Thursday, August 29, 2013
FROM A GOLEM TO HUMAN BEING-NESS
Many policymakers in Zambia, and I can safely generalize this, in fact many African leaders, have little time for “technical” details. They prefer instead a rhetorical approach with high-sounding and fashionable clichés in common political parlance that appeals to a short-lived emotional sensibility of the public. And yet, political rhetoric is so often devoid of real explanation of social ills, their causation or opportunities and, consequently of their popular understanding. The “image” that Korten refers to is based upon a common sense view of the “big picture” if it is to be a liberating one.
The big picture in nature is often anchored onto very simple concepts. Because they are simple to many, they become invisible and a search for more complex formulations of the problem and goals is embarked upon. If we succeeded in inspiring our people to aspire to achieve quality use of leisure time; enrich the quality of our family lives; develop a hunger for continuous learning across the lifespan and structure opportunities for productive and interesting work, would we not move the boundaries of our images of suffering somewhat further away from us? These aspirations are simple. If not these aspirations, what should our politics really be about? I sincerely believe that our leadership must be about helping our societies overcome debilitating images, which dis-empower and disembody them into an existence of nothingness.
If we understand Korten’s argument about the power of images, let us examine the following story about images. Golem, is an old Jewish thought that refers to that state of existence only found in a form of a potential and nothing beyond. It is un-realizable form of “being-ness”. It also refers to the yearnings of a legendary human-like life form that the Jewish Cabal mystics said could be created, but could never quite achieve full humanity, as we know it. In other words, it behaves human-like but is essentially a dependent thing, controlled and rather robotic. A somewhat similar concept of a “Jinn” is found in Islam. In our own African myths including Zambia’s, there are such images. In Zambia, “Ilomba” refers to a human-like contraption secretly kept and controlled by people believed to have powers of witchcraft.
The Biblical Adam, according to some Jewish thinkers, was a golem until God put breath into him and gave him the freedom of choice between right and wrong. Other Rabbis contend that Adam and Eve were still golems until there was a break between the Creator and the creatures. Adam and Eve only assumed a conscience after breaking loose from the Creator. In other words, humanity as we know it today is only made possible as an act of rebellion.
Accordingly, Adam and Eve realized their true identity as humans, their extracted images of a greater Being, only after they were chased out of the ordered world of the Garden of Eden. They imagined a different relationship with God, challenged their carefully arranged and comfortable dependence, breaking loose from the predetermined destiny. Rebellion and independence in this case, appear somewhat interrelated. And so is independence and struggle for survival or inventiveness. Adam and Eve, following their new independence, begun to sweat it out into the stark realities of self-affirmation, a nakedness of real life, a life that is mortal and has to be “survived” or lived in all its dimensions, both in terms of quality and quantity.
It is perhaps a fact that while the Holy Books, written or unwritten (in the case of native folklore such as the story depicted in the Imprisonment of Obatala by a Nigeria playwriter , Obutunde Ijimere ) in most religions refer to this rebellion or failure to perform a task critical to the survival of a race, it is almost sacrilegious to confirm the view that without it, we would perhaps be golems and not humans in the sense we understand ourselves. Further, there is the notion that this act of rebellion is the cause of human suffering. In other words, in this epoch phenomenon of freeing ourselves through an act of rebellion against the Creator, humanity comes out as a product of ingratitude. We commit a mortal sin that explains the genesis of human misery. If this is the case, the disturbing question for the ordinary believer is in understanding the true purpose of the Creator’s need for our chronic self-prostration in gestures that express our gratitude. Was the Creator in the business of creating people after his own image so that they would, in an ego-centric way, sit all day singing His praises in gratitude? This point becomes thinkable only when we accept that there was an alternative being-ness to humanity that the Creator could have conceived for his creatures that could be less than pleasant such as a golem.
An alternative thesis is to assume that creation in fact presupposes a moment of liberation. Once an artist paints the image formed in his head, puts it on canvas or leaves it standing as a sculpture, it becomes apart from himself. While associated with him, it is nevertheless, a thing unto itself and not him. We can assume that a painter takes pride in his painting particularly when it is an object of appreciation by “others”. That is, a painter enjoys his product when it is beautiful to the eyes of independent judges. I am aware of the fact that some artists argue that they care less about what “others” think of their artwork. As artists, they are fulfilled by the sheer fact that the form of a thing that they conceived in their heads now exists outside of them. Some thinkers question this view and propose that such an artist is simply ring-fencing himself or herself from the act of popular or informed judgment that necessarily follow from a display of ones inner self through acts of creation. If we accept this view, the artist is judged as equally as his product. But to be sure, that individual painting cannot define the totality of the artist even when it represents a part of his inner perception of certain forms that may appear real or imaginary to the judge. It is simply an aspect of his self-expression.
