In Search of a Noble Politician

Published on 14th April 2009

Zukiswa Wanner, a South African author has just visited Kenya and Zimbabwe where Continental Africa has a new form of Democracy: Government of National Unity. 

Citizens will continue paying taxes. No. That’s not a joke. I am genuinely looking for an honest and noble politician. A politician who cares about the interests of the electorate before theirs (and not just as rhetoric in an election year). And before anyone from the African continent says ‘Obama’ please don’t. Y’all don’t know him and even if you do and you are sure he is wonderful, he still doesn’t serve this continent. 

Now where was I? Ja. I was talking of the need for a politician that can be trusted to serve and not be served. Would it not be refreshingly different if the electorate dispensed with the ‘chief/chef/honourable bani bani’ when talking to politicians and the politicians realized that there were in power to serve us and not vice-versa? 

When I first went to Kenya , I told a Zimbabwean friend of mine that Nairobi reminded me of Harare when Harare was Harare (in the 90s). Well it looks like the two African nations have just had another similarity. 

They are now both ruled by governments of national unity. Now here is the thing. There has never been a government of national unity formed when the incumbent wins the election fair and square. A GNU, African style, appears to happen when the losing side wants to hold on to power by any means necessary as in the case of the two examples I am writing about. 

The winners (known prior to elections as the opposition) will then ask the international (Western) community to freeze aid to THE illegitimate government that has sworn itself in (politicians are clearly getting softer. Back in the days, the party that did not want to lose would hold on and the nation be damned. Perhaps we should thank the gods of Africa for small mercies?) A Kofi Annan or Thabo Mbeki will be brought in to get the two sides talking, and boom, a GNU is born. 

For that reason one would therefore assume that this type of government, though generally said to be temporary until elections in 20-voetsek will work as a type of checks and balances government to ensure the resources are given to those who need them and that no corrupt behaviour goes on while both parties are watching each other like hawks? Particularly from the party that is NOT of the incumbent because they are the more honest politicians, right? Right? Wrong. 

Not for these two countries that I mention at least. We knew the politicians in the old party were self-interested buggers but now the politicians in the new party, the party that’s supposedly of honour, comes out and proves that, as one Kenyan politician put it, though it may be ‘different trees, it’s same old forest.’ 

Non-Kenyans, and those who are not Kenya-philes like myself may not know this but late last year as the average Kenyan worried about the price of unga (maize meal), parliamentarians from both the so-called old and corrupt party and the new and honourable parties were deciding that it was necessary for them to have a monthly salary of US$10,000 and that amount should be tax free.

All this for their highly important job of mostly sleeping in parliament while teachers, who render a bigger service of educating the nation, are taxed to death on the peanuts they earn. When the nation protested, they were quickly silenced and a bill was put in parliament to muzzle the media that because they raised the questions first. There was more to come. 

Cabinet members from both parties were soon implicated in the tender process of grinding maize meal. Turns out there were quite a few ‘companies’ that won contracts to grind maize meal and yet did not own any grinders at all. And it wasn’t so easy as to ask them to return the maize. Somehow the bags of maize meal had disappeared. 

And that’s the first government of national unity. 

Last week I returned from Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean GNU is a little over a month old but clearly, the politicians are not wasting time. 

We have all seen on television leaders of both parties begging international donors for aid to rebuild the country. It is admirable that both parties have united for the good of the nation. What’s less admirable is the fact that, in this space where politicians are asking the world for assistance to rebuild the once impressive Zimbabwean infrastructure, not a single cabinet member of either major party decided that it was not in the national interest for them to have three top class vehicles at their disposal. 

Would it not have been revolutionary if some leader said, ‘uhhm, well no. My cabinet members will just have one state sponsored vehicle. Perhaps we could sell the Mercedes and the 4WD and give the funding to the treasury so teachers or doctors can be better paid?’ but no. That would have been too noble for our men and women. 

And the rot was not just at the top. 

As many know, revolutions generally begin in towns and so too with Zimbabwe . The majority of MDC supporters are in the cities and it is therefore no surprise that majority of councillors serving the towns are from MDC. So, many of these wonderful councillors (who by the way are supposed to have day jobs and leave the town clerk and his team of administrators to do their work in council) have decided to start frequenting council because for every appearance they make at the various town halls, they get paid. 

Even in situations where there are no council meetings or meetings of their committee. But that’s not all. These wonderful city councillors had also decided that for some reason, they deserved free cellphones at council expense and some were even requesting….don’t laugh this is true….laundry allowance (I wonder whether this is money to pay the domestic workers?).

More worrisome though was the plot for discounts idea that many councillors passed. 

Those who have been to Zimbabwe recently would have noticed that the Zimbabwean dollar is now non-existent. If one goes into a shop, they buy with Rands or US$ (with the US$ to the rand pegged on an easy to work with US$1 to R10). 

Imagine then, a bunch of councillors deciding that they should be allowed to buy plots on a non-existent Zim$ rate for as much as 60 percent discount? Yup, true story. Fortunately for this part of the article, someone top up (Minister of Local Government with his three cars) decided to nip the behaviour of councillors in the bud and refused to allow the cellphones or the laundry allowances and while councillors can buy plots, they should buy them at the US$ value. 

But what of all the other examples? Is this continent incapable of having any politicians who care more for the people they serve than they do for their pockets? 

Is it alright for African nations to continue to bleed while politicians feed? 

Your thoughts! 

From  Sukuma Kenya

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