BY Chanda Mbao
A quote to commence my thoughts:
“It has become a pastime to blame politicians for the ills of the world. I understand the urge to do that … but at the end of the day, the politician is a representative of an electorate. If you have an issue with politicians it’s because you have an issue with your fellow citizens who put them there.” Neil Degrasse Tyson
A response to the quote:
It’s important to hold those in positions of power accountable, but we can’t forget who put them there in the first place. We are all to blame for the condition of society.
None of us can afford to sit on the sidelines in life.
Politics matter just as much as science; they dictate so many aspects of our lives. If we choose to assume that our vote doesn’t count and our voice doesn’t matter, we’ve placed our future into the hands of others.
Participate. Don’t complain without engaging, it’s counterproductive.
There’s a relatively popular narrative that Zambia has a leadership problem. As much as it pains me to say this, I do not think we do…what I believe we have is a cultural problem. Our leaders are not a reflection of a malevolent minority, they are, in fact, a reflection of us in totality. They say, “in democracy, a nation gets the government it deserves.” While this is an obvious oversimplification rooted in hyperbole, what I think can be accepted, is that our nation has lost its way in cementing a set of national values that are traceable across the vast majority of its citizenry. Therefore, our leaders suffer from the same character flaws and vices that we do. When we look at our leaders, we are looking in the mirror.
What does it mean to be Zambian in today’s world? What are Zambian values? I am personally preoccupied with patriotism. [Definition: love for or devotion to one’s country (Merriam Webster).]
Personally, what matters most to me is the “devotion.” I believe in an ideological patriotism and devotion to a nation based on shared values and ideals. Loving one’s cuisine, for example, is simply not enough. What do we believe about the human race collectively? Who do we believe we are? How do we believe we should treat others? What principles and values do we COMMIT to?
Perhaps it’s colonialism, perhaps it’s something else but I can truly say I believe we have lost our way in the quest for a set of national values which translate to the sort of virtues we need to make our own lives better. When was the last time you read a book by a Zambian discussing issues of national importance? When was the last time you committed to organizing a group of like-minded individuals to take action on a cause you believed in? To those that can earnestly answer these questions concretely and feel they are doing their part, well done, keep doing so. For the rest, we are the majority.
The problem is we think that “they” will construct our society for us. There is no “they.” We are the “they” we are waiting for. We are responsible for the hard work. I have reflected on several cultural factors which I personally believe have been holding us back but that is an exposé for another day. As a brief example, however, how many of us Zambians can tell stories of employees we have either worked alongside or maybe even directly employed who have stolen or been irresponsible with resources from their employer? (E.g., the carpenter who disappears for two weeks after he is paid without fully completing his work). If this syndrome is so rampant in the country, is it surprising to note that the same happens in many political offices? It seems there has been an erosion in how much we culturally value integrity…and this in the name of survival. It is not an accident that we see such stories across all levels of society. In our hearts and minds, we have collectively decided that such things are ‘normal’ or ‘to be expected.’ Should we be satisfied with this? Ultimately, whether we choose to label such occurrences as justifiable or not is up to us and what we believe about ourselves. It is also up to us to decide if it is in our best collective interest for such stories to be the order of the day.
Society is not designed by accident. A haphazard approach to doing so will lead to poor results. This is why there is brokenness all around us. We have failed to formulate and cement a set of values upon which we can build systems and institutions that foment our advancement in the modern world. We are obviously free to decide that we are okay with this but personally I believe, as Zambians, we deserve better. We owe it to ourselves to DO better.
Doing better encompasses not only the work of ‘not doing bad’ in our little corner of the country but also the difficult and uncomfortable task of holding our fellow citizens, ergo leadership, accountable. When we see a fellow Zambian litter in the street, how many of us say anything? If it is not expected that we would, how then, do we imagine we will embark upon the more complex task of making our leaders do what we believe is right? Silence and acceptance of mediocrity seem to have become the specialty of the modern Zambian. Should we continue this way?
It is time for us to look in the mirror and take responsibility for who we are. If we do not like what we see, we must be brave enough to admit our shortcomings and disciplined enough to commit to making a change. Charity does indeed begin at home. If you and me do not do it, nobody will. There is no “they.” “They” is us.