Theoretically, alienation of that which is created from its creator, in other words, its independent expression of the creator, cannot be the cause of evil or suffering. This maturation through the process of formation, seen from our human condition, is an act that is mutually liberating both for the parent as it is for the grown up child. A parent relishes a moment when his children will be able to provide for themselves. He nurtures the children through an exit strategy that affirms their mutual identity while processing their separation. This is different from a slave-owner versus slave relationship. Because it is in fact anticipated that once the work of formation is completed, that which was created will be “spaced” away from the creator, we may therefore think of the Biblical story of rebellion as a beginning of a new journey, new space, in which man begins to discover the beautiful things that the Creator has endowed within the environment that surrounds us. In this human condition, we carry the values, intuitive logic and common senses embedded in the nature of our relationship with the Creator. We seek to deconstruct the turbulence that is fomented by our inappropriate actions in our environment, to define and chose right from wrong, to strive for joy and overcome suffering, overcome many poverties that are intrinsic in our failure not to discover the power of our existence as self-affirming, thinking and feeling beings.
The image of a golem, this story, provides us with an insight into our socio-political and economic experience in our country and, more generally, in Africa in the 21st century. The romantic image of our traditional African past speaks of communities of mutual support systems, care and generally, self-sufficiency. An Africa that was providing for all was made possible because of a complete balance in the relationships within communities, between communities and the ecosphere. That is the story of colonial anthropology. But Africa today shares no romantic images with its anthropological past.
In Zambia as in much of Sub-Saharan Africa, political, social and economic changes that have taken place before, during and after colonial rule, have emphasised the growing awareness of the turbulent environment within which public life has to flourish or falter and systems of governance have to be developed and implemented. The question objective analysis must face is not whether pre-colonial Africa was the romantic garden of Eden but rather, how at various points of history, “bifurcation” and consequently, turbulence was fomented and manifested itself, and how societies have coped with it. Here we have some lessons from students of chaos theory.
As for today, whether we call it globalisation, neo-colonialism or something else, the turbulence that the world has witnessed has been characterised by certain general features. Increasingly, we have come to witness that a single event in one part of the world can catapult major global dislocations. Two planes plunging into the World Trade Centre and another into the Pentagon, estimated cost of this terrorist suicide bombing strategy, at $500,000, enacted on September 11, 2001 has completely transformed our global culture of air travel. Even more noteworthy is the fact that our entire way of life including some fundamental values of privacy, relations between nation-states have radically changed. Our banking industry cannot pride itself as a secret custodian in the management of our private savings. Above all, we appear uncertain whether we can ask questions about the moral authority or identity of those, if any, who may be in full control of this gigantic social, political, and economic engineering. The balance of accounts between what is being gained against what is being sacrificed or simply lost is not at all clear. We learn of just and unjust wars. Worse still, we are mired in apparent deception regarding purposes of overt use of awesome military might against perceived enemies of “global interests”. Even the global institutions we have given ourselves are rendered impotent on some occasions. Life is always after the fact. What about the story of false intelligence about Iraq weapons of mass destructions (WMDs). Now, we hear of the doctrine of regime change. Saddam Hussein had to go! The fact that there has been more loss of life after Saddam is of no immediate interest to global forces of revenge against Saddam.
Turbulence, with its non-linear characteristics, weaves false certainty by layering various problems into one big digital experience, which is named such as globalisation, terrorism, or good governance. Perhaps because of its non-linearity, we secure ourselves cognitively by giving a new name to our apparently new experience. What is named must have shape; we can visualize it, even as “virtual reality” and argue about its substantive form. This imagination, this weaving of reality creates at the same time, a sort of collective social amnesia about the totality of processes and antecedent events. We accept as a given that a new world is born and the past must be forgotten. A new World Order, meaning new rules of relating whether it be at the institutional, nation-state, or personal levels have come into existence and must be obeyed. Everyone must take the new definitions of our experiences for granted. Either you are with us or against us. Nations must choose and the United Nations is the grand theatre where all the drama is acted.
