease infested, migodi (pit latrines)..,” are surely their memories. Rather nightmarish.

Lest we forget, the Zambia Human Rights Commission has for years, consistently provided us with Reports on prison conditions in the country. The singsong is the same, only the time changes.

Overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions! This is, in part due to unreasonable durations of pre-trial detentions. Overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions, the Reports say, have resulted in the prevalence of diseases like scabies and warts.

For instance, the 2007 Annual State of Human Rights in Zambia tells us that, “there are 1, 826 terminally ill prisoners countrywide”. In the same year, we are also told of a prisoner who had been locked up for 5 years without trial as he never appeared in Court since his arrest in March 2002; and of, another individual who the Court sentenced to 5 years imprisonment after waiting for 5 years for his judgment (Well, he was released as he had already spent 5 years in Scheol).

In 2008, the singsongs include a suspect accused of robbery, who had been in prison since 2005, last appeared in Court in 2006 and allegedly had been locked up without trial because his case record could not be found; and, an HIV positive individual remanded in prison and denied access to ARVs for two months.

Come 2015, the singsong is now mangy dog-eared. People die! ‘The most common illnesses that result in natural deaths in these facilities are tuberculosis, pneumonia, hepatitis B, malaria...’[1] Of course, people die!

Really wonder why the Human Rights Commission ever bothers.

Well, let us get back to Hichelema and Mwaliteta. It now should not surprise you that their walk to freedom is not as memorable an experience, as the warts. I do not seek to minimise the unacceptable cruelty suffered. I really thought an enforced wart on a fellow like Hichelema, Mwaliteta or the late Michael Sata (he once spent 27 days in prison, long enough for warts to set in) would make us howl together with the Human Rights Commission.

Fact is, Hichelema’s, Mwaliteta’s concern on warts in our prisons cannot evoke howlings on what we are as a people, just like the Human Rights Reports do not.  We just do not care!

If we did. We would not have the majority of our people still doing their early morning rituals in migodi; they will not still be drinking water from holes connected to migodi. This happens, while in an unthinking stupor we celebrate a sickening self-impoverishing public expenditure culture of luxury SUVs. How then can it be that warts will really concern us!

Could be, that is why we even build roads that tomorrow, are migodi.

I have been on prison condition visits, before. Our prisons are places that make you more somber than the places of many crosses where we like wetting our eyes. The prisons call out to your inner soul, even if you do not have a conscience. They call forth in you, questions of how we can treat fellow humans worse than hogs on an average European farm.

Enforced warts can be very painful, especially if they develop in the nether ends. Unless of course, if one is juiced on my beloved grandmother’s paraffin and battery acid laced seven-days brew. Pity, my grandmother has not yet secured a prisons export permit for her brew. So, it is unlikely that anyone who has experienced our prisons cannot lament about enforced warts.

Let us start saying, no to warts and migodi. Warts and migodi are an inerasable epitaph of what we are, what we need to change in ourselves, irrespective of how often we break the stone.

In any case, it is written in the stars, that our existence should light the path of darkness, not only for ourselves but more so for those that come before us, for those that do not have the strength to walk with us, and for those that fall before us.

We are the light, and our ways, not our words, should be the living monuments of that light. We should never dance to warts and migodi. This is the promise, and we should always keep it.

Pax vobiscum - Peace be with you.

