Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Letter from Zambia

Democracy is an all-encompassing word used to describe the political state of modern times. More or less democracy describes a political state in which fully fledged parliamentary legality flourishes and political parties come to power through the ballot box. The art of constitutional government as we know and practice it in Zambia is derived from British colonialism (parliamentary democracy). But parliamentary democracy is not a static condition—political constitutions have been revised in Africa day in and day out to suit respective political parties that may happen to be in power. In Zambia the ruling MMD has been experimenting to revise the current political constitution, in a move aimed to make it impossible for opposition leader Michael Sala to stand for the 2011 presidential election.

It is the case in Zambia today that the methods of political change are fraught with many difficulties—chief among these is the regional fragmentation of voting patterns, i.e. people still vote on tribal allegiances. Zambian politics is heavily influenced by political charisma. The first president Dr. Kenneth Kaunda was a charismatic leader and still remained a flamboyant personality. Charismatic politicians have a propensity to capture public worship either through making articulate speeches or wearing fine suits. Both Kaunda and Chiluba had a gift of making inspiring speeches and a flair for clean and smart clothes. Chiluba is said to have possessed two hundred pairs of shoes worth hundreds of dollars.

Both Kaunda and Chiluba had the gift to foresee what the masses’ feelings were and used to take advantage of a given moment by seemingly voicing those feelings. And it became very problematic for many ordinary Zambians to rally behind the late president Levy Mwanawasa, who lacked a magnetic personality and was a poor speech-maker. Indeed, the current president, Rupiah Banda lacks a political flair for publicity and lacks a flair for speech making.

Freedom for expression in Zambia has been conceived in wrong terms. It has meant incessant political criticism of ruling government in methods likely to provoke political violence. We in the WSM abhor the methods of political criticism that is spearheaded by the PF and UPND because they border on intimidating certain individuals instead of offering an alternative political system against the existing political status quo (capitalism). Political demagogy by itself is not an antidote to unemployment and inflation. The vicissitudes of human rights, gender equality and freedom of expression will not exist in socialism because a socialist will entail the actual embodiment of political and gender emancipation.

Indeed, the failure of political groupings in England to win an outright parliamentary majority during the May 2010 general election did not result in political violence and was resolved in an amicable manner. It is a test case for parliamentary democracy from which political leaders in Africa must learn a lesson. Presidential elections do not give rise to political violence in England unlike it is the case in most African countries.

In an election portrayed to be a poetical tragedy, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been voted out of power through incessant criticism by the mass media. It is the case that ever since he replaced Tony Blair as Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party, he was dubbed as an out of fashion political figure in contrast to the charismatic and flamboyant Tony Blair. The Conservatives and Liberals have formed a coalition government held together by trust—both of them failed to win an outright majority in the House of Commons.

K. MULENGA, Zambia

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