always in motion, either rising or declining. Everyone can autonomously decide his or her own destination or plan one’s life. Citizens are therefore able to predict the behaviour or an action of public officials. The question that arises is whether the general populace really influence politics or whether their so called representatives really represent them.
Politicians must be representative and their actions must be in the best interest of those who elect them into office. Citizens are not just interested in electing parliamentary representatives who once in office, have the audacity to sleep and snore and are controlled only by the prospect and fear of losing future elections.
If political representatives act in ways that are not predictable and not in the interests of those whom they are supposed to represent, the people have every reason to treat these acts as undesirable and to single out these deviations for punishment. It must be noted that fortune is the arbiter of one half of our actions, but she leaves the control of the other half to us.
Let us assume that politicians’ insatiable desire is to be elected into office and to maximise their autonomy in decision making. On the other side the general populace or the masses must avoid abuses by politicians. It must be pointed out from the outset that James Madison brilliantly observed that politics is not a game of angels: “if men were angels no government would be necessary.”
The citizens have one major instrument to protect them. They can throw the rulers out of office at election time. Elections can therefore arguably be used to induce cooperation on the part of those who are voted into office. Incentives include rewards and punishments. Politicians who are true representatives of their people are re-elected into office and those who do not must be booted out. It is a paradox, “judges speak to judges only in the language of the law and the general populace to their political representatives through the ballot.”
According to Przeworski et al, “elections are a vertical accountability mechanism,” they reward or punish political representatives’ actions while in office. Ginsberg and Stone proposed that there are four fundamental issues that denote the importance of elections. To begin with, elections formalise the formal participation of people theoretically and enable the rendering the capacity of citizens to influence the way in which politicians conduct themselves.
Secondly, popular elections are a way towards compensating for private inequalities in political resources in that elections introduce into the public sphere a formal mechanism for the populace to compete and choose their representatives. Thirdly, elections provide an insight into the subtle way in which the powerful in society engage in the popular influence through mechanisms that have been institutionalised. Fourth, it is through participation in elections that the electorate influences public policy making and implementation.
Broadly two types of MPs as well as councillors may be identified. First is the MP or councillor who was previously involved in political struggles and has a clear goal for the empowerment of the masses. He aims is to empower the people by supporting various programmes and projects within his constituency. He is hard working and is a true servant of the people. Such an MP or councillor is driven by selfless and noble motives to better the conditions of his fellow human beings/compatriots. In other words, he is people centred, a “true son of the soil”. Where his people are, that is where he is mostly found. He understands his people the way they understand him. His, is a symbiotic relationship with the people built on mutual trust and genuine brotherhood. He knows he is the “fish” and the people are the “water”. Without the support of his people he knows he is nothing. He consults the people before he makes unilateral decisions on any programme or project. This MP or councillor knows that decisions affecting the people are no longer made by a single person. Rather, decisions should be collective in nature emerging from consultations between and among many affected interests.
Second is the greedy, selfish and self-centred MP or councillor. This one turned to politics to enrich himself. He actually found out that in African politics that is where one can amass a lot of wealth. The motivation of this group is quite simply to make money. This group is driven by material gains rather than any self-sacrificing motives. It is ravenous, rapacious and self-aggrandising. Many countries in Africa have not been able to rescue their people from poverty. The sobering truth is that parliamentarians are not delivering. They are interested in power, wealth and office and any social outcome is incidental. They are “unable” to use their country’s resources to advance the development of their people. The tragedy is that Africa now has a “crop” of MPs and councillors whose personal political ambitions are stronger than their solidarity with their governments and the people they represent. In plain language, they are interested in wealth, office and any social outcome that is incidental to profit making.
Down Antony correctly observed that such politicians are interested in their own initial outcomes and not public policy. They and their parties are not interested in realising an ideal democratic state or in making a better society, but only in office and its rewards.
The majority of Africa’s MPs and councillors have totally failed the people they represent. The people in these constituencies or wards are more like Paulo Freire’s poor masses that are only seen but never heard.
