The culture of me, myself and I in leadership

Vernon J Mwaanga: File picture

Strengthening and deepening democracy involves more than the holding of regular elections disputed or otherwise. There is a long of list of other checklists and benchmarks which must be met continuously. Of more immediate importance, is the autonomy of the three arms of the state, namely the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, which must operate independent of each other and operate without interference from the other arms.

There has been a tendency by new political leaders to mix up the functions of the three arms and to think that the legislature and judiciary are inferior to the executive and to threaten members of both the judiciary and legislature with punitive actions if and when they don’t tow certain lines on given issues.

It is disappointing to see certain political leaders and their cheer leaders who were walking or getting on to public transport only a few months ago, amass so many private motor vehicles in their yards and have such hefty bank accounts, which their salaries and allowances cannot possibly justify. Public service is not about amassing personal wealth. It is about service to the people and not about me, myself and I.

It is also evident that internal democracy in many of our political parties has literally collapsed. This has resulted in a culture of personal loyalty to leaders, even when they are doing the wrong things or manipulate constitutions of their political parties. Their support base comprises vuvuzelas of praise singers who benefit personally from these leaders. Loyalty to the country and the people has taken a back seat. Leaders are suddenly not drawing a distinction between disagreement and disloyalty.

It is this element of praise singers who wage public wars against their opponents be the real or imagined, in order to ingratiate themselves in the eyes of their leaders, which in turn , blinds the leaders to many of their vices, shortcomings and even crimes in the name of enlightened self-interest.

While all this goes on, ordinary people continue to suffer in dignified silence as they watch from a long distance. We have reached a stage where ordinary people fear their leaders and not the leaders fearing the people, who put them in power.

This culture of fear and intolerance has moved into the very fabric of our society, where the fear of exposure and accountability has lead to silencing of the private independent media partially or in totality. There is an erosion of human rights and other individual freedoms which I and many others fought for before independence and in the late eighties , when we wanted the country to return to multiparty politics and give our people the freedom and right to make political choices, which are essential in any democracy.

We now have a threatened state of emergency declared under Article 31 of the Constitution of Zambia, which gives security forces even more draconian powers to restrict and suspend certain human rights of citizens. In the late eighties and in 1990, a number of us campaigned vigorous against the state of emergency, which we had lived under for so many years and pledged that we would remove the permanent state of emergency once elected into office. This message among many others, resonated well with the people and is partly why the MMD was given an overwhelming mandate by the electorate in the general elections of October, 1991. We honoured our promise to the people and revoked the permanent state of emergency, which had become so unpopular with the people of Zambia.

Leadership is not about being feared by the people. It is about earning their respect through deeds and not through threats. Respect is always mutual. When leaders respect the people, the people will always reciprocate and respect the leaders. Great nations always allow free debate about national issues, because it is through this type of debates that lasting solutions are found based on consensus and a desire to make our country prosperous. The efforts by the catholic bishops and other church bodies to try and promote and facilitate meaningful dialogue between President Edgar Lungu and UPND President Hakainde Hichilema – who sadly remains in prison- are commendable and must continue for the sake of peace in our motherland. There is no alternative to dialogue and our leaders must know and understand that they are servants of the people and not their masters.

         

Dr. Vernon J Mwaanga

About Dr. Vernon J Mwaanga

Dr. Vernon J Mwaanga is an accomplished diplomat who served as Ambassador of Zambia to Russia and as Zambia's Permanent Representative to the United Nations. He served twice as Foreign Affairs minister and four times as Information and Broadcasting Minister under various regimes.

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