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Silly politics

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I had accepted the term “silly season” as an apt description of the period leading up to general elections. But this seems meaningless. Silly remains, but the word “season” suggests a period of activity centred often on an event or set of events. There is no season where our politics is concerned. It is a year-long activity that not only confuses us, but consumes our attention, if not energy.{{more}} In the meantime, the country remains in limbo. What is this all about? Politics, in the sense in which I am using it, involves attending to and conducting the affairs of state. In other words, it has to do with governing, and the issue of governance becomes critical. Governance is about the manner of governing and under the Westminster system that we inherited there were certain standards or principles that were expected. The British do not have a written constitution, but work through custom and convention, which are accepted, although not written into any constitutional document.

Our problem was that we inherited the system minus the conventions. It has to be pointed out that some former colonies of Britain have been using the conventions, even though having their own written constitutions. One that is very common is having the resignation of a Minister when some major scandal or serious issue arises in his/her Ministry. That, however, means little to us. These conventions are important, since they involve certain principles that have been tested and accepted.

A constitution is not dry bones. It has to do with people and here is where we find our major shortcomings. While I am suggesting that we do not have a “silly season” I must argue that we have silly politics. That is perhaps not the best word to use to describe it, but I will work with that. Politics is like a game of draughts where the opponents try to outdo each other. But even that is not entirely true, for those occupying government usually have the master “card.” They determine or set the stage for the game, for they control when elections are going to be held and use it in a manner that I consider silly. When my PM, perhaps in anger, I believe, recently stated that he will call the elections if they continue to bother him, he was demonstrating the extent of the silliness of our politics.

To some people it is a matter of life and death, for under our system, as it is played out, it is “the winner takes all.” Persons have been denied the opportunity to a decent job and living simply because they do not jump to the dictates of those in office. Although we claim to be living in a democracy, we are expected to sing from the same song sheet.

The game, as it is played out, has little to do with country. Small countries like ours will go nowhere if they continue to function in this manner. We mouth, without actually believing it, that the people are our main resource. Resources are significant for the development of any country. Failure to build and efficiently utilize them leads to disaster.

As I suggested earlier, our country is in limbo. We are playing a wait and see game at the expense of country. Nothing seriously productive will take place at this time. We are not going to easily attract investments and things will continue to be said and done simply as vote catching measures. These are to my mind significant issues, but to raise them and to start a conversation about them is considered a ‘no-no’ for you are thrown in the dustbin and targeted as “one of them.” Underlying all of this is obviously the assumption that the development of the country does not fit into the thinking of anyone and that you are just part of the game.

I mentioned people as the most valued resource and to this extent education will always loom large. But what disappoints is that those who have attained the highest levels of education do not see themselves positioned outside the game. Development should involve a debate about the directions we should be taking. Governance of the country should encourage that. It requires more, for we have to ensure that the values and principles we hold dear are always maintained and that we act as one people. It is common to draw a distinction between book learning and common sense. Whether phrased this way or in some other way I agree, for the voices of those who have been educated from the public purse have been lost. The major contribution they can make is to regain their voices and let them be heard on important issues in the society. The voices we hear more often are those of persons who did not have that privilege, but who are, in many, if not most cases, driven by love of country and overflowing with common sense.

We continue to talk about the need to change our constitution. True! But a constitution without an alert and conscious public means little. It is like having laws on the books and not implementing them. They mean little then. We need to free up the people, or perhaps better still, we need to free up ourselves. What did Bob Marley say about Mental Slavery! In my mind I look at our situation as in some way akin to that under slavery. Some rebelled and spoke up. Others accepted things as they were. Some reacted in different ways, like sabotaging their work. By sabotaging, I mean being deliberately non-productive. Perhaps that is happening right here. The question is why?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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