Friday, February 26, 2010

‘This govt’s only darling is appeasement’

‘This govt’s only darling is appeasement’
By The Post
Fri 26 Feb. 2010, 08:00 CAT

THERE is a clear division among the chiefs in the Southern Province of our country. There are those like Mwanachingwala whose only discernable political preoccupation is to attack, denounce and discourage whatever the opposition is doing.

Mwanachingwala, and other chiefs like him who support, defend and promote the interests of Rupiah Banda and his friends in government are enjoying a lot of ‘positive’ coverage in the state-owned and government-controlled media.

Then there are chiefs like Bright Nalubamba who attempt to question or criticise decisions and actions of those in government.

These relatively don’t receive much coverage in the state-owned and government-controlled media. When they are covered, it is often in a ‘negative’ manner.

And it would seem anyone who criticises the opposition or opponents of those in power and supports Rupiah and his friends are guaranteed extensive and favourable coverage in the state-owned and government-controlled media.

We have all sorts of nonentities, low-level MMD cadres enjoying extensive media coverage whenever they are called upon to support Rupiah and his friends or to denounce his political opponents.

Despite representing more than four million Zambians, the Catholic Church and its leadership does not enjoy the coverage some petty pastors are accorded by the state-owned media. It is not difficult to understand why this is so.

This is simply because the Catholic Church and its leadership fearlessly question those in government on their decisions and actions that affect the poor.

This is a church whose leadership sees the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of the women and men of our time, especially those who are poor or afflicted in any way, as its joys and hopes, sorrows and anxieties.

It is very clear that to agree with everything Rupiah and his friends say or do is divine, but to disagree or question what they are saying or doing is a crime.

And those who try to criticise or to question what they are doing are intimidated in all sorts of ways. Everyone must belong to them, must support what they are saying or doing or risk being condemned.

They see everyone who questions or criticises what they say or do as an enemy. In their evil minds all citizens must think and act the same way.

Political pluralism and a multi-party dispensation to them means nothing; it is something that must be crushed because it breeds enemies for them.

And this is much more so for Rupiah whose party, UNIP, was opposed to political pluralism and the promotion of divergent views.

It seems to them the vanguard mentality is still very strong in their political outlook and practices.

This is why a person like William Banda, Rupiah’s vigilante can publicly threaten to kill anybody he believes is insulting the late Levy Mwanawasa.

This is a democracy and people have the right to hold their own views on Levy. And moreover William is lying because his friends in Rupiah’s MMD have been insulting Levy in so many ways; they have alleged that he was a liar and a vindictive person in regard to their corruption cases.

Chiefs are not there to protect government from critics. They are meant to protect people from government, and not government from people. If criticism is valid, it must be made.

We say this because democracies make several assumptions about human nature. One is that, given the chance, people are generally capable of governing themselves in a manner that is fair and free.

Another is that any society comprises a great diversity of interests and individuals who deserve to have their voices heard and their views respected.

As a result, one thing is true of all healthy democracies: they are noisy.

And the voices of democracy are not only of those in power, their cadres and supporters. The voices of democracy include those of the government, its political supporters and opposition, of course.

But they are joined by the voices of traditional rulers and their indunas, the labour movement, non-governmental organisations, organised interest groups, community associations, religious leaders, business people and their chambers, writers, scholars, the media and other critics of all shades and stripes.

All these individuals and groups should be free to raise their voices and participate in the democratic political process of their country in the way they deem fit and within the constitutional setup.

In this way, democratic politics will act as a filter through which the vocal demands of a diverse populace will pass on the way to becoming public policy.

As former United States president Jimmy Carter once observed, “The experience of democracy is like the experience of life itself – always changing, infinite in its variety, sometimes turbulent and all the more valuable for having been tested by diversity.”

This is why democracy is a system founded on the deeply held belief that government is best when its potential for abuse is curbed, and when it is held as close to the people as possible.

This is why the exercise of power must be the constant practice of self-limitation and modesty. You don’t lead by hitting people over the head – that’s assault, not leadership.

The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people. We say this because hot heads and cold hearts never solved anything.

A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of credit. This business of seeking and expecting praise and all sorts of exaltations from everyone when all one does is evil won’t do.

It’s not possible for people to respect and praise politicians who every day wrong them, abuse them, steal from them and perpetrate all sorts of injustices against them.

That’s why today those who go on television praising Rupiah and his friends and denouncing their political opponents are only mercenaries who they have hired or have hired themselves out for monetary and other gains.

There can be no doubt, of course, that criticism is good for people and institutions that are part of public life.

And criticism of public servants, of representatives of the people, of those running the affairs of government should never be turned into a crime.

No institution – judiciary, legislature, the presidency, whatever – should expect to be free from the scrutiny, from the criticism of those who pay taxes to keep it going, of those who give it their loyalty and support, not to mention those who don’t.

This is why we have repeatedly stated that acceptance of criticism implies the highest respect for the human ideal, and that its denial suggests a conscious or unconscious lack of humanity on our part.

There is no reason for us to be stuck in this culture of zealous worship of political leaders, a culture which would look primitive even in the eyes of our ancestors who never hesitated to criticise their chiefs.

History tells us that the greatest epochs in mankind’s weary journey are characterised, not by subjugation of the critic but of his tolerance.

What is distinctly lacking among our politicians, especially those in government, and their supporters is a culture of respect, tolerance and humility which places the humanity of others before self and accepts that all citizens have a right to participate in the shaping of their destiny directly without fear of reprisal.

Tolerance and respect for our fellow citizens allows our critics to express their opinion about our views and actions without inhibition, whether these seem to be palatable or not.

At the same time, we expect the same treatment or privilege when our turn comes. This is not something we achieve instinctively.

Rather, we develop it consciously and respectfully. For, our very instincts would drive us to throttling our opponents in argument, or, better still, smack them with a deadly blow.

Clearly, all this fear about criticism is caused by one thing: fear of being undermined politically and otherwise by honest criticism.

Honest politicians have no reason to fear criticism because the truth is on their side, and the basic masses of our people are on their side. Conscientious practice of criticism and self-criticism is the hallmark that distinguishes honest politicians from dishonest ones.

As we say, dust will accumulate if a room is not cleaned regularly, our faces will get dirty if they are not washed regularly. Our leaders’ minds may also collect dust, and also need sweeping and washing.

The proverb “Running water is never stale and a door-hinge is never worm-eaten” means that constant motion prevents the inroads of germs and other organisms.

To check up regularly on our work and in the process develop a democratic style of work, to fear neither criticism nor self-criticism, and to apply such good maxims as “Say all you know and say it without reserve”, “Blame not the speaker but be warned by his words” and “Correct mistakes if you have omitted them and guard against them if you have not” – this is the only way to prevent all kinds of political dust and germs from contaminating the minds of our leaders and the operations of our government.

The advice being given by senior chief Nalubamba should not be allowed to fall on deaf ears. Truly, Nalubamba is right when he says, “The failure by government to listen to criticism will render them useless grey politicians. This government’s only darling is appeasement; what a way to run a state!”

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