Sunday 22 April 2018

Legitimacy – The challenge of Politics in Zambia


Over the last month Zambia has witnessed another death of a sitting President and wrangles over succession in both the two largest political parties. In addition, we have witnessed probably one of the most absurd political acts that would never arise in any other democracy. This absurd act has involved Hon Edgar Lungu who was left as Acting President and Hon Guy Scott the Vice President. But I want to start with the side show – the contest between Nevers Mumba and former President Rupiah Banda over the MMD leadership.

Although Nevers Mumba was duly elected as President of MMD, his NEC voted that this time round he was not the best candidate for the 20th January Elections. The duly elected former President Rupiah Banda to represent them. Now we know from 2008 that the MMD used their NEC to elect Rupiah Banda as their presidential candidate, an election he duly won. And they have gone further as a party to explain the circumstances surrounding their decision to field President Rupiah Banda instead of Nevers Mumba who has subsequently taken the matter to court.

However, I am not quite sure what Nevers Mumba is taking to court assuming that the party rules allows the MMD NEC to select the candidate. My issue is with the subsequent action taken by some MMD NEC members to then back UPND President Hakainde Hichilema. I find it difficult to understand the rational of backing Rupiah Banda to replace Nevers Mumba as MMD Presidential Candidate only to follow this with abandoning Rupiah Banda – their president in waiting in favour of someone else in a rival political party.

And what is amazing about all this is that we as Zambians seem to have accepted all this as if it is normal. Hello!!! Surely if you will abandon your party in favour of some other candidate the very least you could do is switch political parties? Apparently not. I can only guess that under the current parliamentary rules, the MMD members supporting UPND President Hakainde Hichilema apparently do not want to risk losing their seats as MP’s by switching parties because surely they can’t keep a foot in both camps. They have promised to campaign for UPND President Hakainde Hichilema and neither Rupiah Banda or Nevers Mumba. And they remain MMD MP’s.

In my opinion our tepid and unquestioning response to this development within MMD exemplifies the very rot in our politics today. We simply accept whatever the politicians give us as if its normal. It isn’t normal! and we should protest such blatant abuse of political power. But then again, such behavior is expected from a political elite that is so distance from its electorate that they think they have the right to make such decisions because of the positions they occupy without any consequence to them. The poor electorates in the affected MMD constituencies should be forgiven if they are confused about what they voted for. This behavior and lack of sensitivity to their constituents exemplifies to loss of accountability in our political process that raises serious questions about the legitimacy of these MP’s to continue serving in parliament. But apparently, this is not an issue worth discussion because no one is talking about it!

The main actors are no better in this regard. First we had the Acting President Guy Scott cancelling both cabinet and PF Central Committee meetings – apparently out of due respect to our late President Sata. This action appears to have been acceptable to all Zambians. But on a serious note, did this mean that no national decisions needed to be made during this time? And if such national significant decisions needed to be made how where they being made? For example, in the absence of these institutions of party and government, how was the funeral cost for our late President determined?

The more serious issue over the tussle for the Acting President position was also swiftly brushed aside despite the fact that our Attorney General chose to misrepresent facts citing as precedent the George Mpombo case to argue his point to have transfer of power to Vice President Guy Scott. Let’s pause here! We have a situation where two people are citing different parts of a constitution to claim power.

The Attorney General, the main legal advisor to government then steps in and cites a wrong fact as precedent. With all the available resources in the Attorney Generals’ office surely he could have researched his facts over such an important issue. Again no one seems concerned about this blatant oversight by the Attorney General. I actually find it difficult to accept that the Attorney General could have made such a blunder and still be in office. I also fail to understand how having made such a blunder he hasn’t felt compelled to resign. But then again in Zambia no one resigns. We wait to get fired and in the process undermine the very offices and institutions we serve.

The second and main act concerns the confusion in the Patriotic Front and how it has impacted on constitutional issues. What I have come to learn during the Acting Presidents attempt to stop Edgar Lungu from becoming the PF Presidential Candidate is that:

The majority of cabinet ministers, PF MP’s and PF Central Committee members were opposed to Acting President Guy Scotts position on Edgar Lungu and openly sided with him;

During this power tussle what we heard was that Acting President Guy Scott wanted a democratic process to be followed and that Edgar Lungu was opposed to this. There was also a lot of confusion on the use of State Power as Republican President and as PF Party President. Most people for example could not distinguish between the two positions and took is for granted that Edgar Lungu wanted to replace Acting President Guy Scott as Acting President. Of course it did not help that Edgar Lungu had raised the issue of transfer of power and allegedly had his supporter contest this in court. So it was perhaps inevitable that this confusion would arise.