Underlying this process are experiences similar to those described by students of chaos theory on one hand and of religious conversion on the other. These apparently polarized fields of thought share much in common in evolving new “paradigms”. Chaos theory is the study of non-linear dynamic systems. A dynamic system includes a collection of all possible states whose coordinates are able to define the system at any one point. According to this thinking, this system can be described with a simple initial value problem. Dynamical systems can be “deterministic “or “stochastic”. When they are deterministic, there is only one solution for every state. However, when they are stochastic there are many possible solutions that can be chosen from a probability distribution. Chaotic systems are deterministic, and yet unpredictable. The reason for this is that they are sensitively dependent on initial conditions. This means that seemingly insignificant adjustments to the system will be compounded over a time and can dramatically change the overall behaviour of a system. This is the process sometimes referred to as bifurcation. It can lead to either greater complexity in order or the behaviour of the system or degeneration to primordial forms.
Bifurcation in chaos theory refers to when a complex dynamical chaotic system becomes unstable in its environment. Because of perturbations, disturbances or “stress”, an attractor draws the trajectories of the stress, and at the point of phase transition, the system bifurcates and it is propelled either to a new order through self-organization or to disintegration. The edge of chaos is the place where the parallel processing of the whole system is maximized. The system performs at its greatest potential and is able to carry out the most complex computations. At the bifurcation stage, the system is in a virtual area where choices are made, the system could choose whatever attractor is most compelling, could jump from one attractor to another, but it is here that forward futuristic choices are made: this is deep chaos. The system self-organizes to a higher level of complexity or it disintegrates. The phase transition stage may be called the transient stage, the place where transitory events happen.
Three kinds of bifurcations occur: The subtle smooth one; the catastrophic, abrupt with excessive perturbation and lastly the explosive, sudden and discontinuous factors that wrench the system out of one order into another - a self-organizing criticality. Scientists focusing on chaos have observed these dynamics in traffic flow, weather changes, population dynamics, organizational behaviour, shifts in public opinion, urban development and decay, cardiological arrhythmias, epidemics. It may occur in cell differentiation, immunology, technologies, decision-making, the fracture structures, and turbulence among many others. Complexity can occur in nature and in man-made systems, they may be very large or very small, the system is neither completely deterministic nor completely random, and exhibits both characteristics; the causes and their effects are not proportional; the various parts of a complex system are linked in synergistic manner and there is positive and negative feedback.
The search for meaning according to Victor Frankl, a Jewish Nazi Camp survivor and Professor of Logotherapy is an existential need in all of us. Spiritual meaning is interwoven in much of what we, as human beings do. Many of us are struck by the importance of religious metaphors in many group experiences. It is clear that the more we understand processes involved in ordering religious orders, the better we can perhaps understand our human nature and our search for meaning or new world “order”.
In the spiritual sphere, there is first the definition of the existing system as “chaotic”, “sick”, or “sinful”. Genesis in the Judeo-Christian tradition starts with the theory of Chaos. We read of chaos, nothing but void, formless matter, infinite space. A picture emerges where out of chaos emerges life and out of order, we only see habit. The religious description of chaos today starts with a progressive moral decay and a possible scenario of options: hell or heaven is defined in the hereafter, or of a peaceful, rewarding here and now existence is given. The dynamics involves conversion processes, including brainwashing, persuasion, healing, the giving up of one way of life and the taking on of a new way of life; the meaning for a group of believers of a sacred idea or ideal; the importance of the ritual of worship ceremonies (very much like seminars, conferences, and workshops led by the enlightened gurus of a new technological order); and in the normal life cycle, the significance of confession before others (the “free” media exposes all in the secular world); the process of restitution (penance/helping others); the role of charismatic leadership; the emergence of such phenomena as community fellowship groups; interest in the occult, devil worshipping and many such manifestation of religious matter. The unpredictability involved in all these processes is clearly remarkable. Is it only by faith or works or both? Is it just love for a neighbour, visiting the prisoner, feeding the hungry etc? Nothing is definite. Karen Armstrong, a former Roman Catholic nun turned scholar has given a brilliantly lcid account of 4000 year quest for God in her book A History of God (1993) that clearly shows the floundering nature, nay, the chaotic nature of our human search for the Divine. It is an account not unlike Astrophysicist Stephen Hawkins well celebrated scientific masterpiece A Brief History of Time (1988) describing the many theoretical formulations of the how the universe evolved and continue to behave.
