Saturday, October 03, 2009

On a clear path to tyranny

On a clear path to tyranny
Written by Editor

It is surprising, and indeed sad, that home affairs minister Lameck Mangani can claim that there is a conspiracy by some diplomats and some citizens of this country to destabilise Zambia by protesting what is clearly a questionable acquittal of Frederick Chiluba and the government’s decision to withdraw the appeal against this faulty judgment. It seems very few of our politicians in government can differentiate between a critic and an unpatriotic citizen out to betray his country.

It seems where there is a critic, they see a traitor, an unpatriotic citizen. In fact, no regard is ever had for the patriotism of their critics, probably unless they happen to die. This seems to be so because those in power, and their ruling party, consider themselves as the government and government as the state. The ruling party, government and their leaders become as sacred as the state.

Any denigration of these institutions and their leaders is tantamount to treason. Criticism per se is non-existent. Hence, whenever opposition to their corrupt and criminal schemes emerges, their first instinct is to smear it with the filth of foreign government being behind it. Every domestic crisis, however self created, will eventually be blamed on foreign governments, on donors.
It is difficult to understand the thinking of these people. Those who support them have the unlimited freedom to do so; they are the only ones who seem to be capable of independent thought and it doesn’t matter who finances them. They enjoy extensive government media coverage and don’t even need police permits to carry out demonstrations in their support. This is wrong. This is dangerous to our multi-party political dispensation and our democracy in general.

Freedom of expression forms the backbone of democracy.

Democracy will only become a reality when there is freedom of speech, including: the freedom, on the part of each individual, to criticise the government and political parties; the freedom of each individual to hold a political opinion that is different from that of the ruling party or the opposition parties; the freedom of each individual to express a political opinion that is different from the ruling party or the opposition; that is: the freedom to have a different line of political thinking and expression.

The enjoyment of the freedom of thought and expression requires a review of the civic education that is oriented towards political manipulation and deceit. Such a form of civic education propagates one line of political thinking at the exclusion of the alternate lines of political thinking. This creates a climate of political intolerance, leading to the infringement of the freedom of thought and expression.

The enjoyment of freedom of expression would require an acknowledgement of the following inclinations in the human persons: the desire to be heard and listened to, the desire to take part in the discussions of the issues that affect one’s life, the desire to provide an input to decisions that affect one’s life and the desire to search and find the truth.

When in a family, the father decides, commands and eventually punishes, without listening to the opinion of others, it is a foregone conclusion that the peace of that home will last only as long as fear or infancy lasts. The day will come when the children will reject such parental authority and will rebel or leave the home. Or they will go out into life diminished.

True love for one’s country is, as it were, an extension of love for one’s family; it is a love given to a wide family. And that which holds within the narrow circle of the home also holds in the wider community which is the nation. Adult people wish to be heard, to take part in discussion and in the decisions which affect their own lives within the national community. People desire to take part. A country is firm and united in so far as its citizens feel that they have a voice in its affairs. This requires that each citizen be allowed one’s own opinion and the right to act with full responsibility and without fear in matters that affect him or her intimately.

Almost 65 years ago, Pope Pius XII wrote: “It is among the rights of citizens which found their expression in a democracy to express their points of view concerning the duties and sacrifices which are imposed on them, not to be forced to obey without being heard” (Christmas message 1944).

Let us work to become a single people. We should not follow leaders blindly; we should critically examine their true intentions, and the direction in which they are leading us. Is it to a richer, more satisfying life? To a life in which we are masters of our own destiny? Or, is it to new forms of oppression, abuse and unfulfilled hopes?

Human beings have an inner propensity to search for the truth and to voice out that truth. This is enhanced within a climate of freedom of thought and expression.

Moreover, human persons are honoured – and this honour is due to them – whenever they are allowed to search freely for the truth, to voice their opinions and be heard, to engage in creative service of the nation in all liberty within the associations of their own choice. Nobody should ever have to suffer reprisals for honestly expressing and living up to their convictions: intellectual, religious or political. We can only regret that this is not always the case in our country.

We can be grateful that freedom of worship is respected. The same freedom does not exist when it comes translating faith into daily life. Freedom of expression is seriously restricted; exposing injustices can be considered as betrayal; revealing some evils of the society is seen as slandering the country.

The respect of the freedom of opinion and expression requires an acknowledgment by each politician and each political party, as well as each individual and each group in the country, of the fact that no person and no group can hold a monopoly of truth and wisdom. As such, room should be left open for an alternative line of political thinking that is wiser and richer than one’s own. It also requires the acknowledgement and respect of each person as an intelligent being, capable of independent thinking and independent opinion.

The people must never be reduced to a mass of subjugated beings vis a vis their rulers, but rather be treated as conscious, intelligent and responsible beings, while those in authority for their part playing their role as servants of the people and carrying out their duties in a spirit of love and justice.

The realisation of the respect of freedom of thought and expression by the government requires that the government be open to criticism and be open to acknowledge and admit its weaknesses and failures.

A first step in the restoration of the climate of confidence may be taken by recognising the true state of the nation. “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32). These words of Christ do not have an exclusive religious meaning. They also express a deep human reality. For too long we have refused to see that and because of this, our country has continued to suffer from many evils. People need to hear the truth. Feeding them with lies and half truths or untruths only increases their cynicism and their mistrust of government representatives.

The enjoyment of the freedom of speech would require that the government allows the people who hold a different line of political thinking an open forum to express their views without government interference. We all know that freedom of expression is the fundamental right for every human being. This right is also enshrined in our Constitution. And it is a matter of justice that it is given to all without discrimination of persons and irrespective of the issue involved. It is sad to note that while those who hold views that are different from those held by those in power are intimidated or silenced in all sorts of ways, are denied permits to hold rallies or processions, the supporters of those in power are given unlimited latitude to do so. It would be disastrous if freedom of expression were not the same for all but dependent on the person who is speaking. Participation in the life of the country is not only a right; it is also a duty that each citizen should be proud to assume and exercise responsibly. However, participation will remain a fiction without the existence of the adequate channels of expression and action: free association of citizens for social and political purposes and the like.

There is nothing sinister about what civil society is doing. Their decision to protest the questionable acquittal of Chiluba and the corrupt decision by this government to withdraw an appeal against that judgment is an open issue that needs no agenda or dark corner meetings. Citizens of this country are free to meet and mingle, discuss, share opinions and views with diplomats accredited to this country. This is a democracy and there is no law that stops citizens of this country from meeting diplomats and discussing with them the acquittal and Chiluba or any other issue that is not of confidential national security matters. And the freedom of Zambians, in this regard, cannot be restricted to issues that those in government feel comfortable about. This is a dangerous path this government is taking. And it is clear to see why they want even to start controlling and regulating the media. This is how tyranny starts. They are on a clear path to tyranny.



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