Monday, 12 November 2012

A Tale of Two Democracies- ZAMERICA

The build up to Barack Obama’s re-election was not as grand, emotional or even as highly anticipated as his first election. The same excitement was no longer there and here in Zambia it was almost a, by the way, thing. This could be because he had already broken the glass ceiling of being the first African- American president, anything else after that was a bonus. Nonetheless, pretty much the entire Africa was still rooting for him to win purely on the fact that he was black. And we say Africans are not racist. During the American campaigns I had the chance to see on television how he campaigned and also had the opportunity to listen to one of the presidential debates and political analysts make predictions. This got me reflecting can the American democracy style work for Zambia or do we need to develop a democracy that works for us?

The United States of America has primarily two political parties, the Democratic and Republican parties. These are evidently two distinct parties that have clearly defined values, and they stand upon these same values. The Republicans are perceived to be more conservative, and it would not be wrong to state that most Christians would associate themselves with this party. On the other hand, the Democrats take a more liberal stance to their values. They support issues such as gay rights, abortion and are less cut throat on immigration. It is upon their party values that Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney stood by. They could not just stand on a podium and speak their mind. They had to be a reflection of their respective party’s values. Therefore, as an electorate you are able to select a party that speaks to your values. In contrast to the current situation in Zambia, it is very difficult for me to tell someone what the core values of the Patriotic Front (PF), Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) or even United Party for National Development (UPND) are. This is because they are always shifting goal posts, and the parties are held together based on the personality. The closest I can get to a core value of a political party is Patriotic Front's ‘More Money in your Pocket’, other than that I am blank. The problem we have is that the parties are highly inclined to the individuals at the helm. Therefore, when people go to the polls, it is often the person rather than the political party views that they are representing that people are voting for.
I personally would prefer that Zambia has two or three political parties that are distinct and they preach this distinction to the electorate. The only problem is that we have opportunistic political parties that are silent and literally non-existent until the year of the elections, then they decide to poke their noses once again. If we had fewer political parties that say, for example, were conservative, liberal or socialist when someone was to ask me what values I look at when I am voting for a party in power it is based on what I believe the party will deliver. There will be no double standards, where someone campaigns on one thing and once voted into power does something completely different.
When it comes to obtaining political mileage perhaps the Americans are more ruthless than our politicians in Zambia. They put out advertisements against their opponents about all their inadequacies and dig up every dirty laundry that is available; if it means getting to the archives, they do so. Therefore, politicians have to be very careful what they say because one day it might come to haunt them. Even if it was ten years ago when you were only a university president, they will find a way of sucking it out and squeezing it for any political ammunition. Here in Zambia we have not yet reached the elaborate levels of advertising during campaigns and for some reason, politicians are not held accountable for what they say. Perhaps it is the electorate that easily forgets and is so willing to move on. It is no wonder that a presidential aspirant can make a lot of promises and rarely be crucified if they accomplish none of them when they become president. However, if there is anything to admire it is the way the presidential debates are conducted. It is done in such an orderly manner and it is only issues that are discussed. Each candidate lays out their plans on how they believe the country would best be governed. Sadly, in Zambia, whenever there are presidential debates organised by the television stations the ruling head of state does not bother to attend or one of the main opposition leaders is also unavailable. Therefore, you have a bunch of pretenders deceiving themselves about what they will do when they come into power when they know very well that they will not even have a sniff of the state house.
During the American presidential campaigns which each party had passionate supporters, there was never an occasion when I heard a mob of Democrats or Republicans attacking each other. Neither did I hear Romney tell Obama that bring your cadres, and we are ready for war, no such nonsense took place. The rallies were civil and there were no machete carrying overzealous cadres around. Sadly, in Rufunsa, Crispin Zulu a PF supporter lost his life allegedly at the hands of MMD/UPND cadres. The amount of hooliganism among some cadres is absolutely appalling. The poverty level in this country is one of the hindrances to our democracy. The political aspirants appeal to people’s stomachs rather than their intellects. The offering of a bag of mealie meal or bottle of cooking oil cannot only buy you votes but minions who are willing to perform brutal acts on your behalf.
So clearly our democracy has made tremendous strides over the years, and it is one of the few countries in Africa that has relatively peaceful transition of government. However, our democracy still has some fundamental flaws that need to be fixed, panel beaten and overhauled all together, if we are to follow democracies such as America which are light years ahead. Then again, why should we aspire to be a democratic nation like America? Maybe it is time that Zambia and the rest of Africa redefine their own democracies. Perhaps we should accept the imperfections in our democracies and find a way to live or work around them. It could be about time that opposition political parties accept that they will always be disadvantaged against the ruling party and need to be proactive in overcoming this challenge. We should come to accept that the stomach speaks louder than logic, and political parties should speak where they will be heard the loudest. Maybe the only way we show passion for our political parties is by clobbering each other and we should set up boxing rings where the scores can be settled. This is perhaps our democracy, and the Americans are not doing it right. Democracy is simply an ideology. Ideologies can be changed. Is it about time Zambia has its own special definition for democracy?

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