In political matter, chaos or better still turbulence, invariably forces governments into politico-technocratic responses that are: self‑evidently partial, incoherent, and provisional in nature. And when this becomes evidence of failure of a system of government to perform, or outright moral imprudence, public confidence in politics and politicians wane.
Many events appear like involutions. The rise of the far-right in European politics, the war on terrorism, the violence in Seattle at the WTO and Prague at the IMF meetings, the suspicious election victory of President George W. Bush, the actions of Milosevich of Serbia, the just or unjustness of the Iraq War against the popular will of global opinion, The Hutton Inquiry into the death of a British Military scientist apparently by suicide, the gunning down of Amadou Diallo by New York Police, Debt cancellation campaigns for highly indebted poor countries, the seemingly counter pressure for good governance in such countries spear-headed by lender nations, El Nino, the election of the first African American President barack Obama of the USA and the ensuing war in Afghanistan, the Arab Spring that turned to Winter in countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Libya, the list is long. The question is, are these related events in anyway? Who can keep track of such events even if they were related and relevant to understanding the butterfly effect of global events?
Under the current environment of turbulence, political explanations and their solutions have become numb in the face of growing problems whether of poverty, unemployment, AIDS, political violence, street children, urban housing standards, ethnic tensions, or the disappearance of the Black Lechwe in the Bangweulu plains of Zambia. These problems stand alone in the minds of policy makers and cannot therefore be fully grasped. If government has lost capacity to deal with the disappearance of the Black Lechwe wherefrom can it mobilise its will to deal with street children who in turn may be manifestations of poverty and HIV\AIDS? Under such initial conditions, the form that bifurcation may take becomes unpredictable. A catatonic state of political experience is often felt. Numbness in the Greek meaning of idiocy becomes a popular, even if unacknowledged experience.
BIG PROBLEMS AND FUGITIVE POLITICS...
A lean democracy and a leadership vacuum are the images most portrayed by our small screen reporters on CNN or BBC worldwide. Charles Leaderbeater and Geoff Mulgan have noted recently, in a book accurately entitled Life After Politics (editor Geoff Mulgan, 1997) that politics itself appears to have lost “ its capacity to lead as it comes to be perceived as a realm of promises that are not carried out, of systematic untruths, a world which no longer deserves deference and respect”.
Politics in a matter of speaking appears nutritionally deficient. It is fed with trivia, the encapsulated experiences that could fit into a five second television news script. There is no big picture, no context. We learn of actions of single men and not products of whole cultures, societies or civilizations. Even the word civilization appears to have lost its currency, understood only in terms of history. One colleague answered me curtly when I asked him if he had read a story about him in one of Zambia’s Tabloid newspapers. He retorted, “that is no newspaper, it is a toilet paper gleefully depicting the final excretive act of humankind’s most undignified moments of self-release. It is totally indecent!” I understood the frustration even when I did not concur with the description.
Our collective consciousness and sub-consciousness are growing bigger everyday enriched by our headline experiences, those snapshot images and sound bytes of modern media technology repetitively brainwashing us into global numbness. We are connected. And in this collective intercourse forced on us by media moguls, (sometimes with tragic effects such as the reported suicide of Dr Kelly, a reputable British government military scientist), Zambia like the rest of Africa fails to score. Note this case for example: “The country should be prosperous. It has fertile lands, enormous mineral resources and a talented population. Instead, it is poor, even by African standards”. These were the observations made by David Rieff, in the Washington Post in a column on Mobutu’s Zaire on November 16, 1996. Reading the development indicators for 2002 produced by the World Bank, you would think Mobutu’s Zaire was a much better piece of real estate than war-free Zambia throughout its thirty-eight years of post-colonial rule.
Can we explain the whole story of Congo’s poverties by reference to Mobutu’s personal system of political governance? It is questionable. In fact, we should exercise ourselves a little. There was a time when Western political analysts used to advocate that post-independence Africa needed “strong” governments, with leaders capable of uniting the wide array of tribal powers and create new “nation-states” .With the dreaded threat of communism, Mobutu was a darling model of Washington! As we look at contemporary Uganda today, I have been lectured to by many friends in the diplomatic high circles that Uganda needs a strongman, a Yoweri Museveni, who can rule without a plural political party system, given their history. A movement rather that organized political party politics suits Ugandans not Kenyans or Zimbabweans. Movements centre on personalities and not manifestos of political parties. Rwanda’s Paul Kagame seems to have by and large drifted into this de facto political system with his 95% electoral victory.
