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Tuesday, December 15, 2009



Images have agents in real people as actors in a particular system of public action, in this case politics. We mistrust politics and politicians and are disappointed at the outputs of a barren political system and yet we participate in this apparent theatre of the absurd to dis-empower ourselves either actively or passively by creating political leaders whom we wished they were bigger than life idols to look up to. Zambians, like many of their fellow Africans, desire that government policy thinking should be driven by a sincere effort to move beyond ideological dogma and myths to pragmatism based upon a clear appreciation of our collective talents, our individual and national characteristics and virtues. However, as our leaders speak in tongues the ordinary folk, in so many ways, express their displeasure at being the “left-over” people, arrested in time and space like mummies in an ancient Egyptian tomb, a tourist spectacle but history nevertheless. Judging by the activism displayed by some non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Zambians, like many Africans, appear fed up of remaining “target populations” for the myriad expressions of global pity in a mega-digital world. They seek to rise above the image of subjects simply suffering peacefully! But how can they achieve these aspirations when they lack a responsible leadership?

In one of his very soulful musical expression, Nathan Nyirenda, a young Zambian music talent expresses the collective frustration at the miscarriage of development policies in Zambia in a song entitled “ Mwemakufi” (My Knees). He acknowledges the fact that the endowments of nature are many but the country’s wealth is simply on paper (as GDP) while people suffer immeasurably. For so much toil, the people get nothing. He wonders whether this is a racial curse or something else. He of course, like many frustrated individuals, simply exhorts God’s providence as an answer to his many questions in the hope that things would improve one day, hopefully miraculously. Yes we are true believers in the myth of miracles. And, in fact, we believe in the occurrence of miracles as a dedicated rational discourse. A rational discourse of despair has the possibility of a miracle as the moral of the story. The quest for a miracle carries with it a statement of despair and not of action to dare. It is a malignant cancer of illusions.


Any political argument, manifesto or ideology which does not help to overcome human suffering is worthless. Politics must be therapeutic. This view best translates the quest of one of the great philosophers…… However, human suffering is not a consequence of a mortal societal sin, but on the contrary, it is a reality in our human condition. Human suffering is imbedded in its specific forms in the initial conditions of the different social states we create in our human quest for self-improvement. Because it is intrinsic to each social state we create, it does not mean it is a necessarily acceptable state of such human self-improvement. In our human condition, it is the case that while human suffering is as real as human happiness, the specific manifestation of human suffering must be challenged all the time if society has to keep on creating conditions for happy fulfilling lives.

Because politics has to be therapeutic, it must have a subjectivity and meaning in the context of the recursive experiences of human effort to overcome material, cognitive and emotional challenges of everyday life. Politics is therefore about a form of practice of leadership that is realistic, inspirational and people-centred by empowering the least able individuals in society to overcome adversity. Leaders must have strong informed opinions about the human condition to be believable and to help empower the emasculated. Political leadership necessitates a greater sense of vision and by extension strong opinions about the state of affairs today and the prospects of change tomorrow. Realism in politics means a commitment to some core beliefs around which the people can be rallied. It is not about certainty, but faith in one’s ideals rooted in some ethical sensibility. Such ideals do not just jump into our heads. They are products of thought and discourse in all forms: rational and intuitive. There are things that are right or necessary and others that are not altogether right. In other words, politics as a practice of leadership must be ethical and humanly sane in its nature.

Timid people make poor, indecisive models for leadership. Weakness is never strength for a person who has no opinion of his own. Leaders with strong opinions are not dictators. They are advocates, movers and reformers. Mahtma Gandhi’s strong idealism of non-violence was in fact an opposition to values that violated democratic ethos. Democracy as an ideal of political governance is not about “iffy politics”. It is, in practice, the leadership capacity to garner the support of the majority towards a common societal purpose which has the objective of a common good. Politicians who do not feel uplifted in providing their opinions should stay at home making fortune cookies for their children. Political leadership is and must be a liberating enterprise capable of engendering human capacities to undertake actions across time and space which result into a better and sustainable living for society. A better life for all is of course subjective hence, the more reason why political practice must help society share common ground about acceptable human conditions to the greatest extent possible. Political leaders who cannot feel outrage at the site of human suffering do not qualify to be in politics.


Why, we may ask, does African politics and, in particular, its leadership, fail to inspire us into the hunger for new knowledge, enterprise, political enlightenment free from war and conflict, creativity and generally happy family lives? Why do we fail to transform challenges into opportunities for productive and useful enterprise?

Sometimes, spite may see as clearly as benevolence. And, therefore, if by account of mental infirmity, carelessness or delusion, in other words weakness, we deprive ourselves today of something so naturally occurring as the human experience and power to dream; if it will be said that our endeavours, if any at all, bequeathed for our children and their generations thereafter, a future deficient in quality leisure time; an existence bedevilled by sterile family lives; idiocy of the mind for lack of a zest for learning; and many poverties of unproductive work in a barren environment, then I am afraid that our time and our politics were nothing but phantom episodes, apparently real but meaningless.

We have an obligation to understand ourselves, to ask the right questions about what we see and hear and to act decisively and to understand our actions, and own up when we fail to achieve our aspirations. We need to understand the basic fundamentals of how we can preserve and enrich our environment by managing human capacities. We can not remain forever subjects of colonial anthropology, with no responsibility to redefine the many debilitating images manufactured by others in pursuit of our description. This series of papers are a critical exploration and description of images of failure in Africa with specific reference to Zambia. In doing so, we hope to highlight the dynamic practices that reproduce these failures across many policy fields. Hopefully, with such knowledge, we can attempt to challenge ourselves in future to overcome failure.

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