Back to Index
Are MP's representatives or godfathers?
February 09, 2005
season, and candidates are at it again, promising voters the moon.
It happens all over the world and Zimbabwe is no exception. It supplements
our time-honoured campaign tradition of buying rounds of drinks
and entertaining potential voters. But in Zimbabwe in 2005, vote-buying
has taken on a whole new dimension as ZANU (PF) aspirants vie with
each other and with potential opponents to donate money and goods
to their bemused constituents, long before the voting begins. Rural
schools have become prime targets for parliamentarians' largesse
and computers one of the main items dispensed. They are dumped here
and there, with or without all the necessary components, in schools
which may not even have the electricity required to operate them.
We hear of a
retired general sponsoring a whole school, fees, buildings, books
and doubtless much more. Some candidates barred from the ZANU (PF)
primaries complained that they had spent hundreds of millions of
dollars in their chosen constituency, only to be eliminated before
the contest. Jonathan Moyo, even after being disbarred, ostensibly
by the "Beijing Factor", boasts that he has donated $69
million for school fees in Tsholotsho because he is concerned about
the people there, fuelling speculation that he will contest as an
independent. The sitting Minister of Agriculture distributes much
needed maize from the GMB and is rewarded, we are told, with a huge
vote which gives him the party nomination in his home area.
With the exception
of a few committed Christians, Zimbabwean individuals of the new
"indigenous business" type have not been known for their
public spirit or charitable works. They prefer to spend their newly
acquired millions on themselves, to purchase luxury living, or on
the Party, so purchase influence. So what is all this sudden transformation
into philanthropists? Is it merely coincidence that an election
is looming? Could we expect to reap all this bounty after the election
is over? Not likely, for it is clearly campaigning: trying to demonstrate
to the electorate that the candidate can deliver development for
the people. But so what? Even if it is done to garner popularity
with the public, with electioneering in mind, is there anything
wrong with it that? Surely there is no harm in giving the beleaguered
voters a few handouts?
is - a great deal of potential harm. Some of this spectacle of mouse-less
computers at schools with no electricity might be amusing, or even
entertaining, were it not so clearly destructive. Not only does
it fail to initiate genuine development, it is seriously subversive
of the democratic process. It betrays a complete misunderstanding
of what democracy is all about, both by the aspiring candidates,
and the constituents who fall for this type of inducement.
might be raised:
- First: What
is the role of an elected member of parliament in a democratic
- Second: What
kind of a person do we want in our parliament?
- Third: What
is the role of an M.P. in promoting development?
- Fourth: Where
does the wealth of such individuals come from?
- Fifth: What
is the effect on the democratic process of such "donations"?
One of the major
principles of democracy is that government is conducted by the people.
In a modern society, this is not possible, so modern democracy requires
that the people elect representatives who will voice their wishes
and aspirations. In Zimbabwe we elect members to parliament, which
is the legislative body of government; those members enact laws
which, because they are made by people who represent us, should
reflect our interests. It is the duty of members of parliament to
express our wishes and to vote in a way that promotes our interests.
Most voters, however, do not spend their time thinking about public
policy. It is the role of political parties to devise policies and
strategies for government - for providing a legislative framework
which maintain services and promote development for the people.
When seeking election we would expect aspiring candidates to present
the policies of their party and convince the voters that those policies
will be the most beneficial for the people. Once elected, whether
or not they are members of the governing party, they must interact
and consult with the people of the constituency, inform the constituents
of proposed legislation and learn their views. Only with this type
of interaction can democracy be considered to be government by the
For this work
of representation, we need members of parliament who come from within
the constituency, or if they do not live there, at least have a
close connection and good understanding of the people they wish
to represent. They need to be prepared to spend time finding out
the views of the constituents, grasping their problems and hearing
their proposals for solutions. They need to understand the policies
of their party and be able to explain them to their people. Since
members of parliament are primarily law-makers, they need to be
people who have some understanding of the law as well, and of the
issues of importance in the nation. They also need to be men and
women of integrity and commitment to the welfare of the people.
Since M.P.s occupy a key position in public affairs, they are frequently
the target of persuasion by special interest groups. They come under
pressure to pass or not pass certain laws, not because of the effect
on the mass of the people, but because of the benefit to a few.
