Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kanyama by-election violence

Kanyama by-election violence
By Editor
Sunday February 17, 2008 [03:00]

IT is difficult to understand why some political cadres in the Kanyama by-election campaigns can have the courage to go to a police station with pangas and machetes. Don't they know that it is illegal to behave in that way? Or is it that they have become a law unto themselves? The police needs to deal very strongly and resolutely with political violence. It should not be allowed to become part of our political culture; Zambia does not have a culture of political violence.

This is not Kenya or South Africa. Our people are generally civil-minded and peace-loving. This culture should not be lost or sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.

We therefore urge the police to arrest and prosecute all those involved in yesterday's violent campaigns in Kanyama, regardless of which party they belong to. And we also call upon the leaders of our political parties to take this issue of political violence seriously and ensure that they deal sternly with their violent cadres.

As we have stated before, condemnation is always proper judgment on political violence. Criminal acts can in no way be justified as a way of campaigning for a parliamentary seat. And we must reiterate that when politics appeals to violence, it thereby admits its own weaknesses and inadequacies.

We are obliged to state that brusque, electoral victories that emerge out of violent campaigns will be false, ineffective in themselves, and certainly inconsistent with dignity of our people.

And as we have stated in many editorial comments before, no doctrine, no principle or proclaimed political position can justify atrocious or criminal acts as we are witnessing in Kanyama.

No crime can be committed in the name of election campaigns. Those involved in political violence should be treated worse than common criminals because their crimes can have more devastating consequences on the politics of our country.

What seems to be distinctively lacking among the cadres of our political parties is a culture of civility, tolerance and humility which places the humanity of others before self and accepts that all citizens - regardless of their political affiliations - have a right to participate in the shaping of their destiny directly without fear of being harassed, beaten, injured, maimed or killed. Tolerance and respect for our fellow citizens should make us allow our political opponents to campaign freely without intimidation or inhibition, whether we like what they are saying or not.

At the same time, we should expect the same treatment when we are on our campaign trails. However, this is not something we achieve instinctively. Rather, we develop it consciously and respectfully. For, our very instincts would drive us to throttling our political opponents or, better still, to disrupting their political campaigns and smacking them with a deadly blow.

It is quite true that tolerance of our political opponents, of those we detest or don't like, of those we disagree with implies the highest respect for the human ideal, and its denial suggests a conscious and unconscious lack of humanity on our part.

Political intolerance must surely rank as one of the worst forms of immorality in human affairs. We have seen the horror of this in Rwanda, we are today seeing it in Kenya; we can see the horror of this in people who go out of their way to organise violence against someone for simply not belonging to their political party, for belonging to another opposing political party.

What we are striving to say is that we should take pride in our political opponents - we don't need to like them - because without them, we cannot have a multiparty political system. It would be stupid and meaningless to have elections where we have no opponents.

If under the one party political dispensation politicians had political opponents whom they had to face in elections, what more in today's multiparty political order! It is not possible to build a multiparty political system without having more than one political party and without people being able to choose freely and openly which political party to belong to and campaign for.

Belonging to a political party shouldn't mean that one is risking his scheme. If we continue to allow violence to dominate our politics, apathy will creep in and dominate our country's political life.

Until we realise this and our politicians and their cadres start redressing the imbalance between their selfish pursuit of power, electoral victories and concern for the human lives they want to be elected to serve or protect, between arrogance and self respect and humility, between tolerance and mutual tolerance, we will not make much progress as a nation, we will actually be marching backwards in very long strides.

This is the tragedy of our politicians and their cadres, the inability to value every single innocent life and bring happiness to our people without attempting to brutalise them into fear.

What we are seeing in Kanyama is not a democratic contest but something else - probably something that belongs to the jungle where survival of the fittest is the order and the rule. Elections that are based on violence can never be said to be democratic - free and fair - because people cannot be expected to freely express their will under such violence, intimidation and threats.

For us, true democracy is a growth in the respect for each other, for every citizen's rights and in the confidence in the power of ordinary people to freely transform their country, and thus transform themselves.

It is a growth in the appreciation of people organising, mobilising, deciding, creating together. It is a growth of fraternal love. And this is incompatible with politics based on violence, with elections that are propelled by intimidation and threats.

What all this electoral violence in Kanyama seems to mean is that we have not yet come up with a viable policy which can broaden democracy in Zambia. There must be recognition in our politics that our political practices, electoral campaigns must be based on sound moral values which serve to bind us as a nation.

An election should not be seen as a contest for survival. It should always be seen as a competition to serve. If this is the case, why should people injure, maim or kill each other just to serve? This shows that our politics are based on something else other than public service. Let us do everything possible to move away from this type of politics because they are costly, meaningless, useless and non-beneficial.



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