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