About the entire continent of Africa, George Ayittey (1999), has this to say: “Africa is four times the geographical size of the United States and, with its approximately 770 million people, is more than thrice that of the United States. It is a continent with immense untapped mineral wealth…. There is not another continent blessed with such abundance and diversity…’ And yet, Ayittey observes that a continent with such abundance and potential is inexorably mired in streaming squalor, misery, deprivation, and chaos. It is in throes of a seemingly incurable crisis. Eating has become a luxury for many Africans.
Like Ayittey, we witness not just the fact that the vagaries of nature sometimes put constraints on food production. These vagaries of the gods are, by their nature, randomly distributed across the world. The gods are fair. From Nigeria to Swaziland, From Malaysia to Hawaii there are natural calamities that happen from time to time. However, the story is not the same. For Africa, even what appears available and in abundance is economically unavailable for the majority of the population like in South Africa, Nigeria, Botswana, Gabon, Angola or Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Water is plenty in Zambia. We have many lakes and rivers across the country. Yet, agriculture, which is heavily dependent on rainfall, means Zambia faces hunger year in and year out. Why, because as experts put it, some areas have floods while others have had semi droughts almost every year in the last 20 years. Rice which most Zambians enjoy eating is mostly imported yet, it is a cereal that grows well in flood plains, and these are plenty in Zambia. And so, the country stands at the precipice of famine almost every year. We are unable to feed ourselves and depend on food AID (even when we report a “bumper” harvest) because, as Mundia Sikatana, once Zambia’s Minister of Agriculture so daringly put it in 2003, there is a world of difference between rain and water in the aqua-science of Zambian agriculture. We are not keen to invest in creating dams out of our many rivers and lakes to meet our needs for irrigation of our maize fields. For us to do so, we need donor funds from cooperating partners. We are unable to generate these funds ourselves from our internal resources because of bad governance, which either means fraudulent elections, lack of built capacity or corruption by those who are entrusted with governing. Repeatedly lectured to by our lenders, we take these explanations as received truth. Incapacitated in this manner of definition, we remain golems. Do we really understand the nature of that partnership? Korten says understand the image. Let us try and understand the story of our partnership.
In June 1997, I was among the few African government leaders who were invited to attend a conference called “Partnership Africa” meeting in Saltsjobaden at a place called “Var Gard” outside Stockholm in Sweden. I found myself in one waiting room with then Vice President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, then Vice President Festus Mogae of Botswana before the meeting started. We conversed with my two senior colleagues (I was only a Zambian Minister of Health then!), on why Sweden felt the need to redefine its partnership with Africa at this point in time. We had no answers. I had later come to discover that as government representatives, we were extremely outnumbered by the many Non-government organizations represented at the meeting, some of them from my own country. Janet Rae Mondlane of Mozambique was representing a Foundation named after her late husband. Many, I suspected were only NGOs on paper. In reality, they were NGIs, non-government individuals looming much larger than the combined political force of some nation-states in Africa.
During the conference, I listened to many informed presentations but two of these attracted my interest. The first was a paper by Anna Wieslander entitled “More Than We Think- Less Than We Should Be”. This study revealed that in the Swedish community of Halmstad, interest in Africa and positive attitudes towards it had “subsided” compared to the 1970s. There was a higher likelihood of Africans in Halmstad experiencing bigotry or discrimination. Another presentation by Angela L. Ofori-Atta entitled “ A letter to Sweden from Africa” also attracted my attention. I actually talked to the author about the similarity of views I felt between her paper and my presentation much earlier at a farewell meeting in honour of a friend, Professor Goran Sterky who had been the head of IHCAR at Karolinska, in Sweden. In her “Letter to Sweden Ofori-Atta of Ghana, a psychologist” was critically questioning the new partnership in a satirical manner that suggested that there were many unarticulated elements in the many terms that defined this partnership. Terms like capacity building, absorption capacity, good governance, technical support etc have taken the form of finance in the absence of real donor financial aid such as debt cancellation. In my treatment of this partnership concept, I had chosen to put it in gender terms and depict the patronizing, machismo manner in which these new development concepts are forced on to poor countries. The image it evokes is of young adolescent males free-floating their newly discovered and overstated masculinity on some unsuspecting girl but challenged to deliver, they have only poor excuses. And in many instances they leave behind a trail of unsatisfied “partners” leaking their salty tears in disappointment with a rather demeaning tag branded on their faces: “cold and uninteresting, a case of failed love”.