However, it conveniently played into people hands because it stopped the more important debate. How is it possible that a party leader can defy his own party and still remain party president? Are the Zambian laws so bad that they can allow a situation where a party leader can refuse to step down even when the majority of his party want him to step down? And where is the democracy in all this? In any other country Acting PF Party President Guy Scott faced with similar challenges would have been morally obliged to step down as clearly his cabinet, parliamentary MP’s and party had lost confidence in him. And we are not talking about this.

More disturbing but perhaps more understandably, concerns his position as Acting Republican President. This position is already very weak with restricted powers. But if the Acting Republican President does not have support in cabinet, parliament and PF party, where does he get his legitimacy to rule from? Is our constitution so bad that such a situation can be sustained even for the limited time period of 90 days? And if its so bad for an Acting President what does this mean for an elected Republican President with the full Constitutional Powers? I of course understand the emotional trauma of trying to avoid forcing an Acting Republican President to resign. However, we still need to ask the question because my experience of this power tussle has led me to believe that the existing constitution actually allows a sitting President/Acting President to rule by decree without the support of his cabinet, parliament or party. I find this very scary and I hope you do too!

The issue of legitimacy is the most important issue of our time. It is what keeps us united even as we vote for different parties and have different agendas. It is, I believe the reason that we have been crying out for a new constitution as we see the increased political polarization and opportunity disparities that are splitting us into a ruling elite and disenfranchised poor. When we vote and our chosen candidate losses the election, the reason we obey the new government is because we recognize their legitimacy to rule us through the majority votes that they obtained.

However, when we are ruled by an unelected government we feel disenfranchised. We do not know whose interest the government serves and we do not know what our rights are or if the government is accountable to us as citizens. A failure to claim legitimacy is the single biggest cause of revolutions. The reason that our parents and grandparents fought for independence was not only to be free in our own land, but also for the right to decide our own destiny.

Any constitution that does not enforce a legitimacy requirement on a sitting President falls short of any claim to general democratic acceptance and is a recipe for revolution and rebellion. And in our current environment where the youth are economically disenfranchised this is a revolution waiting to happen. So as we go to the polls on 20th January 2015, I want you to reflect on the consequences of continuing with such a bad constitution as we currently have.

I do not think that it is sufficient for the Presidential Candidates to simply promise that they will give us a new constitution. I think that this time around we should have a much stronger contract between us and the presidents in waiting. I believe that we must have a legitimacy contract that should they fail to give us a new constitution in time for the 2016 election then they lose legitimacy with us and will resign from public office. We have a draft constitution before parliament. We may have to sacrifice a referendum and allow parliament to debate and pass the constitution. But we must not let the current inequities in our constitution to continue beyond 2016. If we do that we may as well start to forget about One Zambia One Nation.

I have pointed out how we have avoided asking hard questions of our political leaders and why we allow such clear breaches of democratic practice. I want to put across a theory. Basically I am now of the opinion that our politician’s biggest fear is that Zambians can ever become rich. Our politicians know that if we become rich we will have no need of them. Instead they deliberately keep us poor so that we can go and papata them for jobs, contracts etc.

And it is this need that they nurture in us in order to keep themselves in power. Now we can ask ourselves how we have arrived at such a situation. Basically, our politicians have exploited our cultural weakness to defer to our chiefs. Our traditions have instilled in us a respect for our Chiefs as leaders. What our politicians have done is to usurp the authority of Chiefs and legitimize this behind our constitution. Traditionally we have gone to Chiefs to get land and solve our problems. Now we go to politicians. This dependency is dangerous and best exemplified by a discussion I had with friends a few weeks ago. What prompted the discussion was the proliferation of names wishing to contest the Zambian Presidency.

It was obvious to most of us that even characters who had no qualities of leadership suddenly felt that they could rule Zambia. Basically it seemed that the qualification criteria to become the Republican President had been lowered so much that anyone qualified. So my friend who runs a successful professional services company wanted to form a group that would lobby political parties to basically ask them to raise the bar on criteria they set for selecting their leadership. In my opinion this makes a lot of sense. But even among us as we discussed there was this fear that should we push this agenda the politicians would retaliate and target our business interests. And indeed this has been the practice of governments all along.

