Zambia has a huge underclass – a large army of impoverished out of school, unemployed youths hungrily loitering in our villages, towns and cities, in all our provinces. Zambia is rich with an adult population that is willing to work either as employees or self-employed but neither opportunities are available. Many of the unemployed Zambians are educated. The majority have completed secondary school. Many have college certificates. Many have university degrees too.
Many unemployed young and old people have given up hope of ever finding work or creating meaningful economic activities for themselves. Many Zambians suffer hunger every day, as a matter of course. Housing is scarce and expensive, for many Zambians. Water, food and electricity are expensive, and out of reach for the many unemployed Zambians. It has come to pass now that transport has become very expensive, as fuel has gone up, since the UPND formed government.
None of these bad social conditions are new. They have been with us for a long time. We are after all, famously globally recognised as a very hungry country. It was in fact these conditions that forced Kenneth David Kaunda toaccept the return of multiparty politics. Since 1990, these conditions have worsened. The UPND won elections in August last year because of course they promised to resolve these national crises.
Our political class, our elites who dominate the leadership of all our political parties are fully aware of these horrible conditions of life of the majority of Zambians. They use these bad conditions to compete among themselves to lie to the majority of Zambians who are poor that once elected, they have the solutions to these challenges and crises. It is a charismatic, populist, fantastic presentation of the solutions to these problems which our politicians present to our people, by which they hope that they will win elections.
Our multiparty politics are therefore a lying, ruthless, expensive, extremely competitive, over financialised market for votes in which there is very little loyalty to party philosophies, ideologies and policies – it is what a party may offer an individual that matters. The presidents of these parties are of course the sole owners of the parties too. Pretence, lying, hypocrisy, back biting, blind fake loyalty, and financial parasitism on the leader are all rife in all the political parties. Poverty in our country makes for very impoverished politics.
A hungry people are an angry people, so we must assume. Hunger, unemployment and extreme inequalities combined with mass homelessness and poor social services make for a population desperate for relief from suffering and permanently stressed, to put it mildly. Towards the end of the Kenneth Kaunda regime the language of politics even in UNIP begun to change as insults, bribery and corruption become very pronounced, especially during elections. During the campaigns for the return to multipartyism Zambia begun to simultaneously descend into extremely indecent forms of political expressions, including the public use of insults and obscenities.
With the rise of mass poverty and perversive mass unemployment especially among the youths, a new political activist came to be dominant in Zambian politics: the party cadre. We are a country whose electorate is dominated by young unemployed people. We are a country of poor young people. These young people are a frustrated, desperate and angry lot. We have passed through a period of political violence as political parties exploited the anger of the youths to advance the political interests of the elite owners of the political parties.
The PF and the UPND perfected the mobilisation and organisation of the violent anger of the youths into their violent youth mobs to terrorise each other and all other political parties. In fact, both the PF and UPND had semi militias of young people, some even wore military fatigues and brandished firearms publicly. Young lives have been lost, over the period of the reign of the PF, in government.
A hungry, angry, violent young population permanently stressed with social crises does not sing love songs using decent language only: it also uses hip-hop and its obscene language. Zambia has a very large Zambian young hip-hop music fraternity and Zambians enjoy hip-hop music from the US, including Rihanna and her explicit lyrics and videos.
To look cool and win over large swarths of young voters, many of our politicians have descended to the obscene levels of their presumed constituents: they have used obscene language, insults and all sorts of foul language clearly meant to humiliate and hurt their opponents, while believing such language made them look cool and brave to their audiences. In other words, rather than act as influences for decent politics and clean language in politics, our politicians have adapted to the language of our angry population, thereby fuelling the rising tide of insults, obscenities and all manner of foul language in our national culture in general and politics in particular.
It is in this hungry, angry, impoverished, over stressed, acrimonious violent competitive political climate that social media has exploded as a tool for political communication and social commentary.
We have sunk to a new low as a country, as a nation, at the hateful, abusive, insulting, obscene and completely foul language and nasty videos which are posted on social media, all reflecting who we are fast sliding into: a morally and culturally bankrupt nation perfectly mirroring our national economic and social poverty. Many of us have unconsciously or consciously yielded to the violent psychological pressure to “defend ourselves” by further supplying new, innovative but more hateful foul language and nasty videos.
It does not matter the human being who is being insulted, vulgarised, abused, trashed, and generally being bullied out of existence: no human being deserves to be humiliated, insulted and demeaned anywhere, let alone on social media where cyber space permanently archives everything! Zambia, like all countries in the world, will always have an underclass as long as the system of capitalism which thrives on inequality persists. The fact is we cannot allow the lowest denominator to determine what our national cultural norms must be, and what dominant language and forms of speech will be.
It is, of course impossible to meaningfully reverse the pervasive negative forms of communication in Zambia in general and in our politics without simultaneously combating the material and cultural poverty in which these forms of conscience and speech thrive. Merely shouting that “the president must be respected” is not enough – everyone must and should be respected, equally: and respect of the human person includes eliminating dehumanising poverty which permits the growth of malignant cultures and corrupts basic morals.
We must ask: how are we to deal with the scourge of social media extreme language, obscenities and clearly defamatory speech including videos? This is not an easy question. Criminalising and state security surveillance of social media may prevent some of the abuse but will simply migrate it elsewhere in our society and country; it will not help eliminate it. Further, such devices simply drive underground morbid symptoms in society; they do not deal with the causes. In this case they do not attack the national material and cultural poverty we have sunk into as a country.
Only a combined cultural, economic, social and political revolution aimed primarily at eliminating our material and cultural poverty, by uprooting the backward colonial capitalism that has impoverished Zambia, and simultaneously protecting all our freedoms including freedom of conscience and free speech, will attack this crisis of moral decay at source, and enable us build a prosperous Zambia in which no one is hungry enough to use insults to attack others.
Free speech helps us to learn the depth of the moral and cultural rot in our society and country. All citizens and politicians must defend free speech, not whittle it down. Curbing and criminalising free speech will drive underground the anger and nasty language nourished by our national poverty. This is dangerous. Freed from acute national poverty our language will improve!
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