Probably one of the best known phrases known in the English literature is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. “To be or not to be, that is the question…” is so well known that even I, a total philistine where old English bards are concerned, knows the turn of phrase.
I don’t know what exactly old Prince Hamlet was rambling about and I’m not about to hazard a guess. However, I’ve chosen to paraphrase the statement; I hope that I haven’t become guilty of a crime against the English language. You know, with the British Council now in the country one can’t ride roughshod over their language anymore.
On a more serious note, I’ve been following the Zimbabwean election with interest, and I can’t say that I’ve been surprised by the fraudulent maneuvers so far. It seemed as if opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was going to contest the run-off, come hell or high water, but even he, optimistic that the international community would force the Zanu-Pf machine to act fairly, had had enough.
Tired of seeing his supporters beaten and killed he called it quits. The comment from the Zimbabwean government? “He was a coward who knew he was going to lose badly”! To add salt to the injury, the government then added that the contest would take place as planned; I’ve still got to see how that one works. But this piece isn’t about the elections in Zimbabwe.
It’s about the democratic process in general. It was the sight of people running away from Zanu thugs wielding kiboko’s on the English news broadcast that got thinking about what why we even bother get all worked about the elections anyway. I mean, so what if Mugabe, Museveni or Kibaki continues ruling?
The way some see it (being from this continent of Africa has turned many of us into pessimists) the chaps busy getting a whipping won’t have better lives under Tsvangirai, Besigye or Odinga. I mean, look at the footage really well. The fellows running around, getting tear-gassed and ending up in hospital are the poor and downtrodden.
But here is a question that I’ve never got an answer to; ‘would the so-called opposition leaders do anything different for their constituents’?
‘Would the poor stop being poor, would the downtrodden get raised up’? I mean, why should anyone even bother?
Isn’t it just better to burrow your head in the sand and try to live your life in the shadows? I mean, no one has ever got tear-gassed in his own sitting room. These questions that I’ve raised surely resonate here in our continent.
Enough of that pessimism. Let’s say that the opposition leader has a genuinely good manifesto, should he/she take part in an electoral process that isn’t exactly free and fair?
Should one do a ‘Besigye’-he took part in the elections and then challenged the results in court (he lost) or a ‘Tsvangirai’-he’s refused to contest (I don’t know how that one will end up)? That is a question that one must ponder. Or maybe, just maybe, there is a third solution.
If you do contest…and then lose, you’d better know not to go to court to challenge the results. If indeed the regime is unashamed enough to rain down canes on its own people, it will have no qualms shutting up the judges. Even Pakistan’s Pervez Musharaff pulled that stunt and it worked like a charm.
Or, you could refuse to contest…and then watch as the incumbent gleefully runs roughshod over the country without even a hint of opposition. I’m afraid that that is what will happen in Zimbabwe. ‘Uncle Bob’ will get 100% and then use that ‘popular’ mandate to continue the Zanu-Pf program. So, get ready for more of the same my Zimbabwean brother and sisters.
But is there a third way that we haven’t traveled on yet? I believe so. The broad-based government approach hasn’t been attempted enough here in Africa and I believe that it might be the answer. A broad-based government that doesn’t exclude people and opinions allows people work together.
Let’s pretend that a country is a canoe and the political leadership rowers; isn’t it better that every rower is pulling in the same direction?
Certainly elections have their uses; however, elections just for their own sakes are useless. Broad-based government, such as we have here in Rwanda, is a solution that more countries in Africa should try. Because, at the end of the day, my question isn’t “is ‘my man’ the head of state” but rather, to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, “what can the government do for me”?