Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Irreconcilable Political Intolerance

Our democracy is restricted by our politics and our efforts to attain mature politics restrained by pseudo-democracy, manifested through selfishness of thinking that only those in government have national interest at heart. Opposition leaders are seen as enemies of the state to be controlled by the same laws that are meant to punish criminals and vandals who threaten by public peace and destroy public property. 

By Nyalubinge Ngwende
Think of the idea of one day not having a home, displaced because you need to be on constant run from possible instant death or being imprisoned in sordid conditions and suffering excruciating torture. Fearing to stay in one place because those who will kill or imprison you think you are not of their tribe or you oppose their political ideologies and undemocratic government. So that fear of thinking to lose your life or freedom for another individual’s political gain just makes you to keep on running until,  without a place to hide in your country, you find yourself living in a foreign land, wandering and going days on end without food and sleep. Thereafter, think of waking up among thousands of other people that are not even your family but also running away from your own country for the same reasons; queuing in front of a home office of a foreign country subjected to security screening, before being declared a refugee. Next you are loaded like bags of grain on a lorry and sent to live in a camp of plastic tents.
  
Just like the idea of being killed for political or tribal reasons seems remote—almost meaningless—so does the idea of having to leave this beloved motherland, your good job, a comfortable home to run away from tribal or political persecution. That your country, Zambia, has an international brand-tag of a peaceful nation, imagining a day that a person you share a beer with and kneel down together in a church pew becoming your executioner or collaborator who hands you to state security agents the next day appears to be from a fairytale, a primitive myth. Isn’t it?

And that may well be a problem of trying to imagine the reality about what size and nature of political and tribal differences other countries have experienced that lead to serious bloodied political skirmishes, including genocide. We have read and watched on satellite television about these things, and know they are truly happening. This country is even hosting most of the refugees. But their situations do not affect us; they are far from making us victims. 

Yet our own political independence founding fathers have hinted that political instability and tribal wars are possible anywhere when political intolerance becomes a practice of governance by those in power.

Vernon John Mwaanga, author, diplomat and veteran politician said everything about tolerance in a country starts at political level. “Politicians must not talk on each other, but should talk to each other.”

Appearing on a ZNBC television a programme to reflect on the Heroes and Unity day on July 1, 2013, Mwaanga said a country must practice politics of inclusion and not exclusion. 

“There must be space for others to participate,” he said, warning that exclusion of others from effective political participation leads to alienation which has led to many conflicts in other countries that are not politically stable today. 

Vernon Mwanga, Zambian Veteran Politician
Mwaanga’s statement is not void. The way our politics are arranged in Zambia, since the second republic under UNIP, hardly promote tolerance and mutual respect between those in government and the opposition groups. A ruling government personalises everything, including forcing all citizens to tow its line of thinking. Those who are rightly or wrongly perceived to be dissenting are persecuted; their private businesses destroyed while others are dismissed from public jobs on flimsy grounds. 

Our democracy is restricted by our politics and our efforts to attain mature politics restrained by pseudo-democracy, manifested through selfishness of thinking that only those in government have national interest at heart. Opposition leaders are seen as enemies of the state to be controlled by the same laws that are meant to punish criminals and vandals who threaten public security and destroy public property.  


Up-to-date, the woman Inspector General of Police Stella Libongani has not been made accountable of her statement that defended bias application of the Public Order Act (POA). She and her senior officers, mainly women across the 10 provinces of the country, have been blocking opposition leaders to hold public and indoor meetings while cadres from the ruling Patriotic Front carryout public demonstrations at will and anywhere without being curtailed by the POA.

Libongani told a media briefing at Lusaka’s Southern Sun Hotel on December 28, 2012 that the POA allows the police to enforce the law appropriately.

She accused opposition political rallies of being a danger to the enjoyment of rights and freedoms of the [Patriotic Front leadership and its membership]. 

“It is able to allow us to ensure that every person in this country is able to enjoy their rights and freedoms. For political parties, those are not the only opportunities they can have to communicate with the public.

There are always other effective ways of political participation other than through political rallies,” she said.  
Nine months after there has been no word from government to distance itself from Libongani’s outbursts. Could this be a sign that President Sata agrees with her appointee in totality to deny the country’s opposition space to conduct their business?

While people in countries like Rwanda and Congo have a practical grasp of the realities of civil conflict due to political intolerance, Zambians find it hard to grasp how and why such things happen.

In Rwanda the political intolerance that turned into genocide, with Hutus maiming and killing Tutsis, came as a result of one group of people thinking it was the majority and superior over the minority Tutsis. 

Scenes from the slaughter of Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda
The survivors of the genocide remember spine numbing atrocities that left the world reacting too slow and too late after 800,000 Tutsis had been killed, thousands of women raped and taken as sex slaves for Hutus.

Over the years, as the world through the ICC (International Criminal Court) in The Hague tries to seek justice for the victims shocking revelations have emerged about people heading important institutions, such as the police alongside government ministers, being involved in the brutal massacre of innocent men, women and children.

Zaire and now Congo DR is a country that has never known a stable political and democratic government.
What has carved the Congo DR into ruinous regional battle grounds is mainly the politics of greedy. Greedy politicians only take development to the regions where they come from and command political popularity.

Regions that have rich natural wealth like diamonds and gold have in many years remained neglected while those in power and their corporate crooks continue to harvest this wealth, building empires in their regions leaving the owners of the minerals with ‘husks’ to subsist on. In the end the Congolese have continued to experience unending war.  
  
If Zambia is to avoid going on the similar path that other countries have continued to straddle and struggle to detour from, citizens must ensure they build a culture of tolerance. 

There is little that a small group of politicians can do to set brother against brother to defend their narrow political ambitions if citizens are all in agreement to be ruled properly, with equal law for equal rights. The citizens must all refuse weak standards of governance that tend to rely and depend on an individual leader’s good will. 

In unison the people, as One Zambia, One Nation, must all agree to construct a good constitution and strong transparent institutions that will be feared by those who govern. For now institutions of governance cower before the omnipotent Executive President.  

As a people, of 72 or more tribes, there must be categorical refusal to pander to tribe politics. Annoying jokes that leaders of certain political parties will never be President of this country because of their tribe must be discarded. The media, the politicians and silly citizens have always taken these as mere words, but no one knows how much tension it causes among the group affected. Remember it was the simple thought of political dominance by sections of a tribe that led to the genocide in Rwanda. 

God forbid, but any form of intolerance that subdues the pride of one group of people can inflame the whole nation into xenophobic attacks.  What is even highly inflammable is when leaders choose to make government positions a preserve of their tribal men. Without a slight of shame, when every appointment announcement carries the same tribal name is a subtle but human right violation equivalent to genocide and could cause fissures in the political stability of the country. 

Further political participation of the citizens must not be curtailed by any form of stupid law. Free press, like public assemblies, is one of the biggest ways through which citizens participate in the governance system of their country. However, as often said, that alone is enough because ‘wily despots develop insidious ways of controlling the private media and curtailing opposition leaders from interacting with electorates’. 

Zambia has lost the Post Newspaper, which until 2011 had remained a vanguard of checks against bad governance. The newspaper has become a megaphone for the ruling Patriotic Front. 

Public political meetings have almost disappeared, not out of fear of going to jail by opposition leaders, but it has become costly for them to pay legal fees to lawyers to defend them on cases that government deliberately instigates against them and end up withdrawing from court. All the government wants to see is its opponents embarrassed in the eyes of those who cheer its senseless abuse of power and suffer legal costs.
The intolerance runs deep. It does not make governance any easier but everyday drags the country to tittering edge of political conflict.
NN