Wednesday, January 02, 2013

'Zambia's democracy is failing to mature'

'Zambia's democracy is failing to mature'
By The Post
Wed 02 Jan. 2013, 16:20 CAT

Dr Alex Ng'oma, a political science lecturer at the University of Zambia, says Zambia's democracy is failing to mature because many political players do not understand its principles and ideals. Dr Ng'oma also says that Zambia has "a democratic system without democrats".

Our experience over the last two decades of multiparty democracy has taught us that people may be born with an appetite for personal freedom, for democracy, but they are not born with knowledge about the social and political arrangements and conduct that make freedom and democracy possible over time for themselves and their children. Such things must be acquired.

They must be learned. Education is a vital component of any society, but especially of a democracy.

As Thomas Jefferson wrote: "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never shall be."

In contrast to authoritarian societies which seek to inculcate an attitude of passive acceptance, the object of democratic education is to produce citizens who are independent, questioning and analytical in their outlook, yet deeply familiar with the precepts and practices of democracy.

Democracy is more than the sum of institutions. A healthy democracy depends in large part on the development of a democratic civic culture. Culture in this sense does not refer to art, literature or music, but to the behaviours, practices and norms that define the ability of a people to govern themselves.

A totalitarian political system encourages a culture of passivity and apathy. The regime seeks to mould an obedient and docile citizenry. By contrast, the civic culture of a democratic society is shaped by the freely chosen activities of individuals and groups.

Democracy is not a machine that runs by itself once the proper principles and procedures are inserted. A democratic society needs the commitment of citizens who accept the inevitability of conflict as well as the necessity for tolerance. It is for this reason that the culture of democracy is so important to develop.

Democracy is not a set of revealed, unchanging truths, but the mechanism by which, through the clash and compromise of ideas, institutions and individuals, the people can, however imperfectly, reach for truth. Democracy is pragmatic. Ideas and solutions to problems are not tested against a rigid ideology, but tried in the real world where they can be argued over and changed, accepted or discarded.

Democracy depends upon a literate, knowledgeable citizenry, whose access to the broadest possible range of information enables them to participate as fully as possible in the public life of their society. Ignorance breeds apathy. Democracy thrives upon the energy of citizens who are sustained by an impeded flow of ideas, data, opinions and speculation.

Democracy rests upon the principle that government exists to serve the people; the people do not exist to serve the government. In other words, the people are citizens of the democratic state, not its subjects. While the state protects the rights of its citizens, in return, the citizens give the state their loyalty.

Under an authoritarian system, on the other hand, the state, as an entity separate from the society, demands loyalty and service from its people without any reciprocal obligation to secure their consent for its actions.
The essence of democratic action is the active, freely chosen participation of its citizens in the public life of their community and nation.

Without this broad, sustaining participation, democracy will begin to wither and become the preserve of a small, select number of groups and organisations. But with the active engagement of individuals across the spectrum of society, democracies can weather the inevitable economic and political storms that sweep over every society, without sacrificing the freedoms and rights that they are sworn to uphold.

Active involvement in public life is often narrowly defined as the struggle for political office. But citizen participation in a democratic society is much broader than just taking part in election contests. Whatever their level of contribution, a healthy democracy depends upon the continuing, informed participation of the broad range of its citizens.

Democracy, in our view, is therefore a process, a way of living and working together. It is evolutionary, not static. It requires cooperation, compromise and tolerance among all citizens. Making it work is hard, not easy. Freedom means responsibility, not freedom from responsibility.

Democracy does not demand that citizens be universally virtuous, only that they be responsible. It is said that "man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary".
And the role of political parties in all this is extremely important. Political parties may be as varied as the societies in which they function.

The political work that they conduct is often elaborate, usually time-consuming and sometimes silly. But their function is dead serious: to provide a peaceful and fair method by which the citizens of a democracy can select their leaders and have a meaningful role in determining their own destiny.

It is therefore very important that we pay a lot of attention to the organisation and functioning of all our political parties. These may be seen to be private clubs, but their importance to the governance of the nation goes far beyond the aggregate interests of their leaders, cadres, members and supporters.

And we shouldn't forget the fact that politics is about how society organises itself; how those entrusted with authority and leadership exercise their authority to meet the needs of the people; how citizens exercise their freedom and power to elect persons into leadership positions and how they exercise their right to demand that the leaders fulfil the wishes of the people.

Succinctly put, politics is about social relations and governance of a society; it is about serving the needs of all people and bringing about development for all.

This being the case, competent and honest citizens are encouraged to participate in party politics so that they do good in society. Politics needs people with credibility, people capable of upholding the common good. Therefore, a person chosen for political responsibility as leader must learn to serve before taking on a leadership position. True leaders do not seek power, but have a passion to achieve the best for those who are under their responsibilities.

And judging by the record of the past, the two most decisive factors affecting the future consolidation and expansion of our democracy will be economic development and political leadership. Economic development makes democracy possible; political leadership makes it real.

We therefore urge our political parties to pay a lot of attention to their work and their organisation. It is not possible to have the strong democracy without strong and well-functioning political parties. And it's not easy to have democracy in the nation while the political parties that run the politics of the country are devoid of intra-party democracy.

It is necessary to remind all our political parties that politics is for the good of the people and the country, and not for the political survival of any individual or political party. If the spirit of the primacy of the common good were to animate all our political parties, their leaders, cadres, members and supporters, we would not witness the daily wrangling, bickering and power struggling which leaves the public dismayed and disheartened about politics and its conduct. Undermining politics, political parties, undermines governance. And we all know the consequences of what happens when governance goes wrong.
We therefore remind our political leaders, their cadres, members and supporters of the noble goals of political activity.

Politics aims at the promotion of the common good and the service of all the people. And therefore, political discourse or debates should concentrate on programmes to improve the life of the nation rather than personal aggrandisement or the satisfaction of personal ambition. Politics is a genuine way of being at the service of others for the integral development of the country, and it should therefore be guided by good values of respect for human dignity, human rights, common good, social justice, solidarity, integral development, special concern for the poor and non-violence in resolving conflicts.

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