Why do ethics seem to apply to every branch of knowledge, every face of existence and every discipline and profession or job, except to politics? Broken promises, innuendos, and purely machination and stratagems have become the norms, not exceptions, in politics. And the intriguing thing about all this, it seems acceptable in society and even sort of effuses a sense of savviness or sophistication. But should lies be an integral part of politics, especially political campaigning? Maybe “Yes”, and perhaps, “No”, but I prefer to offer a different view.
The West African story
A politician in a country I will not name in West Africa asked for his constituency to vote for him on a promise of development. They did. He did not do or achieve anything in the first five-year term. When the second term came up for grabs, he went back to his constituency and asked them to vote for him again. The people were not motivated. They had not seen any development. So, they asked him, “Why should we vote for you this time around when you had let us down in the first term?” He answered, “This time I will fulfil my promise.” So, they voted for him for the second five-year term.
At the end of the second term, the politician had not brought development . The electorate was irate and planned not to vote for him, never, again. Campaign for the third term came and he went back to the same constituency. “Vote for me again,” he said. The people in rage and emotions asked him, “Why now, after you had promised us development in the first and second terms and you did not deliver?”
“Well, he said, ‘Let me tell you a story. Every good politician goes through three phases. In the first phase he fends for himself with every government freebies and money. In the second term, he fends for his family. And in the third term, he fends for the constituency. If you vote for someone else, he will go through the first two phases just like I did.’” Reasoning that they would have to wait another ten more years before the supposed development would come to their constituency, they went ahead and gave him a third term!
Lies rule politics
The morality of the “West African Story” is that in politics, lies rule. Not men, not even the law. My analysis, however, will be contextualized to Zambia. In Zambia, the culture of “political engineering” as President Chiluba called it, is as old as the national flag. People are promised anything from development, people-centered constitutions, more money into their pockets, electrification of their dark villages, provision of fertilizers for their crops, quality education, medicines in clinics and hospitals, employment for the majority poor without any, and the list is endless. Yet, year after year, campaign after campaign and government after government, nothing of the promised sort comes to be done. Therefore, in order for politicians to continue to be in power, they have to fabricate one lie upon another. The result is the culture of lies, and the institutionalization of the same as mondus operandi of each campaign. Bottom-line is, few politicians fulfil what they promise in campaigns, and they still are voted the next time around. There is a problem there.
Excessive presidential powers perpetuate a culture of lies
The president, at least in Zambia, is a cult. He is literally worshipped by his sycophants under the pretexts of patronage. Businesses need contracts. MPs need ministerial positions. Foreign investors need resources available in Zambia. And the voiceless need food, good housing and sanitation, and etc. Although by law, all these are the people’s by right, it seems as if one has to be in favor with the president or his office to access them. It is worship or gossip and eat a piece of the nation’s cake, or critic or be silent and have nothing. And get me right, it is not the president, per se, who perpetuates this “hero-worship” culture, it is the enormous powers he yield which makes even his cough have an effect on people. The people must resort to lies to be heard and to access positions and privileges. This must stop.
A culture of political lies impoverishes a nation
In politics, it seems as if truth is a weakness. When you tell the truth, even your own supporters may think that, “There is something wrong with you.” So, truth is politicized, lies are economized, and foibles are managed. There is always a silent cry, “Let the best liar wins!” And they win. It is important to highlight the fact that a culture of lies happens when personal aggrandizement trounces national agenda.
My writing does not intend to undermine the role of wisdom in politics. Indeed, every politician must, of necessity, be savvy, witty and sophisticated, in moderation, in order to drive his message forward. One cannot devour his unpalatable background openly and unequivocally, for example, for all to be irritated by it. He may be as astute but still as wise as possible in the way such revelations or denial thereof should be broadcasted. That is not what I am writing about. A politician is expected to display a moderate amount of subtlety and finesse.
However, to make promises which one knows they will never fulfil is unacceptable. The electorate chooses a candidate because of what he will do for it, not for himself.
Lies in politics are usually more reliable than the statement of facts. But politicians who lie to their teeth will never develop a country. They will heap one lie upon another in order to sustain their office. It is also true that if a candidate wins an election because they lied, they are more likely to perpetuate that same culture in leadership itself. A culture of lies obliterates the future of the nation, because it is devoid of true investment potential. With a culture of lies, the end may not justify the means. All people lie, from time to time. I lie. You lie. No-one has never lied before. But perpetual political lying by fashioning false agendas is inimical to national development. Such political liars lack an articulable cause, an expandable vision, and formidable principles.
Lie no more, Zambia
This August 2016 elections, first, the people of Zambia should not give the politicians a chance to lie. They must ask the politicians how the politicians intend to fulfil the promises they give and in what time frame. Second, the politicians should be forthwith and promise less or not at all. If politicians cannot rule except by lies only, then the nation should choose leaders from the professional or business worlds where there is some level of respect for ethics.
By Charles Mwewa
Author of ZAMBIA: STRUGGLES OF MY PEOPLE and Professor of Legal Studies in Canada.