When the World Bank released its publication entitled, Can Africa Capture the 21st Century, I experienced something almost derogatory as I and my Malian counterpart as Ministers of Finance were invited to address Africa’s partners in Washington at the World Bank Headquarters, supposedly to affirm the findings and yet to inspire these partners to support Africa. The findings were the same damning ones I have grown up to hear about Africa. How do we get away from these images if not to share in Randall Robinson’s words in his book the Reckoning, we are doped into “seeing things, hearing voices, remembering little. Forever.” Numbness.
Leaderbeater and Mulgan say that globally, there is plenty of evidence today of what the Germans refer to as "Verdrossenheit", a disconnection from politics. Africa has its share of Verdrossenheit. It is not unique to Europe. It is a global trend. Political power and traditional structures of representation are being brought into question. Electorates whether in developed or developing countries are at best uninterested and at worst sullenly hostile to those in power. This observation is not new at all. In fact C. Wright Mills observed it in the 1950s in his paper entitled : “The Structure of Power in American Society” published in 1958 (Mills, 1967). I quote his insightful observation at length:
“There has, in fact, come about a situation in which many who have lost faith in prevailing loyalties have not acquired new ones, and so pay no attention to politics of any kind. They are not radical, not liberal, not conservative, not reactionary. They are inactionary. They are out of it. If we accept the Greek’s definition of the idiot as an altogether private man, then we must conclude that many American citizens are now idiots….Intellectual “convictions” and moral “belief” are not necessary , in either the rulers or the ruled, for a ruling power to persist and even to flourish.” In other words, authority as power that is justified by the beliefs of the voluntarily obedient, can according to Mills, be subverted by manipulation as power that is wielded unbeknown to the powerless.
Manipulative power loves popular idiocy. As Leaderbeater and Mulgan have observed, in modern “Vedrossenheit", even political activism, which in the 1960s was a mass movement for the wretched of the earth, has become a tool not for the relatively powerless but for the highly educated lawyers and their University kinds, engineers, agriculturists, economists, doctors, predominantly male rather than female-driven. In our own “Third World Africa, political activism is no longer the pursuit of the downtrodden proletariats of the Marxist or Fanonist kind but beneficiaries of elite culture who are organized as Civil Society against their governments.
This fugitive politics explain nothing; illuminate nothing, only rendering public life, as a theatre of catatonic experiences of an infantile kind. The fanciful labels, names attached to misrepresented phenomenon take no account of the circumstances in which those “bored sick” villagers live, just like the stupefied existence of our African City, daily swelling in size like a disgusting poster of an African politician. Each crafted word of “virtual truth” about why Africa continues to sink deeper into the quicksand of the many poverties, is superimposed upon the inner turbulence of individual personalities creating a numbness and torture in John Ryan classical “Blame the Victim”. These are industries of blame, that manage us like golems, through a failure of will by those that have the possibilities open to them to earnestly work together to empower the sprawling images of the poor, helping them to rise even when they fall, because to fall is not to fail.
Leaderbeater and Mulgan share a common notion as the “New Labour” Blairite social democrats of Britain, such as Anthony Giddens, in their analyses of the global crisis of politics. They see at least five root causes: a clash between the culture of democracy and its forms; low citizens’ involvement, particularly low direct contact with politicians; limited choice from among a very limited range of often vague and confusing party programmes; poor delivery by a largely ineffective governments that are good at promising but worse at implementing them, governments that are often powerless in the face of rapid changes in the global environment including foreign policy whether this be a new definition of post-September 11, 2001 terrorism or EU’s good governance doctrine; diminishing time for political work etc. This is political turbulence, cataracts of political ideas that appear to be running nowhere; imploding or rather contracting spasmically like motion sickness.
This disembodiment of the citizenry was precisely what Reaganites and Thatcherites were calling for in the 1980s as the growing thesis of the “minimum state” was being pronounced. The central thesis was that government must get out of the lives of citizens. There was too much politics and little action in government bureaucracies everywhere. Governance needed to be stakeholder-driven, by “Civil Society”, and all such Non-governmental organizations. Foreign Aid was better channelled through such non-governmental organizations and not governments in developing countries.