[1] 2015 Annual State of Human Rights Report

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Emperor's New Clothes

(The Monitor Newspaper June 20, 2003)
The political pornography, vanity and absurdity of this country is bedevilling. It is, hence, not surprising that as a country we are every day sinking into a bottomless chasm of decay. Political leaders strut around like in a strip show, and we elate and applaud.
There is no better apologue, which can capture our bedevilled reality than the 'Emperor's new clothes.'[1]
You see, once upon a time there lived a vain Emperor whose only worry in life was to dress in elegant clothes. Word of the Emperor's refined habits spread. Two scoundrels who had heard of the Emperor's vanity decided to take advantage of it.
      "We are very good tailors and after years of research we have invented an extraordinary method to weave a cloth so light and fine that it looks invisible. The cloth is invisible to anyone who is too stupid and incompetent to appreciate its quality."
The Emperor listened, and vanity wining, the scoundrels were contracted. The two scoundrels then pretended to weave the suit. The Emperor thought he had spent his money quite well: in addition to getting a new extraordinary suit, he would discover which of his subjects were ignorant and incompetent.
Days later, he asked his prime minister, to go and see how the work was proceeding.
"Here, Excellency! Admire the colours, feel the softness," the scoundrels said. The prime minister tried to see the fabric that was not there. He did not see anything, but if indeed he did not see anything it meant he was stupid, and this he could not accept, as he would be discharged from his office. "What a marvellous fabric," he said.
Well, at some point, the Emperor had to show his subjects his extraordinary suit. A ceremonial parade was formed in the town square. Everyone said, loud enough for the others to hear: "Look at the Emperor's new clothes. They're beautiful!" They all could not see the clothes, but none was willing to admit his or her own stupidity. However, a child who had nothing to lose went up to the carriage. "The Emperor is naked," he said.
          Indeed, the Emperor was naked, and in this godly country the nakedness is pornographic! The many proliferate so-called leaders are simply au naturel emperors that have no idea of the core needs of this country. They both weave and wear a suit that will surely get this country out of the self-inflicted socio-economic chasm.
Beyond politics, it must be understood that the emperors' suit is costly. Christopher is dying; the youth are lost in an abyss of destitution. Yet there are many of us, the media not excepted, that stand up and hail the emperors. The fact is the emperors' suit is just misunderstood conceptions like control of corruption. And indeed, uncovering ludicrous conspiracies about who is power hungry and who is not.  There is no suit!
Just the other day, a god-fearing Veep, sprang into a ZAF helicopter and went to Mumbwa to "drum up" support for his party - the MMD. This is a Veep that wears the suit that can control corruption. It berates me as to what corruption these fellows keep talking about. I need the Veep to tell me what an act of abusing public resources for partisan interests, is called. 
Corruption is a state of rot! Electoral corruption as manifested by abuse of public resources is corruption. And, of course Mr. Veep, the MMD will win the by-elections simply because as a people, the emperors' new clothes are irresistible.
Surely, what else can give the Veep the right to use public resources for party politics, other than the simple fact that none of us want to be that child who said - the Emperor is naked? Well, could be the MMD pumped in gas into the helicopter.
Zambia shall not be saved if people cannot construe an act of abuse of public resources for partisan interests, as an act of corruption.
In any case, given that within less than a month of ascent to the office of Veep, the Veep is already behaving in a manner detrimental to Christopher, for the sake of Christopher, his assertion that he is a reject could be - is a truism.
Behold! In the scramble to praise the emperors, even chiefs do not want to be left out. A chief in Mumbwa warned his subjects against supporting the opposition in the forthcoming by-elections. I wonder if this chief realises that the money being spent on the by-election inflicted on the poor through desires for political hegemony, could alleviate some of the problems in his chiefdom. Any way, the point is, he is not the child that said the emperor is naked. If it were that he was, he would have said: "as a chieftaincy we are not going to allow costs incurred through individuals pornographic and absurd behaviours. We will simply boycott the nonsense, as sir you are politically au naturel!" 
Well, the bottom line is that this one saga makes one realise that no wonder lately chiefs are hauled before the courts for criminal and other offences. They are just mere mortals who seek not to look crackbrained in the face of political pornography, vanity and absurdity.
Any way, never mind the chief - he was merely exercising his freedom of mis-expression! Tetamashimba, Liato, Mazoka, Shikapwasha and Mwanawasa better characterise our reality.  But, I will tell the story beyond the politics of this saga next time.
For now, I seek to argue that the emperors of Zambia do not deserve a shred of applaud or newsworthiness. We should as a people seek greater heights of development, and look beyond the politics and categorically state when the emperors are naked.
It is irresponsible of a citizenry to trumpet accolades for a leadership that has not created jobs, that is not changing the state of our health care. A leadership that sees corruption, only when it suits them. A leadership that still continues to murder Christopher.
Christopher needs health care, education, and social security, and not the political pornographic aspirations and connivance for absolute power.
     In the apologue of the emperor's new clothes, the child was reprimanded by his father. "Don't talk nonsense," the father said. But the boy's remark, had been heard by the bystanders, and it was repeated over and over again until everyone cried:
      "The boy is right! The Emperor is naked! It's true!"
          Understood beyond politics, as a nation we need to assert ourselves. We cannot continue being irresponsible and allow ourselves to wallow in regressing poverty whilst the emperors core business is vain illusions of political grandeur.  We have nothing to lose, for poverty is a state of need. And one cannot lose that which one needs.
These emperors are naked! They are au naturel!

[1] "The Emperor's New Clothes" - a short tale by Hans Christian Andersen