Sunday, September 01, 2013

Parasites and Zambian politics
By Editor
Wed 07 Aug. 2013, 14:00 CAT

THE observations made by Alexander Chikwanda, the Minister of Finance, in the small mining town of Chililabombwe, may have far bigger implications on the future of the ruling Patriotic Front and need to be given serious attention.

Chikwanda says most Zambians are increasingly looking to political appointments and favours for survival instead of becoming self-reliant. He told the Patriotic Front Chililabombwe officials that there was too much politicking in the country and over-dependence on government, and that this over-dependence on politics inhibited Zambians from seizing opportunities in the economy as well as beyond the borders.

"There is too much petty politicking in Zambia such that people are not willing to work…" Chikwanda told Chililabombwe Patriotic Front officials. "…everyone in Zambia wants to join politics."

The setting of what Chikwanda said may be humble, but the importance of what he said to those Chililabombwe Patriotic Front officials is far much bigger.

There is need for the Patriotic Front to constantly examine itself in a very self-critical manner because on this lies the survival and revitalisation of the party itself.

Excessive dependence on politics for survival will only lead to one thing: corruption. If all those who organised, campaigned and voted for the Patriotic Front to win the 2011 elections are to be rewarded with government appointments, where will that leave this country?

It shouldn't be forgotten that UNIP, a once very vibrant liberation movement, was permanently destroyed by careerism. This also happened to the MMD in government and we can today see the effects of this on that once popular political party.

The Patriotic Front is also not immune to all this. The squabbling, factionalism that is starting to engulf the Patriotic Front today is a result of careerism, patronage and business ambitions. There is need for them to be extremely vigilant about the grave dangers of abuse of party structures for careerist and patronage purposes.

While the Patriotic Front needs some full-time party functionaries, not all its members and leaders can be on its payroll as employees. And government jobs and business don't belong to Patriotic Front members and leaders; they belong to all Zambians who possess the right skills, experience and capacity.

There is need for part-time leaders of the Patriotic Front to go back to their jobs or businesses and work hard. The number of jobs that can be given to party members and leaders is limited. All the ministerial positions have been filled. And all the appointments to diplomatic missions have been completed. New appointments can only be made at the expense of those already appointed.

And it is this that is causing the backstabbings, frictions and factionalism that we are starting to witness. Of course, there is also the issue of people repositioning themselves for future higher leadership positions in the party. There is nothing wrong with people aiming higher and setting their goals higher. But unbridled ambition leads to more problems for the individuals involved and indeed the organisations in which they are trying to realise those ambitions.

There is need for the leadership of the Patriotic Front to confront head-on the danger of intra-party factionalism before it takes root. This tendency towards factionalism is leading to indiscipline which, if not controlled now, the Patriotic Front will have serious difficulties dealing with in the months to come. Today, junior party members and leaders are allowed to choose who in the top leadership of the party they should respect and who they should denounce.

In a disciplined political party, there is democratic centralism, and higher organs of the party are the ones which deal with the challenges below. Junior party members and leaders should not be allowed to choose who to respect and who not to respect in the top leadership of the party. They claim to be loyal to party president Michael Sata. And once that loyalty is pronounced, then they turn on the same people their party president has appointed to carry out certain party functions. Loyalty to Michael means nothing if it is not extended to the party structures and leadership he himself has constructed.

When this behaviour is tolerated for a long time, opportunistic elements of all hues take advantage of it to institute their own personal agendas. And these personal agendas sometimes are made to exploit regional and tribal weaknesses.

In saying all this, we are not in any way suggesting that there should be no debate on issues and actions of the party and its leadership. They must not allow legitimate debate to be stifled or to be ruled taboo. But as they conduct such debate within their party, there is need for them to guard against the dangers of factionalism. Debate is good because it does help shake up complacency and routinism in a number of quarters. But those who lead the party should ensure that they do not lose the collective political control of whatever is being debated. In particular, they must be extremely vigilant not to allow any debate to become factionally divisive within their party. They must also ensure that external forces do not hegemonise their own debates. These forces will praise one faction and set it against another.

For all these reasons, we believe that the Patriotic Front leadership should now begin to provide some general strategic guidance on this matter. Chikwanda and a few other party leaders have said something on this issue but there is need for a much stronger and more resolute approach to the issue.

Everything that we have said here applies not only to the Patriotic Front, but to all our political parties that want to be better organised. We see factions everywhere. We see disciplinary measures being used to settle political differences, leaving a strong legacy of bitterness and resentment - "the walking wounded". This cultivates a tendency towards excessive defensivism and also habits of counter-factionalism.

We have in a number of editorial comments spelt out the dangers of factionalism. We have clearly stated that experience has repeatedly shown that a party divided into hostile groups loses its militancy. Protracted intra-party strife inevitably results in party members concentrating on discords. The party becomes distracted from political struggle and day-to-day work among the masses and loses its influence.

We note that the Patriotic Front, somehow, attributes its poor performance in last month's parliamentary by-elections to protracted intra-party strife. These are early warning signs of factionalism weakening our political parties.

And unless the issues which Chikwanda is raising are addressed, indiscipline and factionalism propelled by parasitism on politics for survival will continue to be the order of the day. Let politics be a noble service and not a breeding ground for parasites. Parasites shouldn't be allowed to invade our politics.

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