That was politically correct then and appears to be politically correct now to consider government and politics in this “anti-politics” image. Even multilateral institutions like the World Bank and the IMF have become students of Milton Friedman, the political economist, where markets under the control of global finance, rule. This is what has riled David Korten and others like John Ralston Saul, who sees this minimization of the state as no different from Mussolini’s antiparty, anti-government fasci de combattanti.
Ironically, and of interest to understanding this phenomenon as turbulence is that the “anti-politics” that appears evident is emerging against a background of a growing diversity in the media, and even greater reach of such media where we can watch: terrorist high-jackers plunge two Boeing 747s into the World Trade Centre in New York killing thousands of lives in real time. We have been able to witness on our small screens, the American revenge war on terrorism in Afghanistan in real time as smart bombs penetrate the caves where the Al Qaeda leaders are supposedly hidden. Modern media technology has brought into our homes the agony of the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown’s family as their newborn baby battled for life; a Congressional inquisition into the private encounters of an incumbent USA President Clinton with intern Monica Lewinsky telecast live for months into our bedrooms. We have been there and can speak authoritatively about disputed elections in Zimbabwe and USA, Galileo’s trip to Jupiter’s moons; the crisis of Argentina’s Presidency; the volcanic eruption in Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo. All these events are made accessible to us either through the small screen television or the World Wide Web Internet service. As we watch or read about these events, does that mean we understand what is going on? If we do know with understanding, why should governance of states in Africa be under crisis today when communicating between significant players can be rendered so possible with information technology?
The rising role of the fourth estate in cataloguing the acts of politicians whether in situations of war, humanitarianism, social solidarity in times of floods in Mozambique or of the private affairs of Presidents, should lead us to the proposition that there is increased global awareness of matters “political” and therefore a high probability of popular demand and access to the political sphere. BBC Talk Back or the CNN equivalent of our own “Let the People Talk” on Radio Phoenix in Zambia and in most African countries suggest growing interest by the citizens of the world to be part of the political. The question is whether or not such demand for access is tenable in any constructive sense. Is this connectedness through the industry of media transporting knowledge and images that lead us to inspiring understanding?
Analysts of the phenomenon of anti-politics point to a growing global feature where the majority of governments worldwide come into power without commanding an absolute majority of eligible voters, “political power underwritten by minority mandates”. When they command huge majorities, it is often against a background of contestation of vote rigging, voter bribery, boycotts by other parties and worse a la Zimbambwe style. It even appears fashionable in Africa today to refuse to concede a loss of elections just as the international phenomenon of election observers has become a big industry captained by Western “democracies”. Here, we see the flaws of most African constitutions which are written in such a manner as to assure incumbency most often wins unless some cataclysmic political awakening spurs voters into a state of rebellion and vote an incumbent government out, usually with a vengeance.
The “First past the Post” constitution cannot be the gravy of responsible democracy. It simply creates the industry, a huge one for that matter, of political parties whose manifestos are, if not in the heads of the “leaders”, they are stuffed in their pockets perhaps reading: “For my eyes only”.
“Something ain’t right here”, as the Americans would put it. Leaderbeater and Mulgan referring to Western democracies describe a political situation that we in Africa identify with: “ It should not be surprising then that the output of the political system is often of low quality with high levels of waste, of disappointment and disillusion. And all these problems become most apparent in the case of our leaders, who sometimes seem condemned to come to power on the waves of excitement and anticipation that then crash into sullen hostility, a half life of enthusiasm that now seems to last only about six months”.
Disappointment, disillusion or even sullen hostility is often fed by the experience of ignorance because while information appears available, it is not useful knowledge for the majority (it may be entertaining but not socially enlightening). It is compromised to enrich the media moguls who, if local, establish them overnight to settle some specific political score with their political adversaries. Often, new media emerges on the backs of some lender countries to rub into our consciousness their new hegemonic project utilizing the fertile minds of young often inexperienced journalists or outright outrageous types who can never knock on the door of Rupert Murdock for a sweeper’s job in any of his news rooms world wide. Set aside Murdoch’s own skeletons in the closet. Such projects are buffers against our continued begging for “aid”. These are compromised media. In other words, useful knowledge helps us understand the meaning of events in a context, and thereby inspiring us to constructively address that context for change and not simply rage or despair.