Azwell Banda has written an interesting piece in the Post on politics and poverty, which touches on two key fundamental points - lack of ideological differentiation and the relationship between the power and poverty.
Azwell is definitely onto something with the lack ideological differentiation. An issue which was exhausted on the blog The death of UNIP? After 71 comments, there was only convergence that the parties were similar ideologically, but what was the case remains a mystery. Is it because that is what the media Zambian voter wants or is due to the electoral system? Questions remain. Azwell for his part appears not have even begun to comprehend the complexity of the pandora box.
Politics and poverty, Azwell Banda, The Post, Commentary :
It is always during times like these, during any kind of election, that those who want to be elected tell us all sorts of lies about what our poverty is, how and why we are poor, and, most importantly, what they are going to do about our poverty.
Now, to be sure, the election to fill the vacancy left by the death of president Mwanawasa is unique in many ways.
First, of course, is that this is the first time Zambians will go to the polls specifically for the purpose of electing just the president of Zambia. Last Friday, Chief Justice Ernest Sakala declared that Brig Gen Miyanda, UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema, Patriotic Front (PF) leader Michael Sata and acting Republican Vice-President Rupiah Banda had validly filed in their nomination papers as presidential candidates for the October 30 presidential election.
The second, and perhaps most important question of this strange forthcoming-election is whether all those Zambians who will bother to vote can rise above their narrow party loyalties as happens in other elections, and, instead, choose the best man for the job to complete Mwanawasa's term.
The idea that it is no longer important to stick blindly to one's political party candidate has in fact been given weight during the reign of Mwanawasa. Twice he gave Zambia vice presidents who had no personal political constituency in the MMD. Mwanawasa himself came from almost a similar background – he had been a relatively dormant member of the MMD when Chiluba asked him to be the MMD presidential candidate.
Rupiah Banda and Michael Sata have long histories in UNIP. In fact, we have been told by the current leadership of UNIP that they will support Rupiah Banda because he comes very close to their UNIP ideals. Sata and Miyanda have been leaders in the MMD, both at very senior levels.
The only real dark horse in this race to State House is Hakainde Hichilema. However, he too is running a political party which is full of ex-UNIP and ex-MMD members. And there is nothing new about his politics.
What all this tells us is that in fact we have no fundamental philosophical, ideological, and political or class differences between all the aspirants to Sate House, in this presidential election. We are left to choose only on the basis of minor personality quakes, between these four men. And this is what is at the heart of the poverty of our politic!
We have here, essentially, four men cut from the same philosophical, ideological, and
political and class linen. Their ages notwithstanding, none among these men represent any real new politics for Zambia. They in fact differ only in the manner they think the country should be managed along the same and current socioeconomic trajectory.
Listen very carefully to all these men when they talk about our poverty. All of them treat our poverty like any event, any phenomenon. Poverty is identified and discussed as a problem at a surface level, the level of phenomenon, of superficial appearance; its deep underlying basis is consequently not addressed, but simply assumed.
When talking about our state of mass poverty, they isolate and separate our poverty from any social, economic and historical reality; thus its interconnectedness to other issues and the whole is lost.
Our poverty is not understood and analysed as a human relationship, as the manifestation of unequal power relationships in our society and country – as an integral and chief feature of the unequal power relations which are the foundation of our Zambian capitalist society.
None of these four men are willing and able to unveil, to reveal, the political, social, moral, ideological, economic and cultural mechanisms which produce and reinforce the situation in our country that is characterised by mass poverty and ensures that this situation is not only possible, but strangely also actually acceptable.
All these four men will easily tell us that our poverty is the state of not have access to food, shelter, education, and employment opportunities. They know us as poor because millions of us do not own anything apart from our miserable lives.
They abuse us politically because they know we have no money to buy for ourselves the things we need to stay alive. They thrive on our condition of destitution. They know we need the money they use to buy our votes with, urgently, because we need to buy, in particular, food.
During their campaigns they suddenly appear nice, good, generous, loving, and caring: they mock our poverty and insult our collective intelligence with their empty shallow promises to move us out of our poverty status if only we could vote for them.
They promise us they will end corruption in the government. They tell us they will create jobs for all of us, miraculously and without first destroying the systems and structures that together form our economy and society – a society which thrives on inequality and our poverty.
They tell us they can simply unbelievably reduce our tax, manage our unequal economy better, accelerate and improve the delivery of poor quality social services to all of us, and of course they all are best placed to carry on 'the legacy' of President Mwanawasa.
None of them appear to respect the fact that there is a unique set of complex historic forces and factors that have combined with our present circumstances to lock us firmly at the bottom of the global capitalist food chain.
None of them have shown the slightest respect of the role their kinds of politicians have played the history of the making of our poverty status. They are all blissfully oblivious to the inherent connection between the poverty in our politics and the mass poverty in the land. I bet none of them has ever heard nor read the words of that fearless African liberation struggle revolutionary, Almicar Cabral, who wrote the
following, in 1970, about oppressed and dominated peoples:
"The principal characteristic, common to every kind of imperialist domination, is the negation of the historical process of the dominated people by means of violently usurping the free operation of the process of development of the productive forces. Now, in any given society, the level of development of the productive forces and the system for social utilisation of these forces (the ownership system) determine the mode of production."
Our poverty is a direct consequence of the negation of our historic process by imperialism. Our poverty is a direct consequence of the continuing violent usurping of the free operation of the process of development of our productive forces. This situation in our history violently set the scene for the continuing poverty that afflicts us today.
All these men will undoubtedly mock such thinking, as expressed in this article. This is to be expected, as none of these men are willing to pay the intellectual price it takes to understand the origins of, and the systems and structures, which perpetuate our status of poverty.
For the real fight against our poverty and the corruption which always attends such
poverty, we all must strive to think hard and to uncover and imbed the relevant social relational factors that produce and reproduce our poverty, in all that we do, in our fight against our poverty.
We must not fail to study and understand the political, social, moral, ideological, economic and cultural mechanisms which produce and reinforce poverty and makes Zambia a country in which concentrated mass poverty exists side by side with a revolting concentration of wealth owned by a small minority.
Above all, we all must understand and appreciate the most obvious point: history is about the present. Unless we come to appreciate how our history reproduces our present circumstances of mass poverty, we will always live in our history, forever locked in our state of grinding mass poverty. Only such an appreciation of history will arm us to change our present circumstances.
We must go and vote, on the voting day, all those of us who are qualified to vote. For, it is better to choose the best from among these mean similar political characters, than not to vote at all.
That said, I agree with his other point - the distribution of power is at the heart of the poverty struggle. As I have previously note in the blog In rich Zambians' palm.. - there's a clear relationship between poverty alleviation and the distribution of power in society. Tackling poverty therefore requires an appreciation of the external forces but how the current internal forces are shaped historical and cultural processes, which in turn ensures that the poor continue being kept out of the top table. Zambia is stuck in a perpetual political equilibrium that has perpetuated continuous under-development led by the educated or corrupt elite. The balance of power in society is stuck against the poor which prevents the emergence of pro poor policies. What we need is an institutional realignment that will alter the balance of power and give the poor a greater say in the development of the nation - not just platitudes, but a real and fundamental shift in dynamics. That is our best hope for incentivising future governments to deliver policies that are more pro-poor and pro-growth in the long term.