If you are perceived as a political enemy your businesses are targeted. This in turn means that the professional class are cowed into submission to the whims of politicians. What has happened is that our politicians have nurtured a culture of patronage by which they keep us in check. That is why we fail to ask the right questions. That is why we continue to accept political behavior that lacks legitimacy. It is interesting how often Politicians hide behind the very constitution that they fail to uphold. And they can do this because we the citizens do not ask the right questions.

I have two favorite quotes from Americans. The first is from President Abraham Lincoln and it goes like this:

“This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it.”
Abraham Lincoln

What is interesting is that Lincoln did not subscribe to the notion that we the citizens must wait until the next election to change governments. This is important but something that none of our political leaders want to admit too. Rather they, our political leaders, want to sit in office for 5 years and only then become accountable to us via an election. To remain in office, despite their actions that lose them legitimacy, they cite the constitution and refuse to resign. Our docile acceptance of such political behavior is a major cause of our current situation. President Lincoln was of the view that we the citizens have a right to demand change whenever we feel there is a need for that. Politicians cannot simply hide behind the constitution to retain their privileges.

My second quote is from Malcolm X, the Afro-American political activist:

To understand this, you have to go back to what [the] young brother here referred to as the house Negro and the field Negro — back during slavery. There was two kinds of slaves. There was the house Negro and the field Negro. The house Negroes – they lived in the house with master, they dressed pretty good, they ate good ’cause they ate his food — what he left. They lived in the attic or the basement, but still they lived near the master; and they loved their master more than the master loved himself. They would give their life to save the master’s house quicker than the master would. The house Negro, if the master said, “We got a good house here,” the house Negro would say, “Yeah, we got a good house here.” Whenever the master said “we,” he said “we.” That’s how you can tell a house Negro.

If the master’s house caught on fire, the house Negro would fight harder to put the blaze out than the master would. If the master got sick, the house Negro would say, “What’s the matter, boss, we sick?” We sick! He identified himself with his master more than his master identified with himself. And if you came to the house Negro and said, “Let’s run away, let’s escape, let’s separate,” the house Negro would look at you and say, “Man, you crazy. What you mean, separate? Where is there a better house than this? Where can I wear better clothes than this? Where can I eat better food than this?” That was that house Negro. In those days he was called a “house nigger.” And that’s what we call him today, because we’ve still got some house niggers running around here.

I was always amazed about this quote from Malcolm X because in many ways it led me to ask many questions about us Africans. Top of the list was the question for why we allowed a single white man with a few messengers to rule us as District Commissioner. Was rebellion so hard? But if we look at this from a cultural context and omit the race dynamics, our behavior now as unquestioning citizens exemplifies our propensity to respect leaders whatever their color or motives. This is why today our professional class behave exactly like House Negroes. They are too comfortable and not prepared to rock the boat. This is not good for us.

I cite this because we have a Tsunami coming towards us. Much of Europe and North America is basically broke. They have an aging population and the challenges both economic and social that come with that. These countries are not sitting around waiting for their Tsunami to land. They are looking for solutions. Part of that solution is going to be looking at where the remaining resources in the world are and finding ways to access them.

I don’t have to tell you where the resources are. You own them. Now how are we going to maintain our interest in these resources when confronted by an aggressive developed and powerful European investor with the support of his Government seeking to exploit these resources and sending them off to their own lands? I hope you realize that this is an effective transfer of wealth that will take place. So do you think that there is a realistic chance of us with our current behavior ever having a fair share in these resources? I don’t think so. Unless we change our attitude and mentality we will keep attracting these so called investors who will simply exploit our resources.

They, investors and developed economy governments, know our weakness and will exploit this. We must overcome our cultural constraints that allow our political leaders and others to exploit this weakness we have to overly respect authority. We can only do this if we continuously challenge the legitimacy of our leaders and other authorities that touch on our livelihoods. Our politicalleaders must fear failing to account to us as that is the only way they will serve our interests. They must enshrine legitimacy as their primary authority to rule us in our best interests. Then and only then will we have a chance to progress and enjoy our natural wealth.

Date parution: 
Thursday, December 4, 2014 - 16:45

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