Of hyenas and faecal matter

By Mbinji Mufalo

Not long ago, our eminent urologist, Francis Manda was reported as saying members of parliament that resign from their political parties are behaving like hyenas searching for fecal excreta. Well, I do not know much about hyenas and fecal excreta. The best I know about hyenas, is to run when one is in sight. And there has to be a tree in sight! In any case, hyenas are not known to climb trees. Perhaps in my ignorant purview, the moral lesson in Francis Manda’s politically unpalatable use of words is not only the cost to the public of frequent by-elections, but more so that us the voters should always take to our heels when a hyena is in sight!

On this concern, in the October 10, 2003 issue of The Monitor newspaper, I wrote in my column, “Beyond Politics”, that – “All politicians that exhibit monkey-like tendencies of swinging from branch to branch under the misguided assumption that it is only by being in the ruling party that one can contribute to the development of this poorest of the poor countries should be weeded. All presidents that parade such individuals as saviours should be impeached… Take away the franchise from all citizens that continue voting for individuals that exhibit monkey-like behaviours, such citizens are demented and not worthy the right to the franchise.  These individuals simply epitomise the likely dangers of democracy, of rule by the majority through mediocrity. The franchise should be the preserve of reasoning individuals. So Mr. Liato, Tetamashimba retained their seats, and the MMD is asserting its political hegemony. Who cares, after all a one party state is what appeals to the citizenry?”

We cared then. And let there be no question, even today we still care.

Anyway, let us forget the hyenas, faecal matter, and monkeys for now. What we know so far about our members of parliament’s propensity for political migratory behaviours is that they claim they can only serve us better if they belong to the ruling party. And there is nothing new about this argument. It was argued yesterday and it will be argued tomorrow.

Could be the role of parliament in a democracy is yet to be unambiguously understood by our members of parliament. I write somewhere that – “Parliament’s role and ultimate outcome is to represent the people and ensure government by the people under the Constitution; and that this critical governance mandate of Parliament is achieved through passing legislation, overseeing government action, and the facilitating of public involvement, co-operative government, and international participation”. So surely how can any reasoning individual argue that it is only when they belong to the ruling party that they can serve our interests?

But, perhaps, with hindsight it is time we started interrogated exactly what the citizenry votes for, and what political parties are in this country. Then, we hope, we may understand who really the people that seek to represent us are.

On the franchise in Africa, I have consistently argued over the years that the problem with emergent democracies is that – “democracy often ends where it starts – The polling booth.” Problem is, once we have inked our thumb on Election Day, we go back to our normal routine of spectating our political governance. We watch, applaud, and gasp when there is foul play. We seldom engage the individuals we mucked our thumbs for. Clearly it seems we are so scared of the individuals we put in elected public office. Lest we forget, politicians in public office do not feed us, nor do we owe them our servitude. It is the politician that actually owes us their servitude.

Today, if they tell us we can only watch; and, that we can only gasp loudly or cough political sputum to a crowd of more than two people, when the police have first checked with a political ménage as to whether the coughing will undermine the country’s peace and security (or vice versa). Then, we should surely interrogate ourselves as to what exactly we were doing in the polling both! We have a democratic right to demand a return on our interests as an exchange for choosing them as our representatives. Period!

What we vote for is simply the liberty to participate in our own governance and to determine our tomorrow. At parliamentary level, this does NOT mean that our representative has to be in the ruling party. Our parliamentary representative’s role is very clear. His or her role is to represent us, to oversee government action among other duties. And this he or she can do, irrespective of where in the house he or she sits.

Well, I have never been in the House. Could be, the back benches are too pugnacious, to the extent that if my member of parliament sits there, he or she can not think clearly on how to represent my interests! Perhaps, it is time we requested the Speaker of the House to ensure that our members of parliament have the same cushy benches, whether in front or at the back.

But will equity in the comfort of benches in parliament, stop the propensity for political migratory behaviours? No it won’t. Our members of parliament do not simply understand that they can serve us irrespective of which party they belong to or which bench they are on in the House. Could be, it is not us who wasted time inking our thumbs, that they actually desired to serve. It is time we engaged them and sought the truth, if they know what it is.

Further, exactly what are our members of parliament’s understanding of belonging to a political party? For if I voted for one to represent me in Parliament by virtue of the fact that he or she belongs to my political party, how then can he or she easily desert me in broad daylight? I thought by belonging to the same political party, we shared and upheld the same ideals and goals. And herein lies the fallacy!

Political parties in most emergent democracies are merely paternalistic entities plying their trade as political parties simply because the Constitution allows it. This is chiefly because the rationalisations for formation of political parties is either an individual’s aversion to exclusion from opportunities for leadership; an individual and or groups of individuals recognition of need for improving the existing socio-economic and political order; or an individual’s single ability to mobilise the masses into a grouping that evidences the individual’s political desires and rationalisations of need to represent the “silent majority”. Individuals mostly belong to a political party simply because of how they perceive the leadership of that party, how they relate ethnically, or what gains they think they can get, and mostly not adherence to shared common ideals and goals.

Inherent in this rationale is that, our political parties tend not to necessarily be the expected agents for democratic participation and representation. Hence, most political parties in Zambia are amorphous; they lack political identity as most do not have a founding ideology and the structure expected of a sustainable and resilient institution. These shortcomings make our political parties and us highly susceptible, to behaviours that our eminent urologist unpalatably refers to as “hyenas searching for fecal excreta”.

Unfortunately, political parties in emergent democracies like Zambia are merely a fallacy of the existence of agents for democratic participation and representation. And could be if we really understood that our political parties are at the nascent end of the evolution of political institutions (where the membership has no inviolable shared ideals and goals), then we would not fret too much about political migratory behaviours.

In retrospect, let us forget the hyenas, faecal matter, and monkeys. Instead let us assert our right to participate and to be represented in our own governance; our right to have controlling influence on the decisions and affairs of government; our supremacy to government; and, our right to be treated with equal respect and as of equal worth in the exercise of their controlling influence. And in doing so, let us be cognisant of the fact that, politicians are only depraved to the degree society itself is depraved.

The onus is on us the citizenry, not the politician, not the tin-can CSO leaders that claim to represent us. We should always be the change that we desire, the political governance that we desire, the political party that we desire, and indeed the tomorrow that we desire for the children. Lest we forget, if we do not change our ways, when our children seek our footprints in the sands of history, they will arrive at only one conclusion. ‘We went nowhere’.

And lastly, until such time that our politicians understand why we belong to the same political party, and why we inked our thumb for them, when you see a hyena, run. Climb the nearest tree around. I am sure up the tree you just climbed, you will find others. All those with you up the tree are like minded, and it is for one of them that tomorrow you should ink your thumb.

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