They live in a culture of silence where they are condemned to passivity. It is the MP or councillor who speaks for the people. The masses are to be obedient, submissive and meek. The MP or councillor is the “water” and the people are the “fish”. Without the MP or councillor the people are said to be doomed.
In such a myopic and false scenario the people need the MP or councillor more than he needs them. Such a myth has been accepted by many in Africa. The MP or councillor has got away with this deceitful and fake “invincibility” forgetting that it is the people who are more powerful than him.
These MPs and councillors are simply egoistic and self-regarding hyenas who hide under the façade or guise of promoting good governance and democratisation. Through foreign support they try to modify to their advantage the balance of power that exists in society. Through western induced rhetoric they have “fortified their positions and eroded the influence of their critics”.
They sacrifice social goals for self-interested and egocentric goals. It has been seen in the just ended Zambian elections that the masses could no longer be hoodwinked by these false greedy wolves that had selfishly forged “powerful” alliances with western capital as to enrich themselves. They are unsympathetic to the plight of the general populace. In Nigeria oil production and export has raised more than US$400 billion dollars which has gone to the federal government yet available figures suggest that after more than fifty years of oil export more than 70 percent of the population still live below the poverty datum line (US$1 a day).
Hunger, disease and poverty among other things still continue to ravage this African country. Very little has changed economically many years after independence was attained. The situation is appaling. There is extreme poverty and deprivation in the sub-Saharan Africa region amidst enormous mineral deposits that the continent is endowed with. This continues to baffle the poor African voter because much of the continent’s resources are not being used for its own development.
African MPs have totally failed to address this anomaly. Any major study about why Africa is so different from the rest of the world points to the kind of MPs and councillors that are found in Africa. Parliamentarians in Africa are not united; they have permitted international financial institutions and the west to cause mayhem and violence in their countries.
They have failed to be nation builders who realise that Africa has to find its own way forward and must devise solutions for African problems. African MPs and councillors no longer have the energy to defend the ideals of their fight against colonialism and neo-imperialism though they claim to be servants of the people.
They are failing to raise a finger to fight poverty and deprivation that are common in Africa. The African political space has been infiltrated by egoistic and gluttonous zombies masquerading as democratic MPs and councillors. These so called representatives of the people are corrupt, dishonest, crooked, and unethical.
They are concerned with titles and the financial rewards that go with their office not the responsibilities attached to the office. These are the MPs and councillors who “forget” to build schools, hospitals and other institutions and infrastructures for the good of their people. They are very much interested in the rule of law, human rights and the democratisation process.
These are the “people’s representative” who look for salvation from abroad instead of utilising the abundant resources in their communities. What is interesting is that the African masses cannot continue being fooled.
It is therefore not surprising that Julius Malema has already driven the message home. MPs and councillors must ensure that the electorate benefit from their own resources. According to Rousseau in the social contract, “by joining together through the social contract and abandoning their claims of natural right, individuals can both preserve themselves and remain free. This is because submission to the authority of the general will of the people as a whole guarantees individuals against being subordinated to the wills of others and also ensures that they obey themselves because they are, collectively the authors of the law.”
This must be fulfiled when one is voted into office for this contract binds the politicians to the electorates. Most African MPs and councillors are betraying their own supporters; they have not delivered anything meaningful that they promised the electorate during election campaigns. African people should realise that they have a right to question their political representatives on issues pertaining to service delivery. The greatest weapon that the people of Africa have against these shameless and useless political representatives is to vote them out of power. The 21st century requires an African voter who makes the right choice of choosing people who keep their election promises.
This is no longer the time for one to surrender his or her trust to greedy and self-seeking wolves who aid to keep the continent submerged in abject poverty. MPs and councillors must therefore not deceive the electorate. The electorate must be able to know the difference between a lie and the truth.
- Darlington N Mahuku and Bowden BC Mbanje are lecturers in International Relations, and Peace and Governance at Bindura University of Science Education