M.P.s have to be very much aware of this and have the clarity to
perceive what will be in the interests of the people and what promotes
only the interests of private individuals. Furthermore they need
to have the courage to follow what they know will benefit their
who seeks to ingratiate himself with the people by using private
wealth to gain popularity is in fact showing contempt for the people.
He or she is deliberately avoiding a discussion of issues. That
candidate has no intention of finding out the views of the people
or of representing them in parliament. Policies of his party are
not discussed except possibly at the level of sloganeering. This
politician is not promoting democratic participation. Rather the
people become pawns to be manipulated and manoeuvred. He becomes,
not their representative, but their godfather or godmother.
who present gifts to their constituents usually claim that they
are promoting development. School fees, equipment for schools will
help to develop the community. This raises the question of the role
of the M.P. in development. Government in a country such as Zimbabwe
is to a large extent about the promotion of economic development.
In the 20th century, two choices seemed to be available to a developed
economy: capitalist or socialist. For a time, ZANU (PF) verbally
espoused a socialist route. However, this commitment was never genuinely
fulfilled, and with the failure of most socialist regimes to sustain
development, and their collapse at the end of the 1980's, this option
was abandoned and a capitalist route embraced.
A benign capitalist
approach to development would hold that the government will simply
provide the legal, fiscal and monetary policy framework in which
private individuals will then create wealth. Government may assist
individuals and provide those essential services which require public
support, but wealth will be created and spread to all sectors of
the community by many individuals competing. The more players, the
more wealth will be created for more people, hence promoting development.
The role of the M.P. is to contribute to the legislation enacted,
to ensure that the people understand how the laws work in their
favour and help them to access any benefits provided which will
spur the creation of private or community wealth. And to listen
to their views of how the laws are working for or against them so
that they can be amended. Political parties will adopt different
views of how development can best be promoted and their members
will seek to persuade the people that their programme will be more
But ZANU (PF)'s
form of capitalism is far from benign. It does not follow this model
of wealth creation from the bottom, assisted by conducive legislation.
The consistent tactic of our new "wealth-creators" has
been to make use of connections to occupy privileged, monopolistic
positions. Using corrupt means and intensely exploitative labour
practices, they build up their own capital. Then, in order to protect
that position, consolidate it and expand it, they find it useful
to seek political power. That power is not to be used for the benefit
of the constituents, but for their own economic enhancement. The
competition which would bring development is not desirable, because
it would limit their own opportunities. And so the new predator
class emerges - political and economic power combine. When such
people aspire to be elected to Parliament, they do not even consider
policy issues. What they want is the power to build themselves.
The easier way, they believe, to compete for the support of the
people, is to give them gifts which might make them happy. Like
the auntie who showers gifts on her niece in order to be loved,
but provides no guidance or bases for growth and maturation of the
child. The electorate may temporarily be cheated into believing
they are being helped.
admire people who have gained wealth and are tempted to see this
as success. The demonstration of such wealth by free distribution
of goods entices them to vote for that person. We need to begin
to be sceptical of wealth, and question its origins. While there
are some very hard-working business people who build up legitimate
businesses, more often than not, that wealth is derived from money
that should have been used to develop the country.
We see an individual
who a few years ago was a scrawny salesman or salaried employee
suddenly ballooning in size, flaunting wealth in the form of cars,
designer clothes, foreign holidays and expensive foreign schools
for their children. There are many such examples in Zimbabwe. And
there are very few of these nouveaux riches who came by their money
honestly. They may have had good connections to get forex allocations
at official rates and change them on the parallel market; they may
have fraudulent contracts to supply government at many times the
cost of the goods; they may have converted company or government
money to their own use; they may have obtained loans from their
friends working in banks, which they know they will never repay.
Hardly anyone uses legal methods to make money any more. Most of
it has come from the acquisition of public assets by private individuals.
So when these people offer donations to the voters, they are trying
to get credit for being public-spirited, using money that was most
likely misappropriated from public monies in the first place. We
cannot trust them. Jonathan Moyo boasts that he donated $69 milllion
for school fees. Where does a minister get such funds from to give
away? Ministers may be well paid, but they are not that well paid.
Elliot Manyika says it was government money. So how did Moyo get
his hands on it? Does it mean that government ministers can help
themselves to government money to help them win re-election?
It is not surprising
that ZANU PF does not want anyone except themselves to undertake
education of the voters. Civic educators from a variety of NGOs
have been gaining some success in helping the electorate to analyse
politicians who present themselves for election, to question their
interests in becoming a member of parliament. They have challenged
voters to examine the effect of vote-buying, whether on a large
or small scale, and many voters have become more sophisticated.
The rejection of the constitutional referendum in 2000 and the popularity
of MDC in the June 2000 election was in large part a result of voters
beginning to realise that they were being cheated by ZANU (PF),
who were not really interested in what the people wanted. Now ZANU
(PF) candidates embark on this competition to see who can shower
the most on the electorate, at the same time denying the voters
their right to be helped to question, to analyse, and to formulate
their own opinions.
The final question
is the most challenging. What is the effect on the democratic process
of such "donations"? Clearly it subverts it. There is
no discussion of policy, no attempt to let the people's voices be
heard, no concept of representation. If someone is going to gain
votes by offering "presents", the implication is obvious:
vote for me and you will get favours. But the reverse is also true:
don't vote for me and I will use all the wealth and power I have
against you. Development comes from me, from being associated with
me. If you work against me, you will not get any development.
if I get into power by offering you "goodies", then you
certainly cannot influence the way in which I conduct myself in
parliament. I do not represent your interests. I represent my own,
and I have used you to gain political power to add to my economic
power. In this period of famine, the "big man" can also
get you food when there is none. He may be able to get development
benefits from government as well. As long as you continue to be
docile, obedient voters, you will continue to get goodies, but if
you stray, the benefits will stop. Development does not come from
the efforts of the people within a conducive framework created by
the government. Development comes from outside, when people accept
a "ruling" party without question.
But even more
sinister, the man who can protect you will also punish you if you
no longer support him. He who can buy your vote can also buy the
support of the law enforcement agents. You can be dealt with by
the party goons who will enjoy impunity - or even by the big man
himself who will wield his gun to threaten anyone who dares to support
an opposition figure. In Chipinge South he is said to house the
police in buildings he owns, making it obvious that they will not
touch him if he breaks the law. He is the "Godfather"
protecting if you toe the line, but punishing cruelly if you attempt
to leave the fold.
This is not
democracy. This rather resembles a feudal system of power relationships.
The powerful man or (occasionally) woman brings you benefits, protects
you from the dangers of the world around you, but in return you
must render servile obedience. The politician simply manipulates
you; he or she does not represent you. You are used to serve his
or her interests. Parliament becomes a chamber of the wealthy whose
aim is to make laws that favour their own interests in maintaining
and expanding their own wealth. Some development may be provided
to the masses in order to keep them quiet, but they must have no
share in policy-making. If they demand it, they will be silenced.
is perfect, and every one has evolved through struggle over a lengthy
period of time. Even the oldest have their serious flaws, where
government in the interest of the people is betrayed. When we got
Independence we thought we had achieved democracy. It is now clear
that we expected too much of ourselves and our leaders. We didn't
realise that they would subvert the electoral system to serve their
own selfish interests instead of the development interests of the
people. We didn't realise that we had to carry the struggle further
if we wanted our voices to be heard by our leaders. Now we know.
If we want representative democracy, we will have to resist the
forked tongues of politicians who come bearing gifts but in the
other hand carry knobkerries. We have to learn to tell them that
this fake democracy is not what we want. We have to learn to vote
for those who will represent our interests not theirs.
of a smoothly functioning democracy is still a long way ahead, but
if we walk down the right road we will get there in the end. If
we are capable of recognising some of the problems, of understanding
how we are being manipulated, used and abused, then we will be able
to again move forward. A good starting place is to reject the ZANU
(PF) idea of a legislator. We need to fight against the concept
of the politician as godfather, and replace it with the ideal of
politician as representative and servant of the people, committed
to their participation and development.
to the Sokwanele mailing list, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.