How politics destroys home-grown solutions

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By Charles Dhewa
FOLLOWING the success of politics in liberating African countries from colonial injustice, a mindset that has been planted in Africa is that politics has a monopoly on all solutions. Unfortunately, this has overridden people’s capacity to explore solutions outside politics.

For resource-rich countries like Zimbabwe, politics has been allowed to dominate the landscape in terms of resource allocation, capital, land distribution and opportune time that could be used for other pursuits outside politics.

Sadly, the dominance of politics has overshadowed traditional leadership and local capacities to address socio-economic challenges.

Traditionally, community leaders and local inhabitants would seat down and discuss their needs and issues before coming up with localised solutions that would be addressed using local resources. Community-led leadership and strategies would collectively address socio-economic challenges.

Among other setbacks, the increasing dominance of African politics has:

  •  Destroyed home-grown solutions that have existed for centuries.
  • Created parallel structures that are in conflict with traditional African structures. The new political structures are targeting the same people, making it difficult for communities to know whether they are expected to listen to traditional leaders, political leaders or government officials.
  • Created disharmony among neighbours and destroyed the social fabric within communities, starting from the household level where, by context, one is forced to belong to a certain political party.
  •  Created a big divide between rural and urban people yet the same families have rural and urban relatives.

Those in rural areas are being associated with a certain political party while those in urban areas are being claimed by the other although these people are related.

This is causing a separation in the understanding of economic issues among the same people who should be working together to build the national economy.

  •  Created conflicts among young people who should be working together to build a bright future.

Big questions

What solutions are in politics, whether as a science or a strategy? How well are those solutions understood by the majority? Since the electorate is being persuaded to vote for individuals, what criteria are they using to decide which one is going to be a good or a bad leader?

Such decisions are obviously different from promoting socially-related strategies to come up with solutions or address challenges.

Politics resides within a society and the same applies to economics, culture and religion.

That means addressing challenges should be led by social-related strategies because it is within society that we find resources needed to address challenges and such resources are natural, human and capital.

Without leaning on principles related to politics, how can Africans use societal principles to develop their agro-based economies?

Such principles include self-reliance, social cohesion, working together (nhimbe concept), sharing knowledge and information through matare, sharing of resources and, more importantly, transparency (in farming communities everyone knows how many bags of food his/her neighbour has harvested), strong relationships at different leadership levels (village heads, headmen and chiefs relating amicably in line with their abilities and responsibilities).

Politics has taken advantage of existing desperation

The arrangement mentioned above has been destroyed by politics as communities are encouraged to fight each other through political parties.

On the other hand, foreign countries are choosing which party to align with, resulting in Africans who should be working together calling each other sellouts.

Politics has taken advantage of the crisis and desperation of African populations by selling false narratives to unsuspecting people. The same is being done by churches that are taking advantage of people’s desperation by selling miracles.

Leaders are misdirecting people just because they want to lead. They are not thinking of other strategies outside politics to make people see that the solution is within communities.

When we fight for one blanket, we cannot overcome the cold. Political parties do not work together or share ideas during one political party’s tenure but continue picketing waiting for a turn to lead.

By dividing people, societal ideas are suppressed because there are no pathways for such ideas to get to the leader whose party is in charge at particular time.

This has been extended to the distribution of resources in terms of who dominates which community.

Do African countries really need institutions whose role is just to administer elections?

Why do African countries establish institutions whose responsibility is just to administer elections and spend millions on such activities.

If everyone has a national ID, is it not very easy for people to submit information that is required instead of establishing a whole institution and give it more resources than institutions responsible for economic development such as agricultural marketing authorities, extension services and meteorological services?

Why have we allowed politics to take the bigger share of economic resources like capital, including the distribution of resources such as urban land?

Now they are encroaching onto the jurisdiction of chiefs, creating political boundaries that are not related to traditional boundaries that were defined under certain norms, principles and for certain purposes. Besides assisting in planning developmental activities, boundaries define identity and safeguard resources.

Why should electoral bodies set and control new boundaries that are only related to politics as defined by the number of inhabitants? Using the number of people in a constituency cannot be a good criterion for creating boundaries because people are mobile.

This is totally different from using immovable features within communities such as rivers, mountains and production zones, among other traditional tools or approaches used by traditional leaders to negotiate boundaries so that their subjects have access to resources for survival.

If we use the number of people in communities to demarcate political constituencies, how are the methods used by electoral bodies informed by understanding of the existing natural resources, strengths and weaknesses of already existing boundaries?

When a young Member of Parliament is elected to preside over a big constituency with diverse natural resources, how is s/he expected to fully grasp the existing riches, which are better understood by local people and traditional leadership like chiefs who have been in that area for generations?

The more political parties we have, the more the economy is divided and, the more challenges we  sweep under the carpet. Meanwhile, politicians continue to pretend they have all the solutions instead of encouraging people to explore other economic options.

The majority of people expect to get support from public institutions where civil servants are the service providers who are expected not to belong to any political party. However, the fact that civil servants are human beings means they have their own preferred political parties.

That means the more parties we have, the more the public service is divided and that has negative implications on public service delivery — translating to a blame game between political parties.  Instead of jostling for money from government through the Political Parties (Finance) Act, what stops political parties from building their own businesses and even contributing or donating to government programmes like building warehouses for agricultural commodities?

A case for repurposing resources away from politics

How can we repurpose resources (time, capital, human and many others) from politics towards socio-economic development like employment creation? If politicians are genuine, why is it that those contesting to be elected do not show what they have contributed to society first before seeking to be elected?

Instead, they promise to distribute national resources better when elected?  Politicians with people at heart should be seen doing something for the community or society irrespective of whether elections are looming or not.

Repurposing resources away from politics will reduce false promises and over-dependence of the electorate on those promises as people relax thinking that Members of Parliament and councillors will build bridges, houses and create employment for them.

African countries need independent institutions responsible for providing leadership and decision-making around politics and designing criteria that can be used in campaigning for certain political posts.

A Member of Parliament is a very influential post that can easily misdirect the whole community. So far, it seems African universities are not the right institutions for developing and incubating knowledge around political economy.

An independent institution should be able to thoroughly debate African politics as an integrated system that can add value to African economies by providing home-grown solutions.

Churches have failed because they also have their own politics and they are more interested in controlling people through selling salvation.

The proposed independent institution should also play a watchdog role by making politicians accountable to the people for their promises. A vote is a commodity which deserves better return on investment.

What is the meaning of education and knowledge if the educated do not see anything wrong with African politics?

If Zimbabweans have a high literacy rate, why are they not able to see politics for what it is?  When the educated people allow politics to run the economy, what is the value of investing in education and building more than 20 universities?

Academic achievements have been thrown away in favour of politics and frustration is increasing among the educated youths who have no choice but to get into politics.

Many internal displacements are caused by politics as people are punished for belonging to different political parties.  More importantly, potential investors are no longer comfortable to invest in their home areas for fear that they will be accused of harbouring political ambitions.

Politics is impeding genuine knowledge sharing

The more people lose confidence in politics, the more they keep their knowledge to themselves. Knowledge has become too fragmented and siloed in Africa because those with valuable knowledge are ignored and have no space to contribute to socio-economic development.

Vendors and other traders end up running their enterprises quietly yet in an apolitical environment, financial institutions would consolidate diverse sources of knowledge in national transformative strategies that contribute to collective national development.

If millions of traders and vendors are running their businesses without support from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe or any other formal institution, how can government enable these actors to grow in ways that contribute